Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jonah III- Sermon Notes

Jonah III- 4:1-11
Sermon Notes
Mad at God’s Kindness
July 12, 2015
Lynchburg, Virginia

         Chapter four of Jonah is very interesting. Jonah has had an incredible encounter with God. God spoke to Him. He turned and ran. God headed him off, put him in a trance of sleep, confronted him with a storm, caused the sailors to throw him into the sea, provided a fish to swallow him, which took him down to the depths of the sea, even into the heart of Sheol, itself.
From this place of utter abandonment, Jonah called out to God and God heard his cry. God spoke to the fish and it deposited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah then did the will of  God, preaching repentance to Nineveh. His preaching was particularly effective. In just a few days time, the King issues a decree that all Nineveh should repent of their sins and turn from the violence that is in their hands.
This event makes Jonah the most successful preacher of all time. You would think that he would be elated with God and pleased and eager to meet his many hundreds of thousands or even millions of new friends who are saved from destruction. Jonah was a hero to them and they were no doubt extremely grateful for his preaching. Thus, they were turned around and saved from sure destruction at the hands of the mighty and holy one true God.
But Jonah continues with his surprises. He is not pleased at all. Nineveh repents in sackcloth and ashes. That is better than Jonah can muster. Instead of rejoicing with them at the revelation of God’s mercy towards them, he secretly hopes that God will still wipe them out. So, he sits opposite the city, waiting to see if their repentance is incomplete or short lived, so that God will still hold to His word to destroy the city.
Jonah is mad at God’s Kindness.

         3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
         When Jonah preached to them, they repented and God saw their repentance. They are not merely sorry for their sins, they turn from their sins and turned towards God’s mercy. When they turned towards God, God turned His wrath away from them. He did not do what He said He was going to do, namely, wipe them out. Instead, He did what He intended to do if they repented. He forgave them.

Jonah 4:1   But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Jonah’s response to God’s kindness is quite arresting. I think most of us would be very glad for God to spare wicked people that repent. We have to understand that we have been conditioned by the graciousness of the gospel for a very long time. We understand that God does not treat us as we deserve but rather better than we deserve. Jonah had been rebellious to God. If God treated him with strict justice, Jonah himself, would have been destroyed. But God treated Jonah with mercy. God understood Jonah’s frame and gave him room to repent. But Jonah did not offer that same sort of room to others to repent.
We learn in the conditions annexed to the Lord’s prayer.
We pray, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Or, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Or, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
When we say this, we get the first part just fine. Forgive us our sins, O Lord. We may even plead in the name of Jesus, as we should. We expect God to forgive us because He promises to do so, in Jesus Christ.
But we forget that the forgiveness is conditional. We do not like that part. We want God to love us unconditional. We have an entire industry of Christian greeting cards based upon the unconditional love of God. It is true that God’s love towards us is unmerited by us. We did not earn His love. But God’s continued kindness towards us is, indeed, conditional.
Listen to the condition.
Matt 6:14-15     14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
God chooses us in Jesus Christ and showers His grace upon out of His mere good pleasure. He chooses to be kind to us and His kindness leads us to repentance. We turn from our sins and we turn to Jesus.
But then He expects us to grant that same kind of forgiveness to others. If we do not, then we cannot be His disciples. If we are forgiven but refuse to forgive, then we get unforgiven by God.
You see, what happened to Nineveh can work in reverse. God threatened to wipe them out. They repent and He changes His mind. He relents.
God speaks peace to us in Christ. We who seek forgiveness from God find it in Jesus Christ. But if we will not grant God’s kindness to others, then God revokes the peace that He granted to us. If you will not forgive then you will not be forgiven.
Therefore, we see as a necessary condition of saving grace, the real desire and ability to forgive others. If you find in your heart, a stubborn, self-justifying refusal to fully and freely forgive other people, then you are not filled with God’s Spirit. The grace that has been bestowed upon you in baptism, in fellowship with God’s people, in the Communion of the saints at the Lord’s Table, is all for naught. God will revoke it all and you will not receive the blessing of God nor the inheritance of the promises, life after death in glory nor the Resurrection of the Body.
So, what do you do? How do you change this? Well, you have to practice that grace that is given to you. You have been forgiven, freely forgive. But what if they don’t really mean it? What if the repentance is not deep enough? What if they are not remorseful enough? Well, forgive anyway. Do not hold it against them.
Jesus forgave from the cross. He forgave those who murdered him unjustly. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. They were not coming to him in sackcloth and ashes. They were still enemies, just as we were, until we were drawn and saved by God’s kindness.
We don’t like this truth. It requires us to be obedient even while others are still being disobedient. We forgive them but they rub it in our faces. You forgive me? It should be me that is forgiving you! But take no offense. Forgive and it will be forgiven you. Retain bitterness and hatred in your heart and be eaten alive!

