My Will Or Yours
Sermon Series: Four God So Loved
There are six books in the Bible that have only four chapters: Ruth, Jonah, Malachi, Philippians, Colossians, and 2nd Timothy. The four chapters in each of these books give us an incredible word of encouragement and challenge. You've heard us say this numerous times, familiarity breeds contempt. That is… that you can hear the message of scripture so often that it loses its punch, its power, and you just kind of skim right over the top of it. It's like these authors in these six books get to the fourth chapter and say, “by the way, now that we've said all this, we need to remind you of this powerful truth that is life-changing.” If you're not careful, you can read these truths and they just go right over your head or you just skip right by them. But, if these things are true, which according to the Bible they are, it changes absolutely everything in your life. So we're going to be told that we are known beyond belief; that every intricate detail of your life and purpose is known; that you're loved beyond measure; that you are loved and accepted in ways unimaginable; you're adored beyond understanding; you could not be any more valued; any more significant than you are now; and you are secure when it comes to eternity beyond any comprehension; nothing can separate you. Nothing can separate you from God. So, the question is in these fourth chapters in these six different books, these truths that we learn, how do they fundamentally change us? Because if these four chapters really sink in, then everything would change.
So, let's go to the first narrative before we go to the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah. It's a story that most of us remember, and the context is God wants Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites. Jonah hates the Ninevites. He actually wants them to perish and if you've ever prayed for something or for someone else hoping that God did not actually answer that prayer, this is what Jonah's doing. I know if there are times in your life when you say, “you know, I've prayed all of these prayers, I finally prayed this prayer for somebody that I really don't care that much about. I mean, I've prayed for a job promotion. I've prayed to get the guy or to get the girl back. I prayed for my children. Why doesn't God answer these? Then I pray for this person or this group of people that I really didn't even mean it and God answered that prayer!” So, Jonah wants God to give the Ninevites what he thinks they deserve but that's because his understanding of God is warped. He still thinks, as we've mentioned in the past, that he's good people and the Ninevites are bad people; and because he's one of the good ones, he deserves blessings from God and because the Ninevites are the bad ones, they deserve punishment.
So instead of going to Nineveh to preach, if you know the story, Jonah jumps on a boat, and goes in the opposite direction. He runs from God, but God pursues him and catches him. He throws him into the belly of a big fish and Jonah repents. When he repents, he is regurgitated onto the seaside, and then he goes and preaches to the Ninevites, and to no surprise, the Ninevites repent. But here is where the story gets interesting, what is Jonah's response? He sulks, as he sits under a shade tree. Now here's how the story goes. In Jonah 4:1-11, it states…
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?
Jonah's life is not going the way he expects in his mind. God is not acting the way he's supposed to act. God is not running the universe the way God should run the universe. In fact, in his mind, God is acting opposite to Jonah's understanding so much so, that Jonah's world has been rocked and he wants to die in verse 3.
When people discover that the God they've been worshiping all their lives, the one they've created in their own image or the one some leader has created for them in their own image. When they come to an understanding later in life that this is not the real God, there's only one of two options: change your view and worldview and understanding of God or commit spiritual suicide. I actually have a younger brother who did exactly that. He got caught up in his mid-twenties in a church that told him that if you become a Christian, you will never be sick again, you will never have any troubles, and you're going to be rich, and you'll begin to see demons. My brother thought that there were demons in everything. He would go out in the morning, lay his hands on his car, and cast out the demons so that it would start. And of course, I would say, “look, brother, it has nothing to do with demons. This is a Ford. That's what Fords do. They just don't work”. So, here's my brother who has this view of God, I'll never get sick, but he does get sick. I'm going to get rich, but I'm not rich and I see demonic forces. He always quotes the passage out of Luke “No weapon formed against me shall prevail”. He says that his pastor has told me that he’ll never have trouble in this life if he does everything right. Well, if he lives his life… trouble keeps coming. So, what do you do? You either change your worldview or you check out of spiritual things completely, and for a lot of people, that's what they decide to do.
Jonah's view of God has been shaken to its core. He wants to die. He wants to commit spiritual suicide. He says, “God, you're giving grace to the Ninevites. You gotta be kidding me! Just kill me, kill me now!” What you notice is, that God is being so patient with Jonah, even though Jonah's not being patient with anyone else. So, God asks Jonah a simple question in hopes that Jonah will open up within his own assumptions and change his view of God. God says, “Jonah, is it right for you to be angry?” God is wanting Jonah to admit something about himself. That if Jonah is angry because God is forgiving the Ninevites, then why isn't Jonah angry when God is forgiving him or the Israelites? God is asking Jonah, “why should I not forgive someone who repents? Do you think you're better than they are? Or they're worse than you? Jonah, are some sins too great to be forgiven? Have you earned, Jonah, anything that you received? Hasn't it been given to you as a gift of grace? Should I give the Ninevites what they deserve? Should I give Israel what they deserve? Should I give you what you deserve?”
