Second Reformed Church

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Do You Do Well to Be Angry?' Sermon: Jonah 4:1-11

“Do You Do Well to Be Angry?”

[Jonah 4:1-11]

June 29, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            After Jonah humbled himself and repented of his sin, the great fish vomited him out on the dry land, and God told Jonah – again – to go to Nineveh and preach the Gospel, saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4b, ESV).

            So Jonah made the walk from Joppa in Western Israel to Nineveh, in what we now call, Iraq.  And for three days, Jonah walked across the city, crying out:  “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!”

            God softened the hearts of the people from the king to the lowliest peasant, and they all fasted, put on sackcloth, and covered themselves with ashes, crying out to God, repenting of their sin and vowing not to sin against God again.

            After repenting in this way for forty days, God forgave Nineveh and reconciled the people to Him – making them – all those who believed – His sons and daughters, and He did not destroy them.

            Now, if we had never heard chapter four of the book of Jonah, we might expect that Jonah would rejoice with the Ninevites – that they had come to belief and repentance and received salvation by faith alone in the God of Israel.  Jonah had preached the Gospel of repentance to them – calling them to repentance in the wake of destruction for their sin, and they received salvation.  But that is not what happened at all.

            In this morning’s text, we see three things:

            First, God has mercy on whom He will have mercy.

            Second, everything happens according to the Will of God.

            And third, God cares for all of His people.

            “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.’

            First, God has mercy on whom He will have mercy.

            Jonah was spitting nails.  He was in a rage.  And Jonah turned to God in prayer – so to speak:  “Almighty and Sovereign God of Creation – You see!  You see what You did!  Isn’t this exactly what I said in my heart would happen?  That’s why I fled from You – that’s why I tried to get away from You – because I know You, God.  I know Your Character.  I know You are the Gracious God – I know You have called wicked men to Yourself and saved them by Your Grace.  I know You are slow to anger – You are patient in calling all those who will believe to You.  I know that Your Love is unchanging and abounding – and I know You are greatly pleased to see people believe and repent and come to You for salvation.  And You have done it!  You sent me all this way.  I preached disaster against them – punishment for their sin.  But You had planned to show them mercy and receive them as Your own – and You did – You forgave them.  There is no destruction – they have been welcomed into Your family!  And I can’t stand it!”

            Why was Jonah so angry?

            Jonah had it in his mind that the destruction of Nineveh by the Wrath of God would be the means to get Israel to repent and turn back to God.  Jonah thought that if God made an example of Nineveh, Israel would see it and repent – not wanting to receive the same Just Wrath for their sin.  But now, since God had been merciful and saved Nineveh – what was Israel to think?  What reason did they have to turn away from their sin and follow God?  They would surely think that if God showed mercy and saved the evil, pagan enemies of Israel, God would certainly be merciful to Israel – His chosen nation.  God had just made it more difficult for Israel to see any reason to repent.

            We remember the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus because He would not affirm worship in Samaria:  “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:51-56, ESV).

            James and John we acting like Jonah, “Com’on Jesus, Let us bring down fire on these heathens so they will know that You are God the Savior!  That will show them!  Then they will repent!”  But Jesus rebuked them.

            God does, sometimes, use destruction to proclaim His Glory – we think of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  But more often, He does not.  And we are wrong to call on God to inflict harm on any specific person or group for the sake of spreading the Gospel.  And we are wrong to say that such and such a disaster was caused to show God’s anger at this sin or that sin.

            Jonah did not understand how God could both require payment for sin and be graciously forgiving, and, in some way, he was trying to protect the Glory of God – as he understood it.  He thought that if God did not destroy them for their sin, God would not be being just.

            We understand on this side of the Incarnation, that God is both just and justifier.  Jesus came to pay the debt owed to God for the sin of everyone who would ever believe – even those Ninevites who truly believed and repented.  And Jesus lived a holy and sinless life under God’s Law that all those who would believe would be credited with righteousness – even as if we had fulfilled all righteousness.  God does require that the debt for sin be paid – and that happened for all those who ever savingly believe in Jesus through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.  And God does require holiness to enter into His Kingdom – and all those who believe are credited with a righteous life through Jesus’ life.

            Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV).

            And, “For [God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:15-18, ESV).

            Jonah had missed the point that God has chosen a people for Himself out of all the peoples of the world, based on God’s Sovereign Good Pleasure and not based on anything anyone did or did not do.  Salvation, mercy, grace – are all of God, freely, as God is pleased to grant them.

Jonah continued, “’Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

            Jonah thought his career as a prophet of God was over:  he had prophesied destruction of Nineveh, and it didn’t happen.  He had desired the destruction of Nineveh as an example for the good of Israel, and it didn’t happen.  So he prayed, “Just kill me now!”

            And God asked him the question we need to answer for ourselves as we see God’s Plan unfolding all around us:  “Do you do well to be angry?”  Do we have a right to be angry with God if God’s Plan is different from ours?  Do we have a right to be angry with God if what we think is best for the Kingdom – if what we think is best for our lives and our friends and family and nation and so forth – is not what God has planned?  Do we have the right to be angry with God if we enjoy our fellowship and worship and believe the Gospel is being preached here, and we celebrate our 98th anniversary, and then God chooses to have this church close?

