The Proper Response

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Jonah

 You know, it never once crossed my mind as I proposed to my girlfriend in 2007 that I would get a response different from the one I was wanting. I was scared, yes. Shaking like a leaf. Voice quivering. People watching. But I didn’t doubt for a minute she’d say yes. Some people aren’t so lucky. Most, if not all of us, have seen clips on Youtube and AFV where some poor chump gets publically rejected and humiliated. We enjoy watching these, and other videos with amusing or awkward responses. Like the one guy who punches out the scarecrow on the porch on Halloween, or the kid whose mom cancels his World of Warcraft account and has “The Greatest Freakout Ever.” But thankfully my proposal went ok. Sarai’s response was perfect…even if I can’t remember it, haha!

But I wanna share with you what I believe to be one of the most inappropriate responses that any child of God could have to God’s grace. I mean, we’re talking one of the most mind-blowing, flabbergastingly horrible responses ever! And while we may find some amusement in the story, we should really be asking ourselves this: ‘Have I really responded any better?’

Jonah is a story of ups and downs. In the mid-seventh century before the time of Christ, God went to one of His prophets with a unique mission: to deliver a doomsday message toNineveh, what was to become the capital city of the Assyrian nation. Though currently at peace withIsrael, only a few more decades would pass before they conquered thekingdomofIsrael.

If you remember the story, Jonah went down to a seaport known as Joppa, where he proceeded to board a ship heading west about 1200 miles to a place called Tarshish, believed to be near present-day Spain. This was in blatant disobedience to God, who had commanded him to travel toNineveh, which was 700 miles northeast of Joppa.

 So as this boat is crossing theMediterranean Sea, God brings about a storm deadly enough to begin sinking the boat, which leads to the discovery of Jonah’s sin. In order to appease God’s wrath, the men throw Jonah overboard, and as Jonah is reaching the bottom of the sea, with his dying breath he cries out to God, who brings in a large fish to swallow Jonah.

Now, at some point over the next three days, Jonah has a reality check and comes to grips with these facts: God is sovereign. I mean, He created and calmed the storm, and He caused a fish to eat Jonah. Ok? God can, and does, do any and everything He wants to. Jonah sees the sovereignty of God, along with an astounding display of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. The last thing we see Jonah saying before the fish vomits him onto dry land is this simple, yet incredibly rich phrase: salvation belongs to the Lord.

Jonah then sets out to obey God, goes toNineveh, this city that covers about 1800 acres and spends a day wandering around and preaching a short, eight-word sermon: “Yet forty days, andNinevehshall be overthrown!” And they believed this prophet from God. They believed that their rebellion against Yahweh, the Covenant God of Israel, had rightfully led to their total destruction, their kingdom’s total obliteration.

But they believed Jonah, all the way from the poorest of them to the King of Nineveh, more likely the area’s governor. And they fast, and put on rough clothing in their remorse for their sins. The king declares a city-wide continued display of repentance in hopes that God would be merciful…and He was. The whole city and all of its animals are spared…which brings us back to Jonah.

Jonah’s been on a crazy ride, right? I mean, he gets to experience, first hand, intimate conversation with God. He sees God’s sovereignty in a way many do not. Plucked from the bottom of the sea, he received mercy, and he was spared, and now through his ministry toNineveh, 120,000 people’s hearts are turned to his God. Let’s see his response to that. Cause right now, I’d like to think my heart would be so full it would burst, right? I mean, look at how amazing God is! But let’s look at the text in Jonah four:

 

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,[a] and he was angry.

A literal translation of the Hebrew reads, “it was exceedingly evil to Jonah.” You get that? God spared 120,000 of these men, women, and children from the wrath that was due for their sins, and to Jonah this is an atrocity. It ticks him off, and he gets mad at God. So mad, in fact, that now we learn the reason for his running from God in the first place. Cause see, it wasn’t a noble reason by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn’t like Jonah was thinkin’ “I’d love to God, but I just ain’t equipped for that massive a mission. I’m inadequate. Please, send someone else.” It wasn’t even because Jonah was scared of failure, or fearful of danger to his own life. No, listen to his reason for running:

And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

What?? Are you kidding me?? God, I knew you weren’t going to destroy them, and I wanted no part of it! I didn’t want them spared.  I wanted them to die, God. All of them. I wanted you to wipe every last one of them from the face of the earth, and I’ll be damned before I help one of them. No really- that’s his attitude. Listen to him:

Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Really, Jonah? Better that you die, rather than live and see God’s mercy and love displayed among these people?

And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Jonah? Is it right for you to be angry?

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.

That’ll work. Make a little fort, Jonah. Have a seat, watch the show. If you’re lucky, God will rain down fire and you can gleefully watch 120,000 people die under the wrath of God. Now let’s look at this object lesson:

Now the Lord God appointed a plant[b] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.[c] (Nice thing to do, right?) So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.

 No shade, no breeze, perhaps no water. Just dry, scorching, moisture-leeching heat. And once again, Jonah becomes a total drama mama. The Bible tells us,

 And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

Is it right that you be upset that your little shade plant died?

