God’s People should be more like God in Forgiveness
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we come to the end of the book of Jonah. As Christians we all love God’s mercy and forgiveness shown to us in Jesus. But how good are we accepting God’s mercy and forgiveness shown to others??
PRAYER: Well (we don’t exactly know when) but at some point after 750BC – the book of Jonah stopped being just another book in the Bible and it became JEWISH LITURGY. It became part of Israels worship. There is one day every year on the Jewish calendar – when all the Jews come before God, asking for mercy and forgiveness. It’s called Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It happens around late September, early October each year, and on this day Jews are meant to fast for 24 hours, examine their conduct over the last year and confess their sins to God. And from some time – well before the days of Jesus (and even unto today) – the Jews read the book of Jonah – on Yom Kippur.
Now I’m not saying Jonah was originally written as liturgy for Yom Kippur. I think it is a real story – teaching the Jews about God’s missional heart even for gross, immoral Gentiles. But from a very early date – Jonah became liturgy for Yom Kippur because God’s mercy and forgiveness is hard for us to comprehend and even harder for us to emulate. Most of us are like Jonah. A little self-righteous and a little quick to judge.
In a moment I want to share with you what it says in the Jewish Babylonian Talmud. When the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD – Jewish Rabbis decided to write down the well established 1) Jewish understanding of certain Scriptures and 2) their worship practices – in a book called the Talmud. The Rabbi’s were worried that with the loss of the temple and the scattering of the Jews – well established Jewish beliefs might be lost. So they wrote all this information down in a book called the Talmud.
This is what the Babylonian Talmud says about the Day of Atonement in Meggilah 31A (Slide 1). Now of course, the Talmud is not the Bible. The Talmud is more like an Anglican prayer book. It simply shows us how some of God’s people of yesteryear understood the Bible and how they worshiped God. And at some point the Jews realised the book of Jonah is not just about God’s missional concern for the Gentiles. It’s also about extending mercy and forgiveness – even to our enemies.
Now can you imagine standing in line on YOM KIPPUR getting ready to confess your sins to the high-priest as he lays his hands on the scapegoat. And you kind of overhear a guy a couple of people in front of you – say to the high priest, “I confess that I committed adultery and slept with Bobs wife.” And you happen to be Bob. What the.. Of course, your now angry. God can’t forgive this guy for sleeping with your wife. You want justice. But your also about to confess to the priest – that you stole from James (a few people behind you in the line) and as a result he went into bankruptcy. So, James is pretty angry with you too. Of course, everyone coming forward wants God’s mercy and forgiveness for their sins. But forgiving and showing mercy to others (especially our enemies) – that’s hard. So at some early point in Israels history – the Jews began to realise Jonah had something to say about anger, forgiveness and emulating Gods mercy….
Point 1: Jonah decides God’s Mercy to Nineveh is Evil
Show: Jon.3:10-4:1 (READ)
Explain: Well God decides A) to show Nineveh mercy and B) this makes Jonah angry. Where is the justice? Now I’m sure – that with all of you being sincere evangelical Christians (who understand Gods mercy in Jesus) I’m sure none of you struggle with self-righteous anger. I’m sure all of you are 1) quick to forgive, 2) pray for your enemies and 3) you never let the sun go down on your anger. Right? Of course! But I’ve heard rumours that some people in some (other) churches still struggle with anger and unforgiveness. So here’s the context…
Jonah eventually enters Nineveh – preaching the end of the world. Forty days and it’s lights out. Now last week – I explained that the Ninevites (and Assyrians) really were notoriously evil, violent and sexually immoral. So when God says to Jonah, “Go tell the Ninevites, they’ve got 40 days and they will be destroyed”, Jonah’s thinking good. That’s what they deserve. But as Jonah passes through the city – he finds much to his alarm – people are sitting in sackcloth; fasting and repenting of their sin. It looks exactly like Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). And Jonah knows how that story ends. When people fast, mourn and repent of their sins God forgives and shows mercy. That’s God’s nature. And Jonah is thinking noooooo – I want blood.
