The Savior’s Character

Savior's NamesYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we were introduced to a man named Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. He was on the receiving end of an Assyrian army bent on advancing their country while destroying all that stood in their path. Not only was Judah threatened by this massive Assyrian army, they were threatened by the continuing moral degradation led by their king. They were a nation of God’s people, yet the people were far from God. In Isaiah 7, we saw that Isaiah was sent to remind Ahaz to rest in God with the words, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” (Is. 7:9) God even said there would be a virgin that would conceive a child. That was the sign of the Savior.  This morning we’ll look at the character of the Savior.

Take a look at Isaiah 9:1-7.

 You would think that Ahaz, who by all accounts was raised in a godly home, would seek refuge in the One that can help. Ahaz discarded wise counsel from Isaiah and had to face the music resulting from his disobedience. He went ahead with his alliance with Assyria. Rom. 1:18 describes it this way: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in  unrighteousness.” Ahaz and those that followed him suppressed the truth. Isaiah 8 details how this happened. Despair and gloom descended on Judah.  Ahaz and the majority of the people of Judah had departed from God; so God handed them over to their sin and to their enemies. The northern-most part of Israel was feeling the Assyrian army coming down on them. As it became increasingly apparent that the godless plans of Ahaz were failing, the people began turning to superstition and the occult to find guidance. According to 2 Kings 16:3, king Ahaz even burned his son as an offering to the false gods of the Canaanites. It was a time of moral darkness, frustration, anger, and hopelessness under the judgment of God. Is this to be expected for those who depart from the Lord? Is judgment God’s only response to the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? As the anti-Christian sentiment grows here and abroad, you might conclude that God is judging us and we ask ourselves as David did in Ps. 94:3, “How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult?”

We are not in an age of despair, but an age of hope. We are warned with judgment to flee from wickedness and immorality. And we are also drawn by the Holy Spirit with love and kindness to turn to God. God has a glorious plan that sufficiently and completely deals with wickedness and sin. It is the good news of grace. Between Chapters 8 and 9, something happens to Isaiah. Isaiah is describing what’s going to happen to the people of Judah because of their rebellion and all of a sudden, he’s talking about things to come for mankind. Instead of war, Isaiah sees the boots of soldiers burned in the fire. Right in the middle of the war, there is something critical for us. V. 2 tells us, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Light will come to those that are in the dark. There is hope. There is still an opportunity to turn to God. That opportunity is available to you as well. In 1741, it was this section of Scripture that moved a man to compose an oratorio with perhaps the greatest chorus of all time.

In Handel’s Messiah, we see God’s character. Look at how Isaiah describes God’s character in vs. 6-7. He says. “A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us.” It is a real, physical birth. The child is human. That child is given to us. Remember who Isaiah is talking to. He is a gift to us.

Jo. 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
2 Cor. 9:15: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
Eph. 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” “And the government will rest on His shoulders.”
In Matt. 28:18 Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
Eph. 1:22 tells us that, “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”

He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Then Isaiah gives some names to this One that would be born. Call Him wonderful Counselor.  This literally means wonder of a counselor. Wonderful means marvelous, extraordinary, beyond the normal capacity to perform. The counsel of God in the flesh transcends human wisdom. Rom. 11:34 asks the question, “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” His ways are unfathomably deep. He is in a category by Himself. He is the supernatural counselor. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, no matter the person, He is able to provide perfect counsel and guidance.  He knows exactly what needs to be done. His course of action is perfect. When you are in need, look to the wonderful Counselor. Call Him the mighty God. Literally the heroic, strong God. This child is God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity and possessor of all the power of God. He is omnipotent. When you connect this name with wonderful Counselor, you get the idea that God in the flesh possesses the ability to carry out to completion all that His plans call for. He is able to say, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Is. 46:10) We tend to grow weak and weary, God does not. He does not sleep.

Call Him everlasting Father.  He is eternal. This child would be father to you and to me. He is always loving; always planning the best for us. Ps. 103:13-14: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” God knows our limitations and strengths, He knows our time frames, He knows what must be accomplished and what time is available to us. Call Him the Prince of peace.  He is the Prince of peace and according to v. 7, “There will be no end to the increase of His government.”  He will conquer the hearts of His people, He will start something as a child that v. 7 says will never stop growing and He will not do it by force, but with gentleness and with peace. The Lord has all it takes to accomplish His plans and will always do what is right and best for us. He draws us with kindness and unending faithfulness and goodness. Our desire should be to do God’s will.

Isaiah saw Him coming; the One that is God’s answer for sinners like you and me. He saw Jesus, the wonderful Counselor; He came with wisdom and purpose, with a perfect plan. Follow Him. As the mighty God, He will accomplish all His plans. Satan tried everything he could to thwart God’s plan through the baby Immanuel. Trust in Him. Rest in Him. He loves us endlessly. Enter into His presence. He reconciles us while we are still his enemies. Trust Him and welcome His guidance in your life. Rom. 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus is the greatest King; the King of all kings whose kingdom and peace will never stop expanding. He is the Rescuer and the Redeemer. He is Jesus, God with us.

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The Savior’s Sign

Virgin BirthYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4) This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. is name is Isaiah and he is a prophet.

