Jump Start # 2399
Jonah 4:8 “And it came about when the sun came up that God appointed a scorching east win, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so tha the became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, ‘Death is better to me than life.’”
We’ve been looking at Jonah on Monday’s in July. Jonah in July has been our series. When we come to the final chapter of Jonah, it ought to be a grand celebration, but it’s not. Jonah has finally obeyed God and preached to Nineveh. They listened. They changed. They repented. God held back the wrath that was about to boil over on them. This should have been a time of great rejoicing. Finished with his mission, Jonah goes to a hillside and sits down to watch. We are not told why he did this. There is no indication that this was part of God’s commission to him. This would have been a great time to take that boat to Tarshish. Instead, Jonah sits on a hill to watch. I don’t think he’s wanting to see repentance. Maybe the people of Nineveh were pulling down idols and offering sacrifices to God, but I don’t think that interested Jonah. He’d rather watch the city burn. Maybe he thought God might change His mind again and bring fire down from Heaven upon the city. He watched.
It was hot, so he built a shelter, but it wasn’t very good. God arranged for a plant to grow. It grew fast. It provided better relief to Jonah than his shelter did. For the first time in the book, Jonah is happy. The text tells us that he was extremely happy. Then overnight, another intervention by God. A worm is appointed and it destroys Jonah’s shade. The plant withers. On top of that, God made a scorching east wind blow on Jonah. The sun beat on his head. His comfort gone, his happiness gone, Jonah wishes that he was dead. He seemed to care more for a plant that didn’t have a soul than the people of Nineveh who were made in the image of God.
Twice God asks Jonah if he has a reason to be angry. He thinks he does, but he doesn’t. He’s unhappy because he’s miserable. He doesn’t have any shade. I suppose Jonah could have gone into the city and into a building, but he doesn’t do that. The hotter the temperature the more he stews. He’s hot on the inside and the outside.
As the book ends, with God’s question to Jonah, we wonder if the prophet ever got the message. Did he ever change? Did he ever get a heart of compassion like God?
And, what we see here are two different times God made Jonah uncomfortable. Both times were attempts to get Jonah to open his eyes and his heart. The fish that swallowed Jonah wasn’t punishment. It was his salvation from drowning. God didn’t send a rescue boat. Instead he put Jonah inside that dark, gooey fish for three days. Tossed up and down with the worst smells, wet, not knowing if it was day or night, Jonah was certainly uncomfortable. And, here in the fourth chapter, God made a plant and God took away the plant. Jonah was uncomfortable once again. And, once again, God is trying to get Jonah to open his heart to the people he just preached to.
The same happened to the prodigal son. He was so hungry that he wanted to eat what the pigs were eating. He wasn’t doing well. He was very uncomfortable. He was miserable. And, that got him thinking and led to some serious changes in his life.
And, we must see the bridge to our lives. We like comfort. The temperature must be just right, in our homes, our cars and our church buildings. We like easy chairs. We like mattresses that are comfortable. Comfort drives our society. Anymore one doesn’t even have to go into a store. Order the stuff and they will bring it out to your car or deliver it to your home. Comfort. Our banking is now easy, you can take care of business from your phone. This spills over into our thinking about sermons. We like nice sermons. Ditch the stuff about Hell, judgment, duty and commitment. Nice people want nice sermons. Could it be with all this comfort, that we have turned Christianity into a nice religion? Have we forgotten about turning the other cheek, or, taking up our cross daily, or, walking the second mile, or, fighting the good fight of faith, or, that men will hate you because of Jesus? Convenient and comfort never really fits too well with Jesus. His words were radical for a first century world and are radical for our world today.
Could it be that God puts some discomfort in our lives to open our eyes? Maybe a night with pigs, spending time in the belly of a fish, or some sun beating down upon our heads is just the thing we need to see what’s really important. Jonah seems to have forgotten that. He was more upset over a plant dying than Nineveh dying.
Maybe some good ole’ fashioned hard times and wrecking our neatly planned schedules is just the thing some need to open their eyes spiritually. A trip to the hospital. A car that needs repaired. Having to cancel things so you can attend a funeral. Some real preaching that actually makes one think and steps on toes. A sick child and you have to take a day off of work to stay home. An air conditioner that goes out in July? A furnace that goes out in January? Your teen lost his cell phone? You have to sit around half a day waiting for a repair man to show up? Bothered? Feel some heat? A little upset? Angry? Going to cost you? Not so comfortable now are you. Now, you feel what Jonah felt. It’s not a great place to be. We want everything to be working, running, and a day without problems. Instead, we are in the belly of a fish, or sitting on top of a hillside, sweating. Upset. Fuming. Angry. What does all of this discomfort due to you? Does it make you appreciate what you have? Does it make you see what really matters? Does it change your heart? Does it allow you to see that people are more important than plants and sometimes we put ourselves in the belly of a fish because we won’t do what God says?
Uncomfortable—that’s the idea behind wearing sackcloth and pouring ashes on one’s head. It wasn’t like taking a warm bath with sweet smelling bath bombs. Sackcloth was scratchy. You’d pull at it. It made you uncomfortable. It was to show and experience on the outside what was going on inside. Inside one was miserable because of sin or death and now the outside was the same. With sackcloth and ashes, Nineveh repented, prayed and changed. On a hill not so far away, sat the miserable Jonah, crying and complaining because a plant died and he was hot.
I picked blueberries awhile back with a four year old. Her legs were tired so I had to carry her to the spot. Then she was thirsty so we had to go get some water (I had to carry her). Then I had to carry her back. Within five minutes she was hot and ready to go. We actually got some berries picked, but it was a chore. She declared very loudly that she wasn’t coming back. She reminds me of Jonah.
I wonder how many times Jonah looks like me? Use your times of misery to do what is right!
A special note: we have put this series into a book we are calling, “Jonah in July.” As an extra bonus, pulled from my sermon series, there is a section of Technical thoughts from the text and Practical thoughts that helps build faith. If you would like a copy, email me with your mailing address: Rogshouse@aol.com.