Archive for October, 2012

            We’ve been in a series for a few weeks now entitled “God has questions, too.” We all have been through times in our lives when we have questions for God. Questions like “God, why is this happening?” or “God, is everything going to turn out ok?” or “God, are you listening?” or the big one is just, “God, why?” It’s ok to ask questions of God. The wonderful thing that we know about God is that even though he is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and big; he is not far off. He is close and He is caring. We serve a God that hears the cries of His people. He hears you when you call because he is relational. Along those lines, there are times when God responds with questions of his own. We know that since God knows all that He doesn’t ask questions of us because he wants our opinion or our knowledge. Instead, when God asks a question he is trying to get us to teach something or to change our understanding of a situation.
            We see this play out in the life of Jonah after he became very angry about the situation he found himself in. I would like to start by giving some background about the story of Jonah and then we will look at his anger verses God’s compassion. But first let’s start with a word of prayer…
            Jonah was a prophet of God who lived in the 8th century BC in the northern kingdom called Israel. A prophet was a spokesman for God to the people. The king at the time, and we would assume the people of Israel, did not turn back toward God but instead did evil in the sight of the Lord. However, God in his grace, still did great things in the country of Israel and Jonah saw the border of his beloved nation increase. In Jonah chapter 1 we see that God called Jonah to leave his country and go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it because of their great evil. This is quite shocking because it’s the only time that God called a prophet to go to a foreign nation that was not his own (in fact they could be considered enemies of the Jews) and preach to them on their soil. All the other times we see prophets calling the nation of Israel back into a right relationship with God. It’s also a difficult call for Jonah because these people were really, really bad. The Assyrians were a very bloody, brutal people group from history. I won’t go into gory details, but the book of Nahum calls it “a city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims.” This was a horrible place, filled with vile people who had attacked the northern kingdom of Israel in the past and who would eventually conquer them destroying them forever. It was into this mess that God told Jonah to go.
And Jonah did not want to go. We will get to the bottom of why he didn’t want to go, but at first we just know that he didn’t want to go. So he went to a seaport and bought a ticket on the first ship headed in the complete opposite direction of where God told him to go. Out on the ocean God sent a storm that nearly took down the ship with all the cargo and the sailors on board. After doing everything they could to get out of the situation they were in, the sailors threw Jonah overboard. God showed grace to Jonah and saved him by sending a large fish to swallow him. Jonah was then spewed onto dry land after three days and God told him again to go to Nineveh to preach to the people of that great city. This time, Jonah obeys and after a likely month of travel he arrived at the large city. He spend three days going through the streets preaching one message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” It was simple. The people responded by repenting of their sin and seeking God for compassion. And God relented and did not destroy them.
(Read verses 1-4)
1. Jonah’s anger
But to Jonah this wasn’t right. He became angry. Literally, he got hot. There are two types of anger. There is rage that comes from the passion of the moment. And then there is seething anger that boils up like a pot of water that gets hotter and hotter. And this was Jonah.  I can almost here him say something like, “I knew it! I knew this was going to happen! I called it back when I was in Israel. I told everyone that this was going to happen. That’s why I took off. That’s why I left.” (Exodus 34:6) God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. “Kill me now, God!”
God’s first question is a gentle admonishment/correction. In his question, “Do you have any right to be angry?” God is nudging Jonah. It’s like he is saying, “Lets think about this again. Maybe you want to take a step back and assess those emotions again. Do you really want to be angry about what is happening?”
And then Jonah throws a fit and we learn the rest of the story.
(Read verses 5-10)
God lovingly turns up the heat on Jonah. He is trying to get Jonah’s attention. In Hebrews 12:5-6 we learn that God disciplines his children because he loves them. This is exactly what God does. He sends a vine to grow and give shade to Jonah (who apparently was a good prophet but a horrible tent maker). And then God removed the plant and sent wind and bright sun.
            Jonah, stop and listening to what you are saying. God is trying to get your attention.
God then asks the second question in response to Jonah’s dramatic angry outburst. “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Jonah thinks his anger is justified and is so mad that he wants to die. God reminds him that He is in control and that Jonah had nothing to do with the plant’s growth.
            When I first started studying for this sermon I couldn’t help but step back and say, “Jonah, you are such an idiot. You sound like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum.” And then it hit me. This is me. I was looking into a mirror. Sometimes God uses His word to shine light on the sin in our lives so I want you to look in this mirror with me.
