I did that on purpose…I want you to think about THEM! Who are they in your life? Does God call us to take the gospel to those whom we think don’t deserve it? This post is in a similar vein to one I posted a few weeks ago.
Before I go any further…I would encourage you to read the book of Jonah. I’ve even included the link for you. We will refer back to it several times.
Jonah was a prophet called by God. Interestingly enough he was a prophet from Israel. If you remember your history, Israel had been divided into two nations – the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom if Israel. It was ripped apart after the reign of Solomon. Judah, while it was a rebellious kingdom, at least had its moments of following God. Israel was a different story – Israel was rebellious through and through. Yes, it had its prophets and they had their tangles with the various kings of Israel. Each king did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than the one before him.
It is into this story comes the prophet Jonah. He was a prophet of Israel. Prophets were supposed to bring the Word of the Lord to God’s people. Jonah, however, received a different word. When the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, he was told to go to Nineveh and preach repentance.
It is no secret that Israel and Assyria were enemies. (Nothing has changed much in the Middle East, has it?) Here we have God’s man for the job, being sent to preach repentance to people Israel didn’t get along with. Imagine being sent to take the Good News (the Gospel) to people you didn’t get along with. Imagine that you had to take the Good News to people that you didn’t think deserved it. Those are some tough words to swallow.
So who are those people whom you think don’t deserve God’s work in their lives. Whom do you think don’t deserve God’s mercy — whom do you think don’t deserve God’s grace? Those are tough questions – I’m sure we can all come up with a list of those we don’t think deserve God’s grace. Sometimes they are next door — sometimes down the street — sometimes they go to church with us — sometimes they are around the world — sometimes they are those whom have committed heinous crimes…These are the people that Jonah was called to — and what did he do? He went the opposite direction. He thought he knew better than God – those Ninevites don’t deserve God’s mercy. Jonah got on a ship and headed the opposite way. I believe Jonah knew he was disobeying God and disobeying God always leads to trouble. Jonah wasn’t on the ship long, when there was a great storm. The sailors call frantically to their gods…then they wake Jonah and tell him to pray to his god…Jonah knows he is in the wrong and asks to be thrown overboard. It’s interesting to note here that the sailors pray to God at this point. Earlier they were praying to their gods, but now they were praying to Jonah’s God. They asked not to be punished for throwing Jonah overboard. Immediately the sea is calmed and these sailors made a sacrifice to Jonah’s God. Jonah continues his downward spiral – caused by disobedience and is swallowed by a big fish and is taken to the depths of the sea.
I suppose being swallowed by a big fish and being taken to the depths of the sea would be a bit of a wake-up call for us all. It’s amazing that it takes Jonah three days. But he finally calls out to the Lord. It is a wonderful prayer for rescue. When Jonah is done, God orders the fish to spit Jonah out on dry land.
Jonah received grace multiplied several times from God. He should have died on the ship – he should have died in the stormy water — he should have died in the big fish — but he didn’t — that my friends is God’s grace at work. Jonah was saved by grace. God always allows the opportunity to repent – God always allows grace – if only we will receive it.
Apparently Jonah’s change of heart was not yet complete. He wanted to be saved from the fish, but still did not have plans to go to Nineveh. God calls to Jonah a second time. Go to Nineveh and proclaim the message of repentance. I believe Jonah went, but somewhat reluctantly. Jonah goes to Nineveh and has a wonderful opportunity to preach repentance. The city was large – it took three days to go through the city. Jonah must have been quite the evangelist, because the people (these wicked people in Jonah’s eyes) repent. Apparently they were quite aware of opportunity of God’s grace that was being offered to them. They received God’s grace by repenting – and then a most amazing thing happens, God relents on his punishment.
In the meantime, having completed his job that he was sent to do by God, Jonah goes away from the city to watch the fireworks. He had delivered God’s message of judgment and now the fire was going to fall. How sweet it will be to watch God destroy my enemies! – I’m sure that’s what Jonah was thinking.
Jonah was none to happy with God’s grace – yes, he was very happy when God was graceful to him, but those Ninevites they don’t deserve God’s grace. How dare you relent God? How dare you not punish them? They deserve your punishment and now you are letting them off the hook — and you are letting them off the hook way too easily!
Perhaps that is why we are so reluctant to take the Good News to those who so desperately need it. We don’t want them to receive God’s mercy — we don’t want them to receive God’s compassion — we want to see them “go up in smoke.” In 2 Peter 3:9 we find these words, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” Do we really feel that way about our fellow human beings? Do we have the same kind of grace that God has? Do we have the same kind of compassion that God has. God – who gave up his beloved son to die on a cross to save us from our sins – has compassion — God has mercy – God has amazing, crazy, wonderful grace. And it saves us from our sins.
God’s Word is a story of grace. From the Genesis to Revelation, it is a story of grace. We often think of the Old Testament being about the law and the New Testament being about grace, but the reality is God’s word is about grace…God’s word is about the compassion he has for his people…God’s word is about grace…The only thing any of us deserve is God’s punishment. We are reminded in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned…all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” It’s not my standard to hold up. We often think that people need to get their act together before they come to the Lord – no – God will get a hold them them through grace — it’s our job to tell the story of grace. Let God clean them up – it’s his job to do that anyway through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We only come to God through grace – and that’s the way it should be – there is no other way. God is free to show compassion to those who respond to a call to repent. Often we try to reserve the gift of compassion for ourselves. God’s grace is too great to be hoarded; it must be shared with others.
Jonah waited for the fireworks — and waited — and waited — and waited some more — but they never came. Jonah got angry with God. “God, why don’t you destroy those wicked people?” This leads us to the strangest ending of any book of the Bible. Jonah is mad enough to demand that God kill him. Jonah was really — really — really angry with God. He makes a little shelter and goes to sulk because God is not going to destroy Nineveh.
Then God sends a plant to shade Jonah from the heat and Jonah takes comfort in that. But the next morning God sends a worm to destroy the plant. Now Jonah is really uncomfortable. “Death is certainly better than this!” he exclaims. God asks Jonah a question. Be careful when God asks us questions, because we may not like it. God asks Jonah if it is right for him to be angry about the plant that died. Jonah replies “Yes, angry enough to die.”
And God responds. I really feel sorry for Jonah, but the message is a message for all of us.
10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
We have a world that is living in spiritual darkness…The world deserves to hear the message of God’s grace. Yes, I know there are many who deserve justice, but they also need the message of God’s grace. God’s question ends the book of Jonah. We don’t know anything more that happened. It just ends with the question, “Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
Who are the people—NO–who is the person–that you believe is undeserving of God’s grace — right now. If you don’t do anything else – at least you could pray for them. But if you want to do something Christ-like, ask God what you should do about it. I’m not saying this because I have all the answers. As I have been typing, God has been convicting me. There are those whom I believe don’t deserve God’s grace…typically they are those who don’t know how to follow the rules — they might even be my made up rules. But God loves them — God has compassion on them — God desires to save them by His grace — and maybe — just maybe — you are to be the agent of grace to them.