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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Jonah Part 5: Jonah Meet Your God
Text:Jonah 4:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Added:2022-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Exodus 32:30-35; 33:12-34:8

Text: Jonah 4:1-4

 

JONAH, MEET YOUR GOD

  1. Jonah’s Overt Racism

  2. Jonah’s Inconceivable Blasphemy

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

 

  1. Psalm 108: 1, 2

  2. Psalm 1:1-3

  3. Psalm 2: 1, 4

  4. Psalm 87: 1, 2, 4

  5. Psalm 134: 1, 2

  6. Hymn 66: 1-3

 

Words to Listen For: appendix, whip, sneer, dictates, ride

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How is Jonah similar to John Knox?  How are they different?

  2. Why is Jonah’s racism the only explanation for his anger?

  3. What does Jonah say that is the most offensive thing in Scripture?  Why?

  4. Why does God respond to Jonah in the way that He does?

  5. Who acts first?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ,

It was the 1500s, and a young woman was giving birth.  Epidurals were still 400 years away and the only painkiller available at that time was whiskey.  But as a religious woman, she would not drink it.

Instead, she struggled mightily to give birth to her child, crying out in pain, crying out to Jesus Christ to give her strength.

And her prayers were answered.  After a few hours, a healthy baby girl was born.

But the joy of a strong mother and a healthy daughter would not last.  For the woman’s screams and prayers had been heard by the local authorities.  And in these days, the days of Queen Mary I, more commonly known as Bloody Mary, they were a crime.

For this woman’s “crime” of calling out directly to Jesus Christ, instead of praying to Him through a saint, she and her newborn daughter were both condemned to death.

And this was not a rare occurrence.  The hatred of Queen Mary for the protestants was like nothing else.

Around this same time, God raised up a firebrand.  A powerful man, cut from the same cloth as Elijah, showing the same righteous fury as that of Moses, shattering the tablets of the covenant, or Hezekiah, breaking in pieces the bronze serpent.

God raised up a man named John Knox.

In his writings, he called out Mary for being an idolatrous Jezebel, a cruel persecutrix of God’s people.

In his prayers, he prayed for her downfall, saying “Repress the pride of this bloodthirsty tyrant, pour forth thy vengeance upon her, let death devour her in haste; let the earth swallow her up; and let her go down to hell.”

In his preaching, he was inflamed with righteous anger, fury, and zeal, saying “My words are sharp, but consider that they are not mine, but they are the threatening of the Omnipotent.  The sword of God’s wrath is already drawn…you have long been in bondage to the Devil, blindness, erorr, and idolatry prevailing against the simple truth of God in your realm in which God has made you ruler.  But now God, out of His great mercy, calls you to repentance before He pour forth His vengeance upon you.”

This was John Knox.  A man of fearless faith.  A man who would not shrink back in the face of evil.  John Knox is the kind of man that we could follow.  The kind of man we respect.

Now, consider another story.

There once was a king who was brutal in his treatment of political prisoners.  Where Bloody Mary killed 300 Protestants in 5 years, the number of people that he tortured and killled was at least ten times if not a hundred times or a thousand times that amount.

His political prisoners would have their limbs, or even noses and eyes removed, after which they would be beheaded, with their heads stacked in the shape of a pyramid as a warning to anyone who dared to cross him.

At the same time, God raised up a firebrand.  A man who burned with a white hot rage against these people.  He preached much like John Knox - the sword of God’s wrath is already drawn.  In 40 days, you will be overthrown!

This man’s name, as many of you have guessed, was Jonah.  The king who would do unspeakable things to his prisoners was the King of Nineveh.  The same king who arose from his throne and repented in dust and ashes.

John Knox got to see Bloody Mary overthrown, but Jonah didn’t get to see the destruction of Nineveh.  Not during his lifetime.  And it doesn’t seem very fair.

When framed in this way, when we are confronted with the ABSOLUTE EVIL of King Shalmaneser III…we can begin to understand Jonah’s completely inappropriate anger towards God.  It’s not RIGHT…but we understand it.  We get it.

We get it…because we aren’t too good at the grace thing yet.  We get it because we enjoy seeing people repaid for their sins.  We get it, because we like forgiveness for us, but not others.

