Jonah 4:1-3

When I was in seminary one day Marg and I invited several of my single fellow students in for supper. I think it was to celebrate a holiday. We had a great time. Marg served a wonderful meal and we talked about our courses and the great theology that we were learning. After the delightful evening ended, as we said good-bye to the last of them, I turned and said to Marg,

"Wasn't that a wonderful evening."

Her response surprised me. She said,

"No. No one talked to me. You all just talked shop and left me out. All I did was serve a meal and wait on you all."

Here we were, seminary students, learning all this great theology, and yet everyone one of us failed to apply it.

Yet sadly, that doesn't just apply to young seminary students, it happened to Jonah. Look at him here. He's acting very poorly. He knew what God was like. He was a spokesman for God. He knew about God's great mercy. He had himself experienced it in not being consumed by the fish. Yet for all his knowledge of God's mercy—he himself was not full of mercy. He did not want God to be merciful to Nineveh. He went outside the city and waited to see what would happen to it. When it wasn't destroyed, he was disappointed.

How could a prophet of the most High be so unmerciful—especially after he had received such mercy?

Christians are often like that. Even the best of them have great faults and fail to put their theology into practice. (
Lloyd-Jones and John Murray story)

One of the most unbelievable stories I've heard is about the seminary students who were given a preaching assignment. They were told to go to the library and prepare a sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. They only had a short time to do it. Then they had to rush over to another building and preach it. What they didn't know was that it was a set up. Between the two buildings there was a Good Samaritan situation that they all had to pass by. The great majority of them passed right by- they were busy completing their assignment.

So often we're like the religious people in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We pass by on the other side. We don't put our theology into practice.

But one of the great lessons we learn from Jonah 4 is that

theology is meant to be lived, not merely known.

It is meant to be practiced, not merely studied, admired, talked about. God's people are supposed to be His representatives. We are to be like God. In Ephesians 5:1 the apostle Paul urged Christians to,

"Be imitators of God."

We are to display the 'fruits of the Spirit' and are to show others, 'Christ living in us". We are to be the light of the world—showing people what God and His love are like.

Jonah was not a very good representative of God.

Remember what Jesus said in
Matthew 7:21-23?

"Not everyone who says to me,
'Lord, Lord,'
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only he who does the will of my Father
who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day,
'Lord, Lord,
did we not prophesy in your name,
and in your name drive out demons
and perform many miracles?'
Then I will tell them plainly,
'I never knew you.
Away from me,
you evildoers!'"

It's not enough to call Jesus, 'Lord'. We have to do the Lord's will. We have to live for Him.

The apostle Paul stressed this to the Philippians. In
Philippians 4:9 he wrote,

"Whatever you have learned
or received or heard from me,
or seen in me—
put it into practice."

Or consider what James said in James 1:22f,

"Do not merely listen to the word,
and so deceive yourselves.
Do what it says.
Anyone who listens to the word
but does not do what it says
is like a man who looks at his face
in a mirror and,
after looking at himself,
goes away and immediately forgets
what he looks like.
But the man who looks intently
into the perfect law that gives freedom,
and continues to do this,
not forgetting what he has heard,
but doing it—
he will be blessed in what he does."

We have to put the word into practice.

Yet so often Christians are like the Fonz on Happy Days. They look at themselves in the mirror of God's Word and think that they're okay. They don't change in response to the Word. Rather than being like that, you Christians should be like women in the morning. Marg quotes Sharon Goccia and says that women
decompose during the night. In the morning they have to spend a lot of time getting ready. They have to spend a lot of time preparing to look good. They don't just wake up naturally looking beautiful. It doesn't happen naturally.

It's the same way with the practice of the Christian life. It takes hard work. The practice of Christianity doesn't naturally flow from the knowledge of Christianity. The great question is:

Why don't we practice what we know?

Why didn't Jonah want the people of Nineveh to repent? How could he want them to be destroyed? How could he be a servant of the Most High and yet be so unlike Him?

No doubt Jonah had his reasons for not wanting God to be merciful to the people of Nineveh. Perhaps he saw that they would one day soon come against Israel and destroy the northern kingdom, carry off most of the people and ravage the land. But that was no excuse. Jonah was far off the mark. He knew all about God's mercy and he himself had experienced it greatly. Yet, he failed to have a merciful heart toward Nineveh. He didn't practice what he knew in his head. Why don't we do that?

One of the reasons is because

we don't learn fully from our previous mistakes.

Jonah didn't fully learn from his previous sin. His sin and God's dealing with him taught Jonah a lesson—that you obey God even when you don't want to. The second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah telling him to go to Nineveh—Jonah obeyed. You could say that he learned his lesson.

But it's clear that Jonah didn't learn all that he should have. He obeyed outwardly and went to Nineveh. But so much about him was still the same. God had done so much to him, put him through so much—on the ship in the storm, being thrown overboard, being in the stormy sea, having the fish swallow him, keeping him alive in the belling of the fish, having the fish vomit him out onto dry land—and yet Jonah had learned so little. His inward feelings toward Nineveh were still the same. When God had mercy on them he was so disappointed. He wanted to die.

It's so easy for us to miss the deep significance of God's teaching. We're often like the disciples in Matthew 16. They had gone across the lake and they had forgotten to take bread. Jesus said to them, (verse 6)

"Be careful.
Be on your guard
against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

They discussed it among themselves and said,

"It is because we didn't bring any bread."

They totally missed Jesus' point. He went on to tell them that he was not talking about bread but for them to be on guard against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Aren't we often like Jonah and the disciples, not understanding and learning the real lessons God is seeking to teach us?

