Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation.
I’m not very good with plants. Never have been.
In elementary school, we did so many assignments and projects, that I’m sure I’ve forgotten 99% of them, but for some reason, I vividly remember my 4th grade plant project.
We were all given seeds and a small box of soil, and were instructed to each grow little plants.
They taught us about watering it, and putting it in the sunlight, and all of the important things we needed to do to make a plant grow: Like talking to it, etc. J
And I’m sure the reason I remember this assignment is I had by far the worst plant in the entire class.
Everyone else had nice tall plants, and mine was just shriveled over.
I’m convinced I just got bad seeds. J
But since then, I’ve never cared much for plants. Call it an early-childhood wound if you want, but I’m just not much of a plant guy.
We are finishing up the book of Jonah today, we’re going to see a fascinating story about a guy who, believe it or not, apparently loves plants more than people…
Sounds weird…but lets just check it out.
This is our third and final week in our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Jonah.
If you’ve been in and out this summer, let me bring you up to speed on this the last unofficial weekend of summer.
Jonah, the main character in the book of Jonah, was asked to go to the evil city of Nineveh and tell them to repent and that God would forgive them.
He refuses and gets in a boat going the opposite direction.
God’s not pleased with Jonah’s choice, makes the sea rage, Jonah’s boatmates throw him out into the sea, and a HUGE fish swallows Jonah for a 3 days.
That uncomfortable experience causes Jonah to change his mind, and he ends up bringing the message to evil Nineveh.
They hear the message, repent of their evil ways, and God forgives them and doesn’t bring the disaster and judgment they deserve.
Let’s check out what happens in the final chapter today…but let’s actually start with the last verse from last week:
We’re going to be on PAGE 754
(Jonah 3:10 – 4:11) – NIV
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. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t 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.” 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 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, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m 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?”
So…let’s back up a second. Originally, after Jonah’s huge fish experience, he decided that he was never going to disobey God again, and he goes to Nineveh.
Then, it looks like he’s starting to get that the Ninevites deserve mercy like he was shown mercy.
But we see today, his true colors come out again.
And he’s quite angry that the Ninevites got God’s compassion.
So angry, that he’s apparently even suicidal about it
SEEING FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE - PEOPLE > PLANTS
So, let’s unpack this passage a little bit. And find out what’s the deal with the weird story about the plant.
So…Jonah’s off east of the city…apparently, he’s picked out a good spot for the fireworks because he’s hoping that God’s going to destroy the city.
When he finds out that’s not the case…he starts sulking about it.
And it’s hot out there…we said in week one…that Nineveh is in modern day Iraq…so…yeah…it’s hot!
The passage tells us Jonah builds himself a shelter…but apparently, despite his love for plants and the outdoors, he’s not very good at pitching a tent.
So, God, out of nowhere…provides this leafy plant to miraculously spring up, and give Jonah some shade.
Jonah is quite pleased with this lovely plant!
But, the next morning, God slyly provides a worm, which causes the plant to whither and now Jonah is suffering in the hot sun and scorching wind, and he’s ticked.
But the plant was merely an object lesson.
God says, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
Jonah’s like: “Darn right…it’s right!” I loved that plant! It gave me comfort and joy…comfort and joy…”
And then, we see the lesson:
God says: If you’re concerned about something as simple as this plant….that YOU didn’t even make…goodness, you didn’t even tend to it…you just sat and enjoyed it…
“If you’re concerned about that withering”…God says, “don’t I have the right to be concerned for the people of Nineveh…who I actually created…and cared for?!?”
Or in other words, “Jonah, how can you be mad about the withering of a PLANT…and not the withering and destruction of an entire city?!?”
“Jonah…people are GREATER THAN plants”
Hopefully, you remembered your “Greater Than” / “Less Than” symbols…
Some of you were like…why is Pastor David preaching that Plants are Greater than people!?!”
But what’s Jonah’s deal?
Well, there’s a couple of things here. One is his lack of compassion. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Another is…he cares more about the plant…because unlike the Ninevites, the plant directly benefits him.
We see this through what Jonah gets excited about throughout the book.
The dude is SUPER pumped about his own deliverance from the sea…and from the Huge fish.
He’s quite excited about his deliverance from the sun and the wind from his friend the leafy plant.
But when it comes to the Ninevite’s deliverance? Not so excited.
Jonah cares more about the things that benefit himself. Like most of us…it’s quite difficult for him to care about more than himself.
You know…at first…we kind of just laugh at Jonah.
“What an idiot. He cares more about his plant than about people. Silly Jonah.”
And I would ask…and how exactly are we different?
A pretty low percentage of Christians actually share their faith, while more than 80% own plants.
Ok, I made that last stat up…but seriously…we often give our lives to things that are quite non-eternal.
For some of us that’s sports. Some of us are so caught up in sports world, that if we count all the articles we read, fantasy football leagues, actual game watching, you name it…it might be 2-3 hours a day even.
And we’re lucky to read our Bibles 5 minutes a week…let alone ever share God’s mercy with someone else.
For other’s, it’s our house…our cars…our kitchens…things we can spend hours and hours and hours on…and really, if we look deeply at them…they have little to no eternal value beyond this life.
But maybe you’re like, yeah, but David, it’s not like there’s a city like Nineveh about to be destroyed…
And to that…I would say, “There’s not?!?”
In this city alone, 48,000 people aren’t in church every Sunday. Well…actually on labor-day-weekend, it’s probably more like 55,000.
What happens to all of those people if they don’t know Jesus? If they’ve rejected his goodness?
But out of fear….lack of trust…selfishness…or who knows what….we’ve just been tending to our plants and tvs.
We need…We are desperate for…God’s perspective.
God says….I created these people. I want to have mercy on these people.
We need to look from his side of eternity.
If we just look from