Isaiah 7:10-17 is a familiar passage to people in and out of the church and I encourage you to get your Bible and read this incredible passage for yourself.

You’ve heard the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. Circumstances present themselves that may bring us to the edge of despair where there seem to be few options and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Judah’s king Ahaz on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man. He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world.

I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” He is not in a wilderness period and he is not sowing his wild oats. He did not do what is right in God’s eyes. Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he is confronted with a very serious national crisis, but he doesn’t possess the life experience or spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Assyria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from Assyria. It was a, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em scenario. It was Assyria’s practice to invade and conquer neighboring countries and take the people prisoner. Assyria’s  goal was to invade Judah and get rid of king Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” So what’s a king to do? Godly kings seek wise counsel from God and then there is Ahaz. Ahaz was foolish. 2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Assyria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. Ahaz is planning to buy off Assyria to save himself. You can feel the desperation in Ahaz’s reasoning. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to king Ahaz in 7:3. Let’s see how this is set up in 7:3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men. God is always bigger than your problems and your fears. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a king.

This is a good time for a miracle. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 says, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’” Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t want to listen; all he can think about is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all spiritual on Isaiah. He is conveniently forgetting what is going on in Judah: idolatry, human sacrifices, asheroth pole worship, Baal worship. The reality is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God. Are we like that? Do we seek guidance and counsel from the Scriptures, or do we avoid it because we’ve already made up our minds as to what we will do.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. The story continues in vs. 13-14, “Then he said, “Listen now O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it.

What is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained.  When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory. 700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you? The birth of Immanuel, God with us, served as a sign for people desperate to see God working. When all seems hopeless to us, God already has a plan in place, has already set the process in motion. Before you even realized you need Him, He is already there. Sometimes it takes being in the pit of despair to see the hope of a Savior. Immanuel means God with us, not God might be here one day if you’re really good.

The Rest of the Story

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Last week we finished up in the book of Jonah and it ended abruptly and somewhat strangely. We’re left to wonder about Jonah. Where did he go when he left the eastern outskirts of Nineveh? What became of Nineveh? Let’s look at the rest of the story of Nineveh.

First we need to go back to the future. We left Jonah sitting under the withered remains of a castor oil plant with God asking Jonah a question that goes unanswered. That’s not where the story ends. Fast forward about 130 years or so. Nineveh remains the center of Assyrian power. But something troubling has occurred. Another prophet comes on the scene and proclaims the message Jonah wanted to preach. Nahum 1:1-6 says, “The oracle of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the blossoms of Lebanon wither. Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him.”

Yes, it’s over. 50 years earlier, King Shalmaneser of Assyria took the 10 tribes of Israel into captivity. Little is known about the prophet Nahum, but his message is clear. God’s mercy is not unlimited. There is a day coming when God’s judgment will be poured out. When will that be? There’s the problem for many people. They say tomorrow I will serve God, tomorrow I will live for God. James 4:14 says, Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” We’re not guaranteed tomorrow so today is the day we must choose to serve God. Nineveh forgot something very crucial. While their repentance was genuine, it was short lived because something was missing from that city and missing from Assyria. Remember the entire population of Nineveh was saved. When they had children, did anybody bother to tell them about Jesus? Did anybody tell the new people moving into their neighborhoods about Jesus? Did anyone bother to live for Christ? There was no discipleship. Remember Jonah bailed out. After he preached the life changing message, he left. He didn’t take the time or put forth the effort to nurture these new believers. Jonah left without telling the people how to live for God, how to study the Scriptures, how to resolve conflict with people, how to be a people of faith. Nah. 1:3 says, The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” Punishment came in 612 B.C. when the great capital city of Assyria was destroyed. Even though these verses seem to emphasize the doom and destruction of a wicked city, there is still hope; not for Nineveh, but for us.

Nineveh was the recipient of God’s grace and mercy. Jonah delivered the wake-up call, the jolt of truth they needed to hear and they escaped the immediate threat of destruction. They were delivered, but soon forgot how they were delivered and by Whom they were delivered. Maybe you have received the wake-up call to live for Christ, but did you get out of bed or go back to sleep? We must not and we cannot sleep. Time is running out for our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers. Salvation is not just meant to keep us out of hell; it gives us the power through the Holy Spirit to live for Christ. Too many people profess salvation, but do not live for Christ. There are two verses sandwiched in here to give us comfort because this book really is a book of comfort. Vs. 7-8 say, The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, and will pursue His enemies into darkness.” The goodness of God is a basic tenant of our faith. Original sin rested in doubting God’s goodness. In Gen 3:7 the serpent told Eve, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The God who brings judgment does so because He is good. “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (1 Pet. 2:1-3) Everything in our lives is because of God’s goodness.

