|Jonah | The Smell That Won't Wash Off|
|August 13, 2011|
Part 3 of 3 | August 14, 2011
This is the last week of our Jonah series. We’ve been taking a fresh look at the very famous story of Jonah. For some of us, this story is so well-known that it feels a bit worn out. But in this series, God has been using this familiar story to absolutely blow us up.
We kicked off this series be talking about how God commanded Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh, but instead Jonah headed off in the exact opposite direction. As a punishment, he was thrown into the sea during a horrendous storm. But in His mercy, God sent a massive fish to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning.
Last week, we talked about the change that happened in Jonah while he was in the fish. The belly of that fish represented the place where Jonah received his second chance. He had completely blown it, but God hadn’t given up on him. Jonah had not been abandoned or forgotten. Instead, he was given a second chance to be used powerfully by God. A lot of us claimed our second chance last week. No matter where you are, God listens. No matter what you’ve done, God can rescue you and use you.
Honestly, I wish the story of Jonah ended right there. Because it would be an amazing story of redemption. But that’s not the end of the story. Today, as we wrap up our series, we’re going to see how Jonah still didn’t get it. Even after everything he had been through, he still didn’t get it at all.
I like to fish. I don’t get to do it as often as I would like, but it’s one of my favorite things to do. But one thing that my wife doesn’t appreciate is the smell that is on my hands after a successful day of fishing.
If I get home and my hands smell like fish, that’s a good thing. That means I caught a lot of fish. But the problem is that this smell is not easy to wash off. Even after I wash my hands over and over again, that smell still lingers. That fishy smell is really hard to wash off.
So imagine what Jonah smelled like. This is the verse that we ended with last week. In Jonah 2:10, the Bible says, “And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10, NIV)
Jonah had to stink after being inside that fish for three days. I’ve never smelled fish puke before, but I’m guessing it reeks. There’s probably not enough Febreze in the world to do anything with that smell.
But what we’re going to see today is that Jonah had a stench on him that was far worse than the smell of fish vomit. Jonah was covered, head to toe, with the stench of religion. And if you’ve ever smelled religion, then you know…it stinks.
God commanded Jonah to go and preach against the city of Nineveh. At first he refused, but after a three day cruise instead a big fish, he changed his tune. He received his second chance, and he went and preached in Nineveh just like God told him to do. That’s awesome, right?
Well, it could have been awesome. It should have been awesome. But in the end, it was severely lacking in awesomeness.
Here’s the story from Jonah 3. “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time [this is Jonah’s second chance]: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. [This was an ancient sign of sorrow and repentance.]
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3, NIV)
This is amazing. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. God sends Jonah to preach against the evil practice of the Ninevites. He was sent to warn them of the wrath of God that was coming. After hearing Jonah’s message, the people of Nineveh repented. And God, in an incredible move of compassion, relents. Instead of destroying the city, He gives them grace.
If the story could end right there, it would be fantastic. End the story at the end of Jonah 3 and it would be awesome. But unfortunately, there’s a chapter 4.
The Bible tells us, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NIV)
Jonah should have celebrated this. He should have thanked God for using him in such a powerful way. He should have been ecstatic that the people repented and God relented.
But that’s not what happened. Jonah 3 ends by telling us that God has compassion and mercy on the Ninevites. Look at how Jonah 4 opens. “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 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. [Apparently in Jonah’s eyes, that’s a bad thing.] Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3, NIV)
Where to begin? This is one of the most pathetic displays in the entire Bible. And it’s also one of the most religious displays in the entire Bible.
Jonah 4 opens up by saying, “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1, NIV)
To Jonah, this seemed very wrong. There’s the problem right there. It wasn’t up to Jonah to judge the rightness or wrongness of God’s decision. And it’s not up to you and me, either.
In Psalm 115, the Bible says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” (Psalm 115:3, NIV)
Combine that Scripture with this one. In Romans 9, the Apostle Paul writes, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:20a, NIV)
God does whatever He pleases, and who are we to question Him?
That sounds great, but it’s extremely difficult. Because, let’s be honest…aren’t there times when it seems like God just royally blows it? Times when it seems like He is either doing nothing, or is doing the wrong thing entirely. If you said no, then I’ve got a few Scriptures about lying that you need to read.
Part of faith is navigating the times when we absolutely disagree with what God is doing. In those moments, we’ve got to keep things in perspective. We’ve got to remember that we can see this much of the picture, while God can see the whole thing. We are finite. He is infinite. We are limited. He is limitless.
