At Mayhill Baptist, where I have served as pastor since March 2017, I preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the timeliness of every text for every Sunday.
Pericopes planned months or even years ahead seem to land on a Sunday as if I’d cherry-picked that text the night before. But I didn’t. It was mapped out in an extensive Microsoft Excel spreadsheet over a year earlier.
And yet, when Sunday comes, I open the text and my jaw drops… it’s always what we needed to hear, right when we needed to hear it. God and His Word are awesome like that! In my finite wisdom, there’s no way I could pull it off––it’s all God.
Case in point: last Sunday. After weeks of protests and riots, largely in response to police killings, injustice, and racism, I opened up my spreadsheet last Tuesday (when I began sermon prep), and what was looking at me?
Jonah 4:1-5, the next passage in our journey through Jonah. Yeah, there’s literally no way I could’ve had the foresight to know how timely it would be back in late 2019.
To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed by the heaviness of the text amid the weight of this season. I wanted to throw in the towel and make a call to the bullpen, but I dug in and got to work.
While I assume you’re familiar, by the time we get to Jonah 4, Jonah had been called by God, but refused and ran away, only to get swallowed by a giant fish, vomited onto dry land, and then called again to preach against the Ninevites.
The second time, however, he obeyed. He preached, and the Ninevites responded spectacularly. Then God relented from destroying them. Thus, Jonah 4 becomes our look at Jonah’s response to God’s response to the Ninevites’ response to Jonah’s preaching.
And his response was putrid.
It begins, “Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious” (Jonah 4:1). Jonah wasn’t frustrated or a bit annoyed, he was ticked, and he unloads on God in prayer, saying:
“Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah knew God was gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, loving, and so forth––I mean, he’d been taught that since infancy. What’s more, he experienced it himself in Jonah 1:17-2:10! And yet, when the tables turn and a people he hated experience the same from God, he’s loses it.
Think about it: he would rather DIE than see the Ninevites receive grace, mercy, and love from God. Jonah believes he should receive grace from God, not others. Jonah believes the God of salvation should confine His mercy to his people, not others. Despite experiencing the unconditional love upon himself and his people, how dare God show the same for a people he deemed undeserving.
Yeah, Jonah is the worst…example of ourselves.
Some feel their salvation makes them better than others. No! When we truly experience the grace, mercy, and love of God, we’ll extend grace, mercy, and love to others––even those that don’t think, look, or act like us.
And so, God asks him (and us), “Is it right for you to be angry” (Jonah 4:4)? Of course not! As I shared with our church family, Jonah reminds me a bit of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal son.
The older brother is often compared to Pharisees and rightfully so. Still, the older brother is indignant when the Prodigal Son returns home and is shown the father’s grace, mercy, and love. But how often do we find ourselves in similar shoes?
Maybe we see a murderer, drug-addict, or someone different than us turn to Christ, and we thumb our nose. However, “to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you,” as C.S. Lewis put it.
The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). I’d add we forgive because we’ve been forgiven; we extend grace because we’ve received grace.
As we aim to love like Jesus, may we not just be a people who preach the grace, mercy, and love of God––may we be a people who live it! Instead of objecting when we see God extend grace, mercy, and love, may we celebrate, rejoice, and be in awe of our God who saves – often in unexpected ways…even people who don’t look, act, or think like us.