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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Jonah Part 6: Jonah Meet Yourself
Text:Jonah 4:5-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Added:2022-07-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Luke 15:11-32

Text: Jonah 4:5-11

 

JONAH MEET YOURSELF

  1. God’s Plant

  2. God’s Worm

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

  4. The End?


 

  1. Psalm 100:1-4

  2. Psalm 42: 1, 4, 6, 7

  3. Psalm 73:1, 7, 8

  4. Psalm 116: 1, 5, 10

  5. Hymn 50: 1, 3

  6. Hymn 14: 9, 10

 

Words to Listen For: store, bat, agent, length, punctuation

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How does love turn into grace?

  2. Was Jonah unique in his actions of rebellion as an anointed man?

  3. What are the ways that God wins?

  4. How is Jonah like the prodigal sons?

  5. Is it really about the plant?

  6. What is written across your life?

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


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

We like summaries, don’t we?  A summary bringing everything back together.  The conclusion of a sermon tying back to the introduction, summary statements that begin with: “If you forget everything else, please remember this!”  It is THEN that the pencils of students start writing.

St. Augustine, the early church father, liked summary statements too.

In writing on what was known at the time as the four cardinal virtues: temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence, Augustine defined them all as love.

Temperance is love keeping itself entirely and incorruptibly for God;

Fortitude is love bearing everything for the sake of God;

Justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well 

Prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps and what hinders our love for God.

The four cardinal virtues then, according to Augustine, can be defined or summarized as love, love, love, and love.

It’s not only Augustine who does this, but the Apostle Paul as well.  As we heard after we read the law this morning, Paul concludes in Romans 13 that love is the fulfillment of the Law.

Now, while love summarizes the Law of God, while love summarizes the cardinal virtues, love also summarizes our God.  Our God IS LOVE.

But LOVE…when it comes up against SIN…our God’s LOVE turns into GRACE.  Think of it like sunlight shining through a stained glass window.  It is still LIGHT, but it has been transformed, coloured, tinted, in a different way.

And this is the summary of the book of Jonah.

God shows LOVE…

And who are the stained glass windows here?

     Jonah - a rebellious and hateful prophet.

     Pagan sailors.

     Wicked Ninevites.

God’s love is tinted as GRACE.  Amazing, Infuriating grace.  And that’s the point!

If our focus is instead on Jonah or the sailors or the Ninevites…we are missing the point of the book of Jonah.

While it may have been challenging for us to see Jonah in a new light, despite having his name as the title, Jonah isn’t the main character of Jonah.  Jonah is a backdrop, Jonah is an example, Jonah is the stained glass that shows God’s grace.

And so, just like Augustine could summarize the four cardinal virtues as: love, love, love, and love…I could (though I won’t) summarize our four points this morning as “God’s infuriating grace, God’s infuriating grace, God’s infuriating grace, and God’s infuriating grace.”

Instead, being more specific and nuanced we will see that in chapter 4,

JONAH is forced to MEET YOURSELF Himself.  We will see this, knowing that the focus, the light, is all on God in

  1. God’s Plant

  2. God’s Worm

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace, and finally

  4. The End?

 

Jonah, Meet Yourself.  God’s Plant.

So…is this about Jonah, or is this about God?  After all, Jonah is meeting himself.  Whether it is THROUGH God’s plant, God’s worm…it’s still ABOUT JONAH…right?

Well, yes and no.

Because the same could be asked about grace itself.  Is grace about us or about God?

     Grace comes FROM GOD…

     Grace isn’t DESERVED BY US

     Grace is GOD’S RICHES

     Grace is AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE

     Grace is the plan of God from before the beginning

     Grace is given FROM THE LOVE OF GOD

     Grace is FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

And yet…

     Grace is FOR US

     Grace is WHAT SAVES US

     Grace is the most precious thing in the word TO US

     Grace is God’s ultimate gift TO US

And the same is true about our text.  The same is true about this book.