Like

JONAH, we need to MEET (Y) OUR GOD.  This afternoon, we will see:

  1. Jonah’s Overt Racism,

  2. Jonah’s Inconceivable Blasphemy, and

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

 

Jonah, meet your God.  Jonah’s Overt Racism.

When we meet God, when we have these encounters with Him, we are shown to be what we truly are.  It is in prayer, ideally, that all our pretenses fall away, and we are honest with God.  Now, there are those for whom prayer is a performance, but if prayer happens, if prayer really happens…then the true self is revealed.

And this is true for Jonah in this chapter.  This is true for Jonah in this particular prayer as well.  Even though his personality hasn’t been exactly HIDDEN from us in the book so far, it is on full display in chapter 4.  In what some have called an appendix to the book, detailing Jonah’s run-in with God, immediately after the main event of the book.

Let’s recap, shall we?

  • The LORD appears to His prophet and tells him to go to Nineveh.

  • Jonah flees in the opposite direction, BUT GOD follows him.

  • God follows Him on the boat with the a storm, and when Jonah tries to escape again, into the sea, BUT GOD follows him again, and he is swallowed up by a great fish.

  • In the fish, Jonah prays, and recognizes who God is, but not really who he is yet.  Or at least, not his most pressing need.  Jonah doesn’t repent.

  • BUT GOD caused the fish to vomit him up, and calls Jonah to go to Nineveh once more.

  • And this time, Jonah goes.  He preaches a message of destruction, BUT NINEVEH repents!  Nineveh turns to the Lord, they believe God and believe IN GOD, and they are not destroyed!

And now.

What do we think will happen?  What should the conclusion be like?

Well, we hope against hope that Jonah’s time in the fish, Jonah’s time spent preaching, maybe encountering these Ninevites in person, the people he had only heard of…maybe this would have softened him.  Maybe Jonah’s heart would have melted.  Even a little bit.

Even if he still hated the Ninevites…maybe seeing their king humble himself would have done SOMETHING to Jonah.

  • GOD…they’re SO PROUD!

    • Then I will humble them.

  • GOD…they’re SO EVIL!

    • Then I will transform them.

But this isn’t enough for Jonah.

Instead of our text starting: And it pleased Jonah exceedingly that his task had been fulfilled.  He went to Jerusalem and fulfilled the vows he made to God while in the fish.  THE END.

Instead of that, which would have truly been a wonderful conclusion, we see, rather, the opposite.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.

It displeased Jonah exceedingly.  Maybe one of you, a deep thinker, a very quick thinker would ask: “Could we say it displeased Jonah…GREATLY?  Then we have the great city, the great storm, the great fish, and now the great displeasure?”

Well…no.  Unfortunately it’s not the same word here.  But what we lose in poetic balance, we gain in an acknowledgement of Jonah’s character.

More literally, this says, “But it was to Jonah an EVIL EVIL.”  Repetition to get the point across.  Repetition to intensify.  Not just evil, but EVIL EVIL.

Let that sink in for a moment.

To JONAH…

    What GOD DID…

        Was EVIL.

While there is rejoicing in heaven when a single sinner repents, in Jonah, there is fury when 600 000 sinners repent.

And why is this the case?  Why is this what the heart of Jonah looks like?

There is one answer.  And it’s UGLY.  The answer is RACISM.

And here, we must tread carefully for two reasons.  We must tread carefully because, on the one hand, EVERYTHING is racism today.  When people of colour are chosen to be world-class athletes, it is racist, because apparently this means that people of colour are performing for the entertainment of white people.  When people are colour are not chosen to be world-class athletes, it is racist, because apparently this means that the teams don’t want to include a person of colour.  One minor example.

We must tread carefully because so much is labelled as racist that isn’t…and so the word has lost all meaning.

And we must tread carefully because, just because Jonah’s racism, as we will see, is the MOST RACIST and the WORST RACISM to exist in a human’s mind…this doesn’t mean that other instances of racism, such as slavery and segregation AREN’T RACIST, and should be condemned.  And thankfully they have been.  Time after time.

So, with these qualifiers out of the way, Jonah is a racist.  Jonah has a racist heart.

As previously stated, if Jonah was concerned about Nineveh’s pride, they were humbled.  If Jonah was concerned about Nineveh’s sin, they repented.

