This week marks the fourth and final week where we will be looking at the book of Jonah. This of what all we’ve seen so far from the book of Jonah. We saw how Jonah ran away from God and attempted to flee to the city of Tarshish, which was in southern Spain. We saw how God hurled a storm down at Jonah, forcing the sailors on board to throw Jonah into the ocean. We learned that no matter how hard we try, there is no way we can outrun God. But then in chapter two, we saw the mercy of God, and the thankfulness of Jonah as Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, and he survived to tell the story. And then last week, we saw how Jonah finally decided to obey God’s command and go and tell Nineveh that God was displeased with their sins against Him. And so, as you hopefully remember, Jonah went to Nineveh and told them that in forty days God was going to destroy them for their sins. And do you remember what the people did? From the king all the way down to the peasants, and even the cattle; the citizens of Nineveh were begging to God for mercy. The Bible says that they gave up their evil ways and their acts of violence. And the final verse of chapter three told us that God had mercy on the people of Nineveh, and He decided not to destroy them. Chapter three showed us the amazing grace of God. But now, as we look at chapter four, we are going to see Jonah’s reaction to God’s grace, and we are going to get a look straight into the heart of God. This chapter is one of the most profound in the entire Bible for giving us a glimpse at our own priorities, and giving us a glimpse at the priorities of God. This is a really exciting chapter. And to see what I’m talking about, please turn in your Bibles to Jonah chapter four.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, ‘I pray Thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’ Then said the LORD, ‘Doest thou well to be angry?’ So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ And God said to Jonah, ‘Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?’ And he said, ‘I do well to be angry, even unto death.’ Then said the LORD, ‘Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right and left hand; and also much cattle?’”
The title of our fourth and final sermon from the book of Jonah is “The Value of a Human Soul.” Essentially, this is a sermon on priorities. Jonah chapter four demands the question of us, “What is really important to you?” If you had to rank the priorities in your life, where would God show up? Where would your family show up? Where would your car show up? Your shoes? Your house? Your neighbor? This short chapter forces us to look at not only our answers to these questions, but it forces us to look at God’s answers to these questions. And any time we answer a question differently from God, we know that there is a very real problem. But unlike most chapters, chapter four does not break down well into three main points, or six main lessons, or anything like that. In God’s grand finale in the book of Jonah, He gives us one big point, and that point is the one point of this morning’s sermon. The value of a human soul.
Before we get to see how God views humanity, we get to see how Jonah views humanity. To see what I’m talking about, look at verse one of this chapter. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” This verse doesn’t make sense at all unless you put it in its proper context. Any time you begin a chapter of the Bible and it doesn’t seem to make sense by itself, you need to look at the passage before it. What on earth has Jonah in such a tizzy? Well, the answer is found in the last verse of Jonah chapter three. The last verse of chapter three tells us that God has decided to not destroy Nineveh because they repented of their sins. God saving Nineveh is what has Jonah so upset! And just notice how angry he is about all of this. The Bible says that he was displeased exceedingly, and he was very angry. Jonah is mad! And why is he mad? Because God saved Nineveh! That sounds pretty strange, doesn’t it? But you have to remember that Jonah hates the people of Nineveh. He genuinely wanted God to destroy them. Just in case you have any doubts, look at what Jonah prays to God in verse two.
“And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, ‘I pray Thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” First off, we have to give Jonah a little bit of credit. Whenever Jonah was furious, he started to pray. I think you would all agree that going to God when we are angry is the proper thing to do. And the content of Jonah’s prayer shows that he is both a man of great faith, and a man of horrible priorities. Do you see what Jonah says in his prayer? Jonah knew that this is what was going to happen. Jonah just knew that if he went to Nineveh, that gracious God of his was going to forgive those low-down, good-for-nothing Ninevites. And Jonah didn’t want that. Church, that is why Jonah fled from God! It wasn’t because he was scared of them. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to walk that far. It’s because he knew that God would forgive them! Look at what Jonah says about God. He calls God gracious, merciful; he says that God is slow to anger, and of great kindness, and then he says that God is prone to change His mind about destroying people. You see, church, Jonah knew that God would forgive the Ninevites, and that’s the last thing on earth he wanted! So I hope that you can see what I mean when I say that Jonah was a man of great faith, because he knew that God was a forgiving God. But he was also a man of horrible priorities, because he would rather see a whole city destroyed than saved.
And just to show you how serious Jonah was about his hatred, look at what he tells God in verse three. “Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” Wow! Can you believe what he just said? He said that he would rather be dead than live in a world with God-fearing Ninevites. This is not designed to be a sermon on racism, but I’m sure you would agree that Jonah was an extremely racist man.
