17 July 2007

The City: Jonah’s Racism & God’s Heart for the City

What is the heartbeat of God? By heartbeat, I mean, what is at the core of God that drives Him. What is God’s overwhelming desire for people? If we desire to serve God and do ministry effectively, we must know the heartbeat of God. We have to know what moves Him and what breaks His heart so that we can take on that same heart and minister to the world.

God reveals His heartbeat in His word over and over again. In one instance, He reveals it to someone who did not have the same heartbeat. I want to look at someone who did not have the heartbeat of God. I want to look at the life and ministry of Jonah.

In children’s versions of Jonah’s story, we always get a G-rated version that misses a lot of the details. Let me catch us up on some more details. I’m not going to recap everything. So if you want more details, it would be great to read through the book of Jonah. Jonah is an Israelite and a prophet of God. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were considered the worst people in the world at that time. They were hated and feared by mostly everyone. The Assyrians were known for their atrocities and inhumane war tactics. Let’s give Jonah some credit—these were not easy people to preach destruction to. Imagine going to the Nazi leaders in the early 1940’s and telling them they will be defeated, and not just defeated, but killed and destroyed. You probably wouldn’t live to see it happen.

So Jonah runs. But Jonah doesn’t run because he’s afraid of the Ninevites. That wasn’t his main fear. We’ll see why he ran later. Jonah jumps on a boat and tries to go to Tarshish, which is the farthest port that they knew of in that day. Tarshish was in current day Spain. God sends the storm. Jonah walks the plank and becomes dinner. Jonah should have been thankful that the fish’s mother didn’t nag about chewing your food.

While in the fish, Jonah prays to God for help. It doesn’t necessarily seem to be that Jonah is truly repentant, however. Ever said to God, “God, if you just get me out of this situation, I’ll do whatever you want.” You bargain with God for instant help. How many times have you tried to bargain with God? I think Jonah is doing the same thing b/c he just wants to live.

God saves him, commands Jonah a second time to go, and Jonah goes. He preaches to Nineveh that they will be destroyed in 40 days. All the people declare a fast and repent, hoping for God’s mercy. This leads us up to the last verse of chapter three, which says, “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.”
So Jonah preaches one sentence to these people and he witnesses a revival sweep across the capital city of the greatest empire in the world. He sees thousands of people find God’s grace and mercy. What does Jonah do? Let’s read chapter four.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." [Jonah 4:1-9]
Let’s pause there. Are you catching this? Jonah just witnessed thousands of people come to God and receive His mercy. What does Jonah do? He becomes “greatly displeased and angry”. In verse 2 we find out why he didn’t want to come to Nineveh in the first place. He hated the Ninevites so much that he didn’t want them to find the mercy of God. He knew that God was compassionate and would have mercy on them, so he didn’t want to bring them the message.

He lacks any compassion for these people. He is consumed in himself and thought nothing of the Ninevites. He had no pity for them. Some say that Jonah, like many Israelites of the time, was very exclusive because they were the chosen nation of God. Jonah believed that God reigned and judged the whole world, but he wanted God to show his mercy and grace only to Israel. He didn’t want others to have God’s mercy, just His wrath. Some scholars have said that Jonah “wrapped the gospel in his flag”. He wanted to keep the gospel of grace exclusive only to his own people and not let anyone else share in it.

So what was the heartbeat of Jonah? Jonah’s heartbeat was selfish grace. He wanted God’s grace for himself but didn’t truly want others to have it.

Don’t we do the same thing? Maybe we say that the gospel is for everyone, but does the life that we lead truly show that? Maybe it’s not our flag that we wrap the gospel in. Maybe it’s social class that we wrap the gospel in. Maybe we say that the gospel is for all but our life shows that we really believe that the gospel is only for the middle class, not the poor. Maybe it’s not social class. Maybe it’s race. “Oh, but the gospel is for everyone” we say. But we live lives that show that the gospel is only for the white suburbanites. We can not just say that the grace of God is for all people; we have to live out the call of God by bringing it to them if we truly believe it.

I hear people all the time saying that they want something, but then they don’t do anything to get it. If you honestly wanted to accomplish something, you would go do it with no excuses. If we truly believed that others deserve the gospel of grace as much as we do, we would go find them and bring them the gospel of grace.

So Jonah’s heartbeat is selfish grace. What about God’s heartbeat? What do we know about God’s heartbeat? Jonah is the first to tell us about God’s heartbeat in verse 2 when he admits why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He says, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

God is above all else compassionate, merciful and loving. This description of God, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love,” shows up across the Old Testament. God desires to see people come to Him and find His grace. God wants to show compassion to people. God is above all else love. God desires to love everyone and anyone, no matter how far away or how nasty their life looks.