Jonah did not have the righteous anger of Moses.  Shattering the tablets because of Israel’s idolatry.  Moses was driven to godly and righteous anger because the people were actively blaspheming.  They had not repented.  And so Moses was rightly angry.  And…what is more…when they did repent, Moses wanted to die for them to save their life.  Moses wanted to die so that they wouldn’t.  Jonah wanted to die because Nineveh didn’t.

Jonah did not have the righteous anger of Jesus.  Fashioning a whip, clearing out the temple because they had made a mockery of God’s house.  Jesus was driven to godly and righteous anger because the people were actively blaspheming.  Putting money above worship.  They had not repented.  And…what is more…Jesus wept over the future destruction of Jerusalem.  Jonah wept because Nineveh was NOT destroyed.  And Jesus DIED for the sins of these blasphemers.  Jonah wanted to die because the blasphemers were not destroyed for their sins.

And Jonah did not have the righteous anger of John Knox…do you remember what Knox preached?

The sword of God’s wrath is already drawn…you have long been in bondage to the Devil, blindness, erorr, and idolatry prevailing against the simple truth of God in your realm in which God has made you ruler.  But now God, out of His great mercy, calls you to repentance before He pour forth His vengeance upon you.

For John Knox, no matter how great his anger, it was his desire that Mary and the Roman Catholics repented.  Knox wanted them to change their hearts and for God to show them mercy.

But not Jonah.

For Jonah, it had nothing to do with their ACTIONS, it had nothing to do with THEIR HEART, but purely to do with their race.

Ninevites, by virtue of their RACE, shouldn’t receive grace.

You can imagine the sign Jonah would have carried in a protest:

  • IF YOU’RE NOT MY RACE, YOU DON’T GET GRACE

or simply:

  • GOD HATES NINEVITES

Jonah didn’t want the Ninevite stock to merge with the Israelite stock and make them worse.  Jonah didn’t want Israel to be watered down with foreigners, or have Israelites REPLACED with Ninevites.

And this is bad enough.  THIS is evil.  Evil evil.  But is it really the worst racism to have ever occurred, like I claimed earlier?  That’s a big claim.

But look at the implications here.

Ninevites shouldn’t receive grace, Ninevites shouldn’t join Israel.

  • This is more than not wanting to have a Ninevite as a neighbour in the Promised Land.

    • This is not wanting to have a Ninevite as a neighbour in HEAVEN.

This is saying that Ninevites, by virtue of their RACE, deserve to burn in hell forever.  Not just wanting PHYSICAL DEATH, ANNIHILATION, GENOCIDE, but wanting every single Ninevite to burn in hell eternally.

You might have repented, but you can’t change your race.  Your sins might not condemn you anymore, but hopefully your race does.  Hopefully your race is enough for you to burn forever.

I can’t even imagine.  This is sickening.  This is heart-wrenching.  And somehow…this is Jonah!  Somehow this is Jonah, and somehow it gets even worse.  Jonah’s overt racism moves on into Jonah’s inconceivable blasphemy.  Our second point.

And he prayed to the LORD

Let’s pause here.

Jonah’s changed.  His heart is still as ice.  He hates an entire race by virtue of their race.  But he prays.  It SEEMS small.  It SEEMS inconsequential.  

But prayer is the most powerful, the most valuable thing in the world.  It is through prayer, true prayer, that we are humbled.  We come before God and realize that, though we can trick people around us as to our heart and our mind, God knows.  God knows all.  We might as well be honest.

And when we pray, we acknowledge that huge gap.  The huge distance between God and us.  Ideally.

Jonah’s praying, but he’s not PRAYING PRAYING.  But at least he isn’t ignoring God anymore.  He’s mad, and instead of running, he’s complaining.

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.

It is better for me to die than to live.

And we might be tempted to say: “AMEN!  Yes!  So shall it be!  If this is who you are, maybe you should die.”

You see…Jonah’s old nature was rearing its ugly head.  As we confess in Lord’s Day 2 - I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.

Jonah hated Nineveh.  His neighbour.  And now he was turning and applying that hatred to God.

What does he say?

Jonah says THE MOST OFFENSIVE THING IN ALL OF SCRIPTURE.

  • More offensive than Satan saying: You will not surely die, calling God a liar.

  • More offensive than Cain asking: Am I my brother’s keeper?  with the blood still dripping from his hands.

  • More offensive than Sennacherib saying that his idols are more powerful than Yahweh.