Was his anger justified? No. Let’s look at unjustified or unrighteous anger.  
            a. It was likely fueled by racism. These Assyrian people were not the people of God. In fact, they were enemies of God.
            b. His anger was came from a focus on himself and his comfort than the lost people of Nineveh.
            Sometimes you need to ask yourself: Is this really that important? My pastor growing up used to say: “In light of eternity, how much does this matter?” One time he told the story of how his son was backing up his old pick-up truck out of the barn and accidently ripped off the side mirror. When Max started to get upset his son said, “Dad, in light of eternity, how much is this side mirror really worth?”
Why is unjustified anger so bad?
            1.  Persistent anger that is uncalled for will give the devil a foothold in our lives. When carry anger from one day to the next it will open the door to many other persistent sins in our life.
            2. Festering anger leads to bitterness. Eventually everything makes you angry and you are never happy at all.
            3. Revenge-seeking anger puts you in God’s place as Judge. You are revealing that you need to have control because God will not do anything or that He won’t respond the way you hope for.
            4. Boiling anger shows a total lack of grace. Jonah had just been shown grace and he missed that God was doing the same thing for the Ninevites. Jonah thought that they deserved judgment, but he deserved grace.
Anger is an elevated emotion that can have its root in many places. To find out where it might be in your life ask yourself what topics of conversation causes you to talk faster or to raise your voice? What issues take up most of your energy and time in research and discussion? In what part of life do you have things your way no matter what? What sets you on edge or puts you in a bad mood for hours or days? Personally, there was a time in my life when a Colts lost used to put me in a bad mood for a whole day. It’s so easy to sit here and judge Jonah for his childlike behavior, but then I think, I’ve done the same thing. What causes unrighteous anger in your own life?  
2. There is such a thing as righteous anger. God’s grace wouldn’t mean anything unless He was a holy God that rightly judged the wicked.
So when is anger justified? When we get the heart of God. What makes him angry? Sin.
We see a lot of instances in the Bible where God judges people rightly for their sin. The wages of sin leads to death. And sometimes in the Bible, this happens instantly. Other times the full penalty for sin isn’t administered until after death.
            a. It’s ok to be angry at sin. In Exodus 32:19, Moses burns with anger when he returns from Mt. Sinai and sees the people worshiping a golden calf. God hates idolatry.
            b. Another instance of God’s anger against a city was Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did God destroy the city of Sodom? General wickedness, but also in Ezekiel 16:49-50 we read,  “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Does this sting a little?
            c. In Exodus we learn that God is concerned with orphans and widows in distress.
            d. God especially hates the shedding of innocent blood.
            e. Anytime that you see mistreatment, injustice, spiritual darkness, or sin of any kind you can get angry. I pray that you get angry at sin in society. A sin in our society that makes me angry is abortion. I know that if it was illegal it would still happen and that making it legal doesn’t make it right. I just wish it didn’t happen at all. I hate that there are 3,700 abortions that take place in our country every day. I hate that Margaret Sanger intentionally placed Planned Parenthood centers in inner cities to target minorities. Where we lived in Chicago there was an abortion clinic (at least we thought it was) and I hated seeing that building. There was another building that was home to the cult of Adida. We used to laugh about it. Until one day a young lady that grew up at ICI got angry and said, “That should not be there. We need to pray that it shuts down.” That is a demonstration of righteous anger that led to a motivation to action. Remember, those people are blind so we don’t hate them. You don’t get made at people that are physically blind so don’t get mad at people that are spiritually blind.
            f. You should be angry at your own personal habitual sin. A sign that you are saved is that you hate the sin that you continue to commit against your loving heavenly Father. If you are happy to continue in your sin and are only anger when you get caught, I would question whether you are saved. We should agree with God that sin is horrible and we should hate sin.
But God is compassionate…
3. God revealed his compassion by sending a storm while Jonah was running away. God showed compassion by rescuing Jonah with a giant fish. God showed compassion to the Ninevites by not sending the destruction like he said.
