Jonah Runs against God


What are the things that break your heart? Are they the same things that break God's heart? Things like injustice, poverty, disease, unrepentance and abuse? Or, like Jonah, do the things that truly grieve us typically revolve around our discomfort or our disappointment?

Blake HolmesJul 26, 2009Jonah 4

Well, if you're anything like me, I begin every dentist appointment with the question, "Is this going to hurt?" I was spending time alone with the Lord preparing for Jonah, chapter 4, and it's going to hurt. I'll just go ahead and tell you. As I ask my dentist, "Are you angry? Are you in a bad mood? Are you mad at me?" when it often does hurt, I'll let you know: No, I'm not in a bad mood. I'm in a great mood.

I had a good week, but this is a message which I think the Lord has kind of rattled my cage, frankly. He revealed and exposed some things in my heart that I would rather not admit, like I just have, to a thousand people here. This morning, I think he wants to show some of the same things to you. We're finishing up our series on the book of Jonah.

If you remember, the first week we looked at chapter 1, where Jonah ran away from God. We discussed the fact that we're a lot like Jonah. God has called us as his people to declare his truth to those who are far from him. Just as Jonah ran from Nineveh and what God called him to, he ran to Tarshish, we do the same thing. Right? We saw that put him in a lot of trouble. He got on a boat. He fled. Eventually he found himself in a big, dark, black sea, and he was left to drown.

God redeemed him from that dark, certain death of drowning out at sea, but he didn't just redeem him from the sea. He redeemed him to a great purpose. That was to represent him. To go to a country called Assyria, to a city called Nineveh. This great city, as Scripture describes it. To go, and to preach repentance to these people who were far from God, who were known for their atrocities, their brutality, their wicked ways. A people who were enemies of the people of God.

Jonah didn't want any part of that, but he found himself there, having been spit up on the shore by this great fish. He goes and declares this message that if they don't repent, in 40 days God is going to bring calamity. He is going to bring judgment. Lo and behold, the people's hearts change. Last week we talked about how we can't write off anybody.

God can change the heart of even the vilest of offenders. Do you remember? I forced you guys to write down a name. I wish the story that was in the Watermark News today was last week, because what a great story of how someone was praying for another person, not writing them off, and you see that God changes their heart. So, in chapter 1, Jonah runs from God.

In chapter 2, we see that Jonah runs to God. He gives him thanks for delivering him from the sea, redeeming him by this great fish. We looked at what Jesus had to say about that miracle in Matthew, chapter 12. We saw last week how Jonah runs with God, and that's his high point. I told you, "Hey, this is the pinnacle. This is Jonah at his best, because next week it's going to get really bad." That's today, because we're going to see in Jonah, chapter 4, how he runs against God.

Let's pick it up beginning in verse 1. We're going to see in verses 1 through 4, Jonah's displeasure. It reads this way. "But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry." Literally, to Jonah it was a disaster. A great disaster. He became angry. Four times we see in this book that Jonah is angry. It's expressed in Hebrew by the same word that is translated burning. He became burning. Literally, he was enflamed. He was outraged.

What is he so upset about? What was it that caused all this turmoil? Well, if you look back at chapter 3, verse 10, you'll see Scripture teaches, "When God saw [the Assyrians'] deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity…" His judgment. "…which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it." So, Jonah is angry. He is enraged that, essentially, his preaching was effective, that the people's hearts changed, that a wicked empire actually acknowledged the one true God. But he became angry. Verse 2:

"He prayed to the LORD…" He expressed his anger by saying, "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…" See chapter 1. "…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."

You see, Jonah is upset because he did not believe the Assyrians were worthy of the Lord's love and his forgiveness. He states, "God, I knew you were gracious, that you were forgiving. I knew you were compassionate. I knew you were slow to anger. I knew you were abundant in lovingkindness. You're one who relents. You're one who shows mercy concerning judgment."

