Sermon from August 5th, 2018

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“The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful #11: Jonah and the God who isn't Fair! ”

Jonah 4:1-11; Matthew 6:9-15

By Pastor John Bent

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Sermon Text
Good morning and welcome to worship!  Today we conclude our study of Jonah, the runaway prophet and resentful evangelist who smelled like fish. Last week ended with the Ninevites heeding Jonah’s warning and turning from their evil ways. As a result, God had compassion on them and didn’t bring the destruction he had threatened.

Heaven was rejoicing, everyone was happy except Jonah! Instead of dancing in the streets with his new friends, the Ninevites, Jonah was furious.  Chapter 4 begins...

“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. (I think the translation is a little understated)  He prayed, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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, O LORD, take away my life for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:1-3

Sounds like the story Jesus told about the prodigal son. When the prodigal came home, everybody rejoiced, everyone except the older brother, who was so angry he went out in the barn and refused to come in because of the grace shown to his little brother.

Jonah was blind to the mercy God had shown him and he didn’t think God was fair in showing mercy to these heathen Ninevites! After all weren’t they far greater sinners than he was?  That’s not fair!  Let’s say it together and get it out of the way… “NO FAIR!”

You are exactly right! It’s not fair. But God doesn’t operate by human systems of fairness. He operates on a far higher system called “grace”.  Can you say that word with me, “GRACE!”

History is filled with stories that illustrate the difference between fairness and grace. 100 years ago in Russia, group of rebels was fighting against the Czar and his imperial army when they discovered a thief at work among them. The thief had to be found or morale and discipline would go down the tank! The commander declared a penalty of 100 lashes for anyone caught stealing.

When the thief was found, it was the commander’s mother. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to hurt his mother, but he had to enforce the law he’d made. For 3 days he struggled.

One the third day he made up his mind. He set his mother free, took off his shirt and took her 100 lashes on his own back. “But that’s not fair!” You’re right, it’s not fair, its grace!

Let’s go back to Jonah!  Jonah complains that God isn’t fair by pardoning the Ninevites and he’s right.  It isn’t fair! It’s something far better. It’s grace. Jonah was grateful for the grace God gave him, but resented it when God gave the same grace to the Ninevites!

Vs 4 “The LORD replied (to Jonah), “Have you a right to be angry?”  Notice Jonah doesn’t answer. Instead, he stomps out of town.  By the way, do you remember what direction Adam and Eve went when they were kicked out of the Garden? They went east - the symbolic place of separation from God.

There in the desert, east of Nineveh, Jonah made a shelter of sticks while he waited to see if God would get his act together and wipe out the Ninevites!  There wasn’t much shelter from the heat in Jonah’s wigwam of sticks. What refuge is there when we run away from the shelter of God’s grace? Notice that even though Jonah runs away (second time, right!) God is still there for him.

“Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort and Jonah was very happy about the vine.” Jonah 4:6

So is that fair or is that grace? Obviously grace. Fairness is merit based, but Jonah hasn’t done anything to merit the vine. In fact, fairness would require God’s judgment, not his grace.

Let’s keep reading. “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm which chewed the vine so that it withered.” Jonah 4:7  Was that fair? Based on Jonah’s poopy attitude it probably was! Or is it possible that even the worm is a sign of God’s grace to his rebellious prophet? That remains to be seen.

“When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind (sirocco), and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.  He wanted to die!  He said, “It would be better for me to die that to live.” Jonah 4:8

I love Jonah! And its obvious God loved him, too. Jonah is so childish and selfish!  But he’s also childlike in his honesty and transparent with the LORD.  God speaks to him again. “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” or do you have a right to accuse me of being unfair about the death of the vine?

To which Jonah answers, “I do have a right to be angry!  It isn’t fair!  In fact, I’m angry enough to die!”

How crazy!  Whether Jonah realizes it or not what he is saying is, “God, I don’t want to live in your world of grace.  I refuse it. It isn’t right for you to forgive these Ninevites in the same way you forgive me! It isn’t fair!”

Jonah’s pride, self-righteousness, and hatred of the Ninevites has blinded him to the promises of God that have sheltered him all his life – even when he was running away from the Lord.

Promises like: “In the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” Ps 27:5  Is that grace or fairness?

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Ps 46:1-2  Is that grace or fairness?

“The LORD watches over you - the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Ps 121:5-8   Is that grace or fairness?

Is God fair? Praise his name, he is not!  At least in the human concept of fairness! But he is gracious and merciful. Let’s read Psalm 103.

“(The LORD) does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; or he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Ps 103:10-13

God is not only merciful, he is just. He doesn’t dismiss our sin. He pays the debt of our sin himself. The penalty is gone – paid in full. He placed it on Jesus. Fair, no! Not in our human way of thinking.

But God’s economy is not like ours. His ways are far above ours. The question is, now that we have received his grace, will we pass it on? Or will we hang onto our un-forgiveness and self-righteousness even to the point of separating ourselves from the LORD who alone can save us?

The story of Jonah ends with God’s refusal to give up on his rebellious prophet. He says to Jonah. “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 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?” Jonah 4:10-11

120,000 people who don’t know right from wrong. Who know nothing of God or his truth? Who know nothing of my grace and mercy? How can you judge someone for something they’ve never been taught?  We are surrounded by people doing the best they can, but no one has ever told them about the Lord. What we as Christians take for granted – they’ve never heard.

They know something about fairness, but they’ve never heard of God’s grace. They’ve never heard about God’s law and judgment. They, too, are God’s people, but they’ve never heard about Jesus and what he did for us on the cross. They’ve never experienced what it means to be loved, to be cleansed and forgiven, to be released from their chains of shame and guilt.

Paul wrote “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:8-10

What are those good works? The first is to share the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God with those who have never heard. And the second is to forgive as we have been forgiven.

When we refuse to forgive those who have offended us, Jesus warns us that we cut ourselves off from the forgiveness God has already offered us. Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Mt 6:14-15

God’s grace surrounded Jonah. It was in the storm, in the sea, in the great fish, in the Ninevites, in the vine, in the worm, in the hot wind, God’s grace was there. It’s always been there for those who have eyes to see. And it will be there for us no matter what our circumstances may be.

Thank God he’s not fair at least in the way sinners think about fairness. But thank him even more that he is merciful. Let me close by reading from Psalm 103 one more time. Think about Jonah and the Ninevites. Think about yourself and those you have difficulty forgiving.

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children - with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” Psalm 103:8-18

Will you pray with me?  Lord Jesus, your grace is enough for a foolish sinner like me. I get so hung up on getting my fair share. I get so resentful when I don’t think I’ve been treated fairly.  I confess, I can be so selfish.  I am often too quick to accuse others and excuse myself. I want to be forgiven, but I am reluctant to forgive. Change my heart, set me free from myself, I ask in Jesus name.


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