Have you heard of Jonah and the whale? What if I told you this story had very little to do with fish? As we continue our series, Retold, David Leventhal teaches through the book of Jonah, showing us that God is the creator of the earth and is sovereign over it. His justice is impartial and his mercy may extend to anyone…whether we like it or not.
Retold: Jesus Calms the Storm
Retold: The Prodigal Son
Retold: The Beginning of the Church Part 2
Retold: The Beginning of the Church
Retold: Jonah and the Whale
Retold: Daniel and the Lions' Den
Retold: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Retold: David and Goliath
Retold: The Ten Commandments
Retold: Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet
Retold: Ruth and Naomi
Retold: The Good Samaritan
Have you heard of Jonah and the whale? What if I told you this story had very little to do with fish? As we continue our series, Retold, David Leventhal teaches through the book of Jonah, showing us that God is the creator of the earth and is sovereign over it. His justice is impartial and his mercy may extend to anyone…whether we like it or not.
Welcome, everybody. We're glad you decided to jump in with us this morning at the Watermark stream. My name is David Leventhal, and it is great to be with you this morning or this afternoon, whenever you're watching. We are excited to continue our Retold series. We're six or seven weeks into this series. It's history everybody should know.
We're going through stories in the Bible you may have heard as a child if you grew up in the church or, if you didn't grow up in the church, you may have heard of these: Daniel in the lions' den; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; and so on and so forth. This morning, we're going to keep going. I'm going to cover the book of Jonah. I love the book of Jonah.
One of the reasons I love the book of Jonah is back in the fall of 1997, I had my eye on this cute little 20-year-old college student named Missy Fife. One of the first things we did together as we were beginning to date was we studied the book of Jonah together, so when I think about the book of Jonah, it takes me back to when I was in my mid-20s and had my eye on this cute little girl who became my wife who, 22 years and seven kids later, is standing by my side still.
So I love the book of Jonah, and I love that we're going to get to cover it this morning. Honestly, this book is so rich. It's only four chapters, but there's so much in this book. I'd love to spend eight weeks unpacking it with you, but unfortunately, I only get one day to unpack it for you. So we're going to move through it. It's going to be awesome.
I want you to know two things before we jump in. First, if you heard this story growing up in the church… It may have been on a felt board, and you had Jonah and the whale. Jonah doesn't want to go, and then he goes, and he gets swallowed by a whale. Jonah ends up, in a lot of kids' stories, as the hero. What I want you to know up front is Jonah is not the hero of this story. He is the antagonist in this story. Jonah is kind of a jerk in this story.
The second thing I want you to know is this book is not about the fish. There are 48 verses in the book of Jonah. Only three of them mention the fish. Jonah is not about the fish, so I'm not going to spend really any time talking about, "Well, is it possible that a fish could really swallow somebody? What kind of fish would it have been in the Mediterranean Sea?" Smarter people than me have done a lot of research on that, and we're going to throw some resources for you in the sermon guide if that's a question you'd like to get answered.
But I'm not going to go with that today. I'm going to start from the assumption that I believe Jonah is a true story. I believe that if God can raise Jesus Christ from the dead, which I believe he did, he can handle a whale and a guy, so I'm not going to touch on that other than to say I think it's a true story. I think Jonah really did live, I think he really was swallowed by a fish, and I think he really did end up going back to Nineveh. We're going to talk about that this morning.
My hunch is that there are people who are listening who have actually never read the book of Jonah, this short, four-chapter book buried toward the end of your Old Testament, so I want to pay attention to the public reading of Scripture. We're going to read Jonah together, all four chapters. It's going to take us about six and a half minutes. I know that in these six and a half minutes I'm not going to say anything dumb. This will be the one section we can all feel really good about what I'm going to say. So, let's read the book of Jonah, starting at chapter 1.
"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.' But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, 'What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.'
And they said to one another, 'Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.' So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, 'Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?' And he said to them, 'I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'
Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, 'What is this that you have done!' For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Then they said to him, 'What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?' For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, 'Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.'
Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, 'O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.' So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, 'I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, "I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple."
The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord! '
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!' And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, 'By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.'
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.
And he prayed to the Lord and said, 'O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.' And the Lord said, 'Do you do well to be angry?'
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.
But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.' But God said to Jonah, 'Do you do well to be angry for the plant?'
And he said, 'Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.' And the Lord said, 'You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?'"
