Jonah 4

Title: Jonah 4

Text: Jonah 4:1-11

Time:  July 3rd, 2011

 

Today we finish up on the Book of Jonah in the fourth chapter where Jonah has been through a lot. He’s received a calling as a prophet to announce judgment to the wicked city of Nineveh, but disobeys instead. Then, he hops a ship to nowhere to escape the will of God, only to encounter a fierce storm that eventually leads to him being thrown overboard into the sea. He then encounters a large sea creature that swallows him and he spends three days in the beast’s belly. In answer to prayer God exits Jonah out of the creature onto the beach and calls Jonah again to be a prophet to Nineveh. This time he obeys, fulfills his calling and preaches judgment to the citizens. Miracle of miracle the people repent of their sins and turn to God in faith – and God saves them. And this is where we pick up the account today. Jonah 4:1-11 (read). Now this final chapter of Jonah is a little complicated, a lot harder to understand than the previous three chapters. It’s not something so easily explained to children as the earlier portions of the story. That’s why most Sunday School teachers probably finish the story of Jonah and whale at the end of chapter three, where God spares the city from judgment. But that’s not quite the end of the story, because Jonah doesn’t go straight home after the city is spared. Instead, he hangs around a little longer – not in the city, but just outside the city, and waits to see what happens further. And he becomes mad. Why is Jonah upset? We’ll talk about that today. Why does Jonah wait from a distance outside the city? I’ll try to explain that also. In this fourth chapter we see an inner struggle in the mind and emotions of Jonah, because things didn’t turn out how he had expected. Remember, he wasn’t too excited about going to Nineveh in the first place, but eventually he was brought to the point of obedience by God. Then, after he followed the will of God he was hoping to be witness to the destruction of the wicked, but that didn’t happen. So it seems as if he can never get his way – or in other words, his will never coordinates with the will of God, so that he’s always constantly frustrated. That’s a common feeling among members of the human race. Perhaps you’ve also felt frustration towards God for not working life according to your will. If you’ve felt that, you are typical. We’ve all felt that at times. But Jonah had to learn how to be a mature adult believer, just like we all have to learn how to be adult believers today. It’s one thing to have faith in God, it another thing to have a mature faith in God. According to surveys of American Christians, our nation is full of people who profess faith in God, but it’s mostly a nation of immature believers. Or in other words, lots of people have faith in Christianity, but few have a mature faith. We need to learn like Jonah needed to learn, that faith isn’t about having one-time faith experiences, but rather having an on-going, maturing faith experience with God. Jonah had grown a lot from his early rebellion to his later obedience, but he was a long way from a mature faith. Lots of us are in the same situation in respect to our faith. Many of us have had faith experiences, maybe a conversion or profession of faith years ago, but have we grown much in the meantime? We may have even grown some along the months or years, but that doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. It’s easy to settle into a complacent pattern after conversion, after baptism, after joining the church. But we need to realize, like Jonah did, that the school of faith isn’t over until we reach heaven. We need to think of ourselves as still students, as learners – which is what the word “disciple” means in the original New Testament Greek. Jonah learned that even after all the lessons he’s learned, he still needed to become mature, because as we’ll see, he acted very immature in his response to God’s saving the city. Let’s see if we can’t learn a few things from this last chapter.

 

First, we need to beware of spiritual immaturity even after we see progress in our life. Jonah 4:1-4, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’ But the Lord replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?’” Jonah had come a long way since the time of his initial disobedience. He came through the experience of fleeing from the Lord, being thrown into the sea, and swallowed alive by a great fish. He came through being spit out on shore, of having God speak a second time to him, traveling all the way to Nineveh, and preaching judgment to the people. He witnessed the entire city repent and trust in God’s salvation. Now he was tired, but that’s not all – he was angry. Why was Jonah mad? Because God didn’t destroy the city in judgment. He wanted to see fire and brimstone come down from heaven and ruin the city. He wanted to see the evil Assyrians ruined. He hadn’t initially wanted to go to Nineveh, but if he must go, then he was counting on seeing its destruction. But that didn’t happen; instead, God spared the city. That made Jonah mad. In addition, he felt like a false prophet because he told the people that God was bringing destruction but instead God spared the city. That probably embarrassed Jonah a lot. So his pride was wrapped up in the equation as well. What was Jonah’s response to all of this? He told God to take his life, because life wasn’t worth living. Now from our perspective it seems petty, at least the reasons why Jonah is so down and out, but from his own perspective it made sense. But it also shows Jonah’s immaturity. He was still approaching life from his own selfish perspective. Instead of thinking like God thinks, he was continuing to think like a petty person. Everything revolved around his own wants and needs. And if you think of it, this same selfishness is evident throughout the account of Jonah. God calls him to preach, but Jonah disobeys. Now, after his assignment was complete, he’s upset because it didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. From start to finish, Jonah was thinking more about Jonah than God or other people. There’s only one exception, and that is when he told the sailors to throw him overboard to save the ship from the storm. Outside of that one incident, Jonah displays a lot of self-centeredness. That’s a mark of immaturity. But before we condemn Jonah too hard on selfishness we need to look at our own lives. We’ve got a lot of selfishness to deal with as well. We live in a self-centered society and we pick up on a lot of that selfishness – not that we need a lot of encouragement, because we are naturally selfish because of our inherited original sin from our first parents Adam and Eve. In respect to selfishness, we too are immature. Even in our Christian life we must battle pride and selfishness, because whenever we accomplish anything, even something small, we are prone to take pride in it. In addition, whenever something doesn’t go our way, we tend to get upset. Is that something you struggle with? If you are typical, it is something you deal with often. Let’s remember, just because we’ve come a long way in our Christian life doesn’t mean we are yet mature. Signs of immaturity can be seen in every one of us. We need to keep learning and growing.

