Below is the message and discussion questions from our 3rd and final week of our series called Schooled, looking at the Old Testament book of Jonah. Today we wrap up our series “Schooled” looking at the Old Testament book of Jonah. Two weeks ago we looked at Jonah chapter 1. We spent time unpacking the hatred that Jonah had towards the Assyrians, his call to his enemies, his willingness to sacrifice himself for pagan, gentile people that he knew, but wasn’t willing to sacrifice himself for those he didn’t know, and didn’t want God to have mercy on them.
Last week we looked at Jonah chapter 3 and talked about how Jonah, even though he was shown mercy, didn’t extend mercy. That the Assyrians were the heroes of the story, because they took God at his word, and acted immediately, unlike Jonah who had to be called twice to take up his missionary mantle. Also that Jonah was only obeying God out of duty, and not love, grace, compassion, and mercy for the Assyrians, based on the love, grace, compassion, and mercy that God showed to him.
Today we wrap up Jonah by looking at Jonah chapter 4 and how we can get schooled in the ways of the Kingdom of God. So let’s look at Jonah 4 and unpack the text, as it will definitely show us something about living in the Kingdom of God in our 21st century context.
“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 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?” So we see Jonah reacting to the fact that God was having mercy on the Ninevites and wasn’t going to bring upon them the destruction that Jonah was hoping and praying for. Jonah was angry because God granted repentance to the Ninevites, and the Assyrians were enemies of Judah and Israel. Jonah wanted God to bring judgment upon these people that he hated. Jonah knew that God was full of grace and mercy and that was why he was afraid to tell the people of Ninevah. He ran the other way. He ran from his missionary calling. He ran from doing what God was calling him to do, all because he knew that God was gracious, compassionate, merciful, and relenting. And he didn’t want God to be all those things, or at least not to his enemies. He wanted God to extend mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness upon him and his people, just not to those evil, no good, rotten, pagan, Gentile enemies.
What is even worse is the fact that no only does he want God’s grace, mercy, compassion, and love for himself, he actually calls on the mercy of God while in the belly of the fish and enjoys it when it was extended to him. But now he resents it when it is extended to others. What if God treated Jonah the way Jonah wanted God to treat the people of Ninevah? Jonah could be merciful to the pagan, Gentile sailors in chapter 1 but he is unwilling that God should be merciful.
All this talk of God’s grace and mercy and Jonah’s attitude that God showed it to the people of Ninevah remind me of a quote from the author Mike Yaconelli that I might have shared before. ““Nothing in the church makes people in the church more angry than grace. It's ironic: we stumble into a party we weren't invited to and find the uninvited standing at the door making sure no other uninviteds get in. Then a strange phenomenon occurs: as soon as we are included in the party because of Jesus' irresponsible love, we decide to make grace "more responsible" by becoming self-appointed Kingdom Monitors, guarding the kingdom of God, keeping the riffraff out (which, as I understand it, are who the kingdom of God is supposed to include).” Sounds exactly what was happening with Jonah, doesn’t it? And honestly, what happens with each one of us, if we aren’t careful. We can end up just like Jonah, being shown God’s mercy and being unwilling to show mercy to others, or even worse, praying that God wouldn’t show others mercy.
And so Jonah is ticked at God for showing mercy to his enemies, but he is still holding out hope that maybe, just maybe God will still bring judgment upon the city of Ninevah, and so he goes outside of the city to wait for the destruction to come. As he sits there he tells God that it would have been better for him to die, than to see the forgiveness, grace and mercy that God was showing the Assyrian people. So central was the hatred of the Assyrians in Jonah’s existence than when they escape from threatened destruction, he seemed to have nothing left to live for. Not only was this a condemnation of Jonah and his attitude, but Jonah also represented the people of Israel. That they had let hatred of the “pagans” become so dominant in their thoughts that to be frustrated in the desire for vengeance robbed life of all meaning. In fact, their hatred of the “pagans” robbed them of their original call, the call of Abram found in Genesis 12:1-3. The calling to be a nation that was blessed, not to the exclusion of others, but for others. That they were blessed to be a blessing. And so in order for Jonah to be confronted with his hatred of the Assyrians, his lack of living out his Abrahamic calling, and his lack of love, mercy, grace and compassion, God puts together a giant object lesson using a plant and a worm. God makes a plant grow up to give shade to Jonah, and then only a day later, God also sent a worm to eat the plant, so that Jonah was wilting in the hot sun.
Jonah was so pleased with this plant, that it had eased his discomfort and helped him avoid the hot blistering sun, but when the worm ate it, Jonah went back to wishing he had died. He cared about the plant because it gave him shade. In the end, the plant was all about him. Everything was all about him. Jonah was a very selfish man. But the point of the object lesson is that Jonah cared more and grieved more over the condition of the plant, than the condition of the people of Ninevah. God challenged him in his heart condition. God asked Jonah questions, because they revealed his heart. God likes to ask us questions, because they reveal our heart.
God boils it all down to this. How much more should God be concerned about the destruction of persons- those made in his image, even if they are Assyrians. God’s response to Jonah showed Jonah, the prophet, that he really didn’t know God as well as he thought. You see something that the people of God in the Old Testament (shown so well in this book) and the people of God in the New Testament (shown so well in Acts 10..where Peter has a vision) and I believe the people of God (those who call themselves Christians) in our day, need to realize, that God is the God of All People, and not just a certain group of people.
But the story of Jonah comes to a close, but not with a nice and tidy bow. It just sort of ends with God questioning Jonah. The story isn’t really finished. There are a lot of questions left unanswered. Does Jonah fall on his face and confess his sinfulness to God? Does he go into the city of Ninevah and repent with them? Does he begin to show the Ninevites the love, grace, mercy, and compassion that God has shown both to him and to them? Does he sulk off and write off God as not fitting into his agenda? And so maybe that is the point? Maybe we are supposed to wrestle with the lack of ending and ask the same questions of ourselves. And so that is what we are going to do, wrestle together with some of the open ended questions that the book leaves us hanging with.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message? 2. Share a story with us when you have been a recipient of the mercy and grace of God. Now share a story with us when you have been a Kingdom monitor and didn’t extend the mercy of God that was shown to you. 3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it? 4. What has stood out to you during our Schooled series and how has it schooled you in the ways of the Kingdom of God?