But then, in the midst of all of Jonah’s hatred, and anger, and confusion, the God of the universe speaks out to Jonah in verse four. Look at God’s simple question. “Then said the LORD, ‘Doest thou well to be angry?’” God calls out to Jonah and asks him if he is in the right to be so angry about Nineveh being saved. And you know, I don’t think God expected an answer from Jonah. God knew Jonah’s heart, and where his priorities lied. So for the rest of chapter four, God gives Jonah an object lesson that he would never forget.
While I’m not going to read verse five again, notice that in verse five Jonah led the city of Nineveh, and he went and made himself a little booth, so that he could wait and see what happened to the city. Do you see what Jonah is doing here? Jonah is so convinced that he is in the right here, and he honestly thinks that God is going to change His mind about Nineveh and go ahead and destroy it. So Jonah leaves the city and goes and makes a little shelter designed to block the wind and the sun, and he just waits. And he waits. And he waits. I can just imagine Jonah thinking, “Any minute now God is going to realize just how wicked those Ninevites have been. God is going to see my point that one little revival does not outweigh generations of violence. Yep, any minute now.”
And in verse six, God miraculously sends a gourd to come and provide shade for Jonah. Botanists say that there is a species of gourd native to these parts that grows very quickly, and it only grows one leaf. But that one leaf is huge. This is most likely the plant that God provided for Jonah. And I want you to notice what Jonah’s reaction to this little bit of shade was. The Bible says that he was exceedingly what? Exceedingly glad! Before, Jonah said he would rather be dead than see God show grace to his enemies, and now he is exceedingly glad because of a little plant! Church, Jonah was a man of mixed up priorities. You know that, and God knew that. So God had a plan to teach Jonah a very important lesson.
Look at what God does in verses seven and eight. “But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’” God in these two verses does three things to strip away Jonah’s physical comfort. First, he causes a worm to destroy the gourd. Scientists say that it is quite common for worms to destroy the base of this kind of gourd, quickly killing it; but don’t let that take away the fact that this a miracle, because this was not a random worm. This was a worm prepared by God. After Jonah’s precious gourd was destroyed, God sent a powerful wind his way. The locals call this powerful east wind a sirocco wind, and sirocco winds are different from most winds, because instead of relieving the heat, they actually intensify the heat. And then, with his shade gone and the hot wind blowing, God caused the sun to beat down on Jonah, so much so that he fainted. I don’t know if this is the Bible’s way of saying that Jonah had a heat stroke, but the point is that Jonah is now in pretty rough shape. He was in such rough shape that for the second time in the chapter, Jonah said that he wished he were dead.
And then, for the second time in the chapter, God asked Jonah a question in verse nine. Look at what God asks him. “And God said to Jonah, ‘Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?’” God asks Jonah the same question! Earlier, God asked Jonah if he was right to be angry over His grace to Nineveh. Now, God asks Jonah if he is right to be angry over His destruction of the gourd. And, it seems like if the God of the universe asked any of us this question, we would surely respond by asking for forgiveness. I mean, surely Jonah realizes how messed up his priorities are, right? Wrong. Look at how Jonah replies in the second half of the verse. “And he said, ‘I do well to be angry, even unto death.’” Wow! Jonah responds by telling God that he has every right to be angry over this tragedy, even angry enough to wish he were dead. While I could be wrong, I’m fairly confident that what we have here in Jonah chapter four is one of the first hissy fits recorded in all of history. He is furious with God for saving people and killing a plant.
And before I read these final two verses, I want to tell you up front that these two verses make up the big point of not only this chapter, but also serve as the main point of the entire book of Jonah. In other words, the book of Jonah is not about a man who was swallowed by a whale and survived. The book of Jonah is not even about the biggest rival in world history. The book of Jonah is about what God says in verses ten and eleven. Look with me at these important verses. “Then said the LORD, ‘Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right and left hand; and also much cattle?’” In these two little verses, God shines a bright flashlight on Jonah’s heart, and shows him how wrong he has been this whole time. God tells Jonah that he cares so much about a plant that he had nothing to do with. Jonah didn’t plant the gourd. Jonah didn’t water the gourd. Jonah didn’t bring a bag of miracle grow up there with him to fertilize it. God made the gourd, and God took it away. And then in verse eleven, we see the perfect heart of God. God says that if Jonah is able to care about a little gourd, then shouldn’t God care about a great city? Then, God says that there are six score thousand people in the city that cannot tell their right hand from their left. In case you’re wondering, six score thousand is a fancy way of saying 120,000. And God says that there are 120,000 people that can’t tell their right hand from their left. That is a poetic way of talking about young children, because young children aren’t able to distinguish between their left and right hand. I can just imagine God telling Jonah, “There are 120,000 children in this city, and you would rather see them die than your silly plant die!” Jonah was a man of mixed-up priorities.