This phrase here, this description that's a list of descriptions that describe God, is not unique to Jonah. This is repeated, the same words, the same list, seven times in the Old Testament. Jonah knows the character of God. He knows what God can to do a closed heart, a wicked people. What Jonah is saying here is he sees the people repent, and he sees these folks he hates. He sees their hearts change and how they respond to God, and he doesn't want God to show mercy and compassion and love and forgiveness to his enemies. He wants God to rain down judgment.

In fact, he says, "I prefer death over watching the Lord forgive my enemies." Jonah is probably not the guy you want to invite to dinner tonight, right? He is a troubled soul. I imagine Jonah is probably thinking, "How could I face my contemporaries back home if they knew I was part of the change and the mercy the Assyrians received from the Lord?" Here is the irony. In chapter 2, do you remember what happens?

Jonah is all too willing and so excited to praise God for his mercy and his grace. "Thank you, God, for saving me from the depths of the sea." He is excited to receive God's mercy and his grace, but the irony is when it comes to his enemies or those people he doesn't feel like are deserving of God's grace… You know. Those people over there. Those people who are worse than he was. "Well, they certainly deserve God's judgment." But Jonah? No. Jonah deserves God's grace and his love and his mercy and his compassion. That's his perspective, as ugly as it sounds.

The Lord comes in verse 4, and he says, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" Jonah doesn't answer this question, but the implication is, "You have no reason to be angry, Jonah." Jonah doesn't understand the point so God, being the master teacher he is, decides to use a little object lesson to nail home his point.

In verses 5 through 8, we see this object lesson. It says in verse 5, "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." Now, what's he looking for? I mean, he clearly knows the people had received mercy from the Lord. People have speculated and asked, "What's he looking for?" He's left the city. He goes and finds himself a place to pitch camp. He's overlooking the city. He's outside the city walls now.

Perhaps… If you remember what he preached, he said, "In 40 days, if you don't repent, God is going to bring judgment." Maybe Jonah is holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, there are some people in there who didn't repent, and God is going to rain down judgment. He's going to have a front row seat to see these wicked people get what's been coming to them, and he's excited.

God interrupts his plans here. Notice the Lord appoints three things. Just as I told you in chapter 2, one of the themes through this book is God's sovereignty. He is all-powerful over all creation. In chapter 2, he appoints a great fish. Notice what he does here in chapter 4. He appoints a plant. He appoints a worm. He appoints a scorching east wind.

Look with me in verse 6. "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." Isn't that good? You see, Jonah had his shelter, and the Lord grew up a plant just so his little head would not get sunburned and he could be comfortable. He's sitting outside the city, and he's happy. He has a glass of cold iced tea on a hot summer day.

Then verse 7. "But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. And it came about when the sun came up that God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's [little] head…" I added little right there. "…so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, 'Death is better to me than life.'"

Wow. This is a guy who is pretty focused on…who? Self! Right? Jonah preferred death over watching his enemies receive God's mercy. The parallel is Jonah prefers death over being uncomfortable from the blazing sun and the heat. Now God is going to take this object lesson and make his point really clear. We have the conclusion of the book where everything, the central message, comes down to this, in verses 9 through 11.

"Then God said to Jonah, 'Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?'" Remember, he asked the same question earlier, which Jonah didn't respond to. This time he thinks he'll give him an answer. "And [Jonah] said, 'I have good reason to be angry, even to death.'" Wow. "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.'"

"You see, Jonah, you had compassion and were concerned about this plant. That's your perspective. Understand my perspective," found in verse 11. "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?"

What's the Lord's point here? He is saying, "If you feel compassionate about the destruction of a plant, how in the world could you not be concerned, Jonah? How could you be so self-centered to be unmoved by the condition of 120,000 souls, people who don't know their left hand from their right?" In other words, "People who don't know anything about me, and all of the animals. How could you not be concerned about what I have created?"

