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Victory of the Lamb – September 8, 2019 – Pastor Ben Sadler
Jonah 4 – People are More Than Price Tags
When my wife was in high school she worked at Kmart. One of her jobs was to walk through the store and put price tags on the merchandise with the price tag guns. She tells me that she can still hear the sound the gun would make. Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk.
All of us are walking around with a price tag gun, but it’s not in our hands. It’s in our hearts. And we are not just putting price tags on merchandise. We walk around putting price tags on people. Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk. The only problem is we don’t even recognize that we do it. And that’s why God gave us the story of Jonah. God recorded this story in the Bible so that we would see our own self-righteous tendency to put certain values on certain people. Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk.
We are finishing up our sermon series on the book of Jonah called Wanted. Here’s what the story sounds like up until this point: Jonah rebels and runs from God’s calling. God rescues and calls him back. Jonah fulfills his calling and the Ninevites come to faith. And everybody lives happily ever after. If that was all you knew about Jonah then you might think that this story is about how God helps us overcome our fears of mission work. If that’s all you knew about Jonah, you might think that God is trying to teach us to just fulfill our callings to reach out to our community.
But that’s not what the story is all about. In fact, I believe the book of Jonah might be one of the most misinterpreted books in the Bible. There is one more chapter in this book. And God is going to speak to Jonah not about his calling, but about his character. We are going to find out that this book is really not about how God saves the Ninevites. This book is about saving Jonah. (show graphic) God didn’t just want to save the Ninevites. He wanted to save Jonah. Let’s jump into Jonah chapter 4 and see if we can discover the real reason God has the book of Jonah in the Bible.
Now remember what Pastor Bill preached on last week. After the gigantic fish vomited Jonah up on shore, God called Jonah a second time to preach in Nineveh. Jonah got a second chance. Then remember that the whole city of Nineveh repented and turned from their wicked ways and followed the Lord. Jonah’s preaching was a huge success. You might imagine the Jonah would be elated, overjoyed. He had just experienced an incredible miracle: A large city just got saved by God and changed their ways.
But let’s see how Jonah responds, But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1) Literally, this says, To Jonah this was bad or evil, and he became angry. To Jonah God’s mercy was a bad thing. Jonah was angry that a whole city came to faith. This seemed wrong to him. How could this be? Jonah continues, 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. (Jonah 4:2,3) According to Jonah’s version of Good and Bad. God’s grace was bad. It was wrong. It was not good for God to be gracious and compassionate.
I’ve mentioned this before, but could you imagine someone saying this today? Can you imagine somebody in the US in the 21 st Century saying, “I just can’t follow Christianity. The God of the Bible is just too loving too accepting.”? Even the Lord seems to be surprised with Jonah’s reaction. The Lord asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4) Literally, God was asking, “Is it good for you to be angry? Is it really bad for me to compassionate and is it good for you to be angry about my compassion?” Jonah doesn’t answer. He doesn’t want to answer. He is too angry. So he stomps up a mountain outside the city and hope God changes his mind.
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. (Jonah 4:5) If this was any other book besides the Bible, this would be funny. Just picture a prophet of God, God’s pastor, stomping his way out of the city, mumbling under his breath, “I’m so angry right now. Why didn’t God blast those Ninevites? What’s wrong with him? Why is he so patient and loving? He better get his act together, change his mind, and let those Ninevites have it.”
But the Lord wasn’t going to do anything to Nineveh. God wasn’t too concerned with the Ninevites at this point. They had repented and changed their ways. God was concerned about this religious man, about Jonah, about his prophet. He had already “saved” the Ninevites. He was concerned about Jonah’s soul. The Lord wanted to save Jonah. So let’s see what God does next. 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. (Jonah 4:6) God provided a plant. And Jonah seems to come out of his temper tantrum. He was very happy about this plant. He got shade from the hot sun. 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... (Jonah 4:7-8)
Notice that God provided a worm. God provided a wind. God was taking Jonah through a difficult
experience to teach him something. And Jonah responded the way he usually did. …He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:8) Jonah wanted to die. He was so angry that he lost this plant that he wanted to give up on life.
The Lord comes to Jonah again, and asks him a question he has asked before. “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (Jonah 4:9) Literally, is it good for you to be angry about a plant dying? Jonah responds, “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9) Jonah responds. It is good and right that I’m angry. This is the proper response when something I love so much dies. The Lord responds to Jonah’s anger, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.” (Jonah 4:10 NASB) The Lord said, You had compassion and love for a plant. But you did not make the plant. You did not take care of the plant. It was just a plant that gave you some shade. And now the last verse of the book of Jonah, a final question from the Lord. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11 NASB)
Do you see why the Lord is asking the question? Do you see what he is trying to teach Jonah? The Lord gave Jonah a plant that offered him some relief and shade. Then the Lord took away the plant. Jonah got angry. Then the Lord says, “You had compassion on a plant that you didn’t create or tend. You loved that plant because it did something for you. Shouldn’t I have compassion on all these people from Nineveh whom I created and whom I have tended and cared for? They don’t know their right hand from their left. In other words, they don’t know what they are doing. They are just caught up in the wickedness and violence of their city. They can’t even imagine how much they are rebelling against the true God.