Think of it this way:

When you walk into any jewellery store, your eyes are immediately drawn to the display of diamonds.  These rings, or loose stones, are laid out on black velvet.  This is very intentional.  You are given a variety of stones to look at and handle.  As soon as you take them in your hands, off of the black velvet, the stones appear dull, and look hardly different than glass.  But when they are put back onto the black velvet...suddenly the diamonds leap to life!  They are brilliant and sparkling!

It is the diamond that is precious, not the black velvet, and yet, when they are put together, there is that brilliant shine.  The contrast emphasizes the beauty.

This is true for God with each and every one of His children.

     This is God’s grace for the sailors - they are the black velvet

     This is God’s grace for Nineveh - they are the black velvet

     This is God’s grace for Jonah, time after time after time - he is the black velvet

And this is true for you and for me.  We are the black velvet.  You and I are Jonah’s at heart - desperately in need of God’s grace.

And so, when we look at Jonah, at his lack of love, at his sins and weaknesses, let us see, first of all, God’s grace, shining out so beautifully and so clearly.

When we look at Jonah, let us then see ourselves in his story.

And finally, when we look at Jonah, we can look at Jonah himself and mourn his brokenness, his hardness of heart, and hope that, in the end, there was a change in him.

So let’s take a look at God, ourselves, and Jonah, in our text.

Verse 5 - 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.

Jonah was a prophet, chosen by God…and yet he was so blind.  He was so blind to God’s work.

And Jonah wasn’t the only anointed one of God to act in this way - think of King Saul, the first anointed King of Israel.  He was blind to God’s plan, God’s heart, God’s holiness.

Or what about Jesus’ fierce warning to those around Him in Matthew 7 - On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

King Saul, chosen by God…anointed with the Holy Spirit, prophesying…was blind and foolish, and died apart from God.

Disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, actively battling against the demonic forces, doing miracles…were not saved.

And so too with Jonah.  Though we can’t state with certainty his final destination (and we’ll get there in our last point), we know, that throughout this book that bears his name…he was far from God.

Though he was the prophet…the one who was supposed to be the closest to God…

  • Jonah didn’t pray like the sailors prayed

  • Jonah didn’t repent like the Ninevites repented

  • Jonah didn’t even obey like the storm and the fish obeyed the words of their master

Instead, Jonah was BLIND.  What Jonah couldn’t see…was that HE HAD SUCCEEDED!  He had preached words of warning, and the warning had been heeded!

He had preached to a proud and wicked people, and the pride had been broken - the king got off his throne, removed his robe, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

And the wickedness and the violence had been turned away from.

GOD WON.  GOD WON!

And this is how we must see it too, beloved.

GOD WINS…God always wins - in Heaven or in Hell.  God won in the repentance of Nineveh, and a hundred years later, God won in the destruction of Nineveh.

GOD WINS if the wicked harden themselves in their wickedness…because one day, ever knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  GOD WINS if the wicked do not repent, and are punished for their sins.

AND GOD WINS if the wicked do repent, if they turn from their wickedness, and their knees bow and their tongues confess before the end.

GOD WINS when His enemies are destroyed, AND when His enemies are transformed into His family.

But Jonah only wanted victory in one way: destruction.  Some commentators say that thai was because Jonah was worried about God’s GLORY.  How could God be glorified in relenting from destruction?  But this rings rather hollow, given Jonah’s blasphemous statement at the beginning of the chapter.

JONAH KNOWS that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster.

JONAH KNOWS that this is who God is and this is how He receives glory.

Jonah didn’t CARE about God’s glory, Jonah cared only about himself.

BUT GOD….BUT GOD appointed a plant.

Verse 6 - 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.

And we read this and we say, “oh that’s so NICE that God provides a plant!  How generous.  How gracious.”  True!

But do we really see this for what it is?

Jonah, filled with hatred for God, filled with hatred for his fellow man, blind as a bat when it comes to God’s plan…has set up a booth to wait under, hoping that God would change His mind.  Hoping that God would be NOT-GOD and act in a way contrary to His character.  Hoping that, any day now, the repentant Ninevites would be struck down.

