Jonah 4:1-11 - Embracing Transformation
Sermon Transcript - Jonah 4:1-11
Okay, today we're going to finish our series on Jonah chapter four, and we've been in a sermon series called Jonah Messy Messenger. And the idea with this series is that it's actually going to be a reoccurring series the messy messenger part, because when we look through scripture, there are a lot of messy human beings that God uses as a messenger of his message, right?
And it's important that we look at these messy messengers. Because we probably are feeling a little messy ourselves. Amen. Now, earlier in my life, and maybe sometimes still today, I was really concerned with not looking like I was a mess. I was really concerned with looking like I had it all together, that anybody else's story.
I was particularly legalistic, often towards other people. I. But just brutally so so towards myself and I, Desperately wanted to be obedient to all the commands of scripture, but there was something that I missed as I was trying to be obedient. I was trying to be obedient, not for the glory of God. I was trying to be obedient for the glory of Matt 'cause I wanted people around me.
To see me as somebody who was obedient, kind of a sick way of being obedient. 'cause that's not the heart of obedience. It took me a really long time to learn that the heart of obedience is not, the desire to look perfect to others is not even fear of the Lord. That's a part of it, but it's not just that. Obedience is about gratitude. It's about gratitude.
Fear can only take you so far, but if you're truly grateful for what the Lord has done, that's when obedience becomes possible. And gratitude, if you've ever felt the warm embrace of God's mercy, I. That's the invitation to gratitude . When you consider the depth of your sin and the great extreme measures that Jesus went to, your heart will be filled with gratitude for his divine rescue of you. Amen. And it's that should spur us on, towards transformation, towards Christian growth, Christian maturity. So then why is it that so many of us have felt and experienced God's mercy only to find ourselves resisting the transformation that it invites?
Have you ever found yourself basking in the light of his grace only to recoil when it begins to shine too brightly on areas of your life you'd rather leave untouched?
Are there sins or things in your life where you're like, God, I'm not giving you that. I'm grateful for what you've done over there, but this is mine.
You're not alone. It's a struggle that we all face, and it's a struggle that Jonah faced Jonah despite being a recipient of God's profound and personal mercy during his time in the belly of a whale. A fish, let's be clear, A fish. He resisted the transformative power that this mercy invited Jonah should have been the most grateful person alive, and he should have lived his entire life in response.
Just grateful, but he resists that. He struggled against the very change that God's compassion was offering him. Jonah was grateful for God's mercy towards himself, but he was stubborn when it extended to other people. Jonah was quick to accept forgiveness, but he was slow to change his ways. He was slow to align his heart with God's heart because he wasn't truly grateful.
Isn't it often the same with us? We love the idea of grace when it's for us, but when it's extended to those we think don't deserve it, we resist. When God's grace is a comfort to us, we celebrate it. Amen. We love it when God's grace hits us, but when God's grace makes us uncomfortable, we rebel and question God.
We push him off of the throne and put ourselves on there serving as judge. And we don't appreciate that. That's the full extent of what this rebellion is doing. It's pushing God off of the throne and claiming it for ourselves. And worse, this defiance to God's grace is actually a refusal to allow God's mercy to transform us.
This defiance keeps us stuck. This resistance to change is a hindrance to our spiritual growth and maturity. But there's good news, and the good news that we've seen throughout the book of Jonah is that God's grace is relentless. As we've seen in Jonah's story, God's grace pursues us even when we're running away from it.
God's grace will hunt us down. Let's open up to chapter four of Jonah. We're gonna begin in verse one. Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. Why? He is greatly displeased and furious because he just saw Nineveh. Repent. All of 'em repent. And so Jonah's reaction to seeing people repent and bow before the Lord is to be ticked off something sick with Jonah,
Jonah prayed to the Lord, please Lord, isn't this what I said while I was still in my own country. That's why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God. I knew that you're slow to anger. I knew that you're abounding in faithful love and one who relents from sending disaster.
And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.
The Lord asked, is it right for you to be angry?
Jonah's emotional whirlwind is a temper tantrum. It is triggered by seeing God's mercy towards Nineveh. He's not just upset, he's furious. He's fuming. And this intense reaction peels back layers. It reveals a heart that's wrestling to grasp God's limitless grace. And square it with his own narrow understanding of justice and mercy.
When Jonah tells the Lord, I knew it. I knew you'd forgive them. That's why I ran in the first place. He's really laying bare his struggle with God's forgiving nature, and it's not just about a struggle with God's decision. It's a struggle with a very transformative mercy. Jonah himself was supposed to show Jonah didn't want to see Nineveh get a pass, which we can understand because sometimes it's hard to stomach when God's mercy goes beyond our comfort zone, reaching people we think don't deserve it.