Do you see what this book is really trying to teach Jonah? Do you see what this book is really trying to teach us? It is trying to teach us:
1. God loves all those he has made.
God made the Ninevites, so he loves the Ninevites. God loves all those he has made. This is what he is trying to teach Jonah. And this is a theme of all of Scripture. Psalm 145:9 says it clearly:
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:9)
God loves everyone because he has made everyone. Every single person of every nation, tribe language and people are a creation of God. So he loves them all. He proves that he loves all people because Jesus came to die for all people. He died in our place to take away our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all people. (1 John 2:2 NCV)
Do you see? Jesus came to die to take away the sins of all people because he loves all people. Even when Jesus was being crucified, he showed the extent of his love. As the soldiers were driving the nails into his hands, and the religious leaders and the people were making fun of him, he cried out, “Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.” In other words, Father, have mercy on them, they don’t know their right hand from their left. The Lord was trying to teach Jonah, the Lord is trying to teach us that he loves all the people that he has made. He is trying to show us the price tag gun that we carry around in our hearts. Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk. We look at ourselves, our race, our gender, our culture, our values as the standard, as the ideal. Then we go around putting a price on people based on our ideal. We make value judgments on others, where God has not. Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk, Ca-chunk. God has called every one single person valuable, and he
proved it by paying for each person with the price of his own blood. Who are we to devalue anyone, when God had said everyone is of great worth?!
So what does God want us to do?
2. Love who God loves.
God loves everybody. So we are to love everybody. But how do we do that? Well, God called Jonah to travel, to go to Nineveh, the great city of the Assyrian nation. The Assyrians were about as culturally, religiously, and ethnically different from the Israelites as you can imagine. God wanted to surprise Jonah by showing his love to those who were different than him. God wanted to expose Jonah’s price tag gun. God wanted to expose Jonah’s prejudice and contrast it with God’s global compassion.
I had a similar experience in high school. I grew up in the little town of Somers, WI which is just south of here. I grew up around all white kids, who went to the same church, the same schools, liked the same sports and had the same cultural values. I didn’t see my pride and prejudice towards people different than me until I took a trip to Mexico in high school. Our Spanish teacher took us to Oaxaca, Mx for a week and a half. We stayed with Mexican families. For the first time in my life, I was in the minority. My family didn’t know anything about my culture, my values, my church. They didn’t know about the Packers, Brewers, WI cheese, beer or brats. And they didn’t care. They were different people. And their differences exposed my biases and prejudices.
I’ve continued to travel over the years. I’ve lived in the Dominican Republic for 6 months. I’ve spent a month in Ecuador. And last year, we took a group from our church to do mission work in Ecuador. And each time I travel, my biases and prejudices are exposed. I’m challenged again to love those who God loves.
So how can we all have that same experience? I wish we could all leave here, jump on a plane and go to the other side of the world. I wish we could all stand in the sea of people in China. And let our biases be exposed. I wish we could all look at the multitude of people that God loves. But I don’t think it is necessary for us to go to the other side of the world. Let’s just go somewhere different. Let’s see the people that we usually don’t see or don’t want to see. Go to someone different than you. If you are white, go to someone black. If you are straight, go to someone who is gay. If you speak English, talk to someone who struggles with English. Challenge yourself to go to someone different than you. Some people in my previous congregation really put me to shame. Less than a mile away from our congregation, there was a complex of town homes. That community was the most ethically diverse community in our community. And there was not a congregation in our community that was reaching them and loving them. But a few people from our congregation started to volunteer at their after-school programs. Then they decided to run our summer Vacation Bible School program in their community. Then they started to run a youth group that was focused on serving the young people in that community. Then one day, one of our leaders said, “A group of teenagers just became Christians and want to get baptized. Do you think you could baptize them, pastor?” I responded, “I think I can do that.” So for the first time in our church’s history five black teenagers came forward to be baptized. Those boys
taught me so much about Jesus and the gospel.
I think we need to continue to push ourselves outside our comfort zone to see the people that God loves and then to act on that love, to love the people that God loves. God loves everybody he has made. Love those who God loves. But what does that mean? How are we supposed to love people?
3. Love how God loves.
When God sent Jonah to Nineveh, he didn’t say, “Tell the Ninevites that everything is ok.” No, the Lord told Jonah to love them by preaching against their wickedness and violence and oppression. Jonah was supposed to love the Ninevites enough to tell them to change, repent, stop being wicked and violent and turn to the Lord of love and wisdom. What I am talking about is ACCEPTANCE VS. AFFIRMATION. In the past, you could accept people because they were human beings made in the image of God. But that didn’t mean you need to affirm their bad behavior. In fact, it used to be understood that enabling bad behavior was not love at all. But today, our current culture says that if you accept someone that means you must affirm and support their lifestyle and all their decisions. And if you don’t affirm and support their lifestyle you are not showing love to them.
But God’s love is different. God has come to seek and save and transform all people. And everyone needs to be saved and transformed. The Ninevites needed to see their wicked ways. They need to repent and be saved and be transformed. The people in our communities need to repent, be saved, and be transformed. And God wants to use you.
Next week we are starting a new sermon series called, “Start with Jesus”. This series is directed towards unchurched, de-churched, or unbelieving people. We know that you have friends, neighbors and co-workers who don’t go to church because they got burned in a church, they are sick of all the church scandals and controversy. So we are going to point people back to the basics, back to Jesus. We are going to encourage people to not get distracted by all the peripheral distractions, and just deal with Jesus. One way that you could love HOW God loves is by inviting someone who is outside the church, who is not a Christian or who is straying to come with you to this upcoming series.
God’s on a mission. Not just to save people like the Ninevites, the people out there in the community. God is on a mission to save people like Jonah. People like us who are already in the church. God wants to wake us up to see our biases and prejudices. God wants us to see the price tag gun in our hands and to throw it away. God wants us to love all those he has made. God wants to save all those he has made. God’s wants to save people like Jonah. God wants to save people like us. Amen.