But that didn’t stop Jonah. He was mad, and he threw a hissyfit. And God responds with one simple question. In Jonah 4:4, God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4b, NIV)
Is it right for you to be angry when God doesn’t do what you want Him to do? Is it right for you to be angry when God doesn’t give you what you want? Is it right for you to be angry when God blesses someone else more than you? Is it right for you to be angry when God doesn’t answer your prayers exactly how you wanted and exactly when you wanted? Is it right for you to be angry when God just seems to get it wrong?
It may not be right to be angry, but all of us have been angry, haven’t we? I’ve had “conversations” with God that turned into a screaming, angry rant.
I remember a particular incident a couple of years ago. I thought I knew what God was doing. I thought I had it all perfectly mapped out, and God had placed His stamp of approval on the whole thing. And then in an instant, everything changed. I was devastated, and I unloaded on God. I gave Him both barrels.
And you know what? He didn’t strike me dead. Instead, He simply asked the same question that He asked Jonah. “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Truth be told, I had no right to be angry. But God was also patient with me until my emotions came back down to earth. He showed that same patience with Jonah, and He shows that same patience with you.
Now, go back to the story of Jonah. The end of the story takes an even more pathetic turn.
Starting in verse 5: “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. 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. 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. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:5-9, NIV)
We’ve just gone from pathetic to pitifully pathetic. Jonah leaves the city, sits down, and watches. He’s still hoping that God is going to barbecue this town like He originally promised. We’ll get to that in a minute.
God provided a plant that gave Jonah shade from the intense Near Eastern sun. Nineveh was located close to the modern-day city of Mosul, Iraq. The forecasted high in Mosul today is 108°. It’s pretty easy to see why Jonah would have loved this plant that gave him much-needed shade.
But to teach his prophet a lesson, God sent a worm that destroyed the plant, which prompted another hissyfit.
Jonah said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:8b-9, NIV)
Jonah throws a fit, and God asks him the same question He asked before. Is it right for you to be angry?
Jonah didn’t answer the first time, but he definitely answers the second time. “It is. And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
One of my biggest pet peeves is whining. Whining cuts right through me. I have a zero tolerance policy for whining. If I was God and Jonah said, “I wish I were dead,” I think I would have granted the request. Wish granted…boom! Lucky for Jonah, God is more patient with whiners than I am.
Here’s what God said, starting in verse 10. This is also how the entire story of Jonah ends. “But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And 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, NIV)
God shows His absolute brilliance by using this plant to cut right to the core of Jonah’s heart. He told Jonah, “You loved this plant. You were so happy that I gave you this plant. You were more than willing to accept my grace to you. I showed you grace in the fish, and you accepted it. I showed you grace with this plant, and you accepted it.
But you can’t stand it when I show grace to someone else. You’ve experienced my forgiveness. You’ve accepted the second chance I’ve given you. You are living in my grace. But you want nothing but punishment and wrath for the people of Nineveh.”
You can sum it up in one word: religion. Jonah was incredibly, incurably religious. We know that because he was more concerned about his own comfort than lost people.
And the church is filled to the brim with Jonahs today. The church is filled with religious people who want to sit under their leafy plants. They want to be comfortable while an entire world goes to hell.
That’s exactly what Jonah wanted, wasn’t it? He wanted a deluxe box seat, nice and shady, while he watched Nineveh get blown off the map. He was more concerned about his comfort than lost people.
And a lot of us are a lot more Jonah in us than we’d ever want to admit. We like to sit under the leafy plant of our traditions and our comfort zones. We like to sit in the shade of the familiar and the comfortable and the safe. And if the lost don’t get reached, that’s ok because at least I’m comfortable. I’ll keep sitting at the table, gorging myself on God’s grace, while millions of people will never even have a taste.
If you think this is overstating it, it’s not. These religious people exist. There are some in this room today. And just like Jonah, it’s pitiful and pathetic for someone to claim to love God and yet be this religious.
In Luke 19, Jesus summed up His life’s mission in one sentence. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10, NIV)
That was the singular purpose of His life. It’s why He came. It’s why He died. It’s why He rose again.
Did you notice that Jesus didn’t say, “The Son of Man came to make people religious. Or to keep religious people comfortable.”
His focus wasn’t on religious people at all. It was on lost people. He didn’t come for the Jonahs. He came for the Ninevites.
Jonah completely missed this. And it’s mind-boggling how many modern-day Christians miss it, too.
Here’s the truth that we see played out in the Jonah story. You can’t save lost people without offending religious people. It’s a Scriptural truth you can bank on. If you want to save lost people, you will offend religious people in the process.