God ends up spending most of this chapter rebuking Jonah and trying to teach Him what His heartbeat looks like. Jonah just doesn’t get it though. In verse 4, God asks Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry?” Apparently, Jonah might have thought that this question could have meant that he judged too quickly and that God still might destroy Nineveh. So he goes out of the city and builds a shelter to sit under while he waits to see what happens. Then, God sends a vine to protect Jonah from the scorching sun. But then God sends a worm that eats it away. When Jonah gets up the next morning, a scorching wind and the blazing sun are physically destroying Jonah. He is now even more angry. His own hatred and desire to see the people destroyed put himself into that situation. And Jonah wants to die. Literally, this phrase meant that “he wished for his soul to die” or that he “despaired of his life”. It brings the idea that he asked God to grant him his life so that he can do with it what he wants. He wished for death, not because of the wind or sun, but because he did not want to live to witness God’s mercy being extended to the Ninevites.

God again asks him, “Do you have any right to be angry about the vine?” He basically asks Jonah the same question that he already asked him in verse 4. “Do you have any right to be angry?” This question goes much deeper than the vine or the scorching wind. This goes to the very heartbeat of Jonah. God was, in effect, saying to him, “You’re heart is not with mine. You are consumed in yourself and you are selfish with sharing my grace.”

Sometimes we get caught up in our own selfishness and we don’t see or care about how God is working. Last semester, I had a similar experience. I left my apartment on a Friday morning to go to a class. When I came back to my apartment, I was going to use my iPod to listen to some music. Long story short, someone stole my iPod. Two weeks later, a laptop was stolen from one of the other guys I live with. I was angry to say the least. I was not in a good attitude the rest of the weekend, until Sunday night. On Sunday night, I attended a church service with a bunch of friends from school. We knew that the message was going to be targeted more towards the friends of mine who don’t know Jesus yet. That night, I witnessed four of my friends give their lives over to Jesus. As I watched them and saw the smile they had on their faces, God sent me a reality check. I was still angry about my iPod. As I looked at them, God said to me, “Do you have any right to be angry about the iPod? Look what is happening in these people’s lives?” God is saying to Jonah, “You are crying about a stupid plant while there are thousands of people who two days ago did not know my grace, but now have been redeemed. You have no concern for them, only for yourself and your own comfort. That is not My heart, Jonah.”

Jonah doesn’t redeem himself after the second question either. “I do. I am angry enough to die.”

God rebukes him again and in doing so, God shows us His own heart. This whole book and the whole story of Jonah ends with God showing His true heartbeat. This book isn’t so much about Jonah as it is about showing God’s desire for mankind and for the city of Nineveh. Read verses 10 and 11:
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But 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?" [Jonah 4:10-11]
And what is God’s heart? What is God’s heartbeat? The heartbeat of God is compassion for the spiritual needs of the soul and concern for the physical needs of the person. God has compassion and wants to see people come to His grace. God says, “But Nineveh has more than a hundred thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” God says, “I love people. I am concerned for them. I want to give them my grace.”

He also mentions “many cattle” in this statement though. That’s sort of weird. Why is he concerned about cows? The cattle were synonymous with the economy and well-being of the people. God is concerned with their economic well-being. God’s heart is broken for the poor and needy. He is saying, “Shouldn’t I care about the economy of these people?” God’s heartbeat is compassion for the soul and concern for the needs of people.

So if that is God’s heartbeat, what is the heartbeat of His church? What should be the heartbeat of His Church? The Church is the bride of Christ and His representative to the world. The Church is where God’s heart should be fully expressed in this world. The Church should have the same heartbeat as the head of the Church, which is Jesus. We, as the Church, should have broken hearts for those who don’t know God’s grace. We should weep for those who are poor and needy. We should have compassion for the soul and concern for people’s needs. This is what the Church should look like. The Church should give out mercy and love to all people, no matter their sin or how dirty they may be. Jesus did not hang on the cross only for a bunch of suburbanites. Jesus spent His earthly life hanging out with prostitutes, the people whose sin could be seen by all, and with the poor who had nothing else. The Gospel is not just for the White middle class. The whole Bible is scattered with command after command by God for His people to take care of the poor and to show God’s grace to everyone. Is that what we look like?

I think we need a wake up call. I think we need to re-analyze our mission and our heart. We must take on the heartbeat of God if we are going to serve Him and love people like He wants us to.

We have analyzed this story of Jonah. We have taken an in-depth look into Jonah’s heart and God’s heart. Now I have a couple questions that each of us need to answer about our own hearts.

There was a point in our lives when we were Nineveh. We, too, were living our lives for ourselves and not caring for others. We were under God’s wrath and if God would have allowed it, we would have met God’s wrath. But God gave us the opportunity to hear of His grace and gave us the choice of repenting and begging for His mercy. We needed His mercy desperately. We needed His love and compassion. We would have been destroyed otherwise. We deserved none of it. We deserved no mercy, no grace, no love. We, too, were once Nineveh. Now, have we forgotten how dirty and in need of His grace we once were? Have we held God’s grace with a tight fist and tried to keep it for ourselves? We were once Nineveh. Have we now turned into Jonah?

Jonah built a shelter on the east side of the city so that he would have somewhere to watch from as he waited for God to destroy Nineveh. Are we truly the Church that God has asked us to be or have we just built a shelter for us to gather in, protected, while we sit back and watch the rest of the world get destroyed? If so, are we willing to tear down the shelter in our lives to build a place and a life that goes to the people where they are and shows them compassion?