Returning to God: A Heartless Prophet, Jonah 4

LifeWay.com offers this five-sermon series on Returning to God, based on the book of Jonah. In this sermon, Jerry Gifford deals with how the book of Jonah ends abruptly with a question. Jonah's lack of response indicates that he got the point. The way we fully understand ourselves is to compare our self-interest with God's sacrificial love.

The Returning to God sermon series:

  1. Six Signs We Need to Return to God, Jonah 1
  2. God Wants You Back, Jonah 1-2
  3. Confinement, Communion, and Confession, Jonah 2
  4. A Second Chance with God, Jonah 3
  5. A Heartless Prophet, Jonah 4

In this sermon, Jerry Gifford deals with how the book of Jonah ends abruptly with a question. Jonah's lack of response indicates that he got the point. The way we fully understand ourselves is to compare our self-interest with God's sacrificial love.

Introduction

What would happen in the church if God moved in a mighty way? Some would rejoice and some would leave! We are mistaken if we believe that all of God's people will celebrate the moving of God.

For that matter, we might hear some of the following: [1] Complaints about the influx or type of people coming into the church [i.e. loss of power], [2] Accusations of a lack of authenticity, [3] Concerns about changes that might affect personal comfort levels, or [4] Divisions between the old and new members.

Most of those statements are revelations – they reveal the true heart of the person speaking. Jonah 4 pictures that reality. As you read this chapter you can't help but notice the interplay between God and this heartless prophet.

I. Jonah's objection: His complaint of God's mercy revealed his rebellious heart– 4:1-3

Jonah calls this conversation a "prayer." And it was in the sense that he was speaking to God. But this was more of a complaint than a communion of spirits. He had an attitude – he was angry.

We can admire one aspect of this "prayer." At least, Jonah was honest. By speaking honestly, he opens a window into his heart. Amazingly, inside this prophet of God we see a black poison that tainted his perspective on this mighty work of God at Nineveh.
Notice several aspect of this angry tirade against his Master that might explain why he was mad.

A. "I said" – 4:2

He tried to correct God, but the Lord didn't listen.

Apparently, Jonah had lectured God when the Lord initially called him to go to preach in Nineveh. Jonah informed God of these two facts: [1] Nineveh deserved judgment, and [2] He was the wrong man for the job. Jonah wanted God to conform to his wishes, not vice-versa. Why is it that we believe that we can convince God that He doesn't know what He is doing in either His treatment of others or His calling of us?

B. "I fled" – 4:2

When God refused Jonah's request, the prophet took matters into his own hands. Jonah decided to thwart God's plan by refusing to participate. His confession clearly revealed his heart. He ran from God because he did not want the Assyrians to even have a chance to repent.

And we see this today in our churches. We know that God has commanded us to reach out to all people, yet we only want to reach those like us – racially or socially. So we simply don't even try to reach others. We ignore our calling and disobey our God.

C. "I knew" – 4:2

Jonah was mad because he knew God was always good.

Have you ever become angry in your spirit because God blessed someone else? In fairness, Jonah did grasp the greatness of God's love for a sinning world.

  1. He knew that God is "merciful" to the guilty.
  2. He knew that God is "compassionate" on weak humanity.
  3. He knew that God is "slow to become angry" even in the face of grievous sins.
  4. He knew that God is "rich in faithful love" on those that are unlovely.
  5. He knew that God is willing to "relent from sending" judgment on those that repent.

The fact of the matter is this, he was mad because he could not change God's attitude toward sinners. Jonah hated the Assyrian sinners, while God loved the Assyrian sinners. The prophet refused to see them as God saw them – candidates for grace.

D. "Take my life" – 4:3

Jonah valued his reputation more than God's.

The prophet petitioned God to take his life because he felt he lost his credibility with the Jews by preaching to their enemy. To Jonah, his reputation was more important than compassion on those that are perishing in their sin.

Someone might argue here, "But eventually Jonah did do as God asked him." Yes, he repented and submitted to God in the fish. But pride and prejudice are like all sins of the flesh, when we return to them they become inflamed again. In less than 40 days Jonah was back to his old self. He was outwardly obedience while harboring inward rebellion.

We, too, must guard against returning to pig pen of our past sins lest we find ourselves mired again in the mud.

In short, Jonah's complaint against God's goodness reveals his misplaced, ungodly, and deep-seated values.

II. God's object lesson: The plant reveals Jonah's divided heart – 4:4-9

Have you ever met a hardened criminal? We hear of their brutal activities and concluded that they are cold-hearted monsters. But then the person's mother or neighbor testifies that this criminal was such a good father or gentle person. How can a person demonstrate such radical personalities? It is a divided heart.

In August of 2007, a mass murderer was apprehended in the Northwest. The person most deceived was his wife. She had no idea that her gentle husband had brutally murdered a number of women.

While he was not an axe-murderer, Jonah also had a divided heart. On the one hand, he was God's spokesman for morality. But on the other hand, he was full of hatred and contempt. And God knew it. So God used a plant to show Jonah his heart.

As we read of this plant, we are reminded again of God's sovereign rule over nature. Notice the word "appointed." In chapter one[1:4], God appointed the wind and waves to shake Jonah and [1:17] God appointed a great fish to carry Jonah[see also 2:10]. Notice several aspects of this story.

A. The wait: Jonah hopes God will change His mind – 4:5

The 40 days of which he had spoken probably had not yet expired. He was waiting to see if God was going to judge them despite their repentance.

B. The weed: God used a plant to comfort the fuming prophet – 4:6.

C. The worm: God intentionally destroyed Jonah's creature comfort – 4:7.

D. The wind: God sent a scorching wind to disturb Jonah – 4:8.
 
E. The Word: God asked Jonah a penetrating question – 4:9

Do you have a right to be mad about the death of a plant? Jonah declares, "Yes, I have a right." But did he have a right? He did nothing to produce the plant. He did nothing to grow the plant. He did nothing to save the plant. It wasn't Jonah's plant; it was God's plant.  

So why did God ask this? God asked this to show Jonah just how misplaced his values were. Two observations: [1] Jonah cared more about his personal comfort than for the people of Nineveh and [2] Jonah cared more about the plant/vine than for the people of Nineveh. He had a divided heart.

Judson Mather wrote, "Life for Jonah [is] a series of disconcerting surprises and frustrations. He tries to escape from God and is trapped. He then gives up, accepts the inevitability of perishing, and is saved. He obeys when given a second chance, and is frustratingly, embarrassingly successful. He blows up; his frustration is intensified. " [Mather, "The Comic Act of the Book of Jonah," Soundings 65. Fall 1982, 283]

III. God's objective: His forgiveness reveals His loving heart – 4:10-11

What matters to God? People! It is interesting that Jonah had just experienced that which he loathed to show the Assyrians – forgiveness and the mercy of God.

A. God corrects Jonah's lack of compassion.

Jonah had no right to get angry over the plant.

B. God clarifies His love and compassion.

God is not a respecter of persons.

Conclusion

The book ends abruptly with a question. Jonah's lack of response indicates that he got the point. The way we fully understand ourselves is to compare our self-interest with God's sacrificial love.

Jerry Gifford is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin, Kentucky. Jerry holds degrees from Western Kentucky University and Liberty Baptist Seminary. He and his wife, Tammie, have two sons, Daniel and David. He is passionate about his family, spiritual renewal, discipleship, preaching, basketball, and water sports.