Preach, The Seed
Jonah has been given a task by God, he runs away and ends up in a storm, in the belly of the fish.
He is vomited out by the fish, and gets a second bite at the cherry, he preaches to the city, and we read that the whole city comes to its senses and repents before God. If you were in Jonah’s place, what would your reaction be?
Wouldn’t you worship God in such a moment? Wouldn’t you join with the angels in celebration of His amazing greatness and His awesome mercy? Wouldn’t you rejoice that so many people had escaped the judgment of God? Doesn’t Jesus himself say, “there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents”? (Luke 15:7,10).
Not Jonah. Jonah gets grumpy.
Jonah goes outside the city and grumbles at God. “I KNEW you’d do that!” “I wanted you to strike them down in your wrath, and you forgave them!”.
This is how the Bible records the events (starting with the verse we ended on last week: Jonah 3:10 📖) …
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade, and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day, God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry, I wish I were dead.”
But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
All About anger
When we think of anger, the two characters who first spring to mind for me are the brothers James and John, who Jesus calls “boanerges”. We read in Mark 3:17 that in the list of the names of the apostles, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them, he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”). It is generally accepted that this is because James and John were both hot-tempered men. I don’t usually think immediately of Jonah, but this account does speak to us about anger.
Jonah got angry. He went out onto the hillside and has a hump. God and Jonah have a discussion about Jonah’s anger, and God asks Jonah a question outright: “do you have a right to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). In fact, he asks the question twice! Interestingly, although we read twice earlier in the book that the word of the Lord came to Jonah, we don’t know exactly what God says to Jonah, we only know what Jonah said to Nineveh. Here in chapter 4, however, we DO know what God said to Jonah, we know the question he asks: “do you have a right to be angry?”, and we know the detail of the encounter.
The first thing to tackle is to ask ourselves that same question:
Do we have a “right” to be angry?
There seems to me that Christians have an ambivalent or inconsistent attitude towards anger. People flip-flop about it. When they are cross with someone about something, anger is (apparently) justified. When they are on the receiving end of someone else’s anger, it isn’t! But what, exactly, does the Bible tell us about getting angry and losing our tempers?
I want to start by considering whether there is anything WE are permitted to get angry about. I have read many articles about “righteous anger”, which say that we CAN, in fact, get angry about something as long as it is “righteous anger”.
The argument goes something like this:
- God is good all the time. He CANNOT do anything “bad” or “wrong”.
- God gets angry.
- Therefore, since God cannot do anything bad, and since God gets angry, there is clearly a form of anger which is “Godly” and not sinful.
- If we can identify those things which God gets angry about, then we also have the right to be angry about those things. Our anger, by definition, will be “Godly”. Not only that, but when we are angry about the things God is angry about, our anger is not sinful but “righteous”.
- So, the argument concludes, as long as our anger is ‘righteous’ (that is, the same anger as God would have), then it is perfectly acceptable.
In fact, some people would argue, if we are truly righteous, then such anger is not only OK, but it is actually REQUIRED of us.
In Luke 9 we read about an occasion where James and his brother get angry, but the people there did not welcome him because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village (Luke 9.53-56).
Note that using the thought process I outlined above, it could be argued that the anger James and his brother expressed here was righteous, that his outburst was justified and possibly even required. However, this is not what Luke records as Christ’s assessment. We read that James and John are rebuked for their anger. James losing his temper with an angry outburst results in a rebuke from Christ. Doesn’t sound like it’s a good thing after all, does it?
So, I want us to stop, to pause, to consider just a few thoughts …
- Does God really need our help to judge what to get angry about?
- If God is angry about something, is it really necessary for us to be? Are we so arrogant as to believe that our anger somehow adds weight or authenticity to God’s?
How do we act when we ARE angry? How SHOULD we react?
James 1:20 says, for Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. So, what does man’s anger bring? What does anger do? When Jonah got angry, we can see what he did—he sulked. God caused a plant to grow, then he sent a worm and the plant died. When God asked Jonah a second time ‘is it right for you to be angry?’, we can see that Jonah was angry again, but this time about a plant!
A couple of things which we can say about Jonah’s anger:
1. Jonah’s anger is unwarranted
This is actually the whole point of the narrative of this part of the book. It is the reason God causes the plant to grow and the worm to kill it. God is impressing on Jonah that the city and the people of the city are immeasurably more important than a plant is. By causing the plant to grow and killing it, God is revealing to Jonah that his anger is unwarranted. When God says to Jonah, “do you have a right to be angry”, the embedded/ expected response is, “actually God, you’re right. No, I don’t have a right to be angry”. Jonah’s response, though, is “yes!”. How often do we get hot under the collar about something which we have no right to get angry about?
