An Unsettling Conclusion
“An Unsettling Conclusion”
(Jonah 4) [on screen]
Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson, KY
July 2, 2017
It’s my great pleasure to bring the Word of God to you again this morning.
This morning we are concluding our series in Jonah.
We are in Jonah chapter 4 and we will see that this is this an unsettling conclusion, which is the title of the message this morning: An Unsetting Conclusion.
Introduction to the message
Allow me to offer a short review of the book thus far.
So far we have learned that Jonah was called to deliver God’s message to the Ninevites, but he decided to disobey.
Jonah went the exact opposite direction from where he was called to go.
In fact, Jonah was in such rebellion against God and His plan that he chose potential death rather than obedience to God; he decided to be hurled into the sea.
God, in His mercy, miraculously sent a great fish to swallow Jonah and redirect him on his journey.
Jonah is spat up on the land by the fish and finally obeys God and goes to Nineveh and preaches the message that God told him to preach.
The people of Nineveh respond by repenting before God, and God chooses to forgive them of their sin.
Chapter 4 reveals to us how Jonah feels about the situation and gives us a glimpse of what’s going on in his heart; as well as a glimpse of the heart of God.
You’ll want to know that there are some additional resources available for this sermon at www.fbchenderson.org/jonah4 (show web address on screen)
Again, we are in Jonah 4. I will read verses 1-4.
Stand me with now as we read the passage.
Read Jonah 4:1-4
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” 4 Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Let’s pray as we begin to dive into this passage.
You may be seated.
First of all, we see that . . .
I. Jonah hates the people (1-4) [on screen]
Right off the bat, we are told that something displeased Jonah exceedingly.
What is this thing that displeased him?
Well, if we go back to the last part of chapter 3, we see that the specific thing that displeased Jonah is that God relented of His judgment towards Nineveh.
Jonah is ticked-off that the people of Nineveh were forgiven!
What would cause this type of displeasure in Jonah?
Remember, the Assyrians were a ruthless people and the enemy of God’s chosen people, the Jewish people. Jonah wanted to see the Assyrians destroyed, not forgiven!
Jonah wanted God’s mercy to be shown towards his people and no other. He loved God’s mercy, but not God’s mercy for everyone, particularly not for the Assyrians!
Jonah’s love for his own people fueled his hatred of the people of Nineveh.
Let God’s Spirit start working in your hearts and minds right now, church. Jonah’s love for his own people fueled his hatred of the people of Nineveh.
Now, Jonah tries to justify his actions before God. He says in verse 2, “I knew that you would do this, God! I knew that you would forgive the Ninevites!”
This is such an ironic verse, because Jonah is clearly angry about the situation, yet he is in essence praising God by what he is saying!
This could essentially come straight from the Psalms: “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” (verse 2)
If you put that to music, you’ll have a beautiful praise song to the Lord.
However, Jonah is super angry about the situation, which doesn’t make for as good of a praise song 🙂
Jonah in essence is defending his earlier disobedience to the Lord.
He’s saying, “I knew you would do this; that’s why I disobeyed!”
Even though God’s grace allowed Jonah to have a redo, it seems that perhaps he’s now going back to his original disobedient spirit.
We can just imagine that although Jonah finally chose to obey, he probably went just beyond the line of barely obeying. In other words, he probably did the bare minimum in order to be obedient.
This is sort of like the child who takes the trash out with a bad attitude. He’s obedient, but he doesn’t like it.
I doubt he was imploring people to repent! He was probably just yelling that everyone’s going to burn without any compassion in his heart.
We know one thing for sure from this, Jonah was probably not bragging to his buddies about how successful his ministry was. If he were a modern pastor at a denominational meeting you could hear him right now saying, “Can you believe it? I went in there and preached the gospel to those reprobates and everyone of them turned to the Lord! Praise God, even the animals were fasting!”
That’s not what Jonah did at all. He hated all of this. He hated that God wanted him to preach to Nineveh and he hated that God forgave them. He hated this ministry to which he was called.
Matthew Henry says in his commentary, “What a strange sort of man was Jonah, to dread the success of his ministry.”
He was, indeed, a strange sort of man.
Jonah now takes this to another level of crazy and declares to God that he wishes that he were dead.
What is going on here?
We must acknowledge here that Jonah absolutely HATES the Ninevites.
He is exceedingly displeased; he has become SO angry.
Why? Because God has forgiven those whom Jonah hates.
Jonah hates them so much that he would rather personally die than to see them receive the forgiveness of God.
Jonah’s hatred for the people of Nineveh was greater than his desire to see the grace of God at work in their lives.
