************ Sermon on Jonah 4:2 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on February 12, 2006

Jonah 3 & 4
Jonah 4:2
"I Know You Are a Gracious and Compassionate God"

Topic: Evangelists
Index: 1158
Date: 3/1991.16

While D.L. Moody was attending a convention in Indianapolis on mass evangelism, he asked his song leader Ira Sankey to meet him at 6 o'clock one evening at a certain street corner.
When Sankey arrived, Mr. Moody asked him to stand on a box and sing. Once a crowd had gathered, Moody spoke briefly and then invited the people to follow him to the nearby convention hall. Soon the auditorium was filled with spiritually hungry people, and the great evangelist preached the gospel to them. Then the convention delegates began to arrive. Moody stopped preaching and said, "Now we must close, as the brethren of the convention wish to come and discuss the topic, 'How to reach the masses.'"
Moody graphically illustrated the difference between talking about doing something and going out and doing it.

It has been said that the Christian Reformed Church has a theology of evangelism that is second to none. We know as good as or better than anyone the who, what, why, where, and how of evangelism. However, like Moody illustrates, we are better at talking about evangelism than actually going out and doing it.

On this Faith Promise/Mission Emphasis Sunday it is important for us to realize that we must not only talk about missions, outreach, evangelism, and witnessing but we must also go out and do it. Why? Because God tells us to (that alone is enough to make us go out). And because the need is so great.
The following article is located at:

Ten Surprises About the Unchurched
Understanding their hearts and minds.
by Dr. Thom Rainer

This is the third surprise ...
Ninety-six percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited. Perhaps we need to pause on this response. Perhaps we need to restate it. More than nine out of 10 of the unchurched said they would come to church if they were invited. If you glean anything from this article, please remember this point.
We estimate that 160 million people in the United States are unchurched if we define unchurched as attending church two or less times in a year. If our research is close to accurate, the implications are staggering, Over 153 million people would start attending church if they were invited!
What constitutes an invitation? For many of the unchurched, it was a simple invitation to come to one's church. For others, it was an invitation that included an offer to meet someone at church to show them around or walk them in the building. In either case, the process was pretty basic. If we invite them, they will come.
The next obvious question is: Are Christians inviting non-Christians to church? The heartbreaking answer is "no." Only 21 percent of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year. But only 2 percent of the church members invited an unchurched person to church. Perhaps the evangelistic apathy so evident in many of our churches can be explained by a simple laziness on the part of church members in inviting others to church.
Walk with me through one more calculation. Let us suppose that, instead of 96 percent, only half of the unchurched in America would come to church if invited. That means, out of 160 million unchurched persons, 80 million would be willing to come to church. Can you imagine how many people would be reached for Christ if that happened?
Imagine what would happen if Christians would reach out to the 80 million people waiting for an invitation. This building would be full. Every church building would be full in this city and across the country. We would need to be build thousands of new churches. As Jesus put it, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." (Mt 9:37).

I The Mercies of God
A As you well know, God commissions Jonah twice to go to Nineveh. The first time Jonah tries to flee to Tarshish 1500 miles away in the opposite direction; he tries to run away from his God-given task. In 1 Kings 13 we are told the story of another disobedient prophet. He too goes against the will of the Lord and is torn apart by a lion for his disobedience. But God is merciful and gracious to Jonah. He saves him by the whale and gives him a second chance to proclaim a message to Nineveh.

We see here that God wants His message proclaimed. He will do what He has to do to get that message proclaimed. For that reason He appoints Jonah. And, when Jonah tries to flee his responsibility, it is God Who sends the storm at sea. It also God Who provides the great fish that swallows Jonah and deposits him onto dry land after three days and three nights. Finally, it is God Who recommissions the prophet. Try as he may like, no man, no prophet, no Jonah can ever thwart God's gracious and eternal purposes. The message must get out; the call to repentance must be proclaimed. God has so decreed and nothing, absolutely nothing, can prevent this from happening.

