But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. (Matthew 15: 18 & 19)
The story of Jonah is one of those Bible stories that will be embedded in my brain for all of eternity. It’s one of those stories you’re told over and over again in Sunday School – and I low-key think it’s used to scare children into obedience: obey God or you’ll get swallowed by a big fish! I know I was definitely on my guard after hearing it lol.
It’s an important lesson though: how running away from God will, essentially, get you nowhere.
But that’s not the part of the story I want to talk about today.
No, today, I want to talk about what happened after Jonah got OUT of the big fish (we don’t actually know if it was a whale so…). Here’s what the Bible tells us happened:
Next, God spoke to Jonah a second time: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.” This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter. Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it. Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.” The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.
God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do.
We read this and we do our little church dance because, man, not only did these people change their ways as soon as they heard Jonah’s message – God in all His loving mercy forgave them! Awesome, we think. How good is God!
But wait… We look around. Where’s Jonah? Surely he should be here rejoicing with us! He is the man who made all this happen!
The Bible tells us differently:
Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”
Wait, what? Are we reading correctly? Is Jonah actually upset that God forgave these people? To the point where he’d rather be dead? Clearly this man has issues! Someone get him the church psychologist!
Yes, at first glance Jonah might seem crazy… but in reality, maybe not so much.
Moment of honesty:
How many times have you ever looked at someone and wondered how they got saved? How many of you saw that girl who was doing whatever ‘illicit’ activity Saturday night but was at church service early the next morning, and thought, what is SHE doing here? Or maybe you saw someone post a Bible verse and thought, “That’s rich! They can quote the Bible, but not live by it?”. I’ll admit I definitely have. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to reconcile human sinful nature with the grace of God. While we believe God’s grace to be all-encompassing in theory, we subconsciously (or consciously) disqualify people from it. We question their motives and their salvation.
She used to do this.
He used to do that.
No WAY does she have the right to be here worshipping,
Or he have the right to proclaim the Word of God.
What I’ve found, and what the story of Jonah shows us, is that our reaction to the repentance and salvation of others says more about our own hearts than anything else.
God said, “What do you have to be angry about?”
But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. He put together a makeshift shelter of leafy branches and sat there in the shade to see what would happen to the city. God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up. But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!” Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?”Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!” God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”
“What do you have to be angry about?”
I had to ask myself the same question with regards to what I felt every time I saw someone who I decided couldn’t be saved, acting like it. “Why does it bother you?” It really was, like with Jonah, a heart issue. No matter what my beliefs were, I found that my heart cared more that people be condemned than saved.
And it is for all of us who have ever thought that way, at its very root, because we have measured ourselves against others, our sins against theirs, and decided that if we couldn’t have it, then neither could they. If we, like Jonah, actually had to work our butts off to reach anywhere with God, how could these people just walk into His presence and gain equal footing with Him? Really what Jonah was probably feeling is, how do I get swallowed by a whale for disobedience, but they get forgiveness?
And the answer is simple: because they asked for it. Just like Jonah asked for forgiveness in the fish and God showed mercy, He extended that same mercy to others with repentant hearts. It really is that simple with God.
That last passage is where the story ends. We never get to hear Jonah’s response, so it’s almost as if the question is being posed to us: Why are you so upset that God would show love and mercy to the very thing He created out of love? Why does it bother you that He would use what you think is broken and damaged to show His glory? Our hearts should rejoice when we see others come to Christ and come to know his mercy and grace, not be quick to condemn them as posers or liars. Our reaction shouldn’t be to remind ourselves and other people of who they were before, so as to discredit who they are now.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
It took a while for that heart check to register in my own life. I had to stop focusing on what was wrong in other people and start focusing on what my own heart issues were, and eventually I learnt how to rejoice at salvation, not question it. I realized that my behavior towards new believers could either encourage them, or deter them. I recognized how very implausible my own story might seem to others. I know so many people today who, like me, were utter messes, and yet today, are doing AMAZING things for God. And I’m so here for it!
People are not the sum total of what you’ve seen them do or what you’ve heard about them. God is after their hearts as much as He’s after yours, and He doesn’t discriminate on past, race, gender, sexual orientation or whatever. There are no prerequisites or disqualifications for Grace – and thank God, because if there were, NONE of us would make the cut!!!