God of All Blessings

Scripture: Jonah 4:1-11

Guest speaker: Richard Hoisington

In last year’s sermon about Jonah, we talked about and we ended up with thinking about obedience. It’s important for us to remain obedient, or to become obedient if we haven’t been obedient, or to become obedient again if we’ve been obedient at some time in the past.

When God asks us to go to Nineveh, it’s not good for us to go to Tarshish, as the liturgist mentioned earlier. Tarshish was the wrong way. We could think of going to Tarshish as what gives us pleasure, what do we want to do. Because that’s the way Jonah used it. He was headed to Tarshish because he did not want to go to Nineveh. He wanted to go somewhere else, anywhere but Nineveh.

You may remember that Jonah had also taken a five-hundred-mile trip, roughly. The distance between here and Detroit, Michigan would be about how far Jonah had to go to get to Nineveh. So it was a difficult trip, and going to a very wicked city. In fact, later on I’ll mention a few things about how wicked it really was.

But on the other hand, the blessings of Nineveh can be significant. As we heard in our text, there were a hundred and twenty thousand people that lived there. Earlier in Jonah, it mentions that all hundred and twenty thousand of those people repented, because the king mandated that everyone must repent.

I’m sure some of those were not heartfelt repentance. However, a hundred and twenty thousand people were converted, and the city was saved from destruction. So it was a huge benefit that happened because Jonah did go to Nineveh.

So I’ll ask you, have you ever been angry at God because He has been merciful to someone else? Or maybe frustrated because God shows mercy to someone you think is maybe a rascal? Or, you might want to ask the question, do you think Nineveh deserved God’s mercy?

As I mentioned, they were a wicked city. They plotted against the Lord. They practiced prostitution and witchcraft, and they turned their captives from wars into slaves, and they very much mistreated their captives.

But then we have to ask ourselves, do we deserve God’s mercy? Do we deserve God’s mercy? If we answer that question honestly, I believe we would say, “No.” We are saved by God’s grace, only by God’s grace and mercy.

If I was writing my autobiography, as Jonah was in this story of the book of Jonah, I would have never written chapter 4. If you were writing an autobiography, and you hired a public relations firm, as many people do these days, to help you write it, the public relations firm would never let you write the fourth chapter of Jonah.

We all like a happy, win-win deal to end off the story, and at the end of chapter 3, that’s exactly what we have. We have Jonah, who has finally obeyed God’s word and gone back to Nineveh. And then we have all the people in Nineveh repenting, in probably one of the world’s largest, if not the largest revival in history.

Today we try to show people how good we are, not how bad we are. But Jonah has told us he wanted to die. We try to spin bad news with some plausible reason or excuse. But what I take away from that, in this particular part of the book of Jonah, is that I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit, that He puts real people and real situations into Scripture, so we can know that we aren’t alone in having difficulty in doing what God asks us to do.

Jonah had his weaknesses. We’ve just heard about that. He wanted to die. I’m going to mention a couple of others during the sermon. I’m not going to belabor the fact, but the disciples, for example, also had weaknesses. I’m going to mention one that kind of draws some parallels, between Jesus and his disciples, and Jonah’s time in Nineveh.

When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, near the end of his ministry, he was passing through Samaria., and he sent his disciples ahead to ask them to arrange lodging for the night, in this town in Samaria. His disciples got there, and the people in Samaria refused to provide them lodging. They didn’t want Jesus to stop in their city.

So most of the disciples went ahead to another nearby city to find lodging, and two of them stayed behind. When Jesus got there, they asked Jesus if he would just destroy this city for their lack of wanting to put him and his disciples up for the night.

Of course, Jesus rebuked them, and then later, in Samaria, we have the story of the woman at the well, and many people in that city came to know Jesus as their Savior, as a result of his ministry with that one woman at the well. The whole city came out and believed in Jesus, is kind of the thought that you get when you read Scripture.

That was two disciples, and I think John was one of those disciples who stayed back, even though he was the one writing about it. And later, John wrote more about love than any of the other disciples.

So it’s real easy for us to judge, and it’s not so easy for us to follow what we think God is leading us to do.

