The Heart of the Matter – Jonah 4

The fifth message in our Jonah Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)

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Ever had a restaurant that you save for special occasions, and then when the special occasion arrises you look forward to your meal there? You look forward to it for days. Then you get there and the service is a little slow, the food isn’t as good as last time or as you remember it, and even though the experience wasn’t bad, it was a little bit of a let down. It wasn’t awful, but it was a disappointment.

Maybe you’ve experienced that with a movie or book that a friend highly recommended and then you read it and you think, that was ok, but I’m not sure why they were so high on it… It was a let down…In Jonah 4, we see that what you and I might think of as an incredible ending to the story of Jonah is a let down to the main character of the story. Jonah himself doesn’t think it’s much of an ending. In fact, he’s more than let down. He’s upset. He’s really upset. He’s mad. He’s angry.

To appreciate the ending that Jonah is unhappy with, you need to be clear on what’s happened so far, so let’s review real quick. In the opening lines of this story, God comes to Jonah and tells him to deliver an ominous message to Ninevah.

2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

Instead, Jonah runs down to Joppa and catches a boat toward Tarshish which is in the opposite direction of Nineveh and was kind of the farthest you could imagine getting away from Nineveh at the time. It would kind of be like saying he caught a boat to Timbuktu.

He goes down into the boat and a huge storm raises up. The ship is tossed to and fro and the crew is terrified the boat is going to break apart. They’re throwing everything overboard to lighten the boat and the captain goes down below to get more stuff and finds Jonah asleeep. They wake Jonah and figure out that this storm is because of him. When they’ve exhausted all other options they throw Jonah overboard. The storm immediately ends and the waters goes still.

Jonah figures he’s done for and calls out to God, but God has prepared a giant fish which scoops Jonah up and carries him to shore. Jonah is then vomited up on shore and God says again, go to Nineveh. Jonah obeys this time and the people of Nineveh turn from their wickedness, repent and call upon God and he has mercy on them. Jonah is a preacher who’s life has been spared through a miracle, he’s preached a simple message and seen the greatest revival, and the story could end there and we’d have a great Hollywood ending… but chapter 4 tells us how Jonah feels about this.

Let’s look at it.

1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

Jonah wasn’t just let down, he was upset. Exceedingly displeased. Very angry.

Now, Jonah is about to pour out his feelings in the next verse and when he does he reveals some things about himself. We get a really good snapshot of Jonah’s heart in this moment.

Comedian Demetri Martin once said, if you want real photos of your friends, count past 3 when it’s time to take a photo.

He said because when you count to 3 people put on their best smile of best look, but when you say 4, people are kind of confused, when you get to 5 people start to get real very quick.

Anger can be an X-ray of our hearts and souls.

In Jonah’s anger we get to the heart of the matter. In this moment of anger towards God, we see the reason that Jonah ran the opposite way of what God had told him to do.

We don’t always get to see this deep into the motivation and reasoning of the characters of scripture. Here we have this transparent and honest confession of why Jonah had acted the way that he had, and it’s not pretty. When we see Jonah’s heart we see that the reason for his previous disobedience and his current rage was a hatred for the Ninevites.

Read verses 2-5 with me.

This past Christmas Rita Whitney gave me this Bible that her family had come across. It was printed in the 1800’s and had a newspaper clipping from 1903 in it.

It’s an old, big Bible. You know, if I wanted people to think I was really spiritual and thoughtful and into old books and manuscripts I could carry this around and look the part of the bookish professor. I might be able to impress some people with this big old Bible. Maybe I could get some thick rimmed glasses and a sport coat with patches on the elbows… That would be worthless though, if I didn’t read it or study it, and even still it would be worthless if I didn’t take it to heart.

It wouldn’t matter how big or old the Bible I had was, if I didn’t allow it to shape my heart.

You can look the part without having a change of heart.

That’s what Jonah did what God asked and went to Nineveh and preached to the people as God had asked, he was going through the motions, but his heart wasn’t in it.

I’m thankful that we have this outburst in Jonah 4 because we get to see that though Jonah had obeyed, he wasn’t trusting God. He wasn’t connecting to the Lord. He was just doing what he had to do to keep from ending up in the heap of trouble that he was in earlier.