And God sees this and He thinks, “My prophet might get a bit of a sunburn out here…my prophet, as he continues to rebel, might get hurt.  I should comfort him, I should cool him.”

And WHY?  WHY IS THIS GOD’S RESPONSE to a man who HATES HIM?

This is an amazing, brilliant diamond on very black velvet.

This is grace!

Jonah doesn’t like that God is gracious…maybe, just maybe if he experiences some grace again himself…maybe he’ll see.  Maybe he’ll change.

What does God’s plant say to Jonah?

Jonah!  God cares about you!  Not just the big things, but the little things too!  You are His darling child, and he doesn’t want you to be hurt!  You’re angry right now, but here, be calmed, be cooled, be comforted!  Jonah…GOD LOVES YOU!

And what does God’s plant say about God?

God loves His children!  God shows GRACE!  God wants to show Himself to His people, sometimes in blessing, sometimes in consequences, but always in love!

The plant shows that God is everything Jonah hates about Him - gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,

relenting from disaster. 

The PLANT says all of this?

Yes!  A very talkative plant.  A very wise plant.

But the plant doesn’t work.  Jonah is a little blind and a little deaf it seems.  And so God appoints a worm.  Our second point.

Verse 7 - 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.

     The God who appointed the plant also appointed the worm.

     The God who appointed the plant also appointed a scorching east wind.

It may seem here, on first glance, that God has gotten frustrated with Jonah.

Jonah, here, have this plant!

Oh, you didn’t immediately change?  Then I’ll snatch away the plant, and I’ll make your life miserable, you ungrateful man!

NO!  NOT OUR GOD!

Our God is SLOW TO ANGER.  Look at His track record in just the book of Jonah.  He is FIRM, there was a GREAT STORM…He isn’t playing around.  There was a GREAT FISH, He challenges Jonah’s anger…

And in the end, God simply asks Jonah a few questions.

As we heard the last time, God COULD HAVE answered Jonah out of a whirlwind as He did to Job.  But He didn’t.  Because a whirlwind was what Job needed…and a few serious questions is what Jonah needed.  Just like the prodigal sons.

We can see, throughout the book, that Jonah acts as the two prodigal sons.

At first, Jonah is the younger son.  The one we typically think of as the prodigal son.

He runs away from his father.  He rebels against his father’s advice and leading, and he goes his own way, before he realizes that God’s way is best, and misery and pain will follow should he continue to rebel.

He remembers that even a slave in his father’s house had it better.  So maybe he will go back and be a slave.  Sounds like Jonah.  At least at first.

But then there is a change.  In the second half of Jonah, he has transformed into the older brother.  A prodigal in his own right.  A man who obeys his father, but rages against him for his grace to repentant sinners.

The father responds to the younger son with open arms: Bring quickly the best robe…let us eat and celebrate!

    God responded to Jonah with grace upon grace, even a plant to make his rebellion more comfortable…

The father responds to the older son with open arms: You are always with me, and what is mine is yours…come in and celebrate

    God responded to Jonah with grace upon grace, challenging him to show the same grace that he himself had been given

God sent a worm and a scorching east wind…and it was grace.

God didn’t send worms to eat Jonah from the inside as He did with King Herod, but He sent a worm to eat the plant.

“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, let the name of the LORD be praised!  Right?”

Not quite.  Not Jonah.  JOB could say this…JOB a man who also served as black velvet to God’s grace, Job, a man who was not sinless in the book that bears his name…

JOB could say this when he lost his property and his children and was left alone with a wife who acted more as an agent of Satan than as a comfort and a support.  But Job still praised.  In his unthinkable losses, Job STILL PRAISED.

But for Jonah…it was a PLANT!!

God has sent the plant to show Jonah His love…but Jonah didn’t see it that way.  And so God took the plant away.

Jonah was exceedingly glad over the plant, but it doesn't seem like He thanked GOD for it.

I DESERVE this plant!

But when it was taken away…THEN Jonah prays.  Then Jonah brings it up to God.