The book of Jonah is not about Jonah. That may seem odd to you. The book of Jonah is not really about Jonah. The book of Jonah is about God, and about how His ways are as different from our ways as the east is from the west.

Jonah was more satisfied, in our text this morning, he was more satisfied with that vine than the God of blessings. Are you more concerned about your likes and dislikes, maybe even in church, than you are about finding someone who needs salvation?

Some of us might think we’re too old to tell others about Jesus. Maybe we are. But we did tell our kids, didn’t we? On the other hand, aren’t the mature grapevines the ones that we get the best wine from?

Are you more interested in the shade that the vine provides, or in seeing people saved eternally? Another way to look at it is, when you lose your vine, whatever your vine might be, will you become irrational and bitter, like Jonah?

Jonah wanted to die. That seems pretty silly, for losing the vine. What makes your irrational – some silly thing?

Jonah should have been rejoicing after fulfilling the will of God, rather than wanting to die. Now I’m not condemning Jonah. There’s a little Jonah in all of us. We all like to focus on the blessing, rather than the God of blessings.

When we’re not reconciled to the will of God, the smallest inconvenience can set us off. And it’s easy to become a deserter from the army of God.

Did you hear about the man who asked his pastor, “Why doesn’t God do something about all the poverty and suffering that’s all around us?” The pastor asked the man, “Have you prayed to God, to ask Him that question?” The man said, “No, I’m afraid He might ask me that question.” We’re all that way. Sometimes it’s easy to hide from the call of God in your life, and my life.

Jonah was not a happy person, except when he got the vine. Jonah was not happy. Most of the time, Jonah was trying to tell God how to do things, if you remember some of the talk that we had last year. Even in Jonah 4, he was telling God what he thought God ought to do. Yet God continued to pursue Jonah. God blessed even the small amount of obedience on Jonah’s part.

It reminds us of Peter. Remember when Jesus told Peter to throw the net down on this side of the boat. Peter said, “No, lord, I’ve been fishing all night, and there just aren’t any fish here.” Finally, reluctantly, he threw the net down on that side of the boat, and caught more fish than he could fit into the boat.

Those blessings come from God. Always expect God to bless obedience, to fulfill His promises. And His promises are what we read a lot about in Scripture. Always expect God to elevate your vision, to see the fields that are white for harvest.

Now that might sound hard. Jonah had to come to a hard place, to really realize it. By the time of chapter 4, I think he’s forgotten about his time in the whale.

(Now I understand you all had a chalk artist come here four years ago and give some evidence about how that could really happen. I believe it could happen, not just because of those physical evidences, but also because Jesus made reference to it, in his ministry, as historical fact.)

I’m going to take you back to the prayer that Jonah prayed while he was inside the whale. For a moment, just put yourself in Jonah’s shoes, not necessarily inside the whale, but you can try to imagine that. But he has just been saved from drowning, because he was thrown overboard in a bad storm.

While I read this prayer, from chapter 2 of Jonah, I would like you to think – maybe even try to count – how many blessings or promises that Jonah claims as his from God. And after I read that, I’m going to ask us a little question that I’ll leave you with.

This is a fairly short portion. I wasn’t going to do it this way, but I think this is probably the best way to do it, to read Scripture back into our minds. So from Jonah 2, this is Jonah’s prayer:

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.

I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’

The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God,

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the Lord.”

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

So here we see a totally different side of Jonah, claiming the promises of God, when he had been through this adversity, this near-drowning experience.

I want to ask you, to leave you with a final question. Ask yourself, am I content with my life? How can I shift my focus from the blessings, so that I can focus on the God, the one God who provides all those blessings?

Let us pray. Lord God, heavenly Father, your ways are high above our ways. Forgive us for focusing on the blessings rather than the God of the blessings. We give you thanks for your word, that helps us understand what great sinners we are, and what a great Savior we have. We give you thanks that salvation comes from no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men, by which we must be saved. Give each of us a certainty of our salvation, because Jesus came to live among us, took our sins on his shoulders, went to the cross, and was raised from the dead, in order to show us a clear path to salvation for everyone who will come to him. We pray in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

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