Well, this is…. I promised it would hurt. This is where it starts to hurt, where we go from preaching to meddling. I'm sitting here, and I'm taking notes. I'm writing and preparing for this message. The Lord has a mysterious way of putting the mirror up to me. I didn't necessarily like what I saw, because the truth is, I imagine (if you're anything like me) we're a lot more like Jonah than we care to admit. Aren't we? We're a lot like Jonah.

The reality is our hearts are not broken by what breaks the heart of God nearly often enough. Listen to this. Our hearts are not broken by what breaks the heart of God. That's what he's saying to Jonah right here. "Jonah, you're concerned about your little plant. You're not concerned with, and you don't understand about, what breaks my heart."

Think about it for a second. What breaks the heart of God? Certainly poverty, injustice, racism, greed, death, hypocrisy, abuse, deceit, unrepentant hearts, stubborn rebellion, disease. Certainly, these things break the heart of God. If I'm honest, when I think about what breaks my heart, these don't top my list nearly as often as they should.

What breaks my heart? Those things which are temporal, pretty inconsequential, and self-centered. I'll just be honest with you. You see, I'm more like Jonah than I care to admit. I like my shade tree. Jonah liked his shade tree. Jonah had a whole city in front of him with tremendous needs called Nineveh, and what was he concerned about? His shade. His comfort. What about you?

You see, I don't have a shade tree, but I certainly have my La-Z-Boy. Right? You know what the La-Z-Boy represents? It represents a life that's all about me. It's comfortable, too. Newspaper. Remote control. You know? I like my easy chair, my La-Z-Boy. It's comfortable from there. You kind of like your chairs, too. Right? If you think about it? You have a TV chair. You know the chair you sit in that's in front of your TV that your kids aren't allowed to sit in when the big game is on? That's your TV chair. You get to put your feet up after a long day at work.

Some of you even like aisle seats. You come in, and you want to sit in the aisle. I understand that. Do you notice how more men are in the aisle than women? Do you know why that is? In case of an emergency or something like that, right? That's why I sit there on the aisle seat, in case of an emergency. We like the aisle seat. That's just about us. Right? We like our La-Z-Boy.

How many boys would rather drive than let your wife drive on vacation? Come on. Every one of you who is married who didn't raise your hand, you lied. Because your wife needs to hold the map so you can get there, but you ain't going to listen to her anyway. We all know that joke. You like to drive. Now if you're with a bunch of guys, where do you sit? I heard it. What do we say? Shotgun! You see, we like our seats.

When we're out to eat, we like the seat that's not with our back facing the door or the window, like we're in the Old West or something. We like to sit at the head of the table. We like our seats. Do you know what that's symptomatic of? We are focused on self. I mean, that's just the cold, hard reality. That's the truth of the matter.

The Lord doesn't allow me to teach, usually, until he has hurt me pretty good, and so the timing of this was pretty ironic. You see, I wanted to get a step ahead. I had to have the Dish guys come out and make sure my satellite was all set, just this week (this is a true story), so I could be ready for football season. I called ahead before all you guys so I wouldn't get behind, because it's about me.

There I was. They come out on Monday between that window of 12 hours they give you. I waited, and I waited. Then, they came. They asked, "Do we need a ladder?" "Well, of course you're going to need a ladder." They show up with… Not the right ladder. They say, "Hey, we'll be back tomorrow." I go, "Okay. Well, just make sure you bring the right ladder."

Sure enough, another guy shows up. Right ladder? No. I'm sitting there, and I'm going, "How hard could this be? You are a satellite provider. You have to get on a roof. Bring your ladder!" When I think about it, everything in me is starting to get frustrated. Then I'm thinking about Jonah, and it's all going through my mind. All of a sudden, I go, "Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I see where this is going. This could either be a positive or very negative illustration on Sunday."