We have a privilege and responsibility. “Nineveh is devastated! Who will grieve for her?” (Nahum 3:7b) How wicked do you have to be that no one will grieve, no one will be upset at your destruction? If North Korea would be utterly destroyed, who would cry for the loss? How self centered do you have to be to not care that people will spend eternity in hell? Think about it like this: God has no grandchildren. Our responsibility does not end with delivering the life saving message of salvation through Christ. That’s just the beginning. The command for God’s children is to, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20) Disciples are made through time. Part of discipleship is teaching. It’s not giving someone the latest Christians book and telling them to read it. It’s not sending someone to a conference or a training class. Discipleship must be intentional. Don’t expect people to grow into what God wants them to be by blindly falling into it. Nineveh had the opportunity, but they rolled over and went back to sleep. So where does the responsibility rest? God puts the responsibility on leadership. Your shepherds are sleeping, O king of Assyria; Your nobles are lying down. Your people are scattered on the mountains and there is no one to regather them.” (Nah. 3:18) Contextually, this is speaking of the reason Nineveh was destroyed. The people charged with Nineveh’s protection did not do their job. As a result, the people were scattered about the country side. Nobody was there to gather the people together, to regroup, to refocus. Not the shepherds, not the nobles, and not the king. It’s an interesting contrast to the King of kings that declares, I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11) We need leaders to boldly go where God has called them to go. There should be no group of people, no neighborhood, no community, no nation, no family, no classmate, no co-worker, no tribe, and no tongue that does not hear of the good news of Jesus Christ and the grace He offers to each person. It’s our job to carry that message.

So what about Nineveh? Nah. 3:19 tells us, “There is no relief for your breakdown, your wound is incurable. All who hear about you will clap their hands over you, for on whom has not your evil passed continually?” This seems pretty harsh that in the inspired Word of God there would be something that seems contrary to God’s all loving nature. Rejoicing over the destruction of a city? That’s not the focus of Nahum’s message. We rejoice not in the destruction of Nineveh, but in the assurance that God takes care of His children. God works according to His purpose for the world. The leadership of Nineveh and Assyria were oppressive tyrants threatening the region with stealing and plundering; that were willing to kill anyone that stood in their path. They committed atrocities that make our stomachs turn when we think of them. God’s message is clear: Who’s going to cry for Nineveh? One commentator writes, “Shall those whose eyes you have gouged out shed tears at your death?  Shall those whose ears and nose you have cut off lament now? Shall the tongues you have chopped off recite your praises?” No, the time had come in which “the offer of mercy must be superseded by divine judgment.”

Nineveh had their chance. God sent the prophet Jonah to preach that message. Don’t miss the point that God is still active in the world to correct wrong, to strengthen the weak, and set free the oppressed. We should be willing to participate in God’s work. It’s easy to stand with Nahum and look disapprovingly on a wicked city filled with wicked people. Are we going into battle with God’s army to destroy or to set captives free? The root cause of Nineveh’s evil, of Assyria’s evil, of North Korea’s evil, of Afghanistan’s evil, of Saudi Arabia’s evil, of any one in any nation is sin. There is just one answer to sin and that is to be set free from the bondage of sin. This freedom that is found in God through His one and only Son Jesus Christ that was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life although tempted in every way like we are. He was unjustly accused and sentenced to death. He was tortured, abused, shed His blood, and died and was buried. Yet three days later He rose again just as He said He would. He was seen by the multitudes and ascended to heaven where He sits right now interceding with the Father on our behalf. God is full of wrath and yet good and slow to anger. God is calling us walk for Him, to walk with Him. In Luke 9:23 Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Our life in Christ is not something we put on or take off. Christianity is not a religion, but a way of life.

So what do Jonah and Nahum teach us? The world’s hatred is directed at us. The Muslim world has not received the message of God’s grace and we need to deliver it there. When we receive the call from God like Jonah did, will we run away? Will we jump to Nahum’s message of judgment? Or will we deliver the life changing message of God’s love and compassion? We come to see that God is calling us to bear our cross each and every day, even to Calvary and death. Elizabeth Achtemeier writes, we are not only “to resist evil, not only to correct it, but also sometimes simply to suffer it, confident in the assurance that God will finally cleanse his earth of all corruption.” Col. 1:10 tells us to, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” How can we not offer Muslims God’s amazing grace? How can we withhold God’s grace from anyone?

A Time for Reflection

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Last week Jonah expressed great joy over the provision of a castor oil plant that provided him some shade in the hot Assyrian sun. That joy turned to despair as God appointed a worm that destroyed the plant. That was followed by a scorching east wind carrying small particles of sand that blew with such force that Jonah begged God to let him die. Quite the range of mood swings. There is one final conversation that God initiates with Jonah. Let’s see what God says.

Jonah 4:9-11 tells us, “Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

The first thing you notice is God’s incredible patience. Hey Jonah, just one last question to think about. Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” God is affording Jonah another opportunity to look at things from a kingdom mindset. I don’t think God is using His mighty voice. I think He’s asking in a very soft, tender sounding voice because He still wants Jonah to get it. Pro. 15:1 tells us that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” You want to diffuse a difficult situation quickly?    Speak softly and tenderly. It really works. Try it with your spouse, your family, friends, and co-workers.

“Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” How angry is that? No doubt the heat and scorching wind played a part in Jonah speaking before thinking. If only Jonah would have thought about the question for just a second. There’s got to be something more here than tremendous grief and sorrow over the death of a plant. Is that really the issue here or is there more going on? What kind of man are you that you would despair to the point of death over a plant? In Jonah’s mind, he was absolutely justified regardless of what anyone says, regardless of what the Word says, regardless of what God says. His mind was made up and no amount of reasonable dialogue could change what he thought.