There's something about the Christian life, somewhere along the way, we start to get this sense of entitlement that because we've done certain things in the right way, not only should God bless us, but there should never be any trouble in our lives. There's a part of us that wants to say, “God, come on, man, are you on vacation? Don't you see what's happening down here to me? I know that Jesus said in this world you'll have trouble, but can't you limit some of the trouble just a little bit?” I've often wondered if all of us want to write a book, titled Questions I'd Like to Ask God, if God is up in heaven saying, “oh yeah, well, I've got my own book… Questions I'd Like to Ask You. What, if anything, are you really entitled to? Is your life about you? Or is it about me? Do you really think that you know better than me how your life should be going? Don't you really believe that I can bring immeasurably more and considerably more out of all these situations? More than you would ever ask or imagine out of the most hellish situation?” God continues, “Why do you give me what you desire rather than what I desire? Why must I give you a reason for everything that I do? I've given you my son and grace and mercy and eternal life. Is that not enough?” I wonder what God would ask us.
So Jonah goes east of the city. That's not just a random detail. Israel is located on the Mediterranean Sea or just west of the waters. So that means all of Israel's enemies lay to the east. So, the east represents the enemies of God and of God's people. So, Adam and Eve are kicked out and they go east of Eden. When Kane kills Abel, he leaves and goes east to the land of Nod. Now Jonah is leaving God in anger and he goes east, the place of God's enemies. He is angry with God.
If you think about it, Jonah's quite a piece of work. I mean the big fish swallows him. He cries to God, God saves him and he says, “you are my salvation God and I know you sent this storm to save me!” Then another storm comes and he says, “God, kill me, kill me dead!” He is up and down. Are we any different? As long as we're healthy, as long as our family's operating the way it should, as long as we're doing okay financially, as long as things are going our way, as long as God responds to me in the circumstances the way I think he ought to. Jonah is angry with God. So, he sits in the place of God's enemies. Think about that. Remember how we talked about in the Old Testament, you communicate not so much by the written word or by page. You communicate by an illustration, a live visual.
So, when you make contracts, you don't sign papers or shake hands. You act out what will happen to the other party if they violate the contract. So here, Jonah is acting out what is in his heart. He goes to the east and he sits as an enemy of God. The Bible tells us that anytime you go east of God, anytime you sit in the place of an enemy of God, it's not good for you. So, Jonah is now hot in the boiling sun. He's angry with God. He can't believe that God relented. Jonah is steaming on the inside and on the outside. And what does God do? God sends a shade. He causes a vine to grow up over Jonah's head. Now, this is beautiful because the shade is a powerful image. It's a narrative. It's a story.
Remember these are desert living people:
The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. -Psalm 121:4-6
Keep me as the apple of your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. From the wicked who are out to destroy me from my mortal enemies who surround me. -Psalm 17
So, shade is a metaphor. It means that you are under God's divine and omnipotent protection. So the question is why did God send shade to Jonah in verse 6? Then the Lord provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade to his head to ease his discomfort. And Jonah was very happy about the plant. The original text to ease his discomfort is actually a Hebrew phrase that means to deliver one from evil. So, something negative is happening. God sends shade and the Bible says suddenly Jonah's very happy about the plant. In fact, it says he rejoiced with great joy. Something seems out of place here. Jonah is so sad and so angry. He wants to die and all it takes is a little bit of shade and suddenly he's rejoicing. Why? Because Jonah knows that shade is an imagery of salvation, salvation from your enemies.
When this happens in Jonah's mind when the plant goes up, it means Nineveh is going down because he sees the Ninevites as his enemies, so he's absolutely thrilled. He's rejoicing. The Bible actually says he goes outside the city to see what's going to happen to Nineveh. He should know what's going to happen to them because God has told him if they repent, He will spare the city. They did repent, but he's still hoping that God will not save the city, but will destroy it. So, when Jonah's at the very bottom of his life, in the belly of the great fish, God gave him grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Now, Jonah's offended by grace when it goes to somebody else.
What is all this about? God has more difficulty saving Jonah than he does saving Nineveh. That's the amazing thing, as it turns out, the book of Jonah is not about the evil Ninevites, it's about the evil in Jonah's heart. What is the evil? In the past, we have said the evil is that Jonah thinks he's better than somebody. And that is true. We’ve said that Jonah doesn't have a heart for people who are far from God in order to bring them near and there's truth in that. But the overall theme, I am convinced after years of looking at Jonah chapter 4, the real problem with Jonah is this: He thinks he knows better than God; how God should be running the universe. That's it. How God should be running my life. That's the ultimate offense, that we think we should be on the throne. We think we would do a better job than God. When it concerns what God allows to happen in the universe, what he causes in the universe, and what he deters from the universe, we should be on the throne of God. So, the book of Jonah introduces us to two problems. One, what am I going to do about Nineveh? But the bigger problem is, what am I going to do about Jonah?
