The Depth and Breadth of God’s grace
Purpose: To examine your attitude toward the breadth of God’s grace
Background: Jonah 3:10-4:11
Jonah 3:10-4:11 (New International Version)
10 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
Jonah’s Anger at the Lord ‘s Compassion
1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 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. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to
die than to live.”
4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
5 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. 6 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. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the
vine so that it withered. 8 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.”
9 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.”
10 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. 11 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
Key Verse: 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.
Let’s start the lesson today by listing some immutable facts about God and about His character:
• El Elyon–All Sufficient One
• Jehovah Tsidkenu–The Lord our Righteousness
• Jehovah Jireh–The Lord our Provider
• Jehovah Rophe–The Lord our Protector
• Jehovah Rohe–The Lord our Healer
• Slow to anger
• Abounding in love
These are some of the character traits of God. When we say they are immutable we mean they do not change, ever. For a few years in my Christian walk this confused me. I thought if God does not change then why pray? If He has his mind made up, what can my prayers to do change Him. But what I failed to understand is that although God’s character cannot change, God’s will can change. The story of Jonah and the Ninevites is the perfect example of how God’s character remains the same, while his will changed.
We see that God looked at the people of Nineveh and did not like what He saw. What do we know about Nineveh? Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Kingdom. The Assyrians worshipped the god Ashur, the god of war, and his counterpart, the goddess Ishtar, the goddess of sex. There were prostitutes in the temples that took part in the worship of these entities. The Assyrians were known to be cruel and were enemies of Israel.
Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria, lies on the left bank of the Tigris River opposite present-day Mosul, Iraq. Prehistoric occupation of the site dates back to at least the 6th millennium BC. They had the deciding vote in the 2005 elections in Iraq. It is mostly Sunni.
– The “Sunni”: 800 million believers:
The followers of Abu, called “Sunni” because they accept the “sunnas”, the oral traditions and interpretations of the Koran after Muhammad’s death, called the “sunnas”, and later the “Hadiths”.
They are usually more liberal.
They belief the “caliph” (“successor” of Muhammad) should always be elected, not
conferred by heredity. They claim they are the true followers of the faith, and until 1959 they refuse to recognize the Shiites as true Muslims. They believe in “predestination”.
During the Ottoman Turks, the Caliphs were called “Sultans”.
2- The “Shiite”: 100 million believers:
The “Shiite (“partisans”), are the followers of Ali, more orthodox and militant, mainly in Iran, Iraq, and Palestine. In 656, Ali and Fatima’s son Hussein led a fight against the Sunnis. Hussein was torture and beheaded, and today the Shiites of Iran honor the memory of Hussein’s death with an annual procession in which marches in a frenzied demonstration beat and whip themselves with chains and branches.
The “Iman” and “Mahdi” (Messhiah):
Shiites created the office of the “Imam” (“leader” or “guide”), who were infallible, one for each generation, the only source of religious instruction and guidance, and all in direct descendence of Ali. There were 12 Imams since Ali; the last one, the 12th, went into hiding in 940, and he will emerge later to rule the world as “Mahdi” (“Messiah”). For this reason they are also called the “Imamites” or “Twelvers”.
– The present “Ayatollahs”, (“signs of God”) see themselves as joint caretakers of the office of the Imam, until he returns at the end of time. The “Ayatollah Khomeini” claimed that he was a descendant of the 7th Imam, and hence the rightful ruler of the Shiites.
So, back to our lesson. Jonah was a man called by God to preach, but he didn’t like the assignment he was given. In Jonah’s defense, his going to Ninevah to preach would be like us being sent to Osama bin Laden to preach the gospel, knowing if we went he would be saved from his sins.
Do you wonder if God was angry with Jonah or if he wished He had never given Jonah the calling to preach? In Romans 11 we are told in King James language the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. Paul was preaching about the Jews falling away from God, thus leaving an opening for the Gentiles to be grafted in. This is how the verse reads in the Message:
From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Message, it looks
like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s
overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under
full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.
Just as God would never rescind the calling of Israel to be His chosen people, likewise He would never rescind the calling upon individual lives to preach, to teach, to prophesy. God never regrets the calling he places upon our lives. So we have a believing Jew, Jonah, who hated the Ninevites so completely that he turned from God; and we have the savage Ninevites, who, upon hearing the word of God from a man who undoubtedly related it with judgment and lacking any grace, turned to God.
We see that Jonah actually boiled with resentment and rage to the point that he asked God to take his life. It almost seems like this entire episode was less about saving a savage people and more about changing Jonah’s attitude. Yet, his attitude remains unchanged. Even after Jonah was rescued from the belly of the fish, God’s grace did not penetrate his heart. Rather, he probably fulfilled his mission more out of fear of what would happen to him next if he disobeyed God again, for although he knew God was slow to anger, that did not mean God never became angry.
Jonah’s story ends with him sitting under a shade tree on a hill overlooking the city. The shade tree withers and Jonah is left under the hot sun, and now his anger turns from the people of Nineveh to the shade tree. God leaves Jonah with a question–you are angry at a tree which you did nothing to deserve–you didn’t plant it, you didn’t water it, you just enjoyed it. Did you really expect me to turn my back on a city of people who don’t know their left hand from their right?
God’s grace is not reserved to a select few–God’s grace is available for all who will receive. Are we like Jonah, who believed some are not deserving of God’s grace, His unmerited favor, or are we true followers of Christ, willing and even exuberant at the thought of all who come to Jesus in repentance receiving God’s grace? Can we expect God to continue to shower his blessings, his mercy, and his grace upon us and turn his back on those who don’t know about his grace, or is it our responsibility as Christians to share God’s grace with others, regardless of who they are or how they behave?
May each of us pray today that God would move us to share His grace, His love, His forgiveness upon all who kneel at the foot of Cross.