God provides a very solid argument for agreeing with Him even though He doesn’t need to. The gentleness of God’s voice diminishes in v. 10 when He says, You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.” Jonah has some misplaced emotion. He has compassion for a plant that he had nothing to do with. He didn’t put a seed in the ground and lovingly care for the plant. He didn’t water it; he didn’t do anything for it. The plant is an inanimate object and when it dies, Jonah wants to die. He still doesn’t get it. The real issue isn’t the plant; the real issue is that Jonah is still wallowing in his great anger thinking of Nineveh’s turning from wickedness. God’s doing what He can to make Jonah realize that his priorities are whacked. Jonah had no compassion on Nineveh. His rationale? Nineveh was wicked and we judge him for his lack of love. Yet, don’t we do the same thing? All compassion goes out the door when we mention names like: Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khadafy, and Adolf Hitler. We have no compassion when we think of the unknown person that killed Jon Benet Ramsay, or what we believe is the unjust not guilty verdict for Casey Anthony. None when we think of the unsolved disappearance of Natalee Holloway we get angry and demand justice. When we hear of death row inmates repenting we are skeptical. We feel like Jonah and we justify our feelings by concluding they deserve death, not life. When this is our attitude, we don’t fully grasp God’s grace. If God’s grace is sufficient for you and for me, then why isn’t it sufficient for someone as despicable as Bin Laden, or Hitler? When we look at humanity from God’s perspective, from a Kingdom perspective, our attitude should change. We are the receiver’s of God’s grace – unmerited favor: we are granted what we do not deserve. We are also recipients of God’s mercy – we don’t get what we do deserve.

God does have justification for what He does. God’s last recorded question goes unanswered when He asks, Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” It’s a very thought provoking question. If God exercises His grace and mercy on one person, why not on another? On one nation, why not another? Jonah had compassion on a plant. He cared for that plant deeply enough that when it died, he wanted to die. Jonah had an opportunity to express compassion on God’s highest creation and would not. Nineveh repented and Jonah still concluded they did not deserve God’s mercy, they deserved God’s judgment. God’s question captures the whole purpose for this book. It’s never too late to repent. No matter what a city or country has done, it’s never too late. The issue is God’s grace and mercy. It’s seen throughout the book. Jonah disobeyed the call to go to Nineveh. God’s grace resulted in a second call. Jonah deserved to die in the sea. God’s mercy resulted in a fish. Jonah deserved to bake in the sun. God’s mercy resulted in a plant. Nineveh deserved judgment for their wickedness. God’s grace sent them a prophet.

God’s desire for humanity is salvation, not destruction. He’ll do what He can to provide that salvation as long as His creation does its part. We have the responsibility to carry the message of hope – the message of salvation to people that deserve death yet God loves the world so much that He willingly gave His only begotten Son. Each person must respond to that message of hope – that’s our part of the equation. God wants Jonah to feel how He feels for Nineveh. Jonah has the capacity for compassion. He showed it to the sailors on the ship. He showed it for the plant. God loves the people in Nineveh, just like He loves the people of Jerusalem and Galilee. He also loves the people Pyongyang, Kabul, Riyadh, Mogadishu, Tehran, Malé, Tashkent, Sanaá, Bagdad, and Islamabad. What is significant about these cities? They are the capital cities of the top ten countries on Open Doors world watch list where it is most difficult to be a Christ follower. In 8 of these top 10 countries, Islam is the predominant faith.

God has compassion on these places and wants those people to hear and respond to the life changing message of Jesus Christ. God tells Jonah that, “There are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand.” The number is probably the entire population of the city. The exact meaning of the phrase “do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand” is not definitively known. It might refer to the Ninevite’s inability to distinguish between various religions. During this time period, there was monotheism, polytheism, atheism, idolatry, and the Assyrians were known for worshiping the constellations. It might refer to the helplessness of the people or their pitifulness. The best understanding would be that God is referring to a morally and ethically naïve group of people. The people are not innocent, but it conveys the idea that they just don’t know any better. When told the truth, they responded so they at least recognized their evil ways and did something about it. At best, this group of people is in the infancy of their Christian walk of faith. “As well as many animals” likely indicates that even God’s creatures that walk, fly, and crawl about the earth as well as the fish of the seas have a higher place than plants do. God is still the Teacher. It seems that this book ends suddenly and somewhat strangely. We don’t know what Jonah’s response was, if any. Did Jonah hear? Did Jonah care?

We leave Jonah to wallow in his self pity for being the instrument God used to accomplish the greatest mission trip ever recorded. Salvation comes to every person in Nineveh. No one can ever resent the grace of God that is shown to another person. We are all undeserving of it. Today we are left to wonder if we, God’s people, will have any compassion for a lost world. The choice is ours. What becomes of Nineveh? Do they live happily ever after? Next week, we’ll look at the rest of the story.

Jonah’s Disorder

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Last week we learned that Jonah was not overjoyed at the repentance of a whole city which led to God relenting of the calamity He had planned. Yet Jonah was thrilled that God provided a plant to shade him from the hot Assyrian sun. God has a lesson for Jonah to learn. Let’s see what it is.

Jonah 4:7-8 says, “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, ‘Death is better to me than life.’”

