Jonah: A Man Like Us

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Introduction

I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Jonah.
This book has been on my mind for quite a while now. For the past several months I’ve been working through Jonah with the folks in my fellowship group. We’re currently towards the end of chapter 3.
But even before that I’ve spent the last several years using Jonah to teach biblical Hebrew to our students in The Master’s Seminary. Every time I go through this little book, I’m astounded by its depth, by its artistry, and by the power and poignancy of its message.
So as I thought about what message I wanted to bring this morning, filling in for Jeff, and coming out of a week at the Shepherds’ Conference in LA, Jonah was a natural choice.
Now, there’s no way we’ll be able to dive deeply into this book in the time we have this morning. Just ask my fellowship group…
But I want to at least give you a taste of the depth and significance of this little book that’s tucked away in the middle of the Minor Prophets of the OT.
The fact is, when it comes down to it, the message of Jonah is rather straight forward. Although Jonah is the principle character of the text, the book itself is really about understanding the character of God.
More specifically, the book of Jonah focuses in on one distinct attribute of God—his sovereign grace.
Now, what do we mean by sovereign grace? We bat around that phrase a lot in this church because we’re convinced of it. But what does it really mean?
It’s really a combination of two attributes of God that are found all over the Scriptures.

Sovereignty

For one, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign. That is, God is fully and utterly in charge. He is King. And as king, he answers to no one. He conforms to no one. He is the ultimate authority, and he is the standard by which everything is judged. Everything that happens does so only because he wills it. He doesn’t need anyone else’s permission to act, but on the contrary, everyone else requires his permission, and nothing happens outside of his determined will.
Just consider how the Bible describes the Lord’s sovereignty:
Psalm 115:2–3 LSB
2 Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” 3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
Psalm 135:5–6 LSB
5 For I know that Yahweh is great And that our Lord is greater than all gods. 6 Whatever Yahweh pleases, He does, In heaven and on earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
Job 42:2 LSB
2 “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Daniel 4:34–35 LSB
34 “But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up my eyes toward heaven, and my knowledge returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can strike against His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
That’s God’s sovereignty, and it’s central to the book of Jonah.
Throughout the book we see God act with full, sovereign authority.
He hurls wind upon the sea
He determines the outcome of the lots thrown by the sailors on the ship
He calms the storm
He appoints a fish to swallow Jonah and then commands it to vomit him out on the land
He appoints a plant to grow up over Jonah, then appoints a worm to destroy it, and then a scorching east wind to blow on him.
Even the people in the story acknowledge his sovereignty
The sailors on the boat declare: “You are Yahweh, you do just as you please.”
Jonah himself states: “I fear Yahweh, God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Jonah is about God’s sovereignty.

Grace

It’s also about his grace. It’s about his mercy. It’s about his compassion.
God the righteous judge relents from his judgment of sinners. He withholds his wrath and demonstrates grace and mercy to sinners.
This is who God is.
Exodus 34:6 LSB
6 Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and called out, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;
In other words, compassion and grace and mercy are at the core of who God is. He desires to show mercy to sinners.
It’s because God is gracious and merciful that he patiently waits for sinners to repent and turn to him.
2 Peter 3:9 LSB
9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some consider slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
The apostle Paul writes that prayers should made for those in governmental leadership so that the conditions are set for us to lead quiet and tranquil lives, where the gospel can freely go out to people. Why?
1 Timothy 2:3–4 LSB
3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth.
Ezekiel 18:32 LSB
32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares Lord Yahweh. “Therefore, turn back and live.”
That’s God’s grace. It’s his heart to show compassion and mercy to those who deserve his judgment, and to extend to them grace and forgiveness. And because that’s his heart, he rejoices when sinners repent.
Luke 15 is completely devoted to the fact that it brings God joy when even one sinner repents. That’s his heart.
And it’s central to Jonah as well. In the book, God seems to always be showing compassion to people who don’t deserve it
to the sailors on the ship
to the inhabitants of Nineveh
and especially to his own disobedient prophet Jonah.