I took a deep breath. I took a step back. I go, "Hey, you know what? It's okay. If tomorrow you could bring the right ladder, that would be great." Gang, the reality is I was more frustrated over the satellite company not bringing a ladder over this past week than I ever was about anything that broke the heart of God. I'll just be honest with you. Why is it…? I could actually preach from here for a while.

Why is it that we get so upset about our shade trees, and there is a whole city in the background? We are totally ignorant, naïve, head-in-the-sand, unwilling to look at the needs of our city, because we're a lot more like Jonah than we care to admit. We often care more about our shade trees, our La-Z-Boys, than we do for the needs of our city. I want you to consider these four questions. The first question is to ask yourself is…

1 . What breaks your heart? What breaks your heart? You know the Bible study answer because you're in church right now. You know what you're supposed to say but think about this past week. What broke your heart? What got you frustrated? Who didn't show up with the right ladder at your place over this past week? What breaks your heart? The second question is…

2 . What breaks the Lord's heart? Now I had my own list, but what do you think breaks the Lord's heart? Have you ever stopped to think about that? Do you know we serve a relational, personal God? Do you know you can grieve God's Spirit? Do you know you can break God's heart? You think about that for a second. That is a profound, incredible thought, is it not? We don't have this calloused, distant, cold, landlord-type God without feelings who kind of sits up there like an old man in the sky who is absent and apart from who we are.

We have a God who relates to us, and we can break his heart. There are things that break the heart of God. We're so consumed with self and what God should do for us to provide for our La-Z-Boys and our shade trees, that when he just so happens to allow a worm to come and destroy the plant or the ladder guy to show up where he doesn't have the right ladder, we get all bent out of shape, because it's about us. We're more like Jonah than we care to admit. The reality is we don't think often enough about what breaks our hearts versus what breaks the Lord's heart. The third question is…

3 . When was the last time you grieved over what breaks the Lord's heart? I mean, think about that. I could tell you several times I've stayed awake at night worried about my to-do-list or things going on in my personal life. When was the last time you stayed awake at night because what was breaking the heart of God was breaking your heart? Think about that. The fourth question is…

4 . What are you willing to do about it? What are you willing to do about the things that break the heart of God? My first encouragement would be for you to…

A. Assess the needs around you. Just look around you. Jonah had Nineveh in the background, and we have a whole city of Dallas in our background, and beyond. Who does God intend to send but you, Jonah? You. Assess the needs around you. If you think about however many people are here. You think about, for each person here, where we are all going to go once we're done at noon, we spread out over the city, and we go back to work tomorrow.

If every single person here thought, "What breaks the Lord's heart in this little sphere of influence which I'm in?" and every person had on their mind what was on the mind of God, think how the city could change. Assess the needs around you, not just spiritually (there certainly are spiritual needs) but physically.

We're good at one of two extremes, oftentimes. Right? Some of us in North Dallas are real good at focusing on the spiritual needs, and we don't, frankly, rub up against folks who have real physical needs all too often. I mean real physical needs. Either we avoid that neighborhood, or we choose not to think about those things because they make us uncomfortable. Think about the spiritual needs and the physical needs of those all around you.

In 1 John, chapter 3, it says, "We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." You see, the two are related. It's more than just caring for the spiritual needs. It's caring for the physical needs of those around you.

It's more than singing the songs that we do at the beginning of the service. It's about responding. It's being the hands and the feet and the voice God calls us to be. Don't just think about the spiritual and physical needs locally. Think about the physical and spiritual needs globally. What breaks the heart of God globally? What could you do to make a difference?

B. Consider the ways God has gifted and resourced you. This is so much more than just about writing a check, gang. I'm talking about being invested. I'm talking about how life's experiences have trained you to make a difference in a broken world, in a hurting city. How has he resourced you? How has he gifted you? How has he educated you? How does he want to use you to bring about a difference?