Man, that's good. There's a lot in those four chapters we could talk about. What I want you guys to know is that the big idea of the book of Jonah is: The Lord God is the Creator of the earth, and he is sovereign over it. His justice is impartial, and his mercy may extend to anyone whether we like it or not.
Or to put it another way, the way Jonah does at the end of his prayer in chapter 2, "Salvation belongs to the Lord." Salvation, and all that implies, belongs to the Lord. That's the big picture. That's what I want us to remember when we're done today. Now, as we dive into the book, we're going to see there are three supporting ideas to this main point.
So, if we assume, which I think is reasonable, that Jonah started in Gath-hepher, he would have gone about 58 miles south-southwest to Joppa to get on a boat to go all the way across the Mediterranean Sea to Tarshish when all God had asked him to do was to go to Nineveh. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not an expert in ancient Near East geography, so let me contextualize what Jonah did.
Imagine God came to you and said, "Hey, I want you to go from Watermark to the Superdome in New Orleans." I have a map here to show you what that would look like. That's about 500 miles. That's what God asked Jonah to go. From Gath-hepher to Nineveh is about 500 miles. It's about Watermark Dallas, where I am, to the Superdome in New Orleans. Jonah is like, "Meh. I don't think I want to do that."
Jonah says, "Not only am I not going to go to the Superdome…" He turns and goes all the way up to Neah Bay, Washington. Jonah wasn't just saying, "I don't want to go to Nineveh." He's like, "Not only do I not want to go to Nineveh, I want to go as far away from you as possible, 2,300 miles in the opposite direction from where you want me to go, so I can be away from your presence." That's what Jonah did.
He was going to get on a boat to go all the way across the Mediterranean Sea. He was not excited about going to Nineveh. Disobedience always takes you in the wrong direction. One of the Bible study method tips I want you to pay attention to is repeated words. In chapter 1, we have two things that pop up a lot. First, the writer, the narrator, uses the word down. He uses the same Hebrew word four times in chapters 1 and 2.
Jonah went down to Joppa. He paid the fare and went down into it. Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship. We see this transformation of Jonah. He's literally, in the book, going down and down and down as he flees from God. The other thing we see, which is mentioned 11 times in chapter 1, is the word sea. The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea. There was a mighty tempest on the sea. They hurled cargo that was on the ship into the sea. On and on and on.
What you need to know, which is lost on us a little bit because we're not ancient Near Easterners, is that the sea for the Jew in the eighth century BC, but also for everybody in the ancient Near East, was a place of death, destruction, and chaos. When you talked about the sea in literature or in narrative, it almost always referenced death, destruction, and chaos. Go through your Old Testament. Use a concordance and look up the word sea and see how it's used. It personifies enemies.
I asked my kids. We were talking about this this week. I was like, "What's something in our world that, if you just say it, everybody kind of knows what you mean?" My 13-year-old son Josh said, "What about Las Vegas?" I thought, "That's not bad. I'm not sure how you know about Las Vegas, but either way…" If I said to you, "We're going to Vegas" or "We just got back from Vegas," you know what that probably implies.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It's a party town. It's a party city. It's Sin City. We don't have to explain that. If you live in America and you're paying attention at all, you know that's kind of what Vegas means. Well, that's kind of what the word sea meant to the ancient Near Easterner. The author is letting you know very clearly in the text that Jonah, by disobeying God, is headed in the wrong direction. He's headed into death, destruction, and chaos.
By the way, as a sidenote, when you get to Matthew, Mark, and Luke in your New Testament, they all record Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee. That's not just an awesome miracle, which, it's pretty awesome. It's also a sign from Jesus, saying, "Look. The sea has no control over me. It doesn't bring death or chaos or destruction in my world. I'm over the sea." That's why that miracle is so important. It demonstrates Jesus' power over this thing that had power over everybody.
Sin always takes you in the wrong direction. This has been the case all the way back in your Bible. If you go to Genesis 2:16-17, God tells Adam, "Listen. Be free, Adam. You have everything in the garden to go, but I don't want you to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, for in the day you do, you shall surely die." God said, "Just don't do this one thing," and we know the story. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, death entered the world, and we've been headed in the wrong direction, largely, ever since.
Disobedience always takes you in the wrong direction. That's why we say here all the time that sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. So let me ask you: How is your obedience this morning? How are you doing? What direction are you headed in? Remember our big-picture idea? The Lord God is the Creator of the earth, and he is sovereign over it. We'll get on the rest in a little bit.