And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 To which God responds: “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pityNineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah…it was a plant. You didn’t work it. You didn’t till the ground and plant the seed. You didn’t bring water, day after day, to it. You didn’t keep it free from weeds and insects. It came and went from one night to the next, and yet you feel bad that it perished? Um…is it really that unexpected that I would pity Nineveh and it’s 120,000 people, who are so blinded spiritually that they don’t know anything about me or my laws?

 

And… that’s it. That’s how the book ends…with us pondering God’s mercy and grace. It was short-lived, by the way. About 100 years later the Ninevites had all gone back to their pagan, God-hating ways, and God destroyed them. But that generation was spared, as a demonstration of God’s far-reaching love and forgiveness, even to those who weren’t His covenant people. In this story, we see God’s compassion to His enemies contrasted with Jonah’s total lack of compassion, despite how grateful he had been when God was kind to him.

I want you to know as you read this that Jonah’s inability to love others stemmed from his inability to appreciate God’s grace for what it was. I’ll repeat that: Jonah’s inability to love others stemmed from his inability to appreciate God’s grace for what it was. And most of us are guilty of the same thing. We’re guilty of the same thing.

Check this out- there is no fundamental difference between Jonah, the sailors on the ship, or the citizens ofNineveh, and there is no difference between them and any of us who have experienced God’s grace. Let me unpack that a bit:

Jonah said from the belly of the fish, “salvation belongs to the Lord.” Easy to see it from that angle. When God came to him, it was solely out of God’s love and mercy. Jonah did absolutely nothing to deserve his rescue- if anything, what he deserved was to drown violently in the sea because he rebelled against God.

We’re no better, you and I. In fact, we’re worse. Let me remind you of what God says about us before we became followers of Christ: We are wicked at our very core– Gen 6:5, 8:21, Mk… 7:21-23, Ps 5:9, Jer 17:9, Titus 1:15-16, Ecc 9:3, Eph 4:17-18, (2) Enslaved by our sinful desires – Jn 8:34, Titus 3:3, 2 Tim 2:25-26, (3) Perverted in our will – Jn 8:44, Eph 2:3, Pro 21:10, Jn 3:19, Rom 7:18, (4) Unwilling and unable to change ourselves – Jer 13:23, Matt 7:18, Matt 12:34-35, Job 14:4, (5) Born hating God – Jn 3:20, Rom 8:7, Col 1:21 (6) Separated from God and not seeking Him – Ps 58:3, Eph 2:12-13, Eph 2:3, Ps 10:4, Jn 3:20, Is 64:7, Rom 3:10-12, (7) Completely unable to please God – Pro 15:9, Pro 28:9, Is 64:6, Rom 8:7-8, (8) Uncomprehending the Gospel and thinking it foolish – 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24, Deut 29:2-4, Matt 11:27, (9) Unable to respond positively to the Gospel – Jn 3:27, Jn 14:16-17, Jn 1:12-13, John 6:44, 65, (10) Spiritually dead – Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:3, Jn 3:7

Like Jonah, and the sailors, and the Ninevites, we were hopelessly, helplessly, doomed. It wasn’t like we wanted God and couldn’t be near Him- we never wanted Him in the first place! Yet the Bible teaches that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Do you understand that? If you are a child of God, you are forgiven by God only because your sins were laid on Christ and God slaughtered Him instead of you. He died for you. And when you are joined to Christ by faith, which itself is a gift from God, to you, then God no longer sees you are a rebel, but He sees Christ’s righteousness in you. Not because you earned it, or “accepted” it, but because it was given to you.

Don’t you see it? Had God never acted on your behalf, you would still be living a life of complete rebellion against Him, and after your short, miserable existence on this earth was over, you would spend an eternity in Hell continuing your rebellion against your Creator while you yourself bear His wrath on you as a sinner. Eternity. Forever. Never-ending, conscious, miserable torment in the Lake of Fire.

If you are truly saved, you are saved because God acted on your behalf. He drew you to His Son, who died in your place, bearing the punishment for your sins, satisfying the justice and punishment of His Father for your sins…and in time God opened your eyes to the reality of your sinfulness, and He lovingly gave you the faith in His Son that tied you into His sacrifice. Salvation, from start to finish, is a work of grace, a gift from God. And if you have never trusted this Jesus to be your Savior, there’s no better time than now- cry out to Him from the depths of your heart, for God promises that anyone calling upon His name for salvation will be saved.

For those of you saved by God’s grace, given new life, and eternal relationship with God…how do you respond to this? Will you be uncaring and uncompassionate like Jonah? Enjoying the benefits of God’s grace without yourself wanting it extending it to others? Will you obey Jesus’ command to preach the Good News to all the world, or will you fearfully and shamefully attempt to conceal your relationship with God from your friends?

There is only one proper response to the grace and mercy of God. As Paul says, there is only one reasonable response, only one way to worship God in response to His goodness, and that is simply this:

Paul says in Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

How will you respond?

 

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