Sovereign Grace

And these two attributes of God—his sovereignty and his grace—interact perfectly and harmoniously together in what we call sovereign grace.
That is to say, God is gracious because he wants to be gracious. He is gracious because he wills to be that way. He doesn’t have to be. No one is holding his feet to the fire. He’s not beholden to any higher authority requiring him to show grace.
And because grace is by definition undeserved, and because God is by nature sovereign in what he does, he is then completely free to dispense his grace whenever and to whomever he chooses.
There’s no question of fairness, because no one has met his standard.
Romans 3:23 LSB
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
And perhaps no statement in the book of Jonah better captures this reality about God’s sovereign grace more than the words spoken by Jonah himself in his prayer of thanks to God for rescuing him from death when he says in 2:9, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh.”
Of this statement, Douglas Stuart writes:
“Yahweh is in charge of salvation…. He decides whom he will save and how… Salvation is his area of authority. In it, he alone makes the decisions. This latter sense is important for the Jonah story, since one function of the psalm is to voice Jonah’s own gratefulness for undeserved rescue, thereby exposing the inconsistency of his unwillingness that Nineveh should experience the same gratefulness, however undeserved. Jonah cannot decide whom Yahweh ought to save or not. Salvation is Yahweh’s to offer. He has offered it to Jonah, who has gladly accepted it with all his heart. Moreover, he is free to offer it to Nineveh”(Stuart, 478).
KEY: That right there is the central theme of the book of Jonah.
Is God really in charge of his own grace? Does God really get to decide whom he shows mercy and whom he does not?
Jonah is a book about a man very similar to you and I.
He knows God
He knows what God is like
He cares about God’s reputation
He wants to see God’s justice prevail in the world
He wants to see his righteousness vindicated
He wants to see God’s enemies dealt with
He wants to see God’s people prosper.
**Those are all things I think every believer in this room would wholeheartedly embrace. We want to see all those things as well.
But Jonah has a problem—He doesn’t agree with how God has decided to dispense his grace.
He objects to God’s willingness to show mercy and compassion to the enemies of God’s people.
And so the entire book of Jonah is essentially one long argument that the prophet Jonah has with God over whether God really should have the right to administer his grace sovereignly.
It’s a book that shows us how God patiently and lovingly tries to get his own prophet to come around to embrace his sovereignty as well as his grace.
Proposition: Here’s what I want you to understand from this book. God desires his people to rejoice in his sovereign grace, not only when we receive it personally, but even more when God shows it to those most unworthy of it.
And what we’re going to see as we take a quick jet tour through this story, is that God’s grace is everywhere. And he uses his sovereign grace to teach Jonah to rejoice in his sovereign grace instead of resent it.
So let’s look at this narrative, and as we go through, I’m going to highlight some of the ways in which God’s sovereign grace show up throughout this book.

1. Restraining grace (1:1–17)

§ 2 Kgs 14:25 – only other reference to Jonah in OT
Jeroboam II (793-753 BC)
Nineveh – notorious for their violence, idolatry, and ruthlessness
1 Kgs 13:11-34
Genesis 3:1ff
God demonstrates his grace in not giving us what we most deserve

2. Rescuing grace (2:1–10)

Cf. Romans 5:6ff – God moved toward us in our weakness
God demonstrates his grace in doing what we were unable to do for ourselves

3. Restoring grace (3:1–4)

Jonah receives a second chance!
Peter restored after failing Christ (John 21)
Jonah finally obeys
Perhaps he has learned his lesson?

4. Relenting grace (3:5–10)

God responds to repentance with grace
Jeremiah 18:1-11 – sovereign grace in response to repentance
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5. Refining grace (4:1–11)

Only now is Jonah’s motivations revealed
He hasn’t really changed at all
Instead, his hypocrisy is exposed
He’s more than happy to receive God’s grace
His anger over the plan reveals his warped priorities
He had no investment in the plant, nor was it of significant value—is simply brought him relief
But Nineveh was filled with real people and real animals whose lives are on the line
Are not they more valuable than a plant?
Grace seen in God patiently working to teach Jonah and change his heart

Conclusion

This is where Jonah intersects most significantly with us. Because honestly, there’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us.
Is it not easy for us to gladly receive God’s grace, but be but be a little bitter in our hearts at the thought of our enemy receiving it.
You say, “Enemies? I don’t have enemies!” What about the people who are completely opposed to your political views? Who are trying to undo everything about this nation that you believe in? What about the cultural enemies. Or national enemies who hate American, who hate Christians, and who would gladly slit your throat if given the opportunity.
The reality is, we can be just as blind toward our own hypocrisy as Jonah was. Remember what I said at the beginning: God desires his people to rejoice in his sovereign grace, not only when we receive it personally, but even more when God shows it to those most unworthy of it.
The reality is that perhaps the most unworthy recipient of grace in the book of Jonah was not the sailors, nor the Ninevites, but Jonah.
In the end, that really is the key to all of this: recognizing how unworthy we are of God’s grace. We don’t deserve grace. We stand before this holy God as filthy sinners deserving only his wrath and judgment.
As Paul talked about himself, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). He called himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8).
As long as we view ourselves as spiritually superior to other people, we’re going to be frustrated when God has mercy on people. We’re going to be like the older brother in Luke 15, who can’t bring himself to rejoice with the father when the prodigal son returns.
We’re going to be like the vine workers in Matthew 20 who are offended that God would pay the same wage to the workers who joined the work at the end of the day as he does those who started at the beginning. That parable is a picture of sovereign grace, seen in the unparalleled generosity of the vineyard owner.
Only when we see ourselves as the most unworthy person to receive of God’s grace, are we postured to rejoice when we see him show grace to a repentant sinner.
It’s only then when we can confess with Jonah with full and joyful conviction: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”
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