The Compassion of God

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August 4th, 2019

We are called to have the same concern as God does for the lost and for the nations

I. Jonah’s Pouting (4:1-5)

Jonah should have been exceeding glad for what happened in Nineveh, but instead he is “exceedingly angry.” Jonah’s prayer reveals that his frustration is with God’s grace, mercy, and steadfast love (cf. Exodus 34:6) being offered to Nineveh, Israel’s enemy. He does not think they are worthy of this treatment.

Jonah’s prayer reveals he has a heart full of self-righteousness, which is the primary barrier the Scriptures to understanding and receiving the grace offered in the gospel. “Self-righteousness” can be defined as a trust in either who you are or what you do for salvation and right-standing before God.

Self-righteousness is dangerous in at least 3 ways:

  1. It makes us fragile (4:3)

  2. It makes us blind to our own sin & idolatry (4:3-4)

If love for your country’s interests leads you to exploit people or, in this case, to root for an entire class of people to be spiritually lost, then you love your nation more than God. That is idolatry, by any definition... Jonah’s rightful love for his country and people had become inordinate, too great, rivaling God.”~ Tim Keller

  1. It makes us feel superior to others (4:5)

Luke 5:31–32: Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

II. God’s Pity (4:6-11)

The Lord is not yet done with his prophet; he sovereignly “appoints” a plant, and then subsequently a worm and a scorching east wind to counsel Jonah to the place where he can see his own sin laid bare. 

After God has Jonah’s attention, he delivers a power-packed point of rebuke to his prophet (4:10-11). God is asking Jonah: Do you really care more about the plant than the people who make up the city of Nineveh?

“By contrasting Jonah’s attitude to the [plant] with his attitude towards the Ninevites, God highlights where the real absurdity lies. Jonah is filled with compassion regarding a mere plant, yet remains hard-hearted towards the entire population of a city. He shows concern for one small item of God’s creation, yet fails to care for a large mass of people, who, like Jonah himself, were made in the divine image. The inconsistency rests not with God but with Jonah.” ~ T. Desmond Alexander

Jonah looks at the Nineveh from a place of anger and judgment, but God looks at the city and has pity on their ignorance (“who do not know their right hand from their left”). Though they are not innocent (God has called them to repent), they are lost, and God’s posture toward the city and its well-being (down to the cattle) is one of compassion. 

The Hebrew for “pity” is loaded with emotion; it means to have a deep compassion, even to the point of weeping. God looks upon Nineveh and is moved to the point of grief over their lostness; his heart is drawn toward the city and its inhabitants. 

“The basis for mission is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:15). Jonah is told to leave his world of comfort to bring God’s message to people he hated, and he ran the other way (Jon. 1:1-3). Jesus left the beauty and glory of heaven for people who hated him, to love them to himself (Rom. 5:8). Jonah tucked himself under the shade of a tree to protect and comfort himself. Jesus was hung on a tree to protect and shelter us from the judgment to come. Jonah stood outside the populated city to condemn it. Jesus was dragged outside the city to be condemned so we would never taste condemnation (Rom. 8:1-2).” ~ Scott Saul

III. Our Priority (4:11)

The cliffhanger ending of Jonah confronts us to answer the very same question: Is our heart for the lost and for the nations more like God’s or Jonah’s?

If we zoom out from Jonah, we see that this story fits within the broader story of Scripture. The Bible consistently tells us that God is going to make his glory and salvation known among all the nations. 

  • Genesis 12:3:  ...and in you [Abraham] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

  • Isaiah 42:6, 49:6: “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations...  that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”

  • John 10:16: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

  • Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

  • Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

  • Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Our future is an eternity with saints from every nation, tribe, people, and languages worshipping the Lamb who was slain who is now the King of all kings. And we get to participate in this! Our priority as the church is to declare and display the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth as we are compelled by Christ. 

What is our posture toward the lost and toward the nations? We live in a day and age where nationalism is on the rise and cultural and racial tensions are high; we must be careful that we are informed by and faithful to the Word of God and the commissioning of Christ above everything else. 

It may be that in the years to come this warning note from Jonah’s experience will be an urgent one for us to hear. Churches must never be conditioned by national environment rather than by the word of the gospel. But the kind of prejudices, which come to the surface in waves of nationalism, lie in the heart at all times. Prejudices – that is for the Christian, judgments and opinions which are formed without knowledge of the circumstances, and not from the standpoint of God’s Word – can daily drive us from the love of our fellows, and from the service of God. Our prejudices need to be exposed, just as they were in Jonah’s life. Once exposed, they must be destroyed by grace.” ~ Sinclair Ferguson

The cliffhanger ending of Jonah does beg the question: does Jonah ever get it? Does he ever repent? The biggest evidence of Jonah’s repentance is the very existence of this book. Jonah, in raw honesty, revealed to us what was going on in his heart as he wrestles with God. His repentance is hope for our repentance.