Jonah 4:5-11

Sermon preached on March 6, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Shortly after we were married Marg and I took a trip to Boston and while there I decided that it would be fun to see a
Red Sox game. That was the era of Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn—a very exciting time for Red Sox fans. We got great seats, right along the first base line and the day of the game was a beautiful summer day. But one thing I noticed as we were at the game was that Marg wasn't much interested in the game. As a matter of fact, my strongest memory of our time there in Fenway Park is one of waiting in line at concession stands. She wanted a hot dog, then a soda. Then she saw someone with a piece of pizza and told me that that looked good. So I had to go and find the concession stand that sold the pizza, and then wait in line for it.

Now I don't know about you—but when I got to a ball game, I go to see the game. It seemed to me that Marg had her priorities all mixed up. She was focusing on the things that weren't important. She didn't care about the game at all.

Jonah was like that. His priorities were really mixed up. He was so happy about the vine that grew up to give him shade. And when it died he was sad. His gloom returned and he said,

"It would be better for me to die
than to live."

He was concerned about the vine. He was in such a bad state that he intertwined his life with the life of the vine. He cared about the vine and wanted to tie his life to it—yet he was unconcerned about the 120,000 people in Nineveh. He did not want God to be merciful to them. He was angry when God spared them.

Jonah here teaches us a great lesson. It is this:

One of your great concerns ought to be the salvation of the lost.

God is showing Jonah that he should have been a lot more concerned about the people of Nineveh than he was about the vine. He was showing Jonah that he had his priorities all mixed up. He should have been concerned about the welfare of the people of Nineveh.

Didn't Jesus teach us the same thing?

Remember His concern about the lost? In John 4 we read about how He was going through Samaria. The disciples were surprised when they found Him talking to a Samaritan woman. He said to them, (John 4:35)

"Do you not say,
'Four months more and then the harvest'?
I tell you,
open your eyes and look at the fields!
They are ripe for harvest."

The harvest time is now. The harvest is great. We are to open our eyes and realize it. God has plans to save multitudes of people. In Revelation 7 we read of the vast multitude that will be before the throne-a multitude that is so great that no man could number it. It was from all nations, peoples and tribes. We are to open our eyes and see that God has plans for all the peoples of the earth. His gospel is not just for us.

Jesus taught us this in the
Great Commission as well. You'll recall His last words before ascending into heaven. (Matthew 28:18f) He said,

"All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey
everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age."

Jesus has plans to glorify Himself through the salvation of all the peoples of the earth. All authority has been given to Him. He is using that authority in sending His people, armed with His Spirit, into all the world.

This means that you are to have compassion and love for all people. One of your greatest desires is to see them embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see this attitude in Jesus In
Matthew 9:36f.We read,

"When he saw the crowds,
he had compassion on them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest,
therefore, to send out workers
into his harvest field."

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We are to be praying for workers for the harvest field.

All this teaches us that we are to have great love and compassion toward sinners.

That was God's attitude toward Nineveh. He said,

"Nineveh has more than
a hundred and twenty thousand people
who cannot tell their right hand from their left,
and many cattle as well.
Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

God had great love and care for Nineveh.

But not Jonah.
His attitude toward the people of Nineveh was all wrong. He saw them as sinners who deserved to be destroyed and he wanted them to be destroyed.

We Christians need to remember what spirit we are of.
Too often we're like Jonah. Too often we react like James and John when they saw Jesus insulted in Samaria. You'll remember the story. In Luke 9 Jesus was passing through Samaria on His way to Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead of Him, into a village to get things ready for Him. But the people of that village did not welcome Him because they saw that He was heading for Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, (Luke 9:54)

"Lord, do you want us to call
fire down from heaven
to destroy them?"

James and John saw a great evil. The people of that village refused to welcome the King of Glory. He had come to bring salvation, to save sinners—and the people of this village refused to welcome Him. What an insult to Jesus. What a great sin. What a horrible evil. James and John were right to be indignant about it.

But Jesus rebuked them for wanting to destroy the people of that village. He said,

"You do not know what kind of spirit you are of,
for the Son of Man did not come
to destroy men's lives,
but to save them."

They were wrong to want to see the people of that village destroyed. That's what the people deserved. But that's not what James and John were to desire for them. No. Their desire should have been for the people to have their eyes opened so that they would see who Jesus was and welcome Him.

It's the same way with us.

We often have the wrong attitude toward sinners.

One of the difficulties we face is that we are to preach against the sins that people commit. For example, we're against homosexuality. We're against abortion. We're against sexual promiscuity. We're against illegal drugs. Most Christians don't like smoking because it's bad for your health. We're against the rebellion that some kids have against parental authority and responsibility. We're against sin.

Because of that some people think that we're against the people that do such things. They think that we don't love sinners, that we don't want God to be merciful to them.

It's very
easy to give the impression that we're against the people that commit such sins—that we're against gays, against women who have had abortions, against smokers, against rebellious teens, against people who are sexually promiscuous.

But that's not how it is to be.
We're against all those sins—but are we against the people who practice them? No. We're for them. Part of our whole purpose in being here is for them—to point them to Christ. We are here to tell them that they need to turn from those sins to Christ. We're for them. We hold out hope to them in Jesus Christ. We tell them that through God and His power there's deliverance from these enslaving sins. We tell them that through Christ and His Spirit they can repent of those sins and have forgiveness for them. They can have new life in Christ.

