Jonah 4: Judge and Jury

“It’s not fair!”

So many times in my childhood, I uttered those words to my parents

And every once in a while, I hear it as a parent myself.

I would imagine that if you’re a parent, you might have heard those words at some point in your own life, right?

And I’m sure that, given the context of the various circumstances you’ve heard that phrase uttered in, there were times where it was appropriate, and warranted.

And other times, not so much.

But this whole idea of “it’s not fair,” really boils down to this sense of right and wrong that we all have, what C.S. Lewis calls “the moral law,”

And it’s how he started to frame his argument for Christian theism in Mere Christianity.

But like I said, sometimes, that phrase is appropriate, and other times, it’s not.

There are moments where we feel as though we are the victims of injustice, whether intentionally, or unintentionally.

And there are times where perhaps that is true.

But what I’ve found is that often, the injustice we think we are experiencing is an illusion.

Or simply a cover for us to justify why we should get our way.

And this is where we pick up our text from Jonah 4 this morning.

Which means that this is the last week of our Jonah series.

Here’s a quick recap from last week before we dive into chapter 4:

  • Jonah had just been called by God once again to go to Nineveh & preach.
  • This time Jonah was faithful to God’s call & obeyed.
  • So, he went to Nineveh & preached, and the people repented.
  • And God changed his mind about what he was planning on doing with Nineveh.

Instead of destroying her, He chose to withhold his wrath, and forgive the people.

Typically, this is where the story ends:

  • God calls the prophet
  • The prophet responds & obeys God
  • The people respond to the prophet
  • God withholds his wrath
  • And everyone lives to see another day

But, Jonah is a bit different from other Old Testament prophets, and we really catch a glimpse of Jonah’s humanity.

Just an average Jew trying to make sense of what He knows about God with his own experience.

If there’s one thing we know for certain, here at the beginning of Chapter 4, it’s this: Jonah is angry.

But why?

The story has a happy ending, so what’s he got to be upset about?

Because God did it His way, not the way Jonah was expecting.

It’s almost a bit ironic how Jonah says it in v. 2:

“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning: for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

Jonah is basically throwing a fit.

He’s trying to tell God: “Hey, it’s not fair, I did my job, now you do yours.”

As if Jonah has the authority to decide Nineveh’s fate.

And it’s clear that Jonah wants to see some wrath.

To the point where he tells God that he wants to die because God’s not doing what he wants Him to.

See, as a Hebrew, Jonah knows the law, and he knows that justice would mean that God brings destruction to Nineveh, because it’s what they deserve.

But Jonah forgot a few, small details:

  • Grace
  • Love
  • Forgiveness

The fact that God is relational, and exists outside of time itself, and has the ability to change His mind as He sees fit.

See, church, grace, here, is the game changer, it’s a pivot in the story.

 Because it reverses everything that came before.

And because of these things: God is able to do it His own way.

Isaiah 55:8 says this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”

And, as the Creator of the Universe, I dare say that God is entitled to change his mind as He sees fit, don’t you think?

God’s way is always gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to forgive.

Which, by the way, when Jonah describes God that way in v. 3, he is using Psalm 86:5.

So, Jonah leaves the city, and goes out to see what’s going to happen to Nineveh, to see what God will do.

Again, Jonah’s probably waiting for some wraith, and so he sits down in the shade, and waits.

And while he’s waiting, God provides a bush, or plant of sorts, to give him shade, and Jonah is happy.

See, God cared for Jonah even when Jonah was mad at God.

God didn’t stop loving Jonah just because he was angry.

If anything, God was trying to steer Jonah in the direction of maturity, hoping that Jonah would change his own mind, or perspective on the situation.

Because God’s very character is one of love, God chooses to show that love to Jonah here.

In a strange way, it’s actually similar to the idea that Jesus presents to his disciples in the gospels when he tells them to “repay good for evil, and in so doing, you reap coals on your enemy’s head.”

Jonah is acting foolishly, and God is responding in love.

And because God is perfect, that love He shows for His children is unconditional.

See, it’s easy to love someone if they are doing something for you.

But it’s a lot harder to love someone when they are angry with you.

Or, if they have wronged you in some way.

And it’s at that point that we are left with a choice: do you respond with the same anger that they are giving to you, or do “repay evil with Good,” as Paul describes in Romans 12:21?

As disciples of Christ, we are called to follow after God, to model the life we saw Him live in the person of Christ.

And God is caring for Jonah, even when Jonah is angry with him.

We’re called to do the same thing: to love others unconditionally.

So, finally, as Jonah is waiting for something to happen, the next morning comes, and the God sends a worm to make the bush wither, to take away Jonah’s shade.

I wonder if God provided the bush for a time- and took it away to get a reaction out of Jonah.

So, Jonah tells God he wants to die…again, which was probably not the reaction God was hoping for.

So God, like any loving parent would, changes his tactic.

This time, Jonah gets the tough love.

And God phrases it like a question, as if to interrogate Jonah: “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred & twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

God is trying to show Jonah the bigger picture.

The world doesn’t revolve around him, and he isn’t the only person in the world that God is concerned with.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t love Jonah very much- he does, but God won’t stand for Jonah’s “woe is me” attitude here in Chapter 4.

 

God is making clear that He cares very much about Nineveh- all 120,000 people.

As if to say to Jonah: I care for everyone.

Jonah wanted to be the one who had a say about God’s justice.

But as created beings, that’s not a responsibility we have.

Recently, I came into contact with a person from my childhood who had deeply wronged me.

There was a lot of things that happened between the two of us that lead to a lot of frustration, and anger on my part towards this individual.

And, one day a few weeks ago, in the midst of praying for this person, I sensed that God was calling me to forgive them.

Which is sometimes a difficult thing to do.

But I had to remember that even in the midst of the pain I felt from childhood, that this person is still a beloved child of God, and still in need of love, grace, and forgiveness, just as much as I am.

And also that just because I have been wronged in my life, doesn’t give me the right to think that God’s justice looks like withholding forgiveness, or love, or grace from this person, either from God, or from me.

See, church, the gospel is bigger than just you and I.

The gospel is about everyone, the whole world.

That’s a lot of people that God cares for.

And why not, right?

We are all His children.

So where does all of this leave us?

First, God’s way is compassionate, loving, gracious & forgiving- both to us, but especially to others who don’t already know of God’s love.

God cares for us, regardless of what we have said or done.

Remember 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”

God loves us unconditionally.

And also Psalm 103: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

God’s unconditional love is for everyone, not just for us.

Again- the gospel is bigger than you and me.

 And finally, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to live out this model of love that God shows to Jonah:

Sowing compassion, love, grace & forgiveness to those who need it.

Caring for others, regardless of what they have done to us.

Somebody asked me this question once about the Christian life: “Do you want to take up a main role in your own story, your own life here on Earth? Or, do you want to take up a supporting role in God’s story?”

Amen.

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