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JONAH 4:1-11
Series:  Jonah:  Lessons in the Sovereignty of God - Part Four

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 6, 2003

Please turn with me to our text - Jonah 4:1-11. These last few Sundays we’ve been going through the Book of Jonah and focusing on “Lessons in the Sovereignty of God.” We’ve been looking at the heart of Jonah as he struggles with allowing God to be sovereign over his life. And, in looking at Jonah’s heart we’ve see our own. We all struggle with who’s sovereign over our lives - God or us.

Last week - in looking at chapter 3 - we saw perhaps the greatest revival in history. Within a matter of hours the entire population of greater Nineveh - over 120,000 people - wicked, murdering, idolatrous, immoral, pagan, ungodly people - within a matter of hours the entire population of greater Nineveh repented of their sin and turned to God. And God held back the destruction that He had planned for the city. All of this an act of God’s sovereignty. God graciously sending Jonah to Nineveh - preparing the hearts of the Ninevites - leading them to repentance.

Which brings us to Jonah 4:1: But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Do you remember those Disneyland commercials? “You just won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do now?” “I’m going to Disneyland!”

“Jonah, God just used you in the greatest revival in history. What are you going to do now?”

“Oh, I’m really disappointed. I’m really angry about this!”

Its an almost unbelievable response. “God, I told you this would happen! But oh no, You - God - You didn’t listen to me. I wanted to go to Tarshish. But You went right ahead and dragged me over here to Nineveh. And, now see what’s happened. All those wicked, immoral, Ninevites, who’ve been torturing your Hebrew people - my people - the whole city of Nineveh has turned to you. And now they’re not going to get wiped out like they deserve.”

Verse 3: Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”

Remember the ship going to Tarshish - the storm - the fish? The sovereign God bringing this rebellious prophet back to doing God’s will? Remember Jonah saying “Throw me overboard. I’d rather die than do God’s will”? He has the same attitude here. Jonah is trying to control God - what God does - who God saves. Underline that in your mind. The issue here is that Jonah is trying to control God. When Jonah can’t control the sovereign God he gets angry and he pleads for death.

Verse 4 - listen to how God answers His angry rebellious prophet: The Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?

God had more difficulty with this man of God than with a whole metropolitan area full of pagans. With one word God could have destroyed Jonah with same wrath reserved for Nineveh. But, God with His everlasting lovingkindness gently touches the heart - gets down to the core - of Jonah’s struggle. “Why are you angry because I’ve done something good?”

Underline that in your mind. On one hand is what the sovereign God is doing and on the other hand is Jonah trying to control God. Isn’t that where we struggle?

Verse 5: Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself - a tent - and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.

Jonah knows - like any Jew - like any number of other peoples who had been conquered and oppressed by Assyria - the people of Nineveh - Jonah knows the character of these people. He knows their wickedness. He knows their brutality. He knows that a Ninevite cannot be trusted. At the core they’re evil and rotten. He knows that their repentance is a sham - a tactic to get in good with God. It won’t last. So, he’s waiting - waiting for the Ninevites to turn from God back to their ungodly ways.

When they turn back to their evil, Jonah is going to do a little victory dance and shout out to God, “You see. I told you so. I knew they wouldn’t really repent. But, oh no. You wouldn’t listen to me. Go to Nineveh you said. Now, God, pour out your wrath and consume these wicked, evil, idolatrous Ninevites.”

Verse 6: So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying , “Death is better to me than life.”

This plant is the only thing in the whole Book of Jonah that Jonah has been happy about. He’s happy - not about what God has done - but that he, Jonah, has shade. Jonah is still focused on God doing things for Jonah.

The purpose of the plant is to demonstrate God’s sovereignty. God prepares the ground and the seed and causes the plant to grow miraculously - quickly. God - who is sovereign appoints a worm to eat the plant. God controls the sun - the scorching east wind - drawing moisture from Jonah’s body. Jonah - sitting on a bluff waiting for the destruction of Nineveh - the sun beating down on his head - is again angry with what God is doing. He can’t control God - even when God is providing for his life. Again Jonah asks to die.

Verse 9: Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant”? Again, God speaks to Jonah’s heart. Why are you angry about the plant? And he - Jonah - said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.”

Verse 10 - here’s the bottom line of what God is teaching Jonah: Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” - like animals they have no idea what is right and what is wrong.

“Jonah, what is this plant? Why are you so focused on a plant and your own self will? Jonah, you need to see the big picture here. Who are you? Who are the Ninevites? Whom am I?”

The Apostle Paul - writing of the actions and the heart of the sovereign God who wills to bring mankind to redemption - in Romans 9 Paul writes: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He - God - says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then God’s justice and mercy and compassion does not depend on the man who chooses it or works for it, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16)

“Jonah - its not about you. Its about Me. You need to surrender your heart to Me.”

To put this into perspective for us today, I’d like to suggest two points of application.

First, ITS NOT ABOUT US. ITS ABOUT GOD. Say that with me, “Its not about me.” Put your own name there. “Its not about _____ . Its about God.”

