Jonah's Heart and God's Compassion (Jonah 4)
Topic: Jonah Passage: Jonah 4:1–4:11
Jonah: Fleeing or Following the Heart of God
Jonah's Heart and God's Compassion
(One Mission: I am Not Ashamed)
January 31st, 2015
I. The Greatest Heart Surgeon
If you were interested in learning more about the greatest heart surgeons of all time, you might run across this paragraph, included on a website from several years ago:
On July 12, 2008, the world lost an incredible talent. A renegade physician, a pioneer, the father of open-heart surgery, and perhaps the best surgeon who ever lived, Dr. Michael DeBakey died of natural causes at 99. Because of his groundbreaking research, cutting-edge medical devices and maverick approach to cardiac surgery, DeBakey literally changed the rules of the game and thousands of lives are saved each day. (Freibergs.com)
DeBakey is just one of may names you would encounter in walking through the history of modern cardiac research. But this morning, we are going to meet a heart surgeon who easily eclipses the entire field past and present, a heart surgeon whose skill and impact are unparalleled.
Let's turn one more time to the book of Jonah. I hope God has blessed you immensely because of our time in this book. And as finish up our study this morning, I think you will see how all of the amazing threads we've discovered here are woven into this conclusion.
II. The Passage: "Do You Do Well to Be Angry?" (4:1-11)
As we get ready to dive into chapter 4, I think it's fair to say that if the book of Jonah were made into a movie, the dramatic climax would be chapter 3. Everything seemed to be leading up to Jonah's ministry in Nineveh. Think about it: a foreign prophet shows up in an Assyrian metropolis to denounce their wickedness and announce God's judgment. But...instead of being strung up in front of Nineveh's “city hall”, Jonah's messages is heeded.
The Ninevites, (3:5) “from the greatest of them to the least of them” humbled themselves and threw themselves on the mercy of God. The dramatic outcome is revealed in 3:10...
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
And it's precisely that amazing turn of events, that amazing turn of hearts, that leads us into the situation described in Jonah 4:1. We read...
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  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.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the LORD said, “Do you do well 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.  Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. 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. 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?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  And the LORD said, “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.  And should not I pity Nineveh, 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?”
I think it's fair to say chapter 4 is the real climax of the book. No, it's not as cinematic. But the major dilemma, the major conflict of the book of Jonah reaches fever pitch in this chapter. Now, before we unpack that main idea here, let's make sure we know exactly what's happening here. Let's think about this chapter in three parts. Let's make sure we understand what's happening here, so we can understand what God has for us in this passage.
1. Jonah's Objection Doesn't Lessen (4:1-4)
First of all, I want you to see that in verses 1-4 we are finally given a clear window into the prophet's deep inner conflict. Yes, we heard Jonah's heart in chapter 2, a heart that cried out in worship in light of God's deep sea deliverance. But here, we are finally told (by Jonah himself) why he ran from God's first commission.
The stunning, even shocking reason Jonah fled the call of God was based squarely on the fact that Jonah knew what God was like. He didn't run because sin had somehow clouded his view of God's character. He knew full well that He is (v. 2) a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
When it came to the brutal, the oppressive, the trouble-making Assyrians, as an Israelite, Jonah would have happily embraced the fact that Yahweh was a God of justice and power. But in this case, he hated the fact that God was also a God of grace, mercy, and love. If that sounds disturbing to you, it should. This chapter was and is meant to shock the reader.
It's here we see all the ugliness of Jonah's sin-gripped heart. God's heart was wide open to the guilty Ninevites. But Jonah's was just the opposite: closed, locked, deadbolted, and hermetically sealed. Jonah hated seeing the Ninevites repent, he hated seeing God be merciful, and he hated being the prophet who brought the two together. What had he done? What would people back home think of him? He would rather die than be in this position.
And God calls Jonah on his heart, doesn't He? Verse 4: And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” God is saying, “Doing you really have any right to think that way, Jonah?”