GOD…LET ME DIE.

Verse 8 - 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?”

Jonah…it’s only a plant!  Do you see what I’m doing here with the plant?

But Jonah…

“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

Even though Jonah saw the destruction of the plant as EVIL, even though Jonah was furious with rage at the worm…it was GOOD.  The worm was GOOD because it forced Jonah to think.  The plant was good in that it showed God’s CARE…but the worm was good because it forced Jonah to God.  He came in inappropriate anger…but he still came before God.

And the worm was good because it gave God ONE MORE OPPORTUNITY to show His infuriating grace.  Our third point.

It is here that we see God speaking to Jonah, in both WORD AND SIGN.  This is the first time that He spoke in both.

     God spoke in words to Jonah to tell him to go to Nineveh…

     God spoke in signs like the storm and the fish…

But here, in the plant, worm, and wind event…God also speaks in words.

It is just as our Saviour spoke in parables and then explained them to the disciples.  Jonah needed a little boost here.

Verse 10 - 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?

Here God explains the plant.

Jonah - you didn’t labour for the plant…but I labored for the people of Nineveh.  I hand-fashioned each of them in their mother’s womb, I watched over them, I guided their steps, I allowed them to commit great evil, to my own pain, in my long-suffering, and then I brought them to the point of repentance.  Out of love, to show my great grace.  To show my brilliant diamond against their black velvet.

Jonah - this is a plant that would not survive too long in this desert, even without a worm…but the Ninevites…they have immortal souls!  They will live forever in heaven or in hell.

Jonah…why do you care SO MUCH about the plant?

But you see…Jonah is talking around the issue.  He isn’t really saying what he means to God.  Because it’s not actually about the plant.  It can’t actually be about the plant.  For Jonah, it is as it always has been…about HIMSELF.

I LOVED THAT PLANT…because it was good for me.  Because it did what I wanted it to.  The plant was a wonderful servant.

Jonah wants to be in charge.  And God is showing him that maybe…just maybe…Yahweh is a better God than Jonah.

Jonah…as God, I don’t just sit back…I work, I cultivate…you didn’t cause the plant to spring up…I did.

Jonah…as God I don’t just love things that are good for me.  That are useful for me.  I don’t just love the people who love me…I love the Ninevites.  And I love YOU Jonah.  I’m still HERE aren’t I?

I’m still here, 4 chapters later, however many days or months this took.  You haven’t driven me away just yet.

THIS IS GRACE!

When we show grace, when we show mercy, when we forgive…we aren’t like this at all, are we?

Because in our heart there exists a Jonah.  We are that black velvet.  And we’re fooling ourselves if we think we aren’t.

     When we show grace it is so much less than how God shows grace.

     We love only those who love us.

     We forgive only those who try to make amends.

     We are very short-suffering and very impatient.

     We keep records of wrongs.

But that’s not how God’s grace works!

     God’s grace meant letting the younger son run away with half His wealth and squander it.  God’s grace meant looking out for the younger son to come home each and every day.

     God’s grace meant welcoming the foolish, sinful, prideful son back into the family and refusing to keep him at arms length.

     God’s grace meant continuing to work with the older son who saw his father as nothing but a slave driver.

     God’s grace meant pleading with the older son to be reunited with the brother that he hated.

     Gods’ grace meant sending Jesus Christ to a world that rejected Him, a world that denied Him, a world that killed Him.

     Grace looks like Jesus Christ coming to His own, and to His own people who did not receive Him.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

THIS IS GOD’S GRACE.

And what does it look like for you?  What does God’s grace look like in your life?

Describe your black velvet.

             How have you sinned against God?

How have you squandered His love?

Who were you before God got a hold of your life?

What sins and weaknesses still remain in you, even now?

And then…describe that brilliant diamond.

          How has God shown you grace?

          How has God blessed you even in the midst of your sins?

          How has God shown you patience and love and mercy?

God’s grace is unexpected.  It is truly something PRODIGAL - wasteful, lavish, over the top - and we are very poor recipients of it…but we truly love it.