Obedience is an acknowledgement of God's sovereignty. When we obey God, it's acknowledging to him "You are sovereign over every square inch of this earth." When we obey, we acknowledge that we trust the one giving us the instruction. Even if we're not super excited about it, we know the giver of the instruction, and we can trust him. Obedience is a sign that you know and love God.
The apostle John, 800 or 900 years later, in a very different context, writes in 1 John 5 and says, "Listen. This is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." As a New Testament believer, one of the ways you know that I know and love God is if I obey, not just in the big stuff but in the small stuff.
So, let me ask you a question. Is there anything God may be calling you to do where you're like, "Man, I'd rather go to Tarshish; I'd rather turn and go in the other direction"? Maybe God is literally calling you to pick up your bags and move to South Dallas or to India or to Africa or some place that's a little bit scary for you to go be his hands and feet. Maybe he's asking you to go care for your aging parents.
Maybe he's calling you to put off this new relationship so you can pursue reconciliation with your ex-spouse. Maybe he's calling you to go and preach repentance against racism that has been in your family for generations. You've never gone and cried out against that racism. Maybe God is telling you, "Hey, it's time for you to step up and go call out the racism that exists in your family of origin."
Maybe God is calling you to confess something right now. Maybe the Spirit has put it on your heart, and you can sense "Man, I feel like God is prompting me to confess this thing, and I'm scared to, and I want to run to Tarshish." Maybe it's a porn addiction. Maybe you just have a really bitter attitude. Maybe you're just envious. Maybe there's infidelity in your story or mismanagement of God's resources that have been entrusted to you.
Maybe there's laziness and apathy in your heart. Maybe you have a racist heart that you need to confess and get that out of there. You see people differently because of the color of their skin, and you need to confess that and bring it to the light. You're free to disobey, but when you disobey, you are putting yourself in the wrong direction, because disobedience always takes you in the wrong direction.
Let's keep going. So, we read the story. Jonah disobeys. He gets tossed out of the boat and gets picked up by a whale. There's this prayer of repentance in chapter 2, sort of. It's not really fully owning his sin, but there's this prayer in chapter 2. Jonah gets vomited back out on the land. He gets a second chance to obey. God comes to him again.
The word of the Lord comes to him. Same call. "Go to Nineveh. Call against it." We see Jonah begin to go into the city. This is Jonah 3:4-5. He goes into the city, a day's journey, and calls out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And I'll be darned. The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
If they came to a city that was a larger city and they were having a hard time capturing it, they would send soldiers to a smaller surrounding village, and they would slaughter them. They would decapitate them. They would skin them alive. They would bring all of these dead bodies and put them at the doorstep of this large city as a way of saying, "This is what's next for you if you don't open up the doors."
They exercised a pattern of systematic deportation. If they didn't kill you, they would deport you. It's estimated, over the last three centuries of the Assyrian Empire, that four to five million people were relocated as a result of the Assyrian deportations. Nahum would write about 100 years after Jonah, and he would call Nineveh the city of blood. This is an incredibly wicked people who up to this point in history have shown zero interest in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
They have not called on the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They have not tried to link themselves to God's covenant people. They have shown no interest until Jonah shows up on the scene and says, "In forty days you need to repent or your city is going to be overthrown," and they repented. Jonah's sermon is five words in the Hebrew. In your English Bible it's probably eight words, but in the Hebrew text it's only five words.
That's probably a summary. He probably said more than that, but what does a summary do? A summary encapsulates the big idea of the larger story. That was the summary of whatever he taught. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!" And unbelievable. Verse 5: "And the people of Nineveh believed God." There's this nationwide repentance. This huge city repents. All the way from the king down to the stinkin' Angus beef, they repent. They turn from their evil ways.
And how does God typically respond to repentance? Verse 10: "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it." I want to focus on the fact that the Ninevites, in all of their wickedness, in all of their idolatry, in all of their evil, were given the opportunity to repent, to come before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and repent.
Remember our big picture? The Lord God is the Creator of the earth, and he is sovereign over it. His justice is impartial, and his mercy may extend to anyone, even the Ninevites…wicked, evil, "bloodshedding," merciless Ninevites. We're going to revisit Jonah 4:1-2 in just a little bit, but in that verse, Jonah describes God as a gracious God. He's merciful. He's slow to anger. He's abounding in steadfast love, and he relents from disaster.