And that church, is the end of the book of Jonah. God asked Jonah a question, and the book ends before Jonah was able to answer the question. Which has left many people to wonder, “Did Jonah ever learn his lesson?” Is Jonah just really a no-good prophet that loves gourds more than people? And something we have to remember is that Jonah authored the book of Jonah. Jonah recorded this story for all of us to hear and grow from. Now I don’t know about you, but I try to hide my mistakes. Whenever I make a fool of myself, I don’t run down to the radio station and ask if I can make a confession to the general public. But that’s what Jonah has done here. And personally, I think that this is solid evidence that Jonah did learn from his mistakes. I believe that after this conversation, Jonah was a thoroughly reformed man, so much so that he wanted everyone to learn the lessons he learned, so he wrote them down.
But that doesn’t really answer the question of why Jonah didn’t answer God’s question at the end of the book. Do you know why Jonah didn’t answer the question? Because God’s question was not only directed at Jonah, but it was directed at us, as well. Jonah didn’t record his answer because he wants us to decide on our answer.
And frankly, you may not see where this might apply to us. I imagine that if any of you had to choose between a gourd or a million people becoming Christians, every last one of you would choose the people becoming Christians. And yet, sometimes even we fail to make God’s priorities our priorities. And in case you didn’t catch it at the end of the book of Jonah, God’s priority is people. He said it at the end of the book of Jonah, and He proved it on a mount called Calvary. And whenever I say that God’s priority is people, I’m not saying that He cares about what color our skin is, what brand of clothes we wear, or what our favorite football team is. God cares about what’s in here. God cares about whether or not a person has trusted in Him for salvation, or whether they are still trapped in the clutches of the evil one. Church, that is God’s priority.
And if that’s God’s priority, then what’s your priority? I think if we’re honest with ourselves, so often our priorities tend towards the material and the temporal. While we might not care so much about an old gourd, we do care a whole lot about stuff. And when I point a finger out at you, please realize that I’ve got three fingers pointed right back at myself. And I’m not trying to say that God isn’t interested in the material things that you spend your money on. But here’s what I am saying. When you die, God is not going to ask you what kind of car you drove, what kind of shoes you wore, or what college you graduated from. All of that stuff is well, stuff. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What Solomon was saying is that everything he saw around him was so material. He knew that none of it would last would he died.
You know, I read somewhere where a former director of the Navigators said that there are only three things that last for eternity. God, God’s word, and peoples’ souls. And he went on to say that everything we do in life that is not about those three is simply waste. What we do in this life that is not invested in God or in people will not last after we die. You can’t take it with you! The message of the book of Jonah is that our God is a forgiving God, and it is His heart to forgive all who will come to Him. And the message for us is that if we truly want to follow God, then we have to make God’s heart our own heart. And please, don’t go home today and tell everyone that your pastor said that you need to sell your car and your house so that you can be more like God. No, I am simply reminding all of us that we have to check our priorities in life. Is it wrong to have nice things? No, it isn’t. But I am saying that God cares more about your neighbor’s salvation than he does about your new BMW.
And thankfully, as I look out amongst you, I don’t see any Jonahs in the building. I know that your priorities are so much better than his. And yet, if you are anything like me, then you have so much room to grow in this area. At least in my life, there is a daily struggle to focus on the priorities of God. The struggle to stop moving towards the next big thing in the world, and start moving towards the one big thing that dominates the Bible.
So as the pianist and song leader come forward, I ask you one final time, “Where are your priorities?” Are you so wrapped up in the here and now that you aren’t contributing anything to the there and then? As your pastor, allow me to gently remind you that the here and now will one day be nothing but dust. My prayer for all of us is that we would make the priorities of our risen Savior the priorities of First Free Will Baptist Church.
And if you are here this morning, and you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your King and Savior, allow me to encourage you to do that today. God’s heart is not that you would have the highest-paying job, or have the nicest car, or the prettiest wife (although I do have that last one). God’s heart is that you would trust in Him for your salvation. Please, please, please, do not invest your life into what you can’t take with you. But as Jesus said in the book of Matthew, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be given to you.” Jesus isn’t saying that trusting in Him will make you rich. He’s saying that trusting in Him will give you an eternity of riches in Heaven!
So if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, or if you would like to formally reorganize your priorities to match God’s priorities; I invite you to come pray up front. But before we do that, let’s pray.
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