The KEY to not getting angry in the first place is to understand this point: It is God’s prerogative and not ours to get angry. Paul says as much when he writes to the Romans:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
2. Jonah’s anger has caused him to lose a sense of proportion
Jonah is angry, and he gets so angry he wants to die! He says it THREE times! Seriously? That’s really angry. Jonah has lost all sense of proportion. Everything is all blown up. God has shown grace and mercy to a city, and a plant has died, and Jonah is so angry he says, “it would be better if I hadn’t even been born!” Talk about a drama queen! One of the first indications that someone is angry – even before they blow their top, is that they often overreact to the situation they’re in, or the thing which has been said to them.
Losing a sense of proportion about things can lead us to making bad choices and bad decisions. The root of losing your temper is found here. You completely lose control, you blow it and not infrequently, you do and say things you would never do if you weren’t angry. Violence, up to and including murder, is, typically, born in anger. But anger can have other less extreme consequences. People make stupid decisions when they’re angry, they break friendships, they resign from their jobs (or their anger outburst results in them getting fired). I am uncertain if I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t carry some regret over an outburst of anger they’ve had in the past.
If you realise you are getting angry about something, do everything you can to get away from that which is causing your anger (if you can). Whatever else you do, DO NOT take any action or make any decision until you’ve calmed down. And give someone else the permission to tell you when that is! Often we don’t fully calm down nearly as quickly as we think we do!
2. Jonah’s anger is directed towards the insignificant
At least it is the second time Jonah gets angry. He’s getting angry about a plant! We have known people who get furious about such stupid things. Here are a few:
- A wet floor on a rainy winter day.
- A web page taking too long to load.
- ‘Road rage’ is a real thing, and people get so outraged about other people’s driving.
- A bad decision in a sports event can trigger a riot. Seriously? It’s a game!
Here are a few more things the Bible says anger does:
- Anger makes us subject to judgment. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus talks about anger, he says, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:21-22). Jesus puts anger in the same category as murder, and he doesn’t qualify it by saying “if anyone is angry without reason”, or “this doesn’t apply if your anger is righteous.” He simply says, “anyone who is angry”.
- Anger inclines us to evil and gives Satan a place in our lives. Psalm 37:8 says:Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. And Ephesians 4:26-27 says: In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil a foothold.
- Anger reveals our foolishness. Ecclesiastes 7:9 exhorts us not to be, quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools, and Proverbs 29:11 says, a fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
- Anger fuels conflict and inhibits friendship. Proverbs 22:24 says of anger, make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, and Proverbs 15:18 says, A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
I read this quote recently and thought it applies really well to our thoughts on this subject: ‘Anger is a wind that blows out the lamp of the mind’. It is not without reason that we have to be reminded not to sin when we are angry. Anger often has the effect of triggering actions and words which are out of character, of blinding us to the consequences of our words and actions. It leads us to do things which we just wouldn’t do if we weren’t angry. For many, there is a tendency to allow the emotions to rule the mind, which gives rise to poorly thought out responses (Especially if you’re like me and prone to making on the spot reactions and decisions). We should learn from this — we mustn’t allow anger to cloud our judgment.
God’s Grace surpasses ours by shedloads
Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh, God forgave the city and withheld His wrath. Jonah got angry about that — he wanted to see God’s judgment. James and John Got angry at two villages in Samaria (Luke 9:51-56) when they rejected Jesus. They wanted to call down fire from heaven, and they were rebuked by Jesus.
It is ironic that people frequently vocalise a perception of the God of the Bible that He is, to quote Richard Dawkins, “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (A quote from his book ‘The God Delusion’). Richard Dawkins is wrong. In his quote, he reveals that he is either profoundly ignorant of God or he is being disingenuous and deliberately misrepresenting what the Bible says about God. He is one of the people of whom it could be said is wilfully ignorant, and who CHOOSES to suppress the truth of God (read Romans 1:18ff or 2 Peter 3:1-7 which, among other verses, describe people like him).