So, Jonah finally comes out the far side of the city and he is not happy. Given what he’s seen in terms of repentance – he knows God is probably going to show mercy. Now we (the readers of Jonah) already know from the last verse in chapter 3 – that God has decided to show mercy. We’ve been told. But we kind of go on the journey with Jonah to see what happens. What is God going to do with such an evil Gentile city? Will God really forgive, the Hitlers, the paedophiles and the murderers of the world – if they repent?
Its so hard to believe that Jonah builds some kind of shelter just beyond the city limits (gets out the popcorn) and sits down to see what happens. Now in this part of the middle east, its dry, hot and according to verse 8 a scorcher of an east wind begins to blow. So it’s unpleasant and Jonah starts counting the days. 40 days until d-day. (But is it 40 days from when he started preaching or is it 40 days from when he finished preaching?) Either way – 40 days in the hot sun begins to make Jonah hot under the collar…
The word “ANGRY” (in verses 1, 4 and 9) is actually a play on the word HOT. The word angry – means heated emotions. So Jonah’s beginning to fume. The pressure is building and he is about to lose his… well you know temper. Given Nineveh’s response (in repentance and fasting) Jonah is pretty sure he, Israel and the whole middle east are about to get ripped off by God. He anticipates God is going to show mercy. Darn it! God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love – it’s just not fair.
Now despite Jonah going through the motions of a two year old tantrum (and it really is a two-year old tantrum) God mercifully provides Jonah with A PLANT that gives him a bit of shade from the hot sun. It’s a nothing plant. But Jonah begins to appreciate it. However, a grub then comes along – eats the side of the vine and it dies. Now at this point Jonah is reaching boiling point. WHERE IS THE JUSTICE? A) The evil Ninevites get away with blue murder and B) the righteous good prophet has to suffer in the hot sun. So Jonah pops an artery and starts to take out his anger on God…
Apply: The words in verse 1 “VERY WRONG” is literally evil. “But to Jonah this (God’s mercy) seemed evil and he became angry.” Jonah is on the edge of accusing God of doing evil… It is the same word used in Jonah 3:8 – where Nineveh is called to give up their evil ways. Well, Nineveh gives up their evil ways, God shows mercy and Jonah starts THINKING this is evil.
Where people have done great evil – it is hard to forgive and show mercy. We want blood. Mercy feel like a perversion of justice. And for many of us – who have experienced great evil perhaps through child abuse, or domestic violence or even corrupt unjust bureaucracy – its understandable that we get really angry. But if we are not careful that anger can become bitterness and cynicism that is destructive. This week I really felt for ALEXEI NAVALNY who just got an extra 19 years in prison in Russia (under horrific circumstances) for simply challenging Putin politically. It’s totally unjust and I can only imagine what it is doing to him. But thinking Gods actions are unjust – Jonah becomes angry and bitter and it begins to eat him up. He wants to die.
Point 2: Jonah enjoys God’s Mercy, but does not want to show Mercy
Show: Jon.4:2-3 (READ)
Explain: Now in his anger Jonah begins TO PRAY. This is one of the few things Jonah does right. Prayer is just about the ANSWER to everything. And prayer is especially the ANSWER when we are feeling angry. We really do need Gods help to process the hurt and anger we often feel. Like I said, if you’ve been through particularly bad child abuse, or a really messy divorce, or even been ripped off badly in a business deal – it’s understandable and even right that you are angry. There is a part of you that rightfully wants justice. YOU WANT BLOOD.
Now of course, on the Day of Atonement, the Jews got blood in terms of a scapegoat dying. But it wasn’t particularly satisfying in terms of anger or injustice. How could a lamb’s death really satisfy my demand for blood and justice. Of course, it couldn’t. To find the justice we are looking for in this world we have to look through the scapegoat and see Jesus. Yes, the sins committed against you as a child, or in marriage, or in business were serious. Someone had to pay. Someone had to be punished. And Jesus accepted this demand for blood – as he died on the cross for our sins. Our demand for justice can only be found at the cross. NOTHING ELSE can satisfy real wrong committed against us – not a treaty and not compensation. 1) We need to look to THE CROSS.