But we Christians need to beware of falling into the same sin that Jonah did.

It's very easy for us to cross over the line and be against those people.

Jonah fell into that sin. James and John fell into that sin. So too can we. Indeed, I think that's one of the reasons why evangelical Christianity has such a bad reputation in today's society. We give the impression that we're against sinners and sometimes that impression is well earned—it's because we are against them. We forget what spirit we are of. We fail to recognize that we are to love such people. We become like the dreaded Pharisees who looked down on sinners and treated them with contempt.

We make the classic mistake that many of old made. We all know the second greatest commandment,

"Love your neighbor as yourself."

But we don't apply it to certain people. How wrong we are! Who does that apply to? Jesus showed us what it meant in Luke 10. One of the experts in the law came to Jesus and asked Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what was written in the law. The man replied,

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your strength
and with all your mind';
'Love your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus commended him for his answer and told him that if he did that he would live. But the man wanted to justify himself and asked Jesus,

"And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He said,

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
when he fell into the hands of robbers.
They stripped him of his clothes,
beat him and went away,
leaving him half dead.
A priest happened to be going down the same road,
and when he saw the man,
he passed by on the other side.
So too, a Levite,
when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan,
as he traveled,
came where the man was;
and when he saw him,
he took pity on him.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds,
pouring on oil and wine.
Then he put the man on his own donkey,
took him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper.
'Look after him,' he said,
'and when I return,
I will reimburse you for any extra expense
you may have."

Then Jesus asked, (Luke 10:36)

"Which of these three
do you think was a neighbor
to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied,

"The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him,

"Go and do likewise."

Everyone is your neighbor. Even your enemy is your neighbor. You are to love your enemy as you love yourself. In Matthew 5:43, Jesus said,

"You have heard that it was said,
Love your neighbor
and hate your enemy
But I tell you:
Love your enemies,
bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

Indeed, you are to love others and Jesus has loved you. In John 13:34 Jesus said,

"A new command I give you:
Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another."

You are to love other people as Jesus has loved you. He loved you when you were unworthy of love. He loved you when you were in your sins—when you were vile, despicable, given over to your sins. He loved you then and gave Himself for you.

So, too,
we are to love sinners even when they are in their sins. We are to love them and be asking God's blessing on them. Paul gave Timothy these instructions regarding his behavior toward those who oppose him. He wrote, (2 Timothy 2:24f)

"And the Lord's servant must not quarrel;
instead, he must be kind to everyone,
able to teach, not resentful.
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct,
in the hope that God will grant them repentance
leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
and that they will come to their senses
and escape from the trap of the devil,
who has taken them captive to do his will."

Why are you to love sinners like that? There's much more involved than the fact that God tells you to do it. God Himself has that attitude toward sinners.

God is greatly concerned about the lost.

He cared about the people of Nineveh. Even though their wickedness had come up before Him, He was reluctant to destroy them. He sent Jonah to them. He said to Jonah,

"Nineveh has more than
a hundred and twenty thousand people
who cannot tell their right hand from their left,
and many cattle as well.
Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. He cares for sinners.

He cares for sinners. We are to be like Him in this. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 15:7?

"I tell you that in the same way
there will be more rejoicing in heaven
over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous persons
who do not need to repent."

There's rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents. Why is there rejoicing in heaven? It's because God sets the tone. He rejoices. The angels follow His lead. There is joy and gladness in heaven when a sinner repents.

So I ask you—

do you love the lost?

Does your heart go out to them? Are you like Jesus, when you see sinners do you have compassion on them, seeing them as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd?

Do you have a desire like the apostle
Paul had for his fellow country men the Jews. He wrote, (Romans 9:1-3)

"I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying,
my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—
I have great sorrow
and unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish that I myself were cursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
those of my own race"

Do you feel that way about sinners? If you don't then there's something radically wrong with you as a Christian. One of your greatest desires is to see them saved—see them come to Christ.

Jonah here. What a cad. He had been the recipient of so much mercy. God had been so good to him. How could he be so unmerciful toward Nineveh? He reminds me of the man in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

What about you? Are you any different? Consider the great mercy that God has exercised toward you. How can you have an unmerciful attitude toward sinners? How can you be uncaring toward them?

But not only that, you ought to have a great desire that God would have mercy on sinners because

Jesus' glory is bound up with the salvation of sinners.

He is going to be gloried through the salvation of sinners. Don't you want to see that glory flourish and abound?

What is your vision for the glory of Jesus? Jonah's vision was much to limited. It was focused on one people-the people of Israel. Your vision should be much larger. As the apostle John wrote in
Revelation 7:9,

"After this I looked
and there before me was a great multitude
that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe,
people and language,
standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice:
'Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.'
All the angels were standing around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They fell down on their faces
before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
'Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom
and thanks and honor and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

How much do you want that? We want God to do great things for His glory in the North Country. We want God to do great things for His glory throughout the world. It's all through the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ.

If we're going to make any impact, you can't have a heart like Jonah's. You need to have a deep and fervent love for sinners. As Jesus said,

"Love your enemies,
bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

Lastly, if anyone here hasn't yet accepted Jesus.

What possible reason is there for you to reject Jesus?

There's none. There's no good reason. God is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love. He offers you forgiveness of your sins and life eternal. There's not a good reason in the world to reject His offer of life in Jesus. Go to Him today.