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Series: The Church and The World
Sunday 30 August 2015 – Justus Swart
Jonah 2:1-10; Jonah 3:1-10; Jonah 4:1-11; Jn. 3:16
Many people have reservations about believing the book of Jonah to be a literal account because of the fact that Jonah survived for three days inside of a fish. Their mind gets caught in the physical impossibilities of a human being living inside of a fish. This not just a story that is told to kids who then eventually grow out of believing it. This is a story about God who has immense power and who is not limited to your version of human reality. This is not just a story about a miracle of a man who survived inside of a fish. It is a story about a man who struggled between God’s grace and God’s justice.
Jonah 2: 1-10
Jonah seems to be having expecting death; at the very least he thought he deserved death. He knew he had done wrong yet God showed him mercy and saved his life. In return, Jonah poetically recommits himself to the commission. He expresses real gratitude to the fact that God has given him a second chance, he was happy to recognise that God had shown him mercy. Jonah ends his prayer by saying ‘salvation comes from the Lord’. This line summarises the tension Jonah (and most of us) have with God’s grace and his justice.
To many of us Jonah’s prayer might feel familiar when we first come to an encounter of salvation with God. Although we are undeserving of it, God pours out his grace. Jonah repented and was given a second chance. In that moment we accept that it is God who gives salvation. My goodness impresses people but it does not impress God. Still God’s faithfulness is of such a nature that nothing you do can exclude you from a second chance in God. No matter what is in your past God wants you to have a second chance. He is waiting for you to ask for it. You are not judged on what you have been or done, the only thing that matters is you have been given a second chance and takes hold of it.
Unexpectedly, Nineveh repents because of Jonah’s message. When the Word of God goes out and people respond to it, it becomes infectious. Each decision that people makes to follow God lead to other people also making that decision. It starts to spread like wild-fire. It is a contagious outbreak of people responding to God in genuine repentance. Repentance looks different for people. Some people experience it intensely and break down in tears, other just feel the need to turn towards God and follow Him (as seen with the disciples). When I am honest about what I need it makes easier for others to be honest about what they need. God looked upon their hearts and saw what man cannot see and had compassion on them.
Jonah 4: 1-11
Jonah is unhappy about the compassion of God over the people of Nineveh. He wanted to tell God how he should administer his justice. Do we realise how often we actually react in that same way? God is asking us to love the world as he has loved us. When God says love your neighbour as you love yourself, He is actually saying love everyone, not those who are easy to love, not those who can love us back, but we are called to love the world. There are two dangerous questions we can ask in our heart. The first one is: who is my neighbour? It is asking for guidelines about who to love and who to avoid. You have to love every person you come in contact with. The second question is: what do you mean by love? Again we are asking God to give us parameters on how to apply this love? We are required to discover what is needed in the moment. It requires you to be present in the moment. It is not a theory, or a philosophy. It is the ins and outs of your daily life.
Then we ask what about Justice? We hear all the bad news going on in the world and we are wondering how God is going to bring all to justice. We start peeping over the wall of our churches and start praying to God how he should administer His justice. Are we fixated on everyone else’s wrongs meanwhile taking God’s grace for ourselves? Jonah’s answer is raw and he says that he does not want to live in a world where the unrighteous are loved instead of punished. And God replies by asking Him if he has the right to be angry. The very Author of life, the Creator of the Universe gave us life and yet we throw it back or we try to tell him how we are going to live our lives. Who has the right to be angry with God who shows compassion upon the things He has created? So to bring the message home God created the plant which made Jonah happy, but God also provided a worm which destroyed the plant. This exposes the fact that Jonah cared more about the vine than the entire city of Nineveh; he cared more about his own comfort than the thousands of people in the city. The moral of the story is pretty clear: does your heart beat for the same things as God’s heart? Are you more concerned about your comfort and happiness than fulfilling God’s commandments? Do you love to see God’s grace poured out on the lives of others even if you feel they don’t deserve it? Don’t be quick to forget that God gave you a second chance when you probably thought that you didn’t deserve it either. The body of Christ was broken for all mankind. We are called to carry the message of grace and second chance to the entire world. God does not come and put us through a process judgement and punishment before we are called to the table. We have to remember what God did for us. We need to thank God for giving us grace when we did not deserve it.