Max Lucado tells of having to undergo a heart procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat. He needed to have a catheter ablation. The cardiologist would insert two cables into heart via a blood vessel. One would be a camera; the other would contain an ablation tool.
Not familiar with an ablation tool? To ablate is to burn. It’s to cauterize, singe, or brand!
If all went well, it would destroy the “misbehaving” parts of his heart. As Lucado was being wheeled into surgery, doctor asked if Lucado had any final questions (not the best choice of words). “While you’re burning the misbehaving cells of my heart, any chance you could take your blowtorch to some of my greed, selfishness, and guilt?”
The doctor smiled and said, “Sorry, that’s out of my pay grade.”
But it’s not above God’s pay grade.
The storyline of the Bible is that God is in the heart transformation business. In fact, the story of Jonah is about God changing hearts.
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. 1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. — Jonah 3:10-4:1
Let me translate that for you: “God, I’m going to preach this message. Please help everyone to ignore it and close their hearts to my message.”
Although Jonah had experienced God’s grace, he got upset when that same grace was shown to Nineveh.
Jonah’s heart is like a metal bar. Jonah’s behavior may have conformed, but his heart is still unmelted. He had been obedient but remained prejudiced.
How is it possible to question the mercy of God and to not rejoice when people are rescued?
Just like software versions, you have Christianity 1.0 and 2.0. Christianity 1.0 is when we learn to surrender. We learn obedience. Christianity 2.0 is when we learn to love. We learn to love being obedient and we learn to love what and who God loves.
After 3 days and nights inside a fish, Jonah had surrendered. What he hadn’t learned how to do was love.
Don’t miss this: It is possible to serve God and not love his people.
2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isnʼt this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” — Jonah 4:2-3
“I knew you were going to save these awful people anyway so why did you have drag me into it?”
I mean … what kind of God would save a guy like Jeffrey Dahmer? Dahmer strangled and dismembered 17 boys and men and cannibalized some. When he was arrested, they found skulls in his refrigerator. In many respects, Dahmer redefined the boundary for brutality.
Then something spectacular happened on May 10, 1994. On that day, Jeffrey Dahmer was baptized in prison.
In Jonah’s opinion, the city of Nineveh was filled with Jeffrey Dahmers. It was filled with people who did not deserve God’s mercy.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “God is always saving people I don’t like, and saving them in a manner I don’t approve of.”
Just six months after being baptized, Dahmer was beaten to death by another inmate.
When the news got out, a lot of people were pleased with that. Jonah might have been, too.
But, if we are to be honest, a Jonah may lurk inside of each of us.
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Jonah had gone 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 leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonahʼs 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, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And Iʼm so angry I wish I were dead.” 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” — Jonah 4:4-11
As Jonah begins to bake in the desert, God tries to soften his heart by providing a plant to shield his head. But Jonah failed to make the connection. All he cared about was his personal comfort and he failed to see why God cared about Nineveh.
The phrase “who cannot tell their right hand from their left” doesn’t mean that the Ninevites were ignorant. It simply means they were so far removed from God that they had difficulty discerning what was good and what was evil. They were morally bankrupt. This doesn’t mean they weren’t responsible for their actions. But they were immersed in moral confusion and uncertainty.
Even still – they were people God had created and for whom he had great love and concern.
The problem was that Jonah saw his sin and Nineveh’s sin in two different categories. The Ninevites were adulterers. They worship idols. They’re murderers. They are cruel: they skin people alive.
Jonah hadn’t done any of that! But what had Jonah done? He said “no,” directly, to God!
Sidenote: A spirit of unforgiveness is an indication you are out of touch with the grace of God in your own life.
So how does Jonah end? It ends with verse 11 – a question. But there’s no next verse. It ends on a cliffhanger. It ends with a question, because the book is a question for religious people like Jonah.
Do you care? Do you care more for perishing people than you do your stuff?
It’s a question for you: What do you care most about the most? If God answered every prayer you prayed last week, would anybody new be in the kingdom?
The ending of Jonah also raises a few questions for the church.
Churches – like individuals – can run away from God’s calling. It happens when traditions and customs become more important than our calling. If we’re not intentional about staying outwardly focused, we will become introverted into our own programs, buildings, and budgets.
There are over 3 million people live in the 7 counties that make up Denver Metro. Of these, many do not know Jesus. We dare not run away from God’s call to reach our city.
In 1912, when the Titanic sank, news of who had survived and who hadn’t came back a little at a time.
To keep track of the survivors for the families, a gigantic chalkboard was set up in downtown London, with two columns — “saved” and “lost.” As news trickled in, names would be written in one of the two columns.
When the passengers first boarded the ship, it may have mattered what class of society a person was from.
But on that chalkboard, all that mattered was which side of the ledger your name was on.
That’s how Jesus saw the world.
And if you believe the gospel, you can never see others the same way again.