I don't know who's listening today, but whoever you are, whatever your story is, you can repent today for the first time ever. You can turn from your Ninevite ways today. You are not guaranteed tomorrow, but today is the day of salvation, or it can be if you will repent and place your trust in Jesus Christ, who came around about 800 years later and lived a perfect life. He fulfilled every requirement before God.
He died on a cross as a substitute for you and for me, and he demonstrated his deity by being raised from the dead and ascending to the Father where he sits today, interceding for his kids, and one day, he's coming back to get us. The apostle Peter writes in a very different context in 2 Peter 3… Peter is writing to the church, the believers, and he's warning them about false teachers who have come into the church and said, "Listen. God is not coming back. I mean, he would have come back by now. He's not coming back."
Peter writes to them: "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…" Why is God patient toward you? Because he doesn't want anybody to perish. He wants everybody to come to repentance, even Assyrians. Be assured of this: Jesus is coming back, and he's going to deal with evil once and for all, and there will not be a chance when that day comes to repent.
You have the option of repenting today, but you are not promised tomorrow. Can I just plead with you? If you have never come to know Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, who died for Assyrians and jacked-up prophets like Jonah and jacked-up guys like David, today can be the day. The Lord God is the Creator of the earth, and he is sovereign over it. His justice is impartial, and his mercy may extend to anyone. Repentance is always an option for now.
So, at this point in the story, Jonah has fulfilled his mission. There has been this really surprising repentance on the part of the Ninevites. If you're reading this, the whole book is a series of, like, "Oh, didn't see that coming." You didn't see the prophet of God turning and going the other direction. You didn't see the sea and the fish.
I mean, the whole thing is a series of, like, "Man, that's a surprise to me." The Ninevites repenting is a surprise. If you're a Jew in the eighth century BC and you read about the Ninevites repenting, you are probably thinking something similar to what Jonah thought. "What in the world? That's crazy!"
"This is why I wanted to leave: because I know you. I know who you are, God. You're gracious and merciful. You're slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster. You pardoning the Ninevites is evil to me. I don't want to live in a world where that's what you do. If you're going to pardon them, kill me, because I don't want to believe in a God who would do that."
All of a sudden, the entire book of Jonah unlocks itself. Now chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3 all fall into place. It wasn't just that the Assyrians were evil. They were evil toward Israel. They were their enemies, and Nineveh was the capital, and Jonah hated them. A hundred years later, a couple of generations after Jonah, this nation ramped up its wickedness, and they overthrew Israel in 722 BC and deported them, and then in 701 BC, they overthrew Judah and deported them.
These people were not friendly with Israel, and Jonah was not happy. It wasn't that Jonah was opposed to divine mercy or forgiveness. Right? I mean, he just takes issue with who God wants to grant it to. He was more than happy to accept God's mercy when he was sitting in the acid-filled belly of a fish. "Mercy, God! Mercy! But when you want to extend it to my enemies? No way!" Jonah is a sinner, saved by divine grace, and he's not going to allow pagan sinners to be recipients of the same grace and compassion to which he owes his very life.
It's not that Jonah even has issues with Gentiles. We see in chapter 1 his interaction with the sailors. He wasn't awful to them. He hates the Assyrians. See, Jonah was a Hebrew. He was a member of the nation that was in a covenant relationship with the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. Jonah didn't want Assyrians to repent. He wanted them dead. He wanted them destroyed, and if he couldn't have them destroyed, if God was going to forgive them and offer mercy, then Jonah would rather die.
Let me try to put this into a different context. What would this have been like? This would have been like if you were a Jew living in Europe in, say, 1943 and God said, "Hey, I want you to go march into Berlin, and I want you to preach repentance to the Nazis that they would repent from their actions." Most Jews would have said, "I don't want the Nazis to repent. I want you to wipe them out. I want judgment upon them. I want them to die. I want them to be put in the gas chambers that they've been putting millions of our people in. I don't want repentance. Forget repentance. I want justice."
Or it would have been like asking a person of color in, say, 1930 to go march into Dallas or Houston or Mississippi or Georgia, these places where bigotry and Jim Crow wreaked havoc, where there were untold numbers of lynchings, and say, "I want you to go into Dallas, this bigoted city, and I want you to preach repentance to these white supremacists, these folks who, some of them, are using the Bible to justify their racism."
If you were a person of color back then, would it have shocked you? "I don't want them to repent. I want them to pay for what they've done. Forget repentance. I want justice." That's what the ask of God to Jonah would have been like. Jonah didn't want any part of that. Now imagine the Lord comes to you and says, "Hey, I want you to go to the person who has hurt you the deepest, the person you hate the most, and the person who wounded you seemingly beyond repair, and I want you to go beg them to repent, lest they be destroyed."