Brian Jones is the senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Pennsylvania. A couple of years ago, he wrote a post on his blog that I have saved because it is nails.
He said, “If forced to make the decision, our church from day one has decided that we will offend the self-seeking Christian before the spiritually seeking non-Christian.
I personally believe you can only strategically choose to offend one of those groups.
Some churches are purposely designed to offend the spiritually seeking non-Christian, whether they describe it that way or not. The music they choose, the way they dress, the decorum of their buildings, the vibe they create on Sunday morning, and most important – what they define as a “win” missionally – all combine to create an atmosphere that repels the very people Jesus came to die for.
Other churches believe it’s absolutely critical to nurture the believers in the church into radically sold-out world-changing followers of Jesus, but also believe Christ-followers are called to serve.”
In Mark 10, Jesus said, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44, NIV)
Brian Jones said, “What Jesus was driving at was that he wanted his followers to purposely choose to not get their own way and to put aside their own wishes, interests, and needs to further his kingdom. Therein lays the motivation to offend the Christian before the non-Christian: Christians are supposed to be willing to be offended.”
This is what our church is all about. Focusing on the outsider instead of the insider. Being willing to sacrifice anything and everything if it means reaching more lost people for Jesus.
In the process, that means that we do a lot of things that insiders don’t like. But here’s what I love about our church…this is one of the things that make our church so special…we have so many people who have been here for years and they don’t like all the changes that have been made…but they see the fruit. They see the results. They see more and more lost people who are now found people. And they say, “I may not personally like this or that, but it’s working. Lost people are coming to Jesus, and that’s all that matters to me. I’ll sacrifice my comfort every single time if it turns a lost person into a found person.”
I love people like that. I love people who are willing to sacrifice what they like, what they know, and what they are comfortable with so that together we can reach more lost people for Jesus. I love those people, and our church has a bunch of those people.
That’s the church’s mission. That is the charge that Jesus has given us. Reach lost people for Jesus. The church isn’t designed to just sit around and sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found.” Once you’re found, you go find others.
Found people find people. That’s it. That’s our mission. Once we are found, we find others. Found people find people.
That means that our church will keep pushing. We’ll stay on offense. We’ll keep making changes. We have to constantly operate with the knowledge that what got us here won’t get us there.
What got us to our level of effectiveness today won’t take us where God is calling us to go tomorrow. If we refuse to change, we’ll stagnate and stall. This will be as big as our church will ever get.
And if that sounds perfectly ok with you, you’re a Jonah. You are ok with people going to hell because you’re comfortable with the size of our church now. You don’t want us to grow, because more growth will mean more change which will mean more uncomfortable times for you.
Do you really want to stand before God one day and say that? Do you really want to tell him, “I know a lot of people went to hell, but I was comfortable with the way things were. I didn’t want my church to change and grow.”
The stakes are just too high. Heaven is real. Hell is hot. And our church is the difference maker for a whole lot of people. That’s why we will stay aggressive. We’ll keep changing. We’ll keep adapting. We’ll keep following God, wherever He calls us to go. We will sacrifice the safe and the comfortable every time if it means reaching lost people for Jesus. We were lost. Now we’re found. And we’re on an all-out mission to find others.
That’s why Jonah would hate our church. And he’s not the only one. You should read my mail sometimes. Not everyone loves us. There are people who can’t stand us because we focus on the outsider instead of the insider. They hate the changes we’ve made. They hate that people are finding new life in Christ through our ministry. It sounds insane, but to a religious Jonah, that is the worst thing that could happen.
That’s why there is no room for religious Jonahs in our church. No room at all. If you’re a Jonah, the “No Vacancy” sign is on. But if you’re a passionate Christ-follower who is willing to set aside your preferences so we can reach lost people for Jesus, jump in. There’s plenty of room for you.
And if you haven’t yet accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord, you need to know this…you are the entire reason that Jesus came and you are the entire reason that we are here. We will do whatever it takes to connect you to Jesus.
I know you don’t feel worthy. I know you don’t feel like you’re good enough. And the truth is, you’re not. But neither am I. And neither is anyone else in this room. The fact that you aren’t good enough to be a Christian is exactly why Jesus came and died. He was good enough.
In 2 Timothy, the Bible says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:9a, NIV)
You have not…you cannot do anything to save yourself. You can’t make yourself acceptable to God. You can’t earn His favor. You can’t do anything to deserve salvation. It is a gift that is freely given. It is completely illogical and it is completely undeserved. It’s called grace.
Clayton King said, “At the cross, our worst meets God's best...and His best wins.”
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