People think that we are being hateful and unloving when we talk about ‘sin’ and its consequences in eternity if it’s not confessed. They are not quiet about their accusations towards us — Christians and the Christian God should be all about forgiveness after all, shouldn’t they? The fact is that the loving thing to do is to warn someone of the danger they are in. The unloving thing to do would to be to allow people to career into eternal torment without saying anything. They might not like or agree with the message, but that’s something they need to take up with God. We’re the messenger, we don’t make the rules, we simply obey our master. Interestingly, when they act against us because of what we believe, they are being every bit as judgmental and hateful as they are accusing us of being.
Are people essentially good? Are we capable in our own strength of forgiving people who wrong us? Recently, here in the UK, we had the trial of the man who killed a young woman in Liverpool. He was found guilty and sentenced to 47 years in prison. After the trial, the father of the woman held a press conference. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was that if he lived long enough to see the next 47 years, he would do everything he could to ensure that the killer of his daughter would never again see the light of freedom. It seemed to me when I watched him that he was in a prison every bit as real as the physical prison the murderer was sent to. I do know and accept that it’s all very well for me to stand here with my children still alive and well and make observations about this. If I was in his place, I don’t know what I would be saying and/or doing. But we are not great at forgiving one another (which is actually why we’re commanded in Scripture to do it.
We can all be very loving and forgiving when it comes to telling others how they should act, but when the need to forgive knocks on our front door, and the rubber hits the road. I wonder how many of us would truly forgive. Or would we be like so many others I’ve heard who say things like: “I’ll never forgive!”.
This is not in line with the teaching of the Bible. We are called to love and forgive even those who hate and persecute us. We are to be like our saviour and master.
As he was dying, even as they are killing Jesus using the most brutal and abhorrent method of execution known to man, what does He say? “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Jesus went to the cross and died so you and I could receive forgiveness for our sins and a restoration of our relationship with God. The cross stretches through time to today and brings us forgiveness.
There are very few Biblical records about the deaths of Christians. We DO have the record of the death of Stephen in Acts 7, we know how HE faced death: As they are stoning him, his last words are “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”. We know that James, the brother of John, is put to death by Herod (Acts 12), but we don’t know what he said as he died. There is no other Biblical witness of how any of the other disciples faced death. The New Testament simply doesn’t record any of their deaths for us (which as a glimpse into next week tells us something about the date of writing). We do have church history and traditional understanding as to how they died, but it’s not Biblical evidence. There is a book written in 1563 called Foxes Book of Martyrs says that all the disciples died for their faith (except for John, who was exiled to Patmos).
I wonder if this is because the important death for Christians to know about and to remember is the death of Christ. And in His death we can see that God is WAY more forgiving than we are, and we can see the example of forgiveness we should follow. Christians especially have much to forgive …
Historically and today, we have been and are, statistically, the most hated and persecuted group that exists. From the very early days, Christians were persecuted. They were thrown to the lions, crucified, nailed to stakes and set on fire to light Nero’s garden. Throughout history and coming right into modern times, Christians have been persecuted. Today, 360 million Christians worldwide live in a nation where having faith in Christ is dangerous. Christians are still beaten and hacked to death, they are still imprisoned and tortured and martyred. Today, in the 21st century. Christians are dying simply for following Christ.
We have recently seen people marching and fighting and hating others for actions taken 200 years ago during the slave trade. This happened by and to people most of us are not even descended from. There is little to no forgiveness found in this movement. Yet, the millions of Christians who are persecuted and martyred follow the instructions of their Lord and continually offer love and forgiveness to their tormentors.
God and those who truly follow him are way more forgiving and loving than unbelievers. We MUST work to ensure we stay that way!
The book of Jonah, at its core, is a book all about salvation. It’s about the salvation of Jonah, AND the salvation of the city of Nineveh:
- It gives Christians the encouragement that even if we fall short of the call of God on our lives, even if we run away from that calling, we get a second chance. We get a second bite at the cherry. We can see the results we have long hoped for, if we come to God and follow his call on our lives.
- The account of the response of Nineveh and its king can also give us the confidence to know that there is hope for the most deprived of people around us. They can and will find salvation in the Gospel if they repent and come to him.
- It is a challenge to us to faithfully discharge the call of God on our lives. The specific call He may have given us, and the general call on every Christian to overcome our tendency to anger and sin and to live peaceful, loving, giving and forgiving lives.
And finally, I want to reinforce this thought:
Nothing and no one needs to live in the belief that how they have lived and what they have done has the power to separate them eternally from God. There is an answer. Come to God, come to Jesus, come to the cross and discover forgiveness, new life and a new sense of purpose and calling there.