Jonah had learned the hard way that he needed to do what God said, but he had not yet learned that he needed to let go of his heart as well…

Jonah had done what God commanded, but he did not do it because he wanted to, he didn’t do it with any joy, it was only out of obligation. It was only because he had to…

Jonah chapter 4 shows us that you can do right without being right.

You can do right without being right.

Chapter 3 shows us Jonah doing right, chapter 4 shows us Jonah is not right.

Here’s what I love about the ending of Jonah, and we’ll get into this more next week in the ending of this chapter and the book, God was not only committed to getting Jonah to do right, he was committed to Jonah being made right.
I’m tempted to start preaching next week’s sermon now…

We’d like for the story of Jonah to end with Jonah learning his lesson and doing the right thing, but it would really be a tragedy if all Jonah learned was to do the right thing so he didn’t get in trouble, if all he learned was to play a role, or play a part, or pretend to be obedient.

So what was the real condition of Jonah’s heart?

What was he angry about?

He was angry that God was showing mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah was upset that God wasn’t going to rain down fire and brimstone on them. He was disappointed the city and all the people weren’t going to be destroyed. That’s what he wanted!

He says, I knew it! I knew that you are so gracious and forgiving that you would not punish them. You wouldn’t rain down fire upon them… Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh because he didn’t want to give them a chance to find grace. He didn’t want them to have the opportunity to do the right thing. Let them burn was his philosophy.

Now, here’s a real irony. The guy that has just directly benefited from God’s grace and mercy, who had been saved from the depths of the sea because of God’s grace, is now upset at just how gracious God is…

The guy who praised God for his mercy in chapter 2 is scolding God for his mercy in chapter 4.

You see, even in this moment, Jonah felt that his direct disobedience was not as great of a sin as the sins of Nineveh.

Jonah hated Nineveh. He hated the ninevites.

Jonah felt absolutely justified in his hatred and racism. Because, if you look back into history you see that the people of Nineveh were pretty awful.

They were known for their violence.

In fact, you look back at the command that the king gave in 3:8 you see that he acknowledges that they need to repent of the violence among them.

They were known for being ruthless enemies. They literally filleted their captives. They were awful.

They were our modern day terrorists.

Some of you feel absolutely justified in your hatred, in your sin, in your racism, in your addiction, in your affair, in your greed, in your dishonesty….

You blame other people. You’ve set yourself up as the judge of what’s right and wrong. You’ve decided that certain rules don’t apply to you because you grew up in a difficult situation or because you have to deal with a difficult person or because your spouse doesn’t do their part or because your boss lied to you….

The end result of blaming others for your sin is finding fault with God.

(adam blamed Eve but really blamed God)

Jonah felt justified in his disobedience and he ultimately felt that God was not being just and not doing what was right…

People talk about everyone is a victim these days… That’s nothing new. Jonah was playing the victim thousand of years ago…

Jonah is so distraught over this that he literally tells God to take his life, he would rather die than see these people be forgiven.

3Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

The whole point of the book of Jonah was to get Jews to see that their nationalistic pride, their feeling of superiority because of their heritage was misplaced.

It was written to help them see that even though they were called “God’s people” they were capable of totally turning from God and  disobeying while people didn’t know of God were capable of turning to Him and obeying.

In the beginning we have the pagan ships crew worshipping God while Jonah is running from God. Here we have some of the most evil people known to man at the time turning to God and worshipping Him while Jonah the prophet is telling God He is wrong.

Jonah literally thinks God is wrong. The phrase for displeased in verse 1 was typically used for revulsion from evil- In Jonah’s mind it was wrong for God to forgive Nineveh.

Jonah thought he knew better than God.

The Jews thought they knew better than God.

This ridiculous mindset is on full display when Jesus does miracles before the religious leaders and they want to lecture Him on right and wrong.

God simply asks Jonah, doest thou well to be angry?

The heart of the matter in the book of Jonah is what’s the matter with the heart of Jonah.

Brian Cory – what are you doing?