We LOVE God’s grace for US…but for OTHERS…it can be infuriating to us.  But we have to struggle with this.  We have to struggle through this and realize that their black velvet isn’t blacker than ours.

If you aren’t the worst sinner you know…you don’t know yourself very well at all.  If you aren’t the worst sinner you know…you don’t know yourself very well at all.  As much as we shake our heads at Jonah…we have to shake our heads at ourselves even more.  Read Jonah to yourself in the mirror.  One eye on Jonah, one eye on yourself.

Jonah…how could you act in this way?  How could you rebel?  You were the chosen prophet of God!

Self…how could you act in this way?  How can you continue to rebel?  You are the chosen child of God!  This behaviour isn’t fitting for your identity.

And now we are left with a question.  We are left with a challenge.  We are left with: The End?  Our final point.

You may wonder what more there is it to say about Jonah.  You may wonder what more there is to say about God’s grace.

Maybe the fact that Jonah 4:11 speaks of 120 000 people, when I’ve used the number of 600 000 all the way through the series?

Well…that’s not the point here, but I can answer that for you just quickly…120 000 who do not know their right from their left.  That is 120 000 CHILDREN.  600 000 people, 120 000 children.  This fits with what the best secular scholars say concerning the population of Nineveh.

But this final point in the sermon, this final point in the series is not about math.  It’s about something far more important.

It’s not about MATH…it’s about PUNCTUATION…kind of.

The book of Jonah ends with a question mark.  One of two books in the Bible to end this way.

And for Jonah…the question mark fulfills two functions here.

First of all, it represents the entirety of what we know about Jonah’s life after the book of Jonah.

Jonah just…ends.

Jonah does not appear, as Samson did, in Hebrews 11.  That would be NICE!  That would be WONDERFUL if he did.  But he doesn’t.  And we are left with a big question mark over Jonah.

Now, if Jonah wrote the book of Jonah, as many biblical scholars say…then we can rejoice.  We can rejoice that Jonah’s blindness and deafness and hardness of heart was conquered and transformed by God’s grace.

If Jonah wrote the book of Jonah, then we can see his pain and his shame in writing the story of his rebellion.  In being willing to let the world know what kind of a fool he was…knowing that the gospel of grace is the power of God.  In describing his own black velvet, Jonah is begging us to focus on the brilliant diamond of God’s grace.

I hope that Jonah wrote the book of Jonah, I truly do.  Then, in glory we can celebrate, we can look at each other, as I hope to look one day at King Manasseh and say, YOU REPENTED!  WOW!

  • Manasseh - you repented of your great evil!  How truly God His goodness shows!

  • Jonah - you repented of your great rebellion!  How truly God His goodness shows!

  • And I’m no different guys - I too am trying to live a life marked by repentance.  How truly God His goodness shows!

We are all here because of God’s grace, and no other reason.

But we don’t know.  We don’t know Jonah’s ultimate fate.  God did not see fit to tell us, and we must not pry.

But the question mark at the end serves another purpose too.

We see the camera move from a closeup on Jonah to the city.

Everything has been about Jonah.  Closeups of his face of confusion and then frustration as he receives the message from God.

     Closeups of his face of desperation as he flees.

     Closeups of his face of panic in the storm, and resignation as he goes overboard.

     Closeups of his face of terror in the fish, his face of judgement as he preaches.

     Closeups of his face of rage when he realizes that God showed mercy.

But Jonah…isn’t about Jonah.

And so the camera shifts from a closeup on Jonah to a wide-shot of the city.

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GRACE.

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR REJOICING IN THE REPENTANCE OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

And so the question comes.  And so the challenge comes: we are summoned to write the final paragraph.  We are summoned to contemplate our personal destiny.

The book remains unfinished so that we may provide our own conclusion.

For you are Jonah.

I am Jonah.

What is going to be the summary of your life?  What will be written across every page?  Will it be the undeserved, incredible, amazing, infuriating grace of God?

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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