2. God's Object Lesson (4:5-8)
So notice what God does and doesn't do in verses 5-8. Think about it. What would you do if you had a son or daughter who was talking/acting like this? What would you do if you saw this kind of heart seeping out in their attitude and words? I think many of us would be tempted to get loud and firm. It would be extremely disappointing and extremely frustrating, right?
And this is a holy God we're talking about. Is He really going to tolerate this? After all He's done for Jonah? And after everything else Jonah tried to pull? What does Jonah's self-centered, callous, bigoted, grumbling heart deserve? But wait...remember...He is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. God's wide-open heart is once again on display in this book, in all its sublime beauty. God doesn't scold Jonah. Instead, He takes him back to school.
But this time, the classroom is not the fish's gut. It is in the shade of a gourd plant. We read both fish and plant were “appointed” by God and both were used in miraculous ways. In regard to the plant, we read in verses 6 and 10 that it grew very, very large in just one night.
So think about the scene. Verse 1 of this chapter probably takes place just after the fortieth day of Jonah's ministry in Nineveh. The announced destruction has not come and Jonah is ticked off. But somehow, he thinks something might change. Maybe on the forty-first or forty-second day, the Assyrians will breathe a collective sigh of relief, go right back to their wicked ways, and God will in turn go back to His original plan of judgment.
We're told that he found a spot somewhere away from the city, but with a good view of the city, and built a small and probably super-primitive hut of some sort. However it was built, we can guess it had a lot of gaps in the walls and roof. It gave some shade, but clearly not enough. We know this because when that gourd plant grew up overnight, it made Jonah (v. 6) “exceedingly glad”. It (v. 6) saved “him from his discomfort”.
But the Divine Teacher's lesson had just begun. He gave Jonah the plant in one night, and the next night, he took it away. And His appointments continued. Not only did he “appoint” a worm to destroy the plant, but he also “appointed” a hot wind to blow and the clouds to steer clear of Jonah's suburban location. Verse 8 paints the picture: suffering under the symptoms of heatstroke, Jonah once again announces that he would be better off dead.
3. The Object of God's Lesson (4:9-11)
But there's a final set of verses. Look again at verses 9-11. Just as he did in verse 4 when Jonah declared his desire for death in verse 3, God asks Jonah here in verse 9, “Do you do well to be angry...?” But this time, the subject is not Nineveh, is it? What is Jonah angry about now? The plant; specifically, the death of the plant.
Why is he angry about the plant's demise? Because it proved to be a blessing to him. He knew it was a gift from God. He knew no plant grows that fast. He was happy to receive that kind of strange, but divine deliverance from his discomfort. And it exactly those feelings God knew he would experience. Look again at how God takes Jonah's feelings and uses them to make the main point of the book. Verses 10 and 11...
And the LORD said, “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.  And should not I pity Nineveh, 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?”
Do you see what God has done? He turns the tables on Jonah. Except for a few days in the sturgeon's stomach, Jonah has been fixated on the guilt of the Assyrians and the grace of God, and the likely outcome of those two things converging. From those initial moments when God first called him to go, he has not been willing to look at and deal with his own heart. But that is exactly where God has brought him.
What are we seeing in this chapter? We are watching the greatest heart surgeon in the
history of the universe work as only He can. Jonah is brought face to face with the reality of his own potential for pity. And when that concern mixed with grief mixed with anger over the loss of life finally rises to the surface, Jonah has lavished it on...a plant. And so God asks him, where was all this when 120,000 spiritually ignorant human beings were on the verge of destruction? Goodness, gracious, Jonah, even cattle are more valuable than a 'twenty-four' shrub. How is it you felt nothing for any of them?
III. No Ordinary People
Brothers and sisters, think about what God has shown us, not only in Jonah chapter 4, but throughout this whole book. God has given us an all-access pass to see an unparalleled sight: He has shown us the vast treasures of His wide-open heart for all people. But He has not done that so we can treat His heart like some interesting museum piece. One of the reasons He wants you to come to grips with His heart, is so that you will genuinely come to grips with your own.