Turn with me to Mark 10 - starting at verse 17. A rich young aristocrat comes and kneels before Jesus - he’s very wealthy - powerful - a man of influence - able to buy and control anything he wants. He’s probably a member of some ruling council - a mover and shaker - a first century “gen-X’r”. The Bill Gates of his generation. He’s in control of his life.

This wealthy man has been listening to Jesus’ teaching - about what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God - and he senses that there’s something he doesn’t possess - something he doesn’t control - something that Jesus offers. And its gnawing at him.

As Jesus is leaving, the man runs up, kneels at Jesus’ feet - and asks the question - Mark 10:17: “How do I enter the Kingdom? What do I need to do to possess eternal life?”

Verse 19 - Jesus answers Him: “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not cheat, honor your father and mother.’ What has God said to you? Have you obeyed?”

Verse 20 - without hesitation this young man answers: “Teacher, I’ve done all these things since I was a youth.” Since the point in a young Jewish boy’s life when he became responsible to live by God’s commandments - he’s been obedient - keeping all the commandments. If anyone was qualified to enter God’s Kingdom this young man had what it took.

Verse 21: Jesus said to him, “One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

We know the response of the young man. He went away sorrowful - deflated. Because, he owned a lot of property. Like with Jonah - like with us - Jesus touches the heart of this man’s struggle. This man had glimpsed a quality of life that he lacked. He knew an emptiness within his spirit he could not fill. He wanted what Jesus offered. But he was sorrowful, because he also knew, at the words of Jesus, that he had to surrender everything - everything he controlled his life with - to have it.

Verse 23: And Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God. Not because they’re wealthy. But, because wealth represents the illusion of our own self “control” over our lives and that’s very hard for us to surrender.

Verse 25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Consider the image - a huge camel trying to squeeze through the tiny eye of a needle. Jesus is saying, “Its impossible.”

Verse 26: And they - the disciples - were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

Verse 27: Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

Don’t miss that. Think about our hearts and about that statement with me. What did Jesus say, Mark 10:27 - “...With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’”

There are times - in applying this verse - that we miss what Jesus is saying. We’re tempted to think to ourselves, “Because nothing is impossible with God - if I do something for God - then He will see to its accomplishment. God will answer my prayers. God will bless my efforts - or reward my faith - according to His power. I can’t do it. But, God can and will.”

Have you seen those bumper stickers, “God is my co-pilot”? Someone said recently, “God had better be the pilot and God doesn’t need a co-pilot.”

Jesus is not talking about God partnering with us for great accomplishments - our controlling what God does. Jesus is saying is that our greatest efforts for salvation - or any good work - fall short of anything that’s acceptable to God. Salvation is a work of God alone because only He can do it. Jesus is talking about the complete surrender of our hearts to God.

Who are we to manipulate God by telling God what to bless and what not to bless? Who are we to try to control the sovereign God that He should act according to our will?

We pray and ask God to do things for us and then we wonder why God doesn’t do things the way we want. We want God to work in His church in our way. We want Him to work in the lives of others the way we think He should work.

Its like familiar story of a wise knowledgeable adult who told a little girl that it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human. This little girl kept insisting that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. This wise adult kept reiterating that things just didn’t happen that way. With all of our scientific understanding and all - we know better today.

Finally the little girl said, “When I get to heaven I’m going to ask Jonah.”

The adult asked, “What if Jonah didn’t go to heaven?”

The little girl replied, “Then you ask him.”

We’re tempted to put God in a box and expect to take Him out and have Him do what we want Him to do when we want Him to do it. And, we get angry and depressed and ugly and our faith is shaken when He doesn’t do things our way. But, God is sovereign - and we - like Jonah - need to get past this God-in-a-box perspective of who He is.

Hear this: Husbands and wives struggling in your relationship with each other - children and parents struggling together - employers and employees - brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ve had enough with enough and you’re ready to throw in the towel. You may be ready to chuck it all and walk out. You may even be here this morning and be contemplating suicide. Death may seem better to you.

Please hear this: It is not about you. It is about God.

In whatever situation or relationship you’re in - its about God. God working in your life and in the lives of others however He - the sovereign God - chooses to work. Our choice - given to us by God - is whether to allow Him to work in us and through us according to His will for His honor and for His glory.

Second thought of application: WHAT OR WHOM ARE YOU TRYING TO CONTROL?

Sometimes we hear people comment, “That was a great message. I wish so-and-so was here to hear that. They really needed to hear that.” Be honest. We all think that at times. This applies to so-and-so. But, who really needs to hear this? Saying that so-and-so needs to hear this really means that we’re still not willing to let God speak to us. Say this with me, “I need to hear this.”

Let me encourage you to allow God to apply this book of Jonah’s very personally to your own heart this morning. When we acknowledge that God is sovereign and surrender our lives to Him - surrender our supposed control over His actions - the lives of others - the circumstances we find ourselves in - when we surrender our hearts to Him - then we will know His power and peace and blessing and healing and guidance - His compassionate control of our lives.




Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.