God is always working and isn’t always this fast. Today, Jonah would probably be defined a bipolar. His moods change quickly. God tells him to go to Nineveh, he runs away. A storm of epic proportions comes up on the Med and he wants to die. He’s swallowed by a fish and begs to be delivered. He’s given another opportunity and he reluctantly submits. Everything in the city happens just as he believed would happen and he falls into a pit of despair. What should cause joy causes sorrow. Lives are saved and he’s disgusted. A plant grows and he is beside himself with joy. Jonah has serious issues. Sometimes God seems to move with glacier like slowness. When you look directly at a glacier, it doesn’t seem to be moving at all. But if you plot the course of a glacier over days, weeks, and months, you can see the progress it makes. The speed that God moves in this book of Jonah seems incredibly fast. Jonah is sitting in his little shelter with the plant God provided enjoying some shade.

The first word in our passage today sets us up for a contrast. The word “but” in Scripture always prepares us to see that. “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.” God first appointed a fish, then a plant, now a worm. God used each to teach Jonah a lesson and He’s still in control of nature. Jonah’s happiness over the plant is short lived as the worm destroys the plant removing the relief Jonah enjoyed from it. Destruction is a common theme throughout this book. The ship and the sailors faced it on the sea. Jonah faced it in the sea. Nineveh faced it as a result of wickedness. What’s curious is that even with the potential for destruction in this book, the only thing that actually is destroyed is the plant. Destruction came upon something that brought Jonah great joy.

And Jonah’s mood changes again. It’s unlikely that Jonah noticed the worm that God appointed. He was too busy convincing himself that he was right to want Nineveh destroyed. We can probably identify with Jonah when we consider the atrocities done against us from organizations like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah operating in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but I would hope that the life changing results of Jesus Christ residing in our hearts would change our hatred to love just as Jesus commanded. We have no excuse not to demonstrate the love to others that was demonstrated to us on Calvary. Jonah was not justified in wanting Nineveh destroyed and we’re not justified in wanting the annihilation of what we consider our enemies. No I haven’t gone soft, I believe we have a right to defend our nation and hold people responsible that inflict terror on the United States, but I also recognize that they need someone to preach the truth that is found in Christ to them. That was Jonah’s problem. He didn’t think Nineveh deserved the grace or mercy that was shown to him looking ahead to Jesus. Even as Nineveh repented, his heart didn’t change.

The plant withers as the day began and v. 8 says, When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Jonah was deliriously happy yesterday and now the plant withers and he wants to die. Here again God uses His control over nature to appoint a scorching wind. It’s the fourth time God demonstrates His power over nature. For Jonah, it goes from bad to worse. The loss of the plant was significant. The plant provided shade and now that the sun is fully up, it is blisteringly hot. Then the wind comes. It’s not just any wind. This one comes from the east. When the east wind blows, the temperature goes up significantly and the humidity drops. The wind carries fine bits of sand. The sun is beating down on his head and he’s being sand blasted by the wind. One commentator on Jonah said this: “Constant hot air [is] so full of positive ions that it affects the levels of serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters, causing exhaustion, depression, feelings of unreality, and occasionally, bizarre behavior.” I think that describes Jonah. As a result of the sun and the wind, Jonah once again concludes that he was better off dead. To his bi-polar disorder, add drama queen. I have no doubt that he was miserable and the heat and the wind took an incredible toll on his mental faculties, but let’s face it, God is doing all He can to get Jonah’s attention and Jonah continues to ignore it. “Became faint” is nearly identical to how Jonah was feeling back in 2:7 in the belly of the fish.

Jonah was at the end of his rope, ready, and willing to die. Is this the end for Jonah? Will God answer his prayers for death? How desperate do you have to be to give up hope? Jonah, “Begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Exhaustion can do strange things to your brain. Add to that exhaustion heat, dehydration, and probably hunger and you get a sense of how bad it must have been for Jonah. Jonah pleaded with God to let him die. In Rev. 1:18, Jesus said that He has, “The keys of death and of Hades.” Heb. 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You can’t die unless God approves it. It’s not time for Jonah. God has not finished His lesson; God’s not through teaching. Jonah felt that he was at his wit’s end. We see from this entire account of his mission, that he is not a proactive prayer. He is a reactive prayer, praying only when he is in crisis. We’re no different. When all else fails, when there is nothing left to do, when we can no longer control our circumstances we turn to God. Prayer must be something that we regularly engage in. No one is too busy to pray. 1 Thes. 5:17 tells us to, “Pray without ceasing.” If this was our practice, we would be able to face life’s issues from a godly perspective. Too often we only pray when we feel it necessary. Someone asks us to pray for them. We’re asked to take on some duty or responsibility and we need to pray about it. We spend days or weeks praying about something. Truth be told, I think many times we say that just because we don’t want to make a decision. Or maybe God is telling us to do what we have just been asked and we simply don’t want to do it. Yes, we should pray out of necessity, but we should pray out of love. As Christians we say we love God and we love Jesus yet we do little to cultivate that relationship except coming to church. When you think of the relationships you have with your spouse or your friends, or your family; the common denominator of why that relationship flourishes or dies is based on the time you spend communicating. You’ll never have the relationship God wants with you if you don’t spend any time with Him. When you consider what you spend the majority of your time on, you find out what’s important to you. Jonah didn’t pray for his attitude to change, he prayed to die. He didn’t thank God for the privilege to be a part of eternity’s plan. He didn’t thank God for preparing the way for him. Jonah was focused completely on himself. We can sit here and pass judgment on Jonah. It’s easy to armchair quarterback what he did, his attitude, and his obvious lack of willingness to conform to God’s plan. Why is it so easy to clearly see other’s shortcomings and be blind to our own? Jonah was in total despair and needed an attitude adjustment.