Maybe it's your dad who ran off with another woman and left you and your mom to fend for yourselves. Maybe it's somebody who abused you. Maybe it's people who have treated you unjustly simply because of the color of your skin. I want to remind you here that confronting sin and calling people to repent does not absolve them of consequences. You can do both.
We want people to be made right with God, and if part of that brings repentance, that's awesome, and they still may have earthly consequences they have to deal with. Offering repentance is not the same thing as saying there are no consequences for actions that have been done prior, but it's saying, "Hey, I want you to be right with the God who made the land and the sea, because he's coming back and the opportunity for repentance is going to go away."
I suspect, if we're brutally honest, many of us wouldn't want those people to repent. We don't want mercy for them. We want God to judge them. But that's not how God operates. This description Jonah gives of God as a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love… Do you know that's repeated over nine times in your Old Testament? It's one of the primary ways the God of the Bible is described.
What is God like? God is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast, loyal love. He's not angry. He wants you to repent. Do you know why? Because he loves people, all humanity. He loves the rebellious prophet kind of humanity. He loves the wicked, evil Assyrian kind of humanity and everybody in between, and he wants them to come to know him. Jonah had lost sight of that.
From the very inception of the Jewish nation back in Genesis 12, they were to be a blessing to all the peoples. That was embedded in the call to Abraham in Genesis 12. The Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house. I'll show you where to go. I'm going to make you a great nation, Abram. I'm going to bless you. I'm going to make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I'll curse. In you all families of the earth shall be blessed."
Not just the Jewish families…all families. That is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, ultimately, but in Jonah's day, the call was still there. "Jonah, you're to be a blessing to all nations, because you are a Jew and you know what it's like to be in relationship with the covenant God. Go be a light." This wasn't a new concept. If you go to the back half of Isaiah… This is all of your Old Testament, but especially Isaiah. Isaiah says the Jewish people were to be a light to the nations, and Jonah didn't like that. He didn't want to be a light. He wanted his holy huddle.
So, God takes Jonah through an object lesson. He's going to help our little friend learn. Remember our big picture for the day? The Lord God is the Creator of the earth. He's sovereign over it. His justice is impartial. His mercy may extend to anyone, whether we like it or not. He's going to help Jonah with that last part. He wants Jonah to see that arrogance and pride always lead to a "mercy for me, justice for you" attitude.
So, Jonah goes out of the city. He builds a little booth for himself. God causes a plant to grow up and provide shade. That's nice. Then the next day, God causes a worm to chew the plant. The plant dies, and God sends a scorching east wind. By the way, get your concordance out later and search for "east wind." It is the most frequent kind of wind that's mentioned in your Old Testament, and it is the wind that brings death and destruction with it. I promise you it's in there. Go do some work on it.
God sends this east wind to create an environment for Jonah to kind of snap. We see that in verse 8 and on in chapter 4, God said to Jonah… Jonah is like, "It's better for me to die. I don't want to live in a world, God, where you're going to forgive Ninevites. I would rather die. And this plant thing? I'm all put out. Just take me now." I don't think he was being sarcastic. I think Jonah really wanted to die. I think he was done.
"But God said to Jonah, 'Do you do well to be angry for the plant?' And he said, 'Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.' And the Lord said, 'You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. _ [It's a plant, Jonah. You have pity on a plant.]_ ** And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?'"**
God was helping Jonah see how big the gap was between the way Jonah was looking at the Assyrians and the Ninevites and the way God looked at the Assyrians and Ninevites. Jonah is taken to task. God pitied Nineveh but destroyed the plant. Jonah, on the other hand, pitied the plant but wanted Nineveh destroyed. Look. It's easy to make fun of Jonah because the plant is so absurd, but it's our issue too. We love mercy when it's extended to us or people like us, frankly, but we can get sideways as heck when mercy is given to those we hate.
We are like Jonah. We can't believe God would grant mercy on the worst of the worst. We're like the older brother of Luke 15 in the parable of the prodigal son. The Prodigal Son goes away in vast sin, squanders it, comes back, and the father provides mercy on the son, lets him come back into the family. He extends mercy to this person who doesn't deserve it, and the older brother gets so bitter, because he doesn't want to be in a world where his dad would accept his punk younger brother back.
