A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part I) – Jonah. chapters 1 and 2

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This is a message I have preached many times, especially when I was a college campus minister in Southern California.  Since I will be quoting several passages from this book, the message is much longer, so I will be sharing it with you in two parts.  I hope this amazing and entertaining book of the Bible will also have many lessons for you, and draw your heart closer to God.

INTRODUCTION:

I’d like you to think for a moment of a person   .  .  .  a person in your neighborhood, or where your work, or where you go to school, or where you do business.  Someone that you come in contact with often.  Someone you don’t like being around!  Is someone coming to mind?  Either because of this person’s nationality, or personality, or the way he or she looks, or acts, or treats you, or for whatever reason, this person causes in you feelings of anger or dislike.  Question:  Do you and I, as Christians, have a responsibility even to such a person?

THE BOOK OF JONAH

The book of Jonah, in the Old Testament, deals with this very issue.  How many of you have ever been fishing, or have friends or family members who like to fish?  Then you’ve probably heard some “fish stories”, like the story about “the one that got away”.  Have you noticed that the more often that story is told, the bigger that fish gets!

There are many people today who think of the book of Jonah as just another “big fish story”.  But the book of Jonah is God’s Word, and it has a message for us today.  ILLUSTRATION:  One day a young man travelling on a train began to discuss the Bible with a Christian seated next to him.  “If you can prove to me that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, I’ll believe all the rest of the Bible”, he said.  “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” asked his companion.  Surprised by the strange response, the first man answered, “That’s beside the point!”  “Oh no, it’s not”, replied the Christian.  “Tell me, do you think that Jesus Christ was wise?”  “Yes”, he said, “I think He was the wisest man who ever lived.” ” Well He believed what you call a ‘fish story’,  for see what He said in Matthew 12:40.”  The unbeliever was amazed to find that the passage of Scripture read, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  “You see”, said the Christian, “Jesus believed the account of Jonah!”  “Thanks mister”, was his reply, “That’s proof enough for me!”

To doubt the story of Jonah and the fish is to doubt the authority and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, for He considered this event in Jonah’s life to be a fact.  And the book of Jonah has an important message for us today

THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK

The writer of the book of Jonah had two main purposes for writing this book under the inspiration of God.  The first purpose was to show us Jonah’s motivation for the things he did, and for his attitude.  Secondly, the writer wanted to show us something about God’s character, what God is like.  Let’s look at the first two chapters of the book of Jonah and see what we can learn from them today.

I.  JONAH’S DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT (1:1-16)

Jonah 1:1-3 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  So he went down to Joppa, found a ship that was going to Tarshish,  paid the fare,  and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Nineveh was east of Israel, and Jonah went west, in the opposite direction.  He went to Joppa and boarded a ship headed for Tarshish, which is modern-day Spain.  Jonah wanted to get as far away from God and God’s plan for him as he possibly could.  Is it possible to escape from the presence of the Lord?  God is all-present, isn’t He.  Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”  How do we behave when no one is looking but God?  Let’s test ourselves this week.

What was Jonah’s motivation for fleeing?  Was it cowardice?  Was he afraid to go to Nineveh?  Well he had good reason to be afraid.  Nineveh was probably the largest and one of the most wicked cities in the world at that time.  Chapter 4, verse 11 says there were “more than 120,000 people who did not know the difference between their right and left hand.”  If God is speaking in a physical sense, this could be referring to children under the age of five, because it’s often hard to tell whether a child that age is right or left handed.  If God is speaking in a physical sense here, the total population of Nineveh could have been over 600,000 people, which is a large city even by today’s standards.

So, was Jonah a coward?  No.  Let me read for you 1:11-12:  “So they said to him. ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us’ – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.  And he said to them, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  Jonah was willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of the sailors when God brought the great wind and storm in verses 4-14.  When the sailors cast lots in verse 7 to learn who caused this storm to come upon them, the lot fell to Jonah.  When they asked him for information about himself, he told them that he was a Hebrew, and when he told them about his God, the men knew he was fleeing from the Lord.

It’s interesting that they give Jonah an option when they asked him in verse 11, “What shall we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”  Jonah replied in verse 12, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  But the crew was unwilling to do it, and kept on rowing, and finally prayed to Jonah’s God and asked for forgiveness for what they were going to do.  Then in verse 15 they “picked up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging” just like Jonah said it would.  This caused the sailors to show reverence to Jonah’s God, and they offered a sacrifice to Him in verse 17 and made vows to God.  Jonah’s courage and the fulfillment of his words caused them to believe in his God.

II.  JONAH’S DELIVERANCE (1:17 – 2:10)

But this isn’t the end of the story.  Jonah did not drown.  Verse 17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.  ILLUSTRATION:  Some people say there isn’t a creature in the sea that is capable of performing such a feat.  But scientists know better.  For instance, in 1912 Captain Charles Thompson harpooned a huge mammal off the coast of Florida which, when it was brought to land, was found to contain another 1500-pound fish that it had swallowed whole!  Those who examined Thompson’s catch said it could have swallowed 20 average-size men!  A Baptist minister who came on the scene stood in the creature’s mouth, holding his hands above his head, and still found that he was too short to reach the top of the fish’s mouth!  And we must not forget that the creature referred to in Jonah 1:17 was especially “prepared” for its unique assignment by the Lord Himself.

Jonah was in the stomach of that fish three days and three nights.  God not only spared Jonah’s life, He gave Him some time to think about what he had done.  I’m sure that being inside that fish was by no means an enjoyable experience.  ILLUSTRATION:  A wealthy lady had a very spoiled and strong-willed youngster.  One day, when a wasp flew in the window, the boy, seeing its brilliant colors, began crying for it.  At last the mother called to the servant who was taking care of the child, “What is that boy crying for?  Will you please let him have it?”  A few minutes later she was startled by a loud scream.  “What’s’ the matter?” asked the mother.  “He got what he wanted” was the servant’s reply.  Sometimes in God’s great wisdom He allows us to feel the sting and misery of our own selfish, disobedient ways, that we might learn through our pain and humiliation that the Lord knows what is best.

We find in chapter 2 that Jonah prays to God from the stomach of the fish.  If you were in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights, what kind of a prayer would you pray?  I know what I would say:  “Help, Lord; please get me out of here!”  But in chapter 2 Jonah prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his life.  And at the end of his prayer Jonah says what God wants to hear.  In chapter 2, verse 9, Jonah says:  “That which I have vowed I will pay.”  After that promise by Jonah, verse 10 says, “Then the Lord  commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.”  And what are God’s first words to Jonah?  Does He say, “Jonah, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you smell like a fish.  Why don’t you go home and get some rest!”  No.  God’s first words to Jonah in Chapter 3 are:  “Go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”  God is going to have His way in Jonah’s life, and He brings Jonah back to His original command to Him.

So far we’ve learned that disobedience to God has its consequences.  We’ve learned that the book of Jonah is factual and should be treated that way.  We’ve seen some amazing things that God has done, and it’s going to get even more amazing in the rest of this book.  I hope to have chapters 3 and 4 finished next week and posted for you to read.  Don’t miss the exciting conclusion, and don’t forget that God is always watching you and wants you to enjoy His presence.