If you are at the point of despair, there is hope. If you’re tired, there is rest. If you’re discouraged, there is encouragement. If you’re focused more on yourself than you are on God, it’s easy to fall into the same trap Jonah fell into. Let’s focus on God, do what He has instructed us to do in His Word, do what He has called us to do, and leave the results to Him.

Better Off Dead

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Last week we saw that God changed the course for Nineveh because they responded to Jonah’s message. Because of their response, Jonah became angry with God for not destroying Nineveh. Jonah knew all along that would happen and now he believes he’s better off dead. God’s not through with Jonah though. Let’s see what God does.

Jonah 4:4-6 says, “The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”

God is always at work. Jonah blamed God for Nineveh’s salvation and instead of being overjoyed, he was angry. God uses every opportunity He can to get us to the point He wants us to be. He’s not going to violate His character, and He often chooses to exercise patience. God asks Jonah the question we would probably ask too. “Do you have reason to be angry?” No immediate judgment. No stoning or death. Just a simple question. Even though Jonah is angry at God and tells Him as much, God lovingly and patiently engages Jonah. Don’t lose this image. We’re quick to demand judgment for others, but we want patience and mercy for ourselves. Why not give Jonah a chance to repent? Why not give Jonah the opportunity to recognize the error of his ways and turn to God? It’s hard to comprehend how God could still be so loving and patient with Jonah. God’s question should cause Jonah to reflect on what just happened in Nineveh. In other words, “Jonah, do have justification for being angry?” Is there some compelling argument for your actions, for the way you feel? Police officers often give us this opportunity. Parents give opportunities to children. Bosses give opportunities to their workers. This was Jonah’s moment to explain himself.

God’s question remains, “Do you have reason to be angry?” Anger in this verse means to burn or be kindled. Are you justified Jonah? Remember the reason Jonah is angry. Jonah’s anger was not the justifiable anger Paul mentions in Eph. 4:26 when he says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Jonah’s anger was wrong – it was sinful and God wanted Jonah to see and understand this. God’s desire was for Nineveh to recognize its wickedness and respond to His offer of redemption and that happened. Jonah would rather be dead than see Nineveh repent and be saved. He hated the Assyrians, even after they repented. Paul asks the question in Rom. 3:29, “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also.” God loves Nineveh just like He loves Jerusalem, but Jonah hates Nineveh. Jesus provides the solution to this type of intense hatred. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.’” (Matt. 5:43-44) If you love your enemies, they are no longer your enemies. God thinks on a grander scale than we do. The command in Matt. 28:19 is clear. “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” All the nations are included in God’s plan. We cannot leave out a single nation regardless of our justification. There is just one plan, one hope, one message. God commissioned His followers to carry that message to the world and that includes nations like North Korea Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Iran. There is no plan b. If we ignore any nation, they’ll turn to false gods and false religions.

God asks Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah has no right to be angry. He only has the right to obey. In our lives we lack faith because we ignore the clear commands of God. We complain when God doesn’t answer our prayers, but we’re unwilling to be obedient. We have no record of Jonah praying for Nineveh; not one single utterance for God to prepare their hearts to receive the life changing message of hope. Imagine the joy if Jonah had only prayed. Our job is obedience; leave everything else to God. “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah does not respond to God’s question. It’s not just rude. It reveals Jonah’s unchanged heart even at the miracle of Nineveh’s repentance.

In our results driven world, we would be over the moon as the results of preaching Jonah’s simple message of repentance. It wasn’t that one or two people or even one or two families that responded to the message. It was the entire city. Total success in God’s eyes, total failure in Jonah’s. Verse 5 says, Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.” We don’t know how much time passed if any between vs. 4 and 5. It’s interesting that Jonah chose to head east of the city and not west. Some suggest he wanted to see the sun set on Nineveh. Had he gone out the west gate of Nineveh, he could see the sun rise on a new Nineveh, a city that is no longer an enemy of Jonah or his homeland of Israel. The threat of military invasion erased, the threat of terrorism eliminated. This was the dawn of a new day in history. Jonah didn’t want God’s solution, he wanted destruction, he wanted Nineveh and Assyria wiped off the face of the earth. God’s solution results in changed lives; today’s solution? Tolerance. Compromise. Indifference.