When we look at Jonah's life, we see a man who's not very open to change. He didn't want Nineveh to change, and the truth is he wasn't really open to changing himself. Even after seeing God's compassion up close and personal, I want you to remember Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish. In chapter two, Jonah was in deep trouble.
Literally. He's deep in the fish, deep in the sea, and he prayed for deliverance and then when he was saved, he was full of Thanksgiving and commitment, and he sure talked a good game, right? He was saying all the right things and you'd think an experience like that would transform a person, but as we've seen what follows, it's clear that Jonah's heart didn't really change.
It was still the same old Jonah resistant to showing others the same mercy that was shown to him. And this should cause us to wonder about our own lives, right? How often do we celebrate the grace we receive from God? At the same time resisting the changes that it calls for in our lives, especially when it comes to showing that same grace to others.
Now, we might not resist out of anger at those who don't know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We might simply resist because the conversations about faith make us uncomfortable. The ugliness of Jonah's resistance is highlighted by his own experience of grace. Even after he saw God's power to save, Jonah had a hard time extending that same grace to Nineveh.
This push and pull between wanting God's mercy for himself, but resisting it for others should really make us stop and think.
Are we sometimes like that too?
Here's the worst part for Jonah, but also for us. Jonah's struggle to see God's compassionate side when he really wanted Nineveh to be punished, really messes with his understanding of who God is.
This is something that we can all relate to. We often try to shape God to fit our biases and our personal belief. We create God in our own image rather than turn ourselves into the image of God. Rather than accepting the full range of his character as shown in the Bible, we limit him to what makes us happy, what makes us comfortable.
When we resist changing our ways, when we resist accepting God for who he really is, it not only stunts our spiritual growth, but it also clouds our view of God and of the world. It makes it harder for us to truly understand and reflect His grace to the world. In verse four, God asked, is it right for you to be angry?
How does Jonah respond? Look at verse five when Jonah leaves Nineveh, sorry, verse five. Jonah left the city and found a place east of it. He made himself a shelter there. And sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. Okay, so Jonah leaves Nineveh and he sets up a shelter to the east of the city. It's like he's saying he can't quite come to terms with how merciful God has been.
God literally just asked, is it right for you to be angry? Jonah doesn't submit. He doesn't repent. He goes off and he sets up a booth so that he can watch and see what happens. Expecting that God is going to agree with him when God's clearly rebuking him.
Jonah can't come to terms with how merciful God has been.
He's in a tug of war within himself, still holding out hope, that maybe just maybe God will rain down judgment on Nineveh. So instead of being open to change and transformation, he is stuck on the idea of destruction and it's his destruction.
It looks like it might happen as a result, the scripture here really shines a light on how much he's wrestling with the idea of God's grace being so wide-reaching now. God's response to Jonah is a master class in patience, because if I were God, I'd Smite, Jonah, just I'm done with you. He'd be a pile of ash and honestly, apart from the Holy Spirit at work in me, I don't know.
That kind of patience for someone so hard-hearted, I caused a whale to spit you up. You're gonna sulk for six. Jonah left the city and found a place east of it. Oh I read that verse then. The Lord God appointed a plant and it grew over Jonah to provide shade for his head to rescue him from his trouble.
What what's going on in this story? Things are getting weird, right? The Lord God appointed a plant and it grew over Jonah to provide shade for his head. To rescue him from his trouble.
God plants or creates a plant to provide Jonah, some much-needed shade. Now, this is an act of kindness. It's straight from God to Jonah. Jonah interestingly is thrilled about it. He's delighted by the plant, which we'd all be right, if we were out outside of Nineveh. In the Middle East, we'd probably wanna plant to shade us, but Jonah's mood has changed in a really confusing way here.
He was furious a moment ago with God's mercy, and now he's grateful for it. This simple plant provides a powerful life lesson and shines a light on Jonah's self-focus. And struggled to understand the full extent of God's mercy. Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant. When Dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant and it withered
as the sun was rising. God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah's head so much that he almost fainted and he wanted to die. He said, it's better for me to die than to live. Then God asked Jonah, is it right for you to be angry about this plant? Yes, it's right. He replied, I'm angry enough to die.
God set up a scenario where a plant flourishes, providing Jonah with a much needed shade only to have a worm, kill the plant the next day. Then God cranks up the heat with an intense East wind Jonah's discomfort level shoots through the roof, and he's so miserable. He just wishes he could die because if there's one thing Jonah's been consistent in this entire time is that he's a little bit melodramatic.