Or 2) we need to look to JUDGMENT DAY – when those who have rejected Jesus – will have to pay for the sins they have committed against us. God calls us to show mercy, even to our enemies (and to find the justice we long for) we need to look A) to the cross and know the sins committed against us have been paid for OR we look to B) the final judgment and know the sins committed against us will be paid for. This is the only way to let go of the anger of injustice.
Anyway, as Jonah prays he begins to focus on the character of God. In verse 2; Jonah says “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love…” Now these are absolutely BEAUTIFUL WORDS. To know God’s grace, compassion, slowness to anger and abounding love (in a personal way) – is to know God as your Heavenly Father. These exact same words occur 7 or 8 times in the Old Testament – and they kind of form GOD’S CURRICULUM VITAE. These words kind of tell us who God is and what He does…
The best-known version of these words occur in Exodus 34. In His mercy God just saved Israel from Egypt. He gives them the 10 commandments and they all promise to be obedient. But when God turns around for thirty seconds – they make a golden calf and indulge in revelry – which usually means gross sexual immorality. So naturally enough the GOLDEN CALF incident makes God hot with anger. 3 times in Exodus 33 we are told God is angry AND its the same word as Jonah – hot with anger. But Moses intercedes for the Jews, begging God to show mercy and God shows mercy.
But a further 30 seconds later Moses loses his cool. We are told Moses – burning with anger (exact same word) – throws the tablets of stone on the ground and they break. In his anger Moses literally broke all God’s 10 commands in one foul swoop. Who would of thought that sinning in your anger – you could break all 10 commands in one go?
But despite all this stupidity – God still shows mercy. Moses goes back up the mountain (with two new stone tablets) and God says to Moses; I’m Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness etc etc… yet I do not leave the guilty unpunished. Its more or less the same as Jonah’s words. But that’s God’s full CV. Yes, God is gracious and compassionate – but he does not leave the guilty unpunished…
Apply: The Jews used to recite these words about God (at all the Jewish festivals) but especially at the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was about God’s mercy, compassion and grace. After reading in the morning – Leviticus 16 about Yom Kippur and Isaiah 55 about true fasting and repentance, they’d then read in the afternoon Leviticus 18 which is about sexual immorality and the book of Jonah. Now if you thought Nineveh’s sexual immorality was bad last week OR perhaps Sydney is getting bad with Tinder, Grinder and Mardi Gras – well just check out Leviticus 18. It’s like really? Oooo and aaagh. Leviticus 18 has some really sick sex taking place and it shows what we are capable of when we have no guardrails at all. Watch out.
But worst yet – because sex is so intimate – THE MISUSE OF SEX always leaves big scars. When we feel used and abused in sex (and then discarded) it seriously hurts and people become angry. That’s why child abuse, rape, sexual promiscuity and marital infidelity is so hard to forgive. We often say – all sin is equal to God. But that’s not quite right. Sexual sin is in a category of its own. 1 Corinthians 6 – says “all other sins a man commits are outside his body. But he who sins sexually sins against their own body.” (1Cor.6:18) Again, this is saying that in sexual sin we damage ourselves in a way that is different to other sins. But despite what we’ve done (and the scars that has created) – Leviticus 18 and Jonah – reminds us that there really is nothing God cannot forgive and begin to heal…
Point 3: Jonah is asked whether His anger is Good
Show: Jon.4:4 (READ)
Explain: Well the book of Jonah finishes with God saying to Jonah your concerned about a plant perishing and dying, but I’m concerned about Nineveh perishing and dying. The word “CONCERNED” is basically – to pity or feel sadness – that moves you to save or help. God says – you look on this plant that is destroyed by the worm and feel pity and sadness. But I look on the city of Nineveh (and I don’t just feel righteous anger) I feel pity and sadness – for both the people and the animals. I want to spare it. I want to save it.