You see, according to God's plan, Nineveh need Jonah, and Jonah needed Nineveh. Through Jonah, the Assyrians would learn of their need for repentance. And through the Assyrians, Jonah would hopefully learn of his need for the very same thing.
And the book ends the way it ends for that exact reason. We don't know how Jonah responded to God's lesson, to God's heart surgery. In fact, we don't need to know. I believe the book's abrupt conclusion is meant to put the question back in our lap: “How would you respond? What is the right thing to do?”
As we've talked about, like Jonah, all of us, whether we recognize it or not, all of us struggle with the wide-open heart of God for all people. We are glad to be the recipients of God's mercy. But there are people near and far that we would rather ignore or condemn or forget or avoid or ridicule or exploit, people, if we're honest, we would rather curse than bless.
But God has shown us in Jonah that when our hearts are like this, when the same ugliness that plagued Jonah's heart is at work in mine, His wide-open heart is preparing me for surgery. God helps His people to become more like Him. And He can even use 'fish' and 'plants' to do that amazing work of conforming us. 'Fish' to remind us of the beauty of the mercy we've received, and 'plants' to remind us of the ugliness of our selfish indifference.
Chapter 3 taught us about the look of love. What does it look like when someone is sent on a mission because of the wide-open heart of God? It looks like Jonah in Nineveh. It means sharing the word of life with those in desperate need of rescue. But just like those Paul talked about in Philippi, those who “preach[ed] Christ from envy and rivalry” (Philippians 1:15), we know Jonah's heart didn't match his mouth.
In the same way, God wants us to help us with our hearts. Through his Holy Spirit, He is teaching us. He is performing spiritual surgery on us. And as we see here in chapter 4, one of His key lessons in this classroom of the wide-open heart is helping us see the incomparable value of every single human being. We value you so many things in life. And what we value we seek after, we fight for, we guard, we delight in those things, right? But because of sin, all of us are tempted to put 'plants' over people.
Please walk away today knowing this, and knowing God told you this: people matter more than anything else in this world. People. They are immensely valuable; even priceless. Like your hobbies. Like your car. Like your job. Like your books. Like your vacations. Like your pension. Like your movies and tablets. Like your education. Like your causes....But love people. Love them with the love God has given you. Listen to how C.S. Lewis encouraged us to think about our interactions with other human beings:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
Do you understand his point? Men and women, boys and girls, made in the image of God himself, are never ordinary. They are miraculous works of God. We cannot let familiarity breed contempt. We cannot let the sin we suffer with or the sins we suffer because of others keep us from those wide-open eyes that see because of the wide-open heart of God. Every single person matters.
And like Jonah, God has called us to go to every person in our circles with that correct appraisal: all of them matter. All of them are valuable, even when we struggle to see that. The book of Jonah challenges us to look at our lives and ask, “Who are my Ninevites? When God says “go”, with whom am I reluctant? With whom am I resistant?” Will all your Ninevites receive your love or God's love? No. With some, you will only be able to go so far. But that possibility doesn't mean we don't try.
I want to encourage you to think about just one of those people right now; that person God has called you to love, but your 'running'. As we go to prayer this morning, I want to take a moment of quietness, so you can talk to God. Ask Him to give you His eyes to see that person, and His heart to love that person. Remember, it was for human beings that Christ shed His blood. It was for sinners that Jesus died.
Listen to what Paul wrote about these things, words that I believe fit beautifully with the main lesson of Jonah: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (II Cor. 5:14-15)
More in Jonah: Fleeing or Following the Heart of God
January 24, 2016Jonah's Voice and God's Compassion (Jonah 3:1-10)
January 17, 2016Jonah's Breath and God's Compassion (Jonah 1:17-2:10)
January 10, 2016Jonah's Feet and God's Compassion (Jonah 1:1-16)