I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Jonah takes the words of God’s self-declaration, God’s person, how God revealed Himself to Moses, passing before him and proclaiming these words…these words that were so holy, so powerful, that Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of the rock…

Jonah took these words and spoke them with a sneer on his lips.  With his voice dripping with hatred.

God…I hate you because of who you are.  God, I hate that you are God.  I would rather die than to live another second in a universe ruled by a God like you.

If I were God, there would be no Jonah left.  Just a scorch mark on the dirt where he was, just a moment ago.

People have been killed by God for less.

King Nebuchadnezzar, reflecting on his own greatness, refusing to acknowledge God, was turned into an animal.  King Herod, refusing to give glory to the true God when he himself was called a God, was eaten by worms.

But Jonah…

Jonah, the man who missed the entire lesson of the book of Jonah - GOD’S INFURIATING GRACE.

God, you are GRACIOUS…and I’ve experienced it…I am here today because of your grace…AND I HATE IT!  I hate that you are gracious…IN GENERAL.

Be gracious to me, be gracious to my friends, but only to those I decide are worthy.

God…I want you to be ME…just greater.  I want you to share my prejudices, I want you to share my patriotism, I want you to share my racism and my idea of holiness.

God…lets switch positions.  I will be God and send you off to those I hate with messages of destruction.

This is the worst blasphemy in all of Scripture.  I am certain of it.

All the times that God’s self-declaration is used…and it’s a lot - this is the most quoted passage in the Bible by the Bible…dozens of times, by Moses, David, Jeremiah… and this, right here, by Jonah, is the only time it is used with disgust.

This is INCONCEIVABLE!  It is inconceivable that Jonah, God’s prophet, specifically chosen by God, institutionalized, a “lifer,” would act in this way.

IT CAN’T BE!  Some of you might say.  God chose Jonah.  You must be missing something.

You’re too hard on Jonah.  You’re too mean.  This is just your opinion.  

But I present to you…the book of Jonah.  Read it yourself!  I am saying what it says.  As John Knox said, “my words are sharp, but consider that they are not mine.”

If what is preached is true but unpleasant, if what is preached is what the Bible says and it’s hard to hear…then it is your job and it is my job to sit here and struggle with it.  It is your job and my job to be offended by the truth of Scripture, and then submit to it.

_____________

Jonah missed the point of the book of Jonah.

Previously, in this series, we heard that Jonah 2:8 was key to the whole book.  Turn there with me now please.

Jonah 2:8 - Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love

When Jonah said this, he said it in a racist way.  ONLY ISRAELITES can receive God’s hesed love.  His steadfast covenant love.

But these words were truer than Jonah himself knew…because they apply to Jonah.

Jonah had a god too - and his name was Jonah.  Jonah is the vain idol that he pays regard to.  When he doesn’t like what God does or commands, Jonah does things his own way.

Jonah refuses…to SUBMIT.  Because submission is only really submission when you disagree, right?

If you agree with everything your parents say, or everything the government says, or everything the church says…if you simply obey the rules and laws that YOU LIKE…you aren’t submitting at all.

But when you submit when you disagree…when you obey when it’s difficult…when you still say “blessed be your name” on the road marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering…

If submitting means shedding your blood, or, maybe even harder, shedding your pride…when obeying and doing the right thing means that you might look like a fool, and you do it anyways…then you have pleased God.  Then you are on the right track.

Jonah needed to learn that he wasn’t God.  Jonah needed to learn who God was, and he needed to LEARN to LOVE God.  And if he ever did…well…we’ll get to that next time.

But Jonah didn’t get there in chapter 4.  That’s for sure.  And yet…God showed His infuriating grace once again.  Our final point.

To Jonah’s anger, Jonah’s temper tantrum where he revealed a heart full of hatred, hatred for his fellow man, hatred for his God…how does God respond?

Do you do well to be angry?

I know that God is God, and that God is perfect, but can we be in awe for a moment, over how well God answered?

He had EVERY RIGHT to strike Jonah down.  That’s what I would have done.

He had EVERY RIGHT to respond to Jonah in a whirlwind like He did to Job.

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

WHERE WERE YOU?

DO YOU UNDERSTAND?

CAN YOU DO WHAT I HAVE DONE?

DOES CREATION SERVE YOU?

Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?

But He doesn’t.  He responds simply.  He responds truthfully. He gently challenges Jonah.  He doesn’t come down in a whirlwind and anger.