2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Can a man be too gracious? Too merciful? Too slow to anger? Of too great of kindness? Of too much of a mind to change his intent to cut off and destroy?
Not if he is to be like God. Does this mean that there is no wrath? Does this mean that there is no day of reckoning? No, it does not. There is a time and place to say enough is enough. The sinner will be cut off. But it is after much pleading.
Nineveh’s evil had risen to the notice of God. It had been going on for a long time and had provoked God to anger. God finally pronounced judgment. I have given you this long but you would not repent. That’s it! Forty days and I will wipe you out!
And yet, God was still ready to forgive. It did not take much on the part of Nineveh for God to extend mercy and grace. As soon as the King issues a decree of repentance, God is showing mercy.
We should be like that. Even when we have finally had enough and announce dire consequences, we should be pleased when the sinner repents and avoids the impending wrath. It is true that the stay may only be temporary. Those currently in Nineveh were spared. No doubt, many became servants of Yahweh. But just like in the days of the judges, once the immediate danger passers and the saving judges dies, the people return to their evil ways. There was a stay of judgment but the consequences still loom if the people return to their evil ways.
As it turned out, the Assyrians did destroy Israel. And then the Babylonians destroyed them.

3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.  4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Because God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness and repents of the evil that He intends upon wicked doers, THEREFORE, Jonah thinks it is better to die than to live. This is a bold, brash and angry statement to such a God.
Perhaps Jonah is embarrassed? God told him to preach destruction and it is not happening. Perhaps Jonah is so embittered by God’s response, that he is literally eaten up with it and cannot stand it any longer. We do not know the exact thoughts and feelings of Jonah but we can get some idea from the text that his displeasure with God is at the heart of his despair. He does not like what God has chosen to do and it eats at him until he is literally ready to die.

4:5  So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 
At this point, Jonah already knows what is going to become of the city. It is going to be spared. He is hoping against hope that it won’t be so.

6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 
God still extends his kindness to Jonah. The Lord’s kindness leads us to repentance. But Jonah had a strong will even to resist the kindness of God.

7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 
This seems like a miracle, too, but not so much. Maybe the sending of the worm but it is true that squash plants can die and wither in a day.

8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. 
God switches from kindness to severity. The obstinate Jonah still resists. Now, he wanted to die, not only because Nineveh was spared but, rather, because he was hot and miserable. No doubt, his disposition of anger and bitterness contributed to his giving in to the elements so easily. He had lost his ability to persevere.

9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?
God asks Jonah a rhetorical question.

And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. 
To which Jonah gives the wrong answer.

A strange ending to a strange book.
10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:  11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
Strange perhaps, but fitting. God is a gracious God. Even for the wickedest of sinners, God is full of grace and mercy.
We ought to be such people.
I read several stories recently of the repentance of several ISIS soldiers. I had wondered if the real teeth of Islam was beginning to reveal the ferocious and wicked truth to Muslims.  We want the ‘innocent’ Muslims to be spared. But are we willing for God to save the wolves? Would such wicked persecutors actually be saved by our gracious God? Could those who actively pursued and killed our brothers and sisters in Christ be converted to serve Jesus?
If so, would we be glad of it and willing to fully forgive them? Or, would we demand strict justice and prefer them to be wiped out?
I myself have called for ISIS to be wiped out. I trust that God could do so and that He might even do so. They certainly deserve to be wiped out by a Holy God. Yet forty days and it and shall be so! But what if they repent? What if God reveals their wicked deeds and saves some of them? Will we rejoice at this?
I can think of one man who would rejoice at God’s kindness in turning a wicked persecutor into a faithful proclaimer. That would be the Apostle Paul.
Are you right to be so angry at God’s kindness? Not only to wicked sinners who repent. But what about those who  you think God should judge but He blesses instead? What about those you think are your enemies? Those who have spoken ill of you? I have some. Do you? What are your hopes for them? Yet forty days and then blam!
Or, do you pray for God to truly bless them as they faithfully serve Him? We can never be as gracious as God. But we should try. Amen.

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