C. Don't wait for an invitation but take the initiative. I have friends who, truly, I look at, and I go, "Man, you know what? Your life's example instructs my heart." I see people here I'd love to embarrass right now, call them up on stage, and go, "You know what? Your example, the way you've taken the initiative, spurs my heart on to get out of the La-Z-Boy, forsake my little shade tree, and do something about the needs of this city."

There are those who come, not just to hear a good message, not just to see cool videos or whatever we have here, but who come and go, "I'm going to take the initiative because I recognize I'm on point. God has called me, not just the people who stand up on this platform, to make a difference." I encourage you. Don't wait for an invitation. Don't wait for what's written in the Watermark News. Sure, those are easy onramps, but look at the world in which God has placed you. How does he want to use you?

My last question is real simple…What is stopping you? Just be honest. What's stopping you? I have a guess. Shade trees. Shade trees. We are comfortable in our La-Z-Boys and under our shade trees, and it keeps us from addressing the needs of those around us. Real needs. God called Jonah in chapter 1. I warned you. This isn't just a cute little child's story we should read to those who are real little. This has a message for us.

The message is that God is calling us to do something about the needs of those who are far from God, but we're a lot like Jonah. We get in that boat, and we head the other way. God wants to redeem our hearts. As I said at the beginning, not just from something but to something. To a purpose that's greater than ourselves. If we will let him, he could use us to change a city that's much bigger than 120,000 people.

The temptation is shade trees. You have to ask yourself what is on the table. What are you unwilling to give up because you like your shade tree? I think the Lord is calling us to be Jonah with a whole different heart attitude and to live a life on mission and on purpose. In his book, which I highly recommend, called Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper writes:

"You may not be sure that you want your life to make a difference. Maybe you don't care very much whether you make a lasting difference for the sake of something great. You just want people to like you. If people would just like being around you, you'd be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell—if you could have all that (even without God)…" In other words, if you could have your shade tree. "…you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making. A wasted life."

"I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader's Digest, which tells about a couple who 'took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.' At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn't.

Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look, Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don't buy it. Don't waste your life."

Jonah's message is for today. God loves the world, and he intends to use you to carry that message to a great city. The temptation is to get on boats and to find shade trees, but God is calling us to a life of so much more. Don't waste it. Let's pray.

Lord, I think about this message and think about what it is you're trying to teach us. Father, I pray that when we think about this book from now on, we wouldn't be a people who would think about a great fish, but we would think about our great responsibility in light of the great God we serve.

I pray, Father, the things that break your heart would be what keep us up at night, not the things that are temporal, inconsequential, and self-centered, and that, Lord, we would seriously consider, Father, what we can do in our own Nineveh, right here, to make a difference. In the end, I pray, Lord, you would look at our lives and see they were lives that were not wasted. We pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus, amen.

We just got done singing, "There's no one like you, God." For those of you who are guests today and perhaps it would be inauthentic for you to say those words, to sing those words, because you don't know the God whom we sing of, then we would love nothing more than the opportunity to introduce you to him.

We'd love nothing more than the opportunity to sit with you over a cup of coffee and answer questions you may have…great questions, hard questions…to deal with whatever past you feel like may disqualify you from God's love. We'd love to talk to you. You can let us know who you are by filling out that Watermark News or coming up to us after the service. We'd love to talk to you here. Have a great week of worship. Thanks.

About 'Jonah'

What breaks God's heart? Do you know? Do you care? In this series, we meet Jonah, an 8<sup>th</sup> century B.C. prophet, who was charged by God to care for one of His great concerns: the city of Nineveh. A barbaric people far from God and immersed in pagan tradition, the Ninevites faced certain judgment and destruction. But when God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn them and plead for their repentance, the battle begins. Jonah's journey of running, rebellion, repentance, resentment and return to God is much more than a children's story about a man and a huge fish. It's a powerful lesson on disobedience, God's great mercy for all people and our willingness to love others as God loves them. How willing are you to follow God and love others at all cost? This series on Jonah is a great opportunity for you to explore, study and find out.