When Jonah received the mercy of God, he was thankful for it and praised God (as we see in chapter 2), but when the Ninevites received the mercy of God, Jonah hated it and would rather be dead.
This is messed up.
Finally, in verse 4, God asks Jonah this bomb of a question: “Is it right for you to be angry?”
This is really a rhetorical question. In fact, Jonah doesn’t answer it.
God’s point here is that it’s not right for Jonah to be angry.
Aside from the fact that God is God and He can do whatever He wants to do, it’s also hypocritical for Jonah to be upset about God showing grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it, because Jonah himself was just a recipient of God’s grace when he did not deserve it!
Think for just a moment what you might do if you were in God’s position at this point.
You have this guy that you gave a command to, he disobeys and says he would rather die than obey, then he allows himself to be flung into the sea. Then, you mercifully rescue him and you give him a do-over. He finally decides to obey, but does so with a bad attitude. Then after you show grace to someone else, just like you did to him, he says that he would rather die again.
My temptation would have been to say, you know what Jonah, you want to die?!?! Blamo!!! You’re dead!!!
God would have been completely justified in killing Jonah at this moment.
But God shows grace to Jonah, again! God is a God of second chances! Our sin is great, but God’s grace is greater! He doesn’t kill Jonah. He allows him to sulk in his hatred for a moment while He prepares to teach him something great.
First we see that Jonah hated the people, so much so, that he would rather be dead than see them forgiven. Let’s read some more of the passage and see what happens next; let’s learn what God was doing.
Read Jonah 4:5-9
5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
So, this takes us to our second part of the story of chapter 4, which is that . . .
II. Jonah loves the plant (5-9) [on screen]
After this first conversation with God, Jonah goes out of the city and just sits down and waits to see what God would do.
It appears that perhaps Jonah was still holding out hope that God would wipe out the Ninevites.
Perhaps Jonah is still unable to accept the fact that God is going to forgive these evildoers. Still, he waits.
He makes himself a shelter, sits down, and just waits.
Next, we see that God prepares this plant to provide further shade for Jonah.
We don’t know exactly what kind of plant this is: it’s commonly accepted that it was a gourd plant.
The type of plant is not important to the story, but you can find more about the plant at the further resources page.
In any case, this plant comes from God to provide shade for Jonah.
After reading this several times, I’m not sure if God is just being nice here, or if He is setting up Jonah for what He will teach him later. We don’t know exactly why God wanted to bring this plant to provide shade for Jonah, but it was part of His plan for Jonah. It plays a key part in the conclusion of this book.
In either case, Jonah is very thankful for this plant. It helps provide shade for him while he is waiting on whatever he is waiting on.
Jonah moved from being very angry to once again being happy, because this plant is growing over his head.
But God did not merely cause the plant to grow. He also caused a worm to consume the plant so that it withered in the morning.
Again, this is a natural occurrence, brought about in a supernatural way.
So, this plant that brought great joy for Jonah is now gone and he is again in the elements of the sun, the heat, and a scorching wind.
God provided shelter and comfort for Jonah, only to take it away and leave him exposed and uncomfortable. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
Jonah was so devoted to the plant and its comfort that after it died away he again wishes for death.
The ESV Study Bible says, “Finally Jonah expresses concern over something that is perishing, but ironically it is a plant, not the people of Nineveh.”
Jonah is now again in a terrible, lowly state.
After the death of the plant, and Jonah’s desired death, God speaks again.
God asks Jonah a similar question as before: “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
This time, Jonah responds to the question. He says, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
This is so bold of Jonah! When given the chance to change his mind, he doubles-down and says, “Yes! It is right for me to be angry!”
Again, God is merciful to Jonah. He doesn’t wipe him off of the face of the earth because of his jacked-up attitude. He gently questions him and allows Jonah to vent his frustrations, his anger, and his disdain towards the Ninevites.
God is not done with Jonah; He is still at work in his life. He is bearing with him and teaching him.
Let’s see how God responds.
Read Jonah 4:10-11
10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
God finally points out that . . .
III. Jonah has misplaced priorities (10-11) [on screen]
Jonah’s priorities are clearly out of whack, and God is showing that to him.
This is still a sign of God’s mercy to Jonah. He’s not bringing judgment and destruction upon Jonah; He’s being patient with him and teaching him a lesson.
God is patiently disciplining Jonah, which is a loving action from a loving Father. Any good Father disciplines His children, and God is doing so with Jonah.
Well, what is the lesson? What are Jonah’s misplaced priorities?
God basically tells Jonah that he has no right to be upset over the death of the plant.