Jonah exits the city and makes himself a shelter to get out of the hot Assyrian sun. What is going through Jonah’s mind is not known. He’s going to sit back, watch, and wait. He’s going to wait a long time because God had already decided that Nineveh would not be overthrown because the people responded to the condition that God set forth. So what’s he waiting for? Was he watching the city to see if their repentance was real? We have many professing Christians that look, act, and talk the same as they did prior to their confession of repentance. We sit back and watch if their repentance is real, maybe even waiting until they mess up so we can say, “I told it wasn’t real.” Jonah still hated these people; nothing had changed except that he preached what God told him to and the people responded. God is delighted; Jonah is disgusted. Jonah could have taken an active role in Nineveh’s spiritual growth. He could have stayed there and discipled the people. He could have been like Paul to the city of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, Philippi, and Thessalonica just to name a few. But Jonah was content to watch and wait leaving discipleship to someone else, but who? Nineveh was a city known for its wickedness and now they have responded to the message of truth and as a result are all new believers. Who can disciple the people? Who is there to teach them? Who is there to say, “Here’s what God says?” To be fair, nothing is recorded about God saying stay there to teach the people, but wouldn’t that be appropriate? Isn’t that a part of making disciples? This further reveals Jonah’s heart.

God does something that seems strange given Jonah’s attitude of disgust toward Nineveh. Jonah did finally go to Nineveh, but it was only after some divine convincing. Remember, our job is to obey, everything else is in God’s hands. Jonah exits the city and builds a shelter to wait and see what’s going to happen. He’s sitting in his little shelter and God shows up again. Verse 6 says, So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”        In the Hebrew language, Lord God is Yahweh Elohim. This is interesting because in v. 4, it’s Lord – Yahweh. In v. 7 that we’ll look at next week it’s God – Elohim. Yahweh is the proper name for God in Israel. Elohim indicates God’s divine creative power. So it was God the divine Creator that appointed the plant. Appointed is the same word used back in 1:17 describing how God used the fish. It’s interesting that the word plant, translated in some versions as vine, has been the subject of a lot of controversy. What kind of plant was it? Some argue that it is the castor oil tree, a shrub with large leaves that was common to the region. Others say it was a bottle or gourd plant. There was such disagreement about this that when Jerome changed the translation from gourd to castor oil tree in his Vulgate, a riot broke out in Carthage, in what is modern day Tunisia. What’s really messed up is that it doesn’t matter what type of plant it was, God was the One that appointed it.

It’s easy for us to determine what Jonah may or may not deserve. We might say that Jonah doesn’t deserve God’s provision. Jonah was clearly not in right in spirit; he didn’t like his mission to Nineveh or the results that occurred. God’s not through with Jonah. He provides some shade, to deliver him from his discomfort.” That’s kind of an understatement. It literally reads, “To deliver hi m from his evil.” Jonah is a disgruntled malcontent. It’s hot – temperatures are probably hovering around 110 F. Maybe he can hear the people from the city crying out to God. It must have been awful for Jonah to hear the joy of salvation knowing that he is completely out of the will of God. He is miserable. What’s the worst part? He played a major role in the repentance of Nineveh and was disgusted and yet when God provided him a plant to shade him, he was extremely happy about the plant.” Jonah rejoiced with great rejoicing. He was deliriously happy. In fact, for the first time in this book, Jonah is happy. He didn’t express this emotion when he was delivered from certain death in the sea by the fish God sent; he didn’t express this emotion at the total and complete deliverance of Nineveh. He was happy because the plant provided relief from the heat, and maybe he’s thinking that God’s provision is an indication that all is well between him and God. As we’ll see next week, all is not well.

Even in the depths of our despair, God is there with us. Even when the despair is of our own making, God will never leave us. He wants us to get to the point of complete trust in Him. Jonah has some learning to do and God is not through. For us, we must be willing to learn life’s lessons the way God intends for us to learn. There are no short cuts or bypasses.

God’s Reaction to Repentance

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Last week we saw Jonah taking advantage of the second chance he was given. He diligently preached God’s message to Nineveh and as a result, the most miraculous transformation in history took place. Everyone from the king down to the most common of people came to recognize the truth of God. The truth resulted in people turning from wickedness to God. The king did what was right and if God wanted to relent and withdraw His judgment, that would be cool. Let’s see what happens next.

Our story continues in Jonah 3:10-4:3 that says, When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”

God’s mercy is revealed in Nineveh. Ever vigilant, ever seeing, v. 10 tells us, When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.True repentance leads to mercy, but God is not obligated to give us mercy. It wasn’t the prayers and fasting that led to God relenting although that was good. God relented only after, “They turned from their wicked way.” True repentance always leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude, a change in direction. You cannot say you’re sorry for your actions and continue engaging in the same actions. You cannot say you have a relationship with God and continue to hate your brother, to practice immorality, to continue to lie, cheat, and steal. Actions speak way louder than words. This is really brought home in 1 Jo. 2:1-6. John says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” I don’t know how you can get any clearer than that.

Nineveh turned from their wickedness and God did as the king hoped – He relented. No fire, no brimstone as had occurred in Sodom and Gomorrah. Nobody struck dead where they stood. Are you asking yourself, “But wait a minute, then Jonah’s prophecy didn’t come true and he is a false prophet that should be stoned to death.” In order to understand what just happened, we need to know what the word relent means. It’s also translated as repent or to change your mind. God changing His mind is a hard concept for us. At Nineveh’s repentance, God changed His mind about overthrowing the city. This is consistent with His justice, His mercy, and His righteousness. I often say God can do anything because He is God. I think everyone understands fundamentally what I’m saying, but God can’t really do anything. He can’t break a promise; He can’t lie; He cannot do anything against His inherent character. Ja. 1:17 reminds us that, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  Heb. 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” God always does what He says He’s going to do, but if a condition is met that was previously established, God can change the course of action to suit His purpose. Moses frequently prayed that Israel wouldn’t be destroyed because of their sinful behavior. In fact, the O.T. is full of examples where God responds to His people.