We're like the Pharisees that that parable in Luke 15 was told about. The Pharisees couldn't believe who Jesus would hang out with…tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes, people who were coming to know for the first time the God of the Bible who loved them. And these were Jewish people that the Pharisees were against. We can be like them. We get into our holy huddle. We close the door on the Ninevites of our world, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, those with different skin color, those who are caught in sin.
The church, of all places, should be a spot where Ninevites and prodigal sons and tax collectors can come and those of us who know the mercy and grace of God can welcome them in. That's what the church is supposed to be. How are we doing, church? The Lord God is the Creator of the earth, and he is sovereign over it. His justice is impartial, and his mercy may extend to anyone whether we like it or not. It's to our benefit to like it, because we're just like the Assyrians and the tax collectors and the Pharisees and Jonah. We need grace and mercy.
Let me wrap it up here and land the plane. I've gotten into a show recently. It's a show I think I would have laughed at my parents if they'd watched it when I was a kid. It's on Netflix. It's a BBC show called The Repair Shop. It's a show that takes place in England, and it's people bringing these heirlooms that have been damaged to the repair shop, and they do amazing work in repairing these heirlooms.
I was watching an episode last week with my kids, and a woman had brought in this ceramic vase, this beautiful vase. It was made by a French artist, some guy who was a contemporary of Picasso. The gal on the show who's the ceramics expert (her name is Kirsten)… She does amazing work, so she took about repairing this vase.
As she was talking to the camera about what she was going to do, she said, "I can put this thing back together, and I can make it look like there are no cracks. I can do such a heavy paint job you won't even be able to tell there are cracks there, but I'm not going to do that, because I don't think it would be honoring the legacy of this vase. This vase has a story to it, and this crack, this fault, is now a part of the story of this vase."
So, she does this amazing restoration. She puts it back together, and she paints it, and you can still see the faint lines of the cracks. The woman who owned the vase said something. I thought, "That's great," so I rewound it, and I kept rewinding it so I could quote what she said. The woman who owned the vase said, "I said beforehand that I was worried about the cracks showing." She didn't want the cracks to show.
"I've actually changed my mind about it, because that has a lovely texture. It's kind of showing its little knock, and I like that. I like that it's not perfect. It's a handmade item, and you can see another set of hands that have lovingly cared for it and put it back together again." I thought, "That's what the God of the Bible does." He takes broken prophets and evil Ninevites and wicked 19-year-olds in Virginia who are rebelling against God, and he lovingly cares for us and puts us back together again.
I don't know who you are. You may be feeling in this story like an Assyrian, like a Ninevite, and you've come, maybe for the first time, face-to-face with the Sovereign King of the universe. You've never known him. Your life is characterized by evil and wickedness and bad decision after bad decision, and you have a wake of destruction in your path. I want you to know God loves you. He's not mad at you.
He sent his Son to repair you from all that damage, not just here on earth but, ultimately, the sin issue that's separating you for eternity. Unlike Jonah, Jesus was thrilled to see those outside of the nation come in. He was thrilled to extend mercy. Like Jonah, Jesus also spent three days in the belly of a tomb, and like Jonah, he came out of the tomb and didn't have a bad attitude about when you repented but rejoiced in heaven at the repentance from everybody.
The death you deserve can be credited to Jesus if you will come to him by faith. You may be feeling like Jonah, frankly, one of God's own people, but you realize your pride and your arrogance and your bigotry is preventing you from being a light to the nations, a city on a hill, salt and light that Jesus has called you to be, and you should repent and ask God to give you mercy like he did Jonah in the fish, like he did the Assyrians, and come to him and repent and be the church you're supposed to be. Let's go, church.
Father, thank you for our time today. I pray that you would use the words of this little book in the hearts of those who are listening. I thank you for this little four-chapter story that has so blessed me in the years I've been walking with you. I pray that it would reap fruit in the lives of those listening. I pray for anyone who's listening who might be an Assyrian, who may have never met you. I pray that today would be the day of their salvation.
I pray for those who are in the family of God but are acting like Jonah, arrogant and prideful. Would you help us to repent, to pick up the mantle you have given us to be your people, to be a city on a hill, to be a light to the world? Father, I pray that as we wrap this thing up and go about the rest of our day you would remind us that you are the Creator of the earth. You're sovereign over it. Your justice is impartial. Your mercy may extend to anyone. I pray that we would not just like it, we would love the way you extend your mercy. In Jesus' name, amen.