And why?

_________

You might be expecting me to have some clever explanation here.  Or the simple explanation of “GRACE.”  GRACE DICTATES that God respond in this exact way.

But I don’t have a clever explanation.  Grace doesn’t always look like this.  Grace doesn’t always look the same way.

God was gracious to Job in how He answered him.

God was gracious to Nebuchadnezzar by giving him the mind of an animal to humble him.

God was gracious to Herod by striking him down and stopping him from continuing to commit evil.

So why did God respond in this way with Jonah?

Simply because…it was right.  It was the RIGHT thing to do, at THIS TIME, in THIS PLACE, with THIS PERSON.

God responded by meeting Jonah where he was at.  Just as Jesus Christ met the woman in adultery by crouching in the dirt with her, God meets Jonah’s racism and blasphemy with a simple question.

And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Again we have here a “BUT JONAH” followed by a “BUT GOD.”

But Jonah was displeased.  Jonah considered it an EVIL EVIL.

But God challenged him.

You think it’s evil, I think it’s good.  Who is right? Who is right here Jonah?

For Jonah, this was grace.

God had spoken, directly.

God had spoken, through the storm.

God had spoken, through the captain.

God had spoken, through the sailors.

God had spoken, through the fish.

And now God speaks, very simply, challenging Jonah.

And Jonah had time to think.  No longer FORCED to make a quick decision to pray, while being digested by a fish, but THIS is more of an “armchair” conversation with God.  Especially in the next part of the chapter, where we will be next time.

And what is curious about this, these first 4 verses…is that they happen while Jonah is still in the city.  Verse 5 begins, Jonah went out of the city.  And so Jonah is complaining to God while still in the city.

Seeing around him that the people are still breathing, seeing around him their prayers, their rejection of their evil, seeing around him buildings that aren’t crumbling under fire and brimstone, and he RAGES over it.

BUT GOD SHOWS GRACE.

And this is what He does.

We might think: Jonah needs to repent before God shows grace.  But that’s not true.

Jonah needs to act FIRST.  And then God will react in grace.

But that’s not true.

That wasn’t true for Nineveh!  It might SEEM like it…

Step 1: Nineveh repented.

Step 2: God relented.

But what happened before?  Jonah understood it!  He HATED IT, but he understood it!

This is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish!

God acted first by sending Jonah.  God’s first act of grace towards Nineveh was in the message of destruction.

God acted in grace, Nineveh responded in repentance, God acted in more grace.

This is the gospel.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die —  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were still weak.  GOD ACTED FIRST.

That’s grace.  It’s undeserved.  If we deserve it, it’s not grace.  If we earn it, it’s not grace.

And that’s just the start of grace.  We heard last time that God shows us grace so that He can show us more grace.  That was the message of Ephesians 2, and that’s the message of Romans 5

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

God shows us grace, He welcomes us into His family, and in doing so, He transforms us.

There is no prerequisite to enter God’s family.  There is no prerequisite to be shown grace.  You must be THIS TALL to ride.  You must be THIS HOLY to be welcomed in by God.

No.  This is how Jonah would do it if he was God - You must be THIS JEWISH to receive grace.

But not our God.  Not YAHWEH.

In so many ways, Yahweh our Saviour…is the anti-Jonah.

Jonah fled from his calling.

     Jesus willingly came down to earth.

Jonah refused to speak to God

     Jesus never stopped communing with His heavenly Father.

Jonah begrudgingly proclaimed a message of destruction

     Jesus lovingly proclaimed a message of salvation

Jonah looked around at a city and mourned that it wasn’t destroyed

     Jesus lamented over the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and longed to gather its citizens to Himself.

Jonah wanted to die because he hated grace

     Jesus died to bring about grace.

Jonah wanted racial purity in God’s kingdom

     Jesus sent His Holy Spirit at Pentecost to bring in all nations.

So that former enemies would be welcomed in.  For our God is more than a conqueror.  Not only does he humble and destroy His enemies, but He makes them His citizens.  He welcomes them as His friends.

Egypt and Babylon will be in that heavenly Jerusalem.

Cush, Philistia and Tyre will be there.

Nineveh will be there.

Because of God’s overwhelming, inconceivable, infuriating grace to those who don’t deserve it, they will all be there.  Will you?

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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