            (That is not to say that we are about to close – by the Grace of God, it seems as though we will be able to continue – but what if God’s says, “No”?  What if God says that the work at Second Reformed Church is over – do we have a right to be angry with God?)

            Do we have the right to be angry with God for whatever He brings to pass?

            “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. 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. 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. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’”

            Second, everything happens according to the Will of God.

            Jonah slinked off and built himself a little shed to spare him from the hot, Middle Eastern sun, and he sat down and watched the city.  What was he looking for?  Did he think he had convinced God to change His Mind and destroy the city?

            Just as God sent the storm and then the great fish after Jonah, God now sent a plant, and it quickly grew up over the shed and provided Jonah with comfort and peace against the sun.  And Jonah was exceedingly thankful for the plant.  He rejoiced in the life of the plant and its growing up to give him shade.  And he rested through the night until the next morning.

            But when the sun came up again, God sent a worm to kill the plant – the worm ate through it, and it died, and shriveled up, leaving Jonah exposed to the sun.  And God sent a hot east wind to beat against Jonah and he was almost faint.  And he cried out again, “Just kill me now!”

            We have a tendency to talk about thinks happening by chance or luck – but that’s not what we see in the Scripture:  everything that occurs happens according to the Plan of God.

            Jesus explained to the disciples that all the forces of Hell and unbelief would rage against the Church – all those who savingly confess faith in Jesus Alone.  But then He tells them why this should not worry them:  “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33, ESV).

            Jesus said it is not possible for a sparrow to die apart from the Will of the Father.  It is not possible for us to have one hair more or one hair less than we do without the Will of the Father.

            The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:  “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_III.html).

            And our Belgic Confession states, in part:  “We believe that this good God, after creating all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without God’s orderly arrangement.
Yet God is not the author of, and cannot be charged with, the sin that occurs.  For God’s power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that God arranges and does his works very well and justly even when the devils and the wicked act unjustly” (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession).

            What that means for us is that no matter what happens in this world, we can be confident that our Loving, Heavenly Father is in complete control, and as we are promised:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).  Absolutely everything – God works together for the good of those who believe savingly in Him. 

            Though we mourn when someone dies or when there is some tragedy, we are not destroyed by it, because we know that God is Sovereign over all things at all times, and God is not scrambling to accomplish His Plan, but everything is occurring just as God planned it from before the Creation.

            Paul puts it this way:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).

            “But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’

            Jonah cared for the plant and received comfort from the plant – Jonah thought he deserved this good gift of God.  Yet, Job responded to far greater tragedy in this way:  “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’” (Job 1:20-21, ESV).

            Understand, we are not being told to be unfeeling – mourning is right.  Yet, in our mourning, as believers in Jesus Christ for salvation – as those who recognize the Sovereign rule of God over all of Creation – we can mourn and have hope, because God is in control and has promised good to those who believing in Him savingly.

“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?’”

            Third, God cares for all of His people.

            God responded to Jonah by rebuking him for caring for the plant and not caring for the Ninevites.  Jonah had his priorities wrong:  our primary care is to be for all people and especially for their salvation – that we would go out and tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            That is the point of the book of Jonah:  God has called a people to Himself – who will come to faith in Him, believing and repenting, savingly embracing the Gospel with their minds and hearts – and those people are known to God and God will bring them to salvation.  It has been granted to us to go out and tell the Gospel to all people – that those whom God has chosen out of all the nations and peoples of the world to believe would believe and repent and follow after Jesus as Lord and Savior.

            How did Jonah respond to God reminding Jonah of how much He cares for all His people – and the Creation, too – the cattle?

            We’re not told.

            The history ends with this rebuke, because the point is not what Jonah did or did not do.  The point is that God is sovereign over salvation, sovereign over all of history, and that He cares for His people – so much so that God came to earth to live and die to make His people right with Him again.

            There is a story told among the ancient rabbis – not in the Bible – which says that Jonah fell down on his face and repentantly worshipped and glorified God for His Sovereignty and Love.  We would hope that was true, but we’re not told.

            We hope that Jonah reacted as Job did when Job called God out on the carpet and demanded that God explain why Job went through all the suffering he did, and God responded by asking Job who he was to make demands on God.  “Then Job answered the LORD and said:  ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6, ESV).

            On this, our 98th anniversary, do we believe that God is in complete control of every moment of history and is bringing all things together for the good of those who believe – the people He loves?  Are we ready to humbly and obediently follow God wherever He would have us go and whatever He would call us to do – no matter what His Hand should bring – in thanksgiving and praise and hope to Him?

            Do we want all people to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation that is only found in Him?  What are you going to do about it?

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we give thanks to You for the history of Jonah.  We ask that You would grow us in faith and obedience, maturing us and transforming us into the Image of Your Son, Jesus.  Open our mouths so all would know that You have made the Way to be saved.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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