Being obedient this time Jonah goes to Nineveh, that great and evil city. He trudges for a whole day through the city and still has not reached its center. He feels small, one man against a vast metropolis. How would you, for instance, like to take on New York City or LA or San Francisco by yourself. Lost like a needle in a haystack inside this gigantic city, this Sodom of a city, the tiny person of Jonah figures he can go no further. He stops and shouts out the message with which he has been entrusted: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned" (3:4). One small voice shouts out that great Nineveh, the greatest city of the world, will soon be destroyed.

Notice, Nineveh is allowed forty days of grace. It is certainly within the power of God to execute immediate judgment against Nineveh. But He decides to give one last chance for repentance: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed."

How gracious and merciful is the Lord. His compassion extends to the whole world including wicked Nineveh. Over and over again the Bible tells us that God truly desires all people to be saved.
(Deu 30:19-20) ... I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20) and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
Through one of the prophets the Lord says: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth" (Is 45:22). And in our age God has appointed ambassadors to go to the ends of the earth saying: "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). In fact, one of the few known reasons why the Lord has not yet come in final judgment is His desire that no one should perish, but that all should repent (2 Pt 3:9). Or, as Paul puts it, God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). That's why God gives Nineveh forty days of grace, forty days in which to repent.

B Nineveh's response to this message is simply astonishing. Scripture tells us that
(Jonah 3:5) The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
No social distinctions here. All respond with equal fervor. Great and small, king and commoner, man and beast they all mourn, cry to God, and give up their evil ways and violence. Astounding, simply incredible: what a miracle the Spirit of the Lord brings about in the city of Nineveh.

Though Nineveh's conversion is only temporary it is Jesus Who affirms that it is sincere.
(Matt 12:41) The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

How does God respond to Nineveh's repentance? He responds with grace and mercy:
(Jonah 3:10) When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
We see here that God does for Nineveh what He does so often for His people Israel. As Jonah puts it in our text, the Lord is
(Jonah 4:2) a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

God is simply being true to Himself. It is His character, His nature, to be a saving God. He saves the sailors when the sea is wild. He saves Jonah in the belly of the whale. He saves wicked Nineveh. There is no senseless destruction here; there is no waste of precious human life or blood; God is no arbitrary Herod who kills all in the hope of killing one; He derives no pleasure from anyone's death. God is a God of life. It is His will to preserve, not destroy, life. He cares for and loves all His creatures. He does not wish to take life away. The almighty God seeks to bring people to repentance and gives them plenty of opportunity to repent.

C Congregation, like Nineveh you and I also commit sins that are deserving of the wrath and punishment of God. But God doesn't want to punish and destroy us. His will is that we repent and believe. You know what the apostle John says:
(Jn 3:16) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Don't forget, the Lord is
(Jonah 4:2) a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
His compassion extends to the whole world. He takes no delight in judgment but desires the salvation of all. He wants you and I to believe and be saved too. So I urge you in the name of God, repent, believe, give your heart to Jesus.

II Sharing God's Concern for the Lost
A In the book of Jonah we are not only taught something about God's love for the lost but we are also taught that we are to share in God's love for the lost.

We notice that as God's anger ends Jonah's begins. We read, "But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry" (Jonah 4:1).

What is he angry about?

Jonah is angry that God forgives the Ninevites. Jonah is mad that the fuse does not work on the prophetic bomb he plants in Nineveh. Jonah wants to see an explosion of God's anger. He wants to see the fire, brimstone and hail that fell on Sodom to also fall on Nineveh. Jonah considers it intolerable that what God does for Israel time and again He also does for Israel's enemies.

We cannot help but notice that this is the reason why Jonah disobeys the Lord and flees to Tarshish instead of going to Nineveh. He is scared that God will relent on the punishment He is going to give Nineveh. He is scared that God will be merciful, gracious, and compassionate; he is scared that God will be slow to anger and abounding in love.

And now Jonah's worst fears are realized. God does forgive the wicked and terrible Ninevites for their sins. The mortal enemies of Israel have been forgiven. So Jonah is angry with God.

