Sermon Text - I, Jonah: “THAT Kind of God” Sermon #6 of 7
March 3, 2013, 5:21 PM

Sermon Text: Jonah 4:1-3

Last week, we left off with an incredible demonstration of mercy from God towards the city of Nineveh.  The Ninevites.  You remember the really bad guys.  The sinners.  Those people.  God looked upon their sincere repentance and relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (3:10 ESV).

Those pagan Ninevites turned from their evil ways.  They were cut to the core.  They were able to turn it around rather quickly and genuinely respond to God’s call through Jonah.  And all Jonah said was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (3:4 ESV).  An eight word sermon and he's the world’s greatest evangelist.  You would think that Jonah’s reaction to this unprecedented response would be one of at the very least, self-satisfaction -- satisfaction in the success that God had given his preaching.  Greater still, that God offered an unlikely city the opportunity to find a way out of their distress – to come out from under his sure, just and righteous judgment.

But, no.  It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (4:1 ESV).  Further, Jonah goes into a rant that masquerades as prayer:  "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." (4:2 ESV).

Jonah was disgusted with God; bitterly angry.  Couldn’t see this one coming, could we?  This is why Jonah ran away from God and his call in the first place.  Obviously, he hated the Ninevites.  Obviously he likely did not want to set foot in such an unholy, God-forsaken place.  Obviously he thought the mission was misguided in the first place.  But the main reason he did not go is that he knew what God was like.  He knew that God would be gracious...and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster to those who would truly turn from their evil ways.  God is forgiving.  God longs to forgive.  God is love.  Even to those who don’t belong to the fold of Israel!  Jonah knew that God was THAT kind of God.

And God did not surprise Jonah.

This “gracious and merciful” expression that Jonah uses to describe God was certainly not original to Jonah.  In fact, it was used over and over throughout the Old Testament.  It stands as one of the great creeds in the Old Testament.

The first time it is used is when it comes directly from the mouth of God in Exodus 34.  On the occasion when Moses was allowed to come closer to the glory of God than anyone had ever been before; when God passed him by in the cleft of the rock; he heard these words:  "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.... (Ex. 34:6-7 ESV).

The Psalms claim this statement of faith a number of times as a basic building block of faith:  But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Ps. 86:15 ESV).

Nehemiah uses this creed to remind the post-exilic generation (those returning from exile in Babylon) of who God is and what he has been with their ancestors; giving them great confidence to trust him and believe him and love him.  He said, your ancestors – that wilderness generation, they refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.  But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.  Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, 'This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,' and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. (Neh. 9:17-19 ESV).

About a hundred years after Jonah’s day, when God was about ready to judge the city of Nineveh once again (and this time for sure) through the word of the prophet Nahum, he reminded the city that the LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. (Nah. 1:3 ESV).

Again, Jonah knows this.  It has most likely been written on the tablet of his heart from his youth.

However, as I have said before in this series, Jonah’s theology is not the problem.  He is spot on.  He knows his theological p’s and q’s.  He probably knows the Torah forwards and backwards.  He could probably teach at the level of the finest rabbis in the land.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • His correct understanding of God the Creator:  “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (1:9 ESV).
  • His correct understanding of the price of sin:  “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” (1:12 ESV).
  • His ability to channel the best of the Psalms:  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” (2:2 ESV).
  • His best imitation of King David:  “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”
  • The fire of the best of the prophets:  “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” (2:7-8 ESV)
  • Just good theology:  “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (2:9 ESV).

A right understanding of who God is and what he does is not Jonah’s problem.  His problem is his heart.  It is cold.  It is hard.  It is distant.

  • Jonah doesn’t like it that God’s love is much bigger than ethnic, national Israel.  He doesn’t mind if God loves and lavishes attention on him, even when he doesn’t deserve it.  But he doesn’t want it for those people.
  • Jonah doesn’t like it that God’s plans are much bigger and higher than he can fathom.  Again, all’s well as long as the marvel is reserved for God’s good people, and Jonah of course.  But why waist grand plans on undeserving people.  I mena really undeserving people.  Like those people.
  • Jonah doesn’t understand how God can love people who are so different and so strange and seemingly so far from grace.

That his heart is distant from God comes through in the last words we hear Jonah speak in the book.  Sad words.  Pathetic words.  “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3 ESV).

The word that comes to my mind with Jonah in the big picture here is:  Hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy I would define as the habit or way of life that lays claim to having a higher moral standard (a true faith in God) but that the living out (the reality!) of that standard is lacking quite a bit.  To say it even more practically, it is to know what you believe but to self-righteously disregard the parts you don’t really like.  You preach one thing out of one side of the mouth; but something else quite different comes out the other side.

I can’t help but see in Jonah a little bit of that spirit of the Pharisees that would bedevil Jesus during his earthly ministry.  Good guys.  Professionals.  Sticklers for tradition.  Wanting to do the right thing for God.  But just plain tone-deaf when it comes to the heart of God.

In the New Testament, we have a fleshing out of a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.  That would be God’s provision of Jesus Christ.  We have in the New Testament an unpacking of the love in Jesus Christ that would probably give Jonah heartburn.  Stuff like God’s love in Jesus for the world and the outlandish plan that God’s only Son would die for and be raised for the healing and reconciliation of the world.  Uncalled and unnecessary stuff like God’s desire for all people to reach repentance.  God’s grand plan that there will be people from all nations, tribes and tongues coming together one day to worship before the Throne in heaven, all singing with one voice, praises to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

This is a Word to the Jonah in all of us:  Our God is THAT kind of God.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

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