Last year I got a
speeding ticket. It was on my way to the Ottawa airport. There's a section there where the two lane highway turns into a four lane for about two miles- but the speed limit remains at 80 km per hour. But it's a great place to get by some slow traffic. One usually does that by speeding because the interesting thing about slow drivers is that they speed up when there's a passing lane. Now I know not to speed on that two mile section of the highway. I've learned that. But have I learned a bigger lesson—to watch my speed no matter which highway I'm on? Some people only learn half a lesson. I remember someone telling me that on a certain road you can go as fast as you want because there are never any cops on it. I don't think he learned the lessons he should have from his speeding tickets.

What about you? In the lessons that God is teaching you—do you plumb the depths of those lessons, learning them fully, using them to become more like Jesus, more holy, a better witness for Him—or do the lessons you learn just scratch the surface, so that you don't fully learn what God is trying to teach you?

If you're going to grow as a Christian, you need to try to fully learn the lessons that God is teaching you. Don't be content with a little progress. Make great progress. Remember what the apostle Paul said to his son in the faith Timothy, (1 Timothy 4:15)

"Be diligent in these matters;
give yourself wholly to them,
so that everyone may see your progress."

In the fish's belly, Jonah learned that when God tells him to go somewhere, he should go there. But he didn't learn to have a merciful heart toward the Ninevites. He didn't learn to have the mind of Christ.

This is the second lesson we learn from Jonah, one of the reasons we fail to put our theology into practice is because

We fail to fully accept God's will.

We fail to have the mind of Christ. We fail to conform our wills to God's will. In 1 Corinthians 2:16 the apostle Paul wrote,

"But we have the mind of Christ."

We are to have the mind of Christ. Our wills are to be merged with the will of God. As Jesus taught us to say to God when we pray, (Matthew 6:10)

"your will be done on earth
as it is in heaven."

We are to desire God's will to be done. No matter how distasteful it seems to us, we are to embrace it.

Yet we are so reluctant sometimes to accept God's will. Consider Jonah here. He knew that God was going to be merciful. Yet he still went to the east of the city and waited to see what would happen to it. There seemed to be a stubbornness in him. He didn't want God to be merciful to Nineveh and he clung to that idea. When God was merciful to them, he was disappointed and angry.

But we are to accept God's will even when it is most distasteful to us. We are to accept God's will and make it our own.

Jesus also taught us this by His example. In Matthew 26:42 we read that in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed,

"My Father,
if it is not possible for this cup
to be taken away unless I drink it,
may your will be done."

One of our great problems is that we don't merge our wills with God's will. We hang on to our wills even when it's clear that our will is not the will of God. Rather than doing that we should follow the example of the apostle Paul. You'll remember when he had his thorn in the flesh he pleaded with God three times for Him to take it away. But God didn't remove it. Rather He said to Paul, (2 Corinthians 12:9)

"My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness."

How did Paul respond? He accepted God's will. Not only did He accept it, but he embraced it and became zealous for God's will.

The great lesson here is that

you are to have a zeal for God's will.

You are to not merely accept it and embrace it—your are to embrace it with enthusiasm. It is to be your joy and delight.


When God refused to take away his thorn in the flesh Paul wrote,

"Therefore I will boast
all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me.
That is why,
for Christ's sake,
I delight in weaknesses,
in insults, in hardships,
in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak,
then I am strong."

He embraced God's will for His life. Jonah stubbornly hung on to his will, to his ideas of what God should do. But not so with Paul. He merged his will with the will of God. He was zealous for God's will.

The Disciples

It was the same with the rest of the disciples. In Acts 5 we read that the disciples were arrested, brought before the authorities, flogged and ordered not to preach in the name of Jesus. In verse 41we read,

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin,
because they had been counted worthy
of suffering disgrace for the Name."

The embraced suffering for Christ with enthusiasm, with zeal, with rejoicing. They were not disappointed in suffering for Jesus name. No, quite the contrary, they embraced God's will. They knew that, (2 Corinthians 4:17)

"our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all."


Jesus' mission here on this earth had a horrible, painful aspect to it. In Luke 12:50 He said,

"I have a baptism to undergo,
and how distressed I am
until it is completed!"

But he embraced His Father's will. When Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world on the condition that Jesus worship Him, Jesus rejected it in the strongest of terms. He said, (Matthew 4:10)

"Away from me, Satan!"

Even though the cross was abhorrent to Him—Jesus embraced it. John's gospel tells us that shortly before the soldiers came to arrest Him, He said to His disciples, (Mark 14:42)

Let us go!
Here comes my betrayer!"

With purpose and resolve He went to meet them. When Peter drew his sword, Jesus told him to put it back saying, (John 18:11)

"Shall I not drink the cup
the Father has given me?"

His delight was in doing the Father's will. It was everything to Him. In John 4:34 He said to His disciples,

"My food, is to do the will of him
who sent me and to finish his work."

Christians, Jesus embraced the cross for you. He did that willingly, freely. Now He calls you to take up your cross for Him. Christians, embrace the path that Jesus has given you. Embrace your cross.

Jesus has saved you. The path that you are following is the path to glory. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, is leading you down the correct path. Follow Him. Embrace the path. Give Him glory , honor and praise.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians.

Recognize how great God's love is and embrace it.

God's mercy was greater than Jonah wanted it to be. He didn't think that the people of Nineveh should be spared. Perhaps a lot of people don't think you should be spared. Satan doesn't want you to be spared. But none of that matters. The important thing for you to realize are the words of Jonah,

"I knew that you are
a gracious and compassionate God,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
a God who relents from sending calamity."

Know that and go to Jesus. He will save you.