Jonah had no part in the creation of the plant, no part in the sustainment of the plant, and no part in the destruction of the plant.
God exposes the self-centeredness and selfishness of Jonah. It’s all about Jonah at this point and he has no regard for the souls of those created in the image of God.
Jonah cared more for a plant than for people.
Jonah cared more for his comfort than for God’s prized creation.
Jonah cared more for his way than for the accomplishment of God’s will.
We read that God refers to these 120,000 people.
Who exactly does this number refer to? Some have said that the 120,000 refers to the children that were present in Nineveh, whereas others have said that it referred to the general population of Nineveh.
We don’t know exactly who this refers to; you can learn more at the additional resources page.
However, we know this: these people are worth so much more than one measly plant! One person made in the image of God is worth more than 1,000,000 plants!
God also says that these people, “cannot discern between their right hand and their left.”
This is an expression to mean that morally, the people of Nineveh are completely lost. They have no conception of what it means to truly follow the way of God.
God even mentions the loss of livestock. Why would He include the livestock?
Well, the livestock were part of God’s creation. It is tragic when not only those made in God’s image are destroyed, but also when other parts of God’s creation are destroyed in judgment.
Jonah thought that it was craziness that God would spare the Assyrians, and God is showing Jonah that he is the one who is crazy by caring more for a plant than for those created in God’s image, and for God’s creation itself.
Notice that after God responds to Jonah, the book abruptly stops. That’s why the name of this sermon is “An Unsettling Conclusion.” We don’t know what Jonah’s next step is. There’s no real resolution here in human terms.
God drops the truth bomb and the book is over.
Well, with that said, let’s draw our minds to some concluding thoughts about Jonah chapter 4.
There is probably something in all of us that keeps us from being passionate about seeing others come to Jesus.
As we learned earlier, Jonah’s love for his own people fueled his hatred of the Assyrians.
What is it in you that dampens your passion to see others come to God?
It may be some bent up prejudice.
It may be general apathy, or not caring enough.
It may be downright hatred of a person or people group.
There may be something in us that causes us to have some sort of disregard towards the salvation of certain lost people.
Further, we all may also have some sort of “plant” in our life that we devote our love to in an unhealthy way.
Matthew Henry said, “What a tragedy when God’s people care more for creaturely comforts than the interests of God’s will among man.”
Just as Jonah cared more for the plant than the souls of the Ninevites, so also we may have something that we love more than we should.
Finally, we should realize, as Jonah failed to do, that we should desire God’s ways in our lives and in the lives of others.
If it brings God joy, it should bring us joy.
We should not seek our own will, but we should seek the will of God.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” -Matthew 6:33 [on screen]
Well, how do we do these things? Remember this one major takeaway with three “p” words . . .
Major Takeaway: In order to have the priorities of God, we must love people, rather than our “plant.” [on screen]
Let me share with you now a few points of application, things that you can actually do this week to help you apply the truths that we learned today.
Application [on screen]
Here are two applicational items about which you can check-in with yourself this week. I encourage you to take some time during your quiet-time (your DQ) or during your journaling time to check-in on these two things.
- Check your attitude. [on screen]
That is, check your spiritual attitude.
Who is it that you would rather see die than come to Jesus? A radical terrorist? That person who abused you? A certain political leader? That neighbor that drives you crazy?
Would you take more pleasure in seeing someone judged by God than seeing them forgiven by God?
2. Ask yourself, “What is my plant?” [on screen]
What are you tempted to love more than God’s will in your life and God’s will in the world? What brings YOU comfort and is therefore more important to you than God’s ways.
Beg God to take it away from you!!! It may hurt, but it sure is worth it!
In just a moment we’re going to sing All I Have is Christ. As we do so, let me remind you that nothing in this world compares to the love of Christ for you, and nothing in this world changes the lives of sinners like Jesus.
Everything else should fade away in comparison to the love of God shown to us through Jesus.
If you are without Jesus, know that God loves you and offers you forgiveness, just like He did to the people of Nineveh.
The book of Jonah shows us that God is a merciful God with compassion for all those made in His image.
May God show us His grace and give us compassion for others, that we may show them God’s love.
Let’s pray together before we sing a song of response.
Stand and sing with me now.
Response song – All I Have is Christ (all verses)
See you tonight: Bryan Bennett is bringing the Word.
Take home your bulletin
I’ll be down front here if you need any assistance or have a spiritual question.
One thing: Crossings Camp this week; pray for God to do great things (Great Centri-Kid camp this past week with 10 of our kids expressing a commitment to follow Jesus Christ!).
Thanks for coming! God bless you all! Have a great day!
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.