Jonah is so angry with God that he prays for death: "Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:3). You have to be very angry to pray for death in such a situation. Jonah's cry here sounds like Elijah's cry who also asks God to let him die (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah, however, asks for death because it seems he is all alone in his struggle against sin. "I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too," says Elijah (1 Kings 19:10). No one seems to respond to Elijah's call for repentance. To him it seems that his ministry is in vain. He is discouraged, disillusioned, and tired so he asks for death. Jonah's situation is entirely different. His ministry bears fruit: he preaches and an entire city repents of its sin! Doesn't that sound wonderful!? Yet, he is angry and so prays for death.

B Amazing, isn't it, that Jonah can get mad at God for being merciful? Imagine that being mad at "the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land" (Jonah 1:9) because He is compassionate and loving.

Jonah himself is saved by divine grace when the whale swallows him and deposits him on the beach three days later. But he does not want pagan Nineveh to share in this same grace. We see here the Old Testament form of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (cf Mt 18:21-35). Remember this parable? Remember how a servant forgiven an enormous debt does not forgive someone else their little debt?

What kind of God does Jonah want the Lord to be? He wants God to be merciful to him and his family and his people and his country. But he does not want God to be merciful to Nineveh. Instead, it is his stated desire that God destroy Nineveh, that He burn her inhabitants in the eternal fires of hell.

God confronts Jonah and asks, "Have you any right to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4). Think about it Jonah. Do you have any right to be angry?

The message to Jonah is clear: he has no right to be angry about what God does for Nineveh; in fact, Jonah should share God's concern for the lost and unsaved. He should want the God Who forgives him to also forgive the repentant Ninevites.

C In Jonah we see a parable of Israel. Israel's primary mission in history, the reason for her existence, is to be "a light to the nations" (Is 42:6). Israel, however, tended to lose sight of her mission. Israel increasingly thought of herself as the only nation in the world God cared about. She even looked forward to a time when God would destroy all her enemies.

The book of Jonah was written to remind the people of Israel of their missionary calling and to rebuke them for their hateful attitude. As I said, in Jonah we are to see a parable of Israel. As he flees his mission, so do they. As he looks forward to seeing the Gentiles destroyed, so do they.

The book of Jonah is not the story of a man who survives three days in the belly of a whale. It is the story of a prophet who is led to discover that God loves the whole world. It is the story of a prophet who is led to discover that the primary mission of God's people is to be "a light to the nations."

D What God leads Jonah and Israel to discover He also wants you and I to discover: that He loves the whole world and that we should share His concern for the lost and unsaved.

But is this our desire? Do we really want God to be a merciful God?

So many times, congregation, we use a double standard. So many times we are like Jonah. We want God to be a merciful God to ourselves, our family, our friends. And, we want Him to be an avenging angel for all others.

I made up a list this past week of the people I don't want to share heaven with, of the people I do not want saved: Bin Laden and the 9-11 terrorists, the young men who raped Ruth's grandmother when she was around 80 years old, Ken Lay of Enron because of the high electric bills he left us with, Saddam Hussein, Scott Peterson, Robert Blake, Howard Stern and his foul mouth, local drug dealers and gang members, and I am sure each of you can add a bunch of names too. If I am honest I have to admit I want these kinds of people to be judged by Almighty God. To be honest, I want their judgment more than I want their salvation. That is wrong, of course, for then I am being like Jonah and Israel. I cannot wish God's judgment on anyone. Rather, like God, I am to be concerned for the lost in sin and should wish for their salvation.

The book of Jonah is a message for us to share God's concern for the lost. Everyday there are people who die. Everyday a goodly number of these end up in hell. Everyday people lose their souls forever. What do we do about it?

I would like to challenge every person here. I would like to challenge you to pick an unbeliever a family member, a neighbor, a person at work and to work on them with the claims of Jesus Christ. I would like to challenge you to invite them to church.

On this Faith Promise/Mission Emphasis Sunday the choice is clear. We can be like Jonah and Israel and wish for the judgment of the lost. Or, like God, we can work for their salvation. Which is it? Which will it be?
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