Now, can I tell you something? The Ninevites worshiped fish Gods. You think about what God did here. All of this that happened to Jonah, even though a lot of it was his own doing was still all part of the plan of God because don't you think that before Jonah got to Nineveh, they had already heard what happened to Jonah, that he went into the belly of a big fish and lived to talk about it.
When you worship the fish gods, imagine the story and what it would've meant to the Ninevites. They would've been saying when they heard the name, Jonah, that dude went into the belly of the beast and lived to talk about it. Jonah is a conqueror of the water gods. They tried to swallow him up, but Jonah's God rather calls them to up-chuck. He has defeated the strongest of our gods. We must listen to him. He has gone into the belly of the fish, and now he's here to speak to us. Don't you see? We work for the King. We have stood with the King. We're on call 24/7. Our life has ultimate meaning. We have the authority of the greatest King in the land. His hand is constantly upon us and everything that happens to us is for his glory to prepare us for greater things to come.
That's why your faith and trust in him must not be contingent on anything. God may require you to be swallowed by a big fish so that you can haul in the rest of them. This is what Jonah 4 is about. Another reminder of something we should have learned a long time ago is that God's hand has been in every event of your life. Even when you disobey him and suffered the consequences, God is still there. You know that, right? Even when you're trying to live in a distant land, even when you go against God, he's right there. Working on you, preparing you for what one day will be the greatest hall of your life. Can I ask you to look at your life one more time? Do you give God all the glory for your brokenness? Or do you give him all the blame? Do you give him all the glory or all the blame?
Jonah ends up in the belly of the big fish of his own doing and yet still glorifies God, because God prepared a way for him to be used in a way that would change people for eternity. Most people can't fathom that somehow God is involved in our brokenness, that God is involved in even the mistakes, their sins that we commit. I'm not saying that God makes you commit sins, but God is able to work everything together for good, even the evil in our own hearts and that's why the greatest example of our relationship with God is the Potter and the clay. He puts you on the wheel and he's molding and shaping and sometimes when you get bent out of shape and you're just not cooperating and you just continue to make bad decision after bad decision, he doesn't throw the clay away. He takes it off the wheel and smashes it hard onto the ground and starts again. But he doesn't give up on us. Numerous times, we've asked the question, when was Christ most centered in the will of the father? When he was hanging on the cross, it wasn't of his own doing, and God could have spared him but had he spared him, you and I would be lost for eternity. Sometimes if he spares us, somebody else will be lost for eternity. We're not that smart enough to figure it all out because he's infinite and we're finite. Let the infinite take care of the finite. Put your trust in God. God recovered from the cross, salvation, redemption, and eternal life.
Jesus went into the belly of the ultimate beast and was spewed out onto the earth on the third day so that you and I may defeat our greatest enemy, death. Where is your sting? If we've defeated the greatest enemy, isn't it right that God used us while we're here so that others may know there is an enemy that can be defeated? Sometimes the clearest communication we give people is that there is life to come and the life that is to come is far greater than the former. Sometimes the greatest way of communicating is the peace that we have when our lives are falling apart.
So, when the big fish swallows you, pray for God's mercy and wait, because the greatest upchuck of your life is coming and something glorious is going to be born out of your darkness. Do you think that big fish was random? I don't think so. If you want God to use a family and to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, to ask God that they would not suffer in any way is not possible. Through suffering, through trial, through tragedy, you are prepared. You are prepared in being swallowed by the big fish. You are prepared to haul in the rest of them. ¹All the way my Savior leads me. What have I to ask beside? Can I doubt his tender mercies who through life has been my guide, heavenly peace, divine his comfort, hereby faith in him to dwell, for I know whatever befall me, Jesus do with all things well. The real issue of Jonah 4 is that Jonah thinks he knows better than God how the universe should be running. Whatever you're facing, whatever it is, it has an infinite purpose. It has infinite meaning. I don't mean to belittle in any way, the tragedy that comes across our path in life's journey. I only hope to open our eyes to the reality that this infinite God can connect all the dots and take the worst of tragedies and build into us a spiritual stain power. An endurance that will allow us to be used for infinite grace and infinite glory, and ultimately to change and transform people from the inside out so that they can experience eternity with God. Embrace the reigns, for it's the reigns that often bring the deepest most penetrating growth into your life.
¹Hymn: All The Way My Savior Leads Me. Frances J. Crosby (1875).
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