I think God is teaching us an important lesson about anger. God doesn’t just see people in Nineveh (and Sydney) wantonly revelling in sin. Yes, that is probably happening. But God also sees people who are destroying themselves in blindness. God sees through all the partying and mardi gras and pretending to be happy in their sexual immorality – and He sees people who are thoroughly lost. Yes, 1) God has a right to feel righteously angry. But 2) when he looks at it another way (for what it really is) He can also feel – pity. Anger or pity? Instead of anger – God chooses pity now – because He knows there will be justice later…
And I think – God gets Jonah to walk through the city of Nineveh (and see the mess for what it really is) so that instead of simply feeling anger, he may begin to feel pity. The Ninevites are in the process of destroying themselves (and they don’t have answers, they don’t have truth – they don’t have God’s grace like Jonah). At a distance and simply focussing on himself – Jonah only sees the evil Nineveh has done to others (and he gets angry). But as Jonah walks through the city and sees the great evil, pain and heartache Nineveh is doing to itself – I think Jonah was meant to feel pity, mercy and compassion. When we take our eyes off ourselves and actually consider our non-Christian neighbours and colleagues (and really look) – there is a lot of room for pity, compassion and mercy. Some people might be hurting us and hurting the church. But those same people are absolutely destroying themselves.
We at least we have the gospel. We at least know God’s abounding love, compassion and grace in Jesus. (GOSPEL) We deserved to die for our sins. But Jesus took the punishment for us and we know we are saved by faith in him. Simply by faith in Jesus we are forgiven. We know there is a better world to come. We know there will be a day of justice and we know God as a good, good Father. So instead of being angry at all those who have wronged you – see the pigsty in which most the world lives and have some pity.
The story of Jonah is just like the story of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son (living in the pig sty) decides to come home and the older son is jealous and angry. Well the Gentiles decide to repent (and Jonah is angry). He doesn’t want to show mercy, compassion and love to those whom God has shown mercy, compassion and love. OR, in the Lord’s prayer – we all pray “Father forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who in against us – (after an appropriate time of being righteously angry, and when we get true justice and only if we feel like it). No, we are to forgive and show mercy – as God has forgiven and showed us mercy. This is hard.
God asks Jonah twice; “is it right for you to be angry?” But the word RIGHT – is actually good. Like the words good and evil in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (God asks) Jonah is it good for you to be angry? What are you going to choose – (as a person saved by grace) anger or pity? There is a certain part of us that likes being angry. But is it good for us to be angry and if it’s not good for us to be angry – what can we do to change?
Apply: Where great hurt and sin has taken place – we often need 1) a Christian counsellor or 2) good Christian friends to help us process the hurts we have experienced, so we can reach a place of real forgiveness. It is hard to truly forgive until we properly acknowledge and understand the injustices we have experienced. We have to understand the wrong to actually forgive the wrong.
But I think this is part of Gods sanctifying work in our life. With God’s help (focusing on Gods justice at the cross and Gods justice in the final judgment) we can deal with both A) the sins we have committed and B) the sins that have been committed against us. So I ask – are there still issues of righteous anger and unforgiveness in your life. Perhaps first step is admit it and start praying about it. The Bible actually encourages us to deal with anger and unforgiveness honestly – as we come forward to take the Lords Supper – especially with our brothers and sisters in the church.
If we are people who rely on God’s mercy and forgiveness to us in Jesus, we need to be people who show mercy and forgiveness to others – personally when they wrong us and evangelistically – whether they deserve it or not. There needs to be room for pity, love and compassion because God Himself is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding love, even to the least deserving of sinners.
And it’s here that we leave the book of Jonah or exit the line of Yom Kippur or walk away from the communion table – hopefully asking ourselves what should we do with the mercy God has shown us?