            Jonah knows about God’s compassion. When the LORD passes in front of Moses he said the line that Jonah quoted early.
            a. In verse 2 we read that God is gracious – that means he longs for and cares for others.
            b. He is compassionate – that means he is tender in his affection.
            c. He is slow to anger – he is patient with sinners. He doesn’t wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
            d. He is abounding in love – that is the loyal, faithful, covenant-keeping love. He does relent from sending calamity, which is why God sent Jonah to them in the first place.
            e. God’s final question to Jonah in verse 11 shows his heart for the lost people of the city. “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 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 is concerned about the lost people. I don’t think he was as concerned about the cattle, but since Jonah was so worried about the worm from before, I think God was making a point with him. Who do you love more? Are you concerned about the animals or the people?
            It reminds me about the scene in the 80’s movie, Ferris Buelers day off. Two HS kids named Ferris and Cameron take Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari and skip school to spend a day in downtown Chicago. The car is very nice. It’s rare. The dad spent years restoring it to perfection. Cameron said that his dad knew how many miles were on it because he never drove it, he just wiped with a diaper every day. At the end of the day, they try to take off the miles but it wasn’t working. And then Cameron starts to say how his dad is going to be so mad and how his dad pushes him around. And then he starts kicking the front of this car and screaming. “Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car.”
4. Our compassion.
            a. Where is your compassion? Where is your love? Is it for a car? A career? Your house? Your business? Your personal comforts?
            Someone put it this way: in God’s city, the inhabitants love people and walk on gold, while in man’s city, the inhabitants love gold and walk on people. God’s deepest affections are reserved for people. In God’s economy, people come before possessions and projects, not the other way around. 
            b. The question that God asks in this last verse of Jonah is something that I think about. If God is very concerned about this great city so full of lost people, shouldn’t I be concerned also? Shouldn’t you be concerned about the lost people of your neighborhood? I believe God is calling me to plant a new church in a city that needs an evangelical church. It’s not that I don’t care about the people of LEMC or the lost people of our community. I do, which is why it will be hard to leave. But new churches are needed:
            Did you know that in 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 people, but by 2004 there were only 11 churches for every 10,000 people.
            James McDonald reports in his book Vertical Church that 3,800 churches open every year unfortunately 3000 close their doors. Therefore, America gains churches at a net rate of 800/year. However, with population increasing by 4 million every year. We really need to be planting not 800 churches/year, but 10,000 or more really.
             Cities in particular tend to have a much larger ratio of lost people to churches. Did you know that here in Van Buren County there are approximately 1 church for every 500 people. (Very rough estimates) But in Miami-Dade County in southern Florida that number is 1 for every 8000 people. When you narrow those number to evangelical churches you can see why a a place like Pittsburgh is considered “religious” with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but is really less than 5% evangelical Christians.
            According to the US Census 80% of the people in the US live in an urban area. And that number continues to grow.
            Is it no wonder that in the US, ¾ of people in this country no meaningful church connection? And that number continues to grow.
            Shouldn’t we be concerned?
            God was concerned about Ninevah.
            God was concerned about Jonah.
            God is concerned about you.
God doesn’t ignore sin. He dealt with sin by transferring it to Jesus Christ on the cross.
            In Matthew 12:41 Jesus used the story of Jonah to foretell how he would die and rise again three days later. He also was trying to show the Jews how they were guilty of rejecting salvation. In Matthew 12:41 he says, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.”
What did he mean? They were both prophets, however Jesus was the very Son of God.
Jonah preached a message of judgment. Jesus preached a message of salvation because of God’s grace.
Jonah could have died at the hands of the blood thirsty Assyrians. Jesus died willingly for the sins of the world.
Jonah’s ministry was to one city. The gospel of Jesus is the power of salvation for the Jew and for the rest of the world.
Jonah obeyed, but it was reluctantly and not from the heart. Jesus always did whatever pleased His heavenly Father.
Jonah didn’t love the people he came to preach to. Jesus had compassion for sinners and proved it by dying on the cross. He even showed love to those who were crucifying him.
Jonah went outside the city hoping that God would be unforgiving and kill them because the Ninevites deserved it. Jesus went outside the city walls to a hill called Golgotha, and willingly died in the place of sinners who deserved it.
Yes, Jesus is greater. It’s only through Jesus’ death that salvation is possible. God spared the Ninevites even though they were great sinners. God didn’t just ignore sin and pretend like it didn’t happen. He sent his one and only Son, Jesus, into this world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  
The compassion of God and the message of Jonah can be summed up with Jonah’s quote in 2:9 from Psalm 3: “Salvation comes from the LORD!”
Praise God.