4 October 2020

Book: Jonah

We Show Mercy

Bible Passage: Jonah 4:6-11

It makes sense that Jonah was in that shelter outside of the city. Certainly he had just finished preaching God’s message in the city of Nineveh, “40 more days and the city will be overthrown.” I’m sure he was tired. He needed to rest. It makes sense that Jonah was in that shelter outside of the city. It was hot and there was a hot wind and he needed to protect himself from it. It makes sense that Jonah was outside the city in that shelter. He was hot and he was angry. In fact he was so upset that God had to ask him, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

And much like when God first told him to go to Nineveh and he didn’t say a word and he fled in the opposite direction, again Jonah didn’t say a word in response and went outside the city and set up a shelter.

Jonah didn’t want to be there. I mean he kind of wanted to be outside of the city—we’ll get to that in a second. He didn’t want to be anywhere near Nineveh. That’s why he ran in the opposite direction. That’s why a giant fish swallowed him up. But it spit him out and he seemed to come to his senses.

God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh because their wickedness had come up before him. Nineveh was in Assyria. Assyria was a world power. They were the world’s first great empire with the world’s first great army and they were vicious. In fact, they relied upon their viciousness and brutality to strike terror in the hearts of their opponents. They were known for cutting of body parts and burning people alive. And those are some of the less heinous atrocities. So Jonah needed to go, as God’s prophet to preach against it so that they might repent.

Jonah did go, after the encounter with the giant fish and he preached. And amazingly enough, it worked. The Ninevites believed God. The fasted and put on sackcloth. Even the king got up from his throne took off his royal robes, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in the dust. And God relented. He showed them mercy.

And it all seemed so wrong to Jonah. He was mad. He was mad at God because he dared to show the Ninevites mercy. I mean, how could he after all they had done and the kind of people they were. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he was afraid, he didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew that this is what was going to happen. He knew that the Lord was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, who relents from sending calamity. He was so angry with God, that he thought it was better for him to die than live.

It makes sense that Jonah was outside the city in the shelter, he couldn’t help himself. Because maybe, just maybe, God would change his mind and Jonah could watch the fireworks. It wouldn’t though because God’s mercy was just too great and that is what made Jonah want to die.

Do you ever find yourself thinking that God’s mercy is just too much? Do you ever find yourself claiming God’s unlimited mercy for yourself while also limiting it to others? Do you believe that there are people who just don’t deserve it? 

Certainly we could do a thought experiment where you think of the most evil person possible like Hitler or a serial killer or whoever and you try to imagine them in heaven. Which, of course, is possible. After all Jesus even showed mercy to the thief on the cross. 

Do woke people who vocally support BLM and every other cause which you are opposed to, deserve God’s mercy? And if you find yourself on the other side of the aisle do Trump supporters deserve God’s mercy?

Maybe. We can probably reconcile God’s mercy being shown to people who have never heard of it before. Maybe like the people of Nineveh. But what about people who have heard about it before. What about people who know just how merciful he is, yet still find theological reason to justify their own thoughts and behaviors. Does Jonah deserve God’s mercy?

Jonah was sitting in his shelter just waiting and hoping that the city would meet its destruction. Yet God showed him mercy. It was hot and the wind was blowing a hot east wind and Jonah was getting uncomfortable. So God caused a bit left plat to grow up and to give Jonah shade for his head. And Jonah was happy that he could find comfort under the shade and he fell asleep.

But in the morning God caused a worm to eat the plant so that it whithered. And the sun rose and the hot wind blew and he wanted to die. Again he actually said out loud, “It is better for me to die than to live.” As the worm consumed the plant, so again Jonah allowed anger and rage consumed him. 

And God asked, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Of course Jonah thought he was justified in his anger. But he was not. He did not tend the plant. He did not make it grow. It was a grace of God that the plant grew up and gave him relief from his modicum of discomfort. 

Really, God was using the plant as a object lesson for Jonah. Jonah thought he could play God. He thought he could determine who was worthy of mercy and who was not. Yet, at the very same time he cared more about that plant then he did the people of Nineveh. And then God brough his point into focus, 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?” 

Why is it that we care more about things, than we do about people? Because we too like to play God and determine who is worthy of mercy and who is not. And things will never disappoint us like people can. We live with a deep desire to justify our disobedience and to judge those who have disobeyed in way we do not approve of. And we too behave in ways that are childish and moody, throwing temper tantrums when we don’t get our way. Why is it that there is a sense of incredulity that even Jonah was a recipient of God’s mercy.

God’s mercy is far too much. It is far too great. It is far too much for us to wrap our minds around.  Because not only does God show mercy to those that we do not believe he should, but he shows mercy to you. The prophet Micah once said, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

And is far as the east is from the west so far has removed your sins from you. Because he is a God of mercy. He is merciful and forgiving and he takes our rebellion and our selfishness and he casts it away from us. Even your sins needed to be paid for.The only way for them to be cast away was for God to become like you. The only way for them to be cast away was for God to die in your place. He was the one who said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” He died so that he could cast away your sin. He died because he is merciful.

Of course in his mercy he supplies other blessings in your life, much like he provided for Jonah. He supplies you with things which take away your discomfort and displeasure. And sometimes they are here today and gone tomorrow. And yet we know, they are just things. 

God’s greatest concern and deepest desire is to be the one who is both just and justider. He conducts himself continually according to the principles of his mercy so that he may show grace to those who do not life according to his will so that they we may be rescued from death.

How then are we to view our culture? How then are we to view those with whom we disagree? How then are we to even look upon our enemies? With mercy. With the kind of mercy that God has shown us. Yes we are going to struggle with that. It is not always going to be easy. But we know grace and mercy and we have experienced it straight from a God whose mercy is far too much. And even when we do struggle he is there to show even more. Amen.