 

Second, we need to beware of spiritual immaturity at any point in our life. Jonah 4:5-9, “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, god provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But god said to Jonah, ‘Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?’ ‘I do,’ he said. ‘I am angry enough to die.’” Again, this is not an easy description to follow because we are looking at a man’s inner mental condition or state of mind. We just saw how Jonah reacts immaturely about the fact that God didn’t destroy the city. Instead of accepting God’s will, he’s upset with it because it didn’t align with his own will. Now we see another instance of immaturity, even after God is gracious and merciful to him by sending shade for him in the desert. Things just don’t seem to be going right for Jonah. He makes camp outside the city of Nineveh with the hopes that the city might still be destroyed, or maybe he couldn’t believe that the repentance and faith of the people could be long-lasting. We’ve all heard about people going forward at evangelistic meetings, making a tear-filled profession of faith, but then not so long later falling away? Maybe Jonah was thinking that the city’s repentance and faith wouldn’t last long. Anyway, he set up outside the city, within viewing distance, to wait and see what would happen. He’s mad that the city didn’t go up in smoke like he preached, he’s a little embarrassed that his message didn’t come about as he said, so he’s thinking maybe the judgment is delayed, but not gone altogether. So he’s working through his immaturity with God. All the while God is gracious, kind and loving to him by sending him some shade, to comfort him. Finally, Jonah thinks things are going his way, but just as soon as he gets comfortable, God sends a worm to eat the shade vine, and sends a hot breeze. Now Jonah is really upset and hot – temperature wise, angry and hot-under-the-collar. And Jonah displays immaturity again, gets mad, and thinks he’s going to die. God again has to teach Jonah some more lessons. Isn’t that like us too? We think just about the time we’ve got this “Christian living thing” all figured out, God sends us some difficulties in life to show us how far we have to go? I guess God doesn’t want us to fall into spiritual pride. After all, pride is the worse sin. What is pride? Isn’t it thinking that we are complete in ourselves? Isn’t it thinking we are wise and mature and able in ourselves? Jonah had some pride that God was trying to get out. And God will work with us in the same way. We’ve all got areas of immaturity in our lives that need to be worked out. God will help us recognize these areas of immaturity so that we can learn to overcome them. I remember God teaching me a lesson when I worked at Wal-Mart. One day walking into the store I saw a guy pushing carts in the parking lot. I said to myself, “I’m glad I don’t have to do that. It would be so embarrassing, people seeing me pushing carts in the parking lot.” Do you know what God did? The very next day I was assigned carts in the parking lot. I mean they pulled me from the Electronics department to pull carts. God showed me that I needed to stop thinking too highly of myself. I guess I needed to be humbled. God did that to Jonah, he’ll do that to you too if you need it. God will work with us to help us become mature, but it’s an ongoing process. You are never to old to learn.

 

Third, we need to take on a mature perspective on life. Jonah 4:10-11, “But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about his vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’” God’s perspective is care and concern towards people, but Jonah’s perspective was towards himself only. He didn’t get his way with the city; it wasn’t destroyed. He didn’t get his way with the shady vine; it dried up and died. He didn’t get his way with the heat; a hot desert blast made him hot and uncomfortable. So while he’s preoccupied with these things, God is trying to show how selfish he is in only thinking about himself. Here is a city of thousands of lost souls saved from destruction by the love and mercy of God, and all Jonah can do is complain. Jonah needed a larger perspective on life. But that’s a problem we all face in life, especially living in prosperous America. We complain about our economy, but we forget that even in a recession it’s still better than most places in the world. We complain about this and that because we can’t get our way, when we forget that we are spoiled in having so much to begin with. A big part of being mature is having the right perspective on life, and a big part of having the right perspective on life is seeing things through the eyes of God. Are we concerned about the welfare of others, in this country and other countries? Are we concerned about the people we hear and see about on the television news reports – the Arabs, Africans, Chinese and Russians, for example? One of the greatest things I’ve found in getting a larger perspective on life is to pray for different countries of the world. I got a prayer book called Operation World – it’s in the bookstores like Borders and Barns & Nobles. It goes through 365 days a year and organizes the nations of the world so that you pray for a different country every day. It gives information about each country and then the most pressing needs of the people. It’s really great for getting a global perspective on life. But really, you don’t need Operation World to give you a different perspective, just make sure you include other people – not just you, your family and close friends – but other people, in your prayers. When you do you find yourself losing your petty perspective on life. If you stop and listen to most Christians, how they pray, when they pray, you’ll find usually their prayers are limited to things close to them, in their personal life. That’s the problem Jonah had – his world revolved around his own personal needs instead of thinking of God and other people. It’s easy to fall into that trap because life demands so much of us on a daily basis, but if we don’t resist the temptation to think small, we’ll take on a petty perspective. We need God to teach us and remind us of the bigger concerns of life. Take a look at your life today. Is it fairly limited, narrow and petty? If so, pray to God and ask you to give you his perspective on life. Ask God to give you a mature faith, a mature viewpoint on the world. Ask God to help you approach life from maturity. It may not happen overnight, and you may face obstacles, but at least you’ll be moving forward and making progress. At least we won’t be standing still, trapped in our own petty perspectives on life. We’ll learn to think of others and not just ourselves.

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One Response to “Jonah 4”

  1. Die Jeff Short Says:

    […] Jonah 4 « Jeff Short's Weblog By jeffshort Title: Jonah 4. Text: Jonah 4:1-11. Time: July 3rd, Today we finish up on the Book of Jonah in the fourth chapter where Jonah has been through a lot. He's received a calling as a prophet to announce judgment to the wicked city of Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live' But the Lord replied, 'Have you any right to be angry?'” Jonah had come a long way since the time of his initial disobedience. […]

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