Nineveh recognized the truth that Jonah told them and they turned from sin to God. It must have been genuine repentance or else God wouldn’t have changed the plan. God’s desire is that people turn to Him. 2 Pet. 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God loves you with an incredible love and wants to spend eternity with you. He will do whatever it takes to get your attention. God’s goal for Nineveh was not destruction, but for repentance and reconciliation between Him and the sinners in that city.

And now for something completely different. We see God’s mercy poured out on Nineveh. For a preacher of God’s Word, this is an incredible response. Peter preached his first message and 3000 people were saved. That’s huge, right? Not compared to Jonah’s message. The response in Nineveh was overwhelming. Everyone responded to the truth of God’s messenger. Oh what a feeling! Jonah has got to be over the moon. Here’s the contrast: Nineveh repented, God relented. Joy all around. Verse 1 says, “But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.” This is not a normal response when people are radically and totally transformed by the Gospel. Why was Jonah so angry? The Scripture is not clear, but there are several possibilities. Remember Assyria was led by wicked leaders that wanted to rule the world. Assyria threatened Israel’s existence and was a likely target. Some say that Jonah was embarrassed that his prediction for destruction did not come true and as a result he lost credibility as a prophet. Others suggest Jonah believed Israel’s devotion to God was declining and this judgment would cause Israel to wake up and serve as a reminder to the Hebrew people that God is God. While the exact reason for Jonah’s anger is not known, this is what we do know. Jonah’s response to Nineveh’s salvation is not a godly one. That’s really an understatement. How much do you have to hate someone to be angry because they responded to what you told them to do? If Jonah’s initial disobedience was not an indication, then his response to Nineveh’s repentance clearly leads you to the conclusion that his heart is not right with God. How quickly Jonah forgot his responsibility to God and the great privilege to be a part of God’s plan.

Jonah’s lame explanation. Verse 2 gives us some insight into Jonah’s heart. He knew exactly what would happen in Nineveh and confesses to the Lord. It’s good that Jonah prayed, but his prayer is a prayer of selfishness, a prayer of complaint – the pronoun “I” occurs four times in this verse. This is way different than his prayer back in 2:2-9. What happened to Jonah’s confession that, “salvation is from the Lord?” Isn’t that the possibility for everyone? People just need to hear the truth of the Messiah? At some point after God told Jonah to go the first time, there was some discussion between the two. In v. 2 Jonah says, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country.” What Jonah anticipated God doing happened and Jonah was the tool God chose to achieve His goal. Jonah was thinking of himself, not the kingdom. Instead of showering Nineveh with the same kind of grace God had granted to Israel, Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed without the opportunity to repent. Will we join Paul by saying, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31) It’s easy for us to think that God loves us more than our enemies or the enemies of God. We wrongly conclude that God could never love those people that are bent on our destruction, that desire to hurt us, that desire to cripple our country, and our faith. See that’s what happened to Jonah. He was focused on himself. He lacked the wisdom to keep his mouth shut and essentially tells God, “I told you so.” That was his excuse for running to Tarshish. In Jonah’s mind, if he could just delay his trip to Nineveh, maybe God would destroy the place before he got there. Don’t think that Jonah doesn’t know who God is or has a skewed view of Him. He tells on himself in the second part of v. 2. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” Talk about hypocrisy.

Let’s recap. The Word of God comes to Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh. Jonah jumps on a boat to flee from the presence of the Lord. God throws a storm at the boat. It was determined that Jonah was the cause. The sailors throw him overboard. Jonah hits the water, a fish swallows him and the storm stops. Jonah recognizes his rebellion and begs God for a second chance. God grants a second chance and the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches what God tells him to preach. All the people in Nineveh recognize their sin and repent. God changes the course for Nineveh because they repented. Jonah gets mad because God is loving and kind. What Jonah tells God is really a quote from Ex. 34:6, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” These people didn’t deserve God’s lovingkindness. At least that’s what Jonah thinks. Since Nineveh repented, Jonah told God, “Please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” How much hatred must be in a person’s heart that he’d rather be dead than see people converted? No joy that God used Jonah in a mighty way. No eager anticipation to see how God would miraculously change these people’s hearts and lives. No thought of how many other people could be reached with the Good News because these people turned from wickedness to God. That’s the problem; Jonah cared about Nineveh getting what he thought they deserved. Jonah forgot all about the grace he was shown and the salvation God provided to him. What’s even more offensive is that Jonah begged God to save him back in chapter 2 and now he would rather be dead.

We cannot forget the love of God that applies unconditionally to humanity. John 3:16 is always applicable. Salvation is not based on our goodness or badness. It’s not based on what we do or have done; it’s all based on what God did through Jesus Christ. Just because we are saved by grace, that is no excuse or justification to live outside of God’s will. Each of us has a mission.