This is a lot like another prophet Elijah. He hit rock bottom in a story told in one Kings 19, and he declares, I've had enough Lord take my life. Both of these guys are at the end of their ropes. They're ready to throw in the towel,
but here's the thing. There are situations in how God responds to them, teaches us about the many faces of God's mercy and compassion, and lessons that we can learn about change. Elijah's despair comes from being totally wiped out. He is exhausted and he's fearful. He's scared after a face-off with the prophets of Baal, but Jonah.
He's so angry and frustrated because God chose to show mercy to people. That's really upsetting.
Jonah's so angry. He wants to die because God's merciful.
And so God's question to Jonah is, are you really upset about the plant? The gentle nudge is a kind rebuke I'd smite him. And I'm not proud of it, but during the pandemic, I had a moment of frustration where I just lost it. And while I didn't wish myself dead, I was a little melodramatic. I was struggling like all of us to adapt to life on Zoom.
Thank God we don't have to do Zoom all the time. Amen. And I was struggling to keep things together at work and at home. My son was two. And, terrible twos, I didn't yet know that terrible twos were practiced for the terrible threes, and my daughter was just a few months old, so we weren't getting much sleep.
And between eating all of our meals at home, which I was cooking, we were doing dishes like two to three times a day because we had kids, at least we were, until the dishwasher broke and it needed to be replaced. And I had one of the most frustrating experiences with a customer service phone tree that I've ever had, and I lost it.
Now I tend to be pretty diplomatic. My wife will tell you that I do struggle with phone trees. That's not, it's not a gifting of mine, and I got to a voicemail. And I heard myself just lose it on this poor answering machine and whoever had to listen to that message. It was like a demon. And I know there wasn't a demon in me, but it was like a demon within me came out through that phone and was just going to attack whoever heard it.
I'm shocked that I haven't found it on YouTube. It was that ridiculous. I was mortified with myself. And I really had to consider what I was so upset about. The phone tree, really, God's question in this moment is an invitation for Jonah to pause and think about what he's feeling. Jonah's got some big feelings here, and God is basically saying, Jonah, you're worried about the plant, which is here today and gone tomorrow.
But what about the people in Nineveh? Who are of infinite worth? Can't you see the bigger picture? Now I have kids, they're still really little and so sometimes they'll get upset and something that Tracy says to them all the time is people are more important. 'cause they'll get focused on the silliest things, and she'll have to remind them people are more important.
Jonah people are more important than a plant. People will exist for eternity. The plant's gone in a day.
This is God's way of inviting Jonah to look beyond his own biases and discomfort. Who cares about the plant? There's 120,000 people in Nineva.
God's inviting Jonah to look beyond his biases and discomfort to truly understand the depth and breadth of his mercy and love. The last few verses of this chapter, verses 10 and 11, really drive home how deep and wide God's mercy is. And the Lord said you cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow.
It appeared in a night and perished in a night. So may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals, which I just love that like 120,000 people and some animals, it just seems silly.
But what it's saying here is that God's compassion is way beyond our human biases and understanding. And God's mercy isn't just for a select few. It's for more than 120,000 people and even their animals. God's mercy is for all of creation.
God's mercy. God's love is for all of his creation. Now, that's the last verse of this story. That's the last verse of the book of Jonah. It ends on a question. It ends without revealing Jonah's response to God's final words. The book is intentionally leaving the story open-ended because as we consider how Jonah should respond, we also get to consider how we should respond because this isn't just a wake-up call for Jonah.
It is also a Wake-up call. For us, it's a call to consider how often we put our comfort and wants before the needs of others. It's a call for us to consider how selfish we're being, how ungrateful we're being, that God would extend all this mercy to us, but we don't want to extend it to others.
The story about the plant in God's gentle rebuke is a re strong, is a strong reminder of how deep and wide God's mercy runs. It challenges us to change our hearts to match God's heart. It pushes us to look beyond our own worries and discomforts, and to adopt a love that covers all creation, because that is what Jesus did.
Amen. Jesus came to die. He came to suffer. He humbled himself, lived the life of a man at a terrible time, to live the life of a Jewish man, and then died in the most excruciating way because his love and compassion for us was greater than his comfort.
This is the transformative power of God's mercy. It's a mercy that calls us to grow, to evolve, and to play a part in spreading his grace in our world, outta gratitude for what God has done in our life or something incredibly powerful about that. When we appreciate who God is and what he has done for us, we respond in gratitude.
The call to change in response to God's mercy is what our faith is all about. When we go back to the beginning, in the Book of Genesis, it says that we're made in God's image. And that's not just about where we come from, it's about where we're going. And what we're called to do every single day. We were created in the image of God.
It was corrupted by our sin, and God is working to restore us into the perfect image of his son. The perfect image of him being made in God's image means we're meant to be a reflection of who he is in the world. We're here to show love, his mercy and his kindness. And this isn't new. In the old Testament, Israel wasn't simply chosen as a special group.
They were appointed as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. And what was their job? Their job was to reflect God's character to the world. And Jonah, he was a part of this big story as an Israelite prophet. He wasn't just called to prophecy. He was asked to be a living example of God's mercy to a group of people who had no idea about the true God.
When we jump to the new Testament, Jesus makes our role even more apparent in his life in teachings. Take Matthew five for example. He or Jesus challenges us to be perfect just like our Heavenly father. But let's be clear, while being perfect means that we would never make a mistake. That we are 100% faithful.
What he's really talking about is growing in God's perfect love and mercy, born outta gratitude. It's not enough to not do the wrong things. You need to do the right things for the right reasons. We are to let God's character shine in everything we do, every response we make, just as Jesus did. Jonah's story then is not just an ancient narrative.
It's a mirror reflecting our own spiritual journey. Are we like Jonah resistant to God's call for transformation? Do we struggle to be authentic image bearers who extend grace and mercy to those outside of our comfort zones? Our transformation into God's image is both a privilege and a responsibility.
It requires a willingness to let go of our biases, to love unconditionally, and to extend mercy as freely as we have received it. And as we look at all the mercy that we have received, our hearts should fill with gratitude and transformation should follow. Let's embrace our calling to reflect God's character, not just in our words, but in our actions, in interactions with those around us.
This is our Christian responsibility to live out the grace and mercy shown to us through Jesus becoming beacons of God's love in a broken world. Jonah's story is more than a narrative of resistance. It's a call to transformation. It invites us to examine our hearts, to embrace God's merciful character and to reflect his love and grace to everyone we encounter.
Let us be transformed into the image of God. And let our lives be a testament to the transformative power of his mercy and grace. We have seen ourselves in the mirror. We have seen our reluctance to change, steering right back at us. It's a common human trait. We hold onto what we know, even when it's not good for us, even when it stops us from fully accepting God's life-changing mercy.
So the question is, how do we get past this? How do we open up to the dramatic shift that God's grace calls us to make? Let's start with this. We need to pinpoint where we're holding back. Where are you holding back? What area of your life are you holding back in? Jonah's resistance was rooted in his belief that some people just don't deserve God.
But what about us? Maybe our resistance isn't that overt. Maybe it's tucked away in our hesitation to venture outside our comfort zones or to forgive someone who's hurt us. The key is to recognize where we're resisting because that's the first step to moving beyond it. What's the next step? How do we overcome this resistance to change?
It all starts with a conversation. A conversation with God. We need to pray and ask him to touch our hearts. To help us see others with the same compassion and love that he has for them. And it's also about spending time in his word, letting the Scriptures change the way we think and bring our hearts in line with his.
Okay, what does this actually mean for us in real life? Perhaps it's about extending a hand to someone we found hard to forgive, showing the same mercy that we've been for forgiven. It. Maybe it involves giving up our time and resources to assist those who are less fortunate, recognizing God's image in them.
Or it could just be about really listening to someone we don't see eye-to-eye with trying to understand their point of view rather than rushing to judgment. And I want you to think about this like a muscle. A muscle that you work out and grow. I don't know too much about working out. It's a miracle every time I left my arms.
But if you're struggling with sharing God's mercy, begin by practicing with people who are easier for you to share God's mercy with, and then slowly work your way up to that big scary act of God's mercy that you're being called to living out God's mercy. In our day-to-day lives is important. Amen. And it's a journey we don't have to take alone.
I. It is something that you can do or to help us grow in sharing God's love and mercy or something that you can do to help us grow in sharing God's love and mercy is to share your experiences of receiving or giving God's mercy Our stories, our encouragement of each other will help us grow in this area.
Share the hard stories of you extending grace and compassion to others to inspire and encourage those of us who struggle in this area, that it's possible today. Let's make a commitment. Let's make a commitment together. Let's welcome the powerful transformation that God's mercy can bring back into our lives.
Let's not be stubborn like Jonah, fighting against God's call for change. Instead, let's remain open, ready to serve as vessels of God's love and grace. Let's do this together. Will you pray with me, father?
We need you. We need you to do a work in our lives. And Lord, we know that you already have done a work in our lives. Lord, would we truly understand the depth of your love and your grace? And in gratitude would we respond by reflecting that love and grace and compassion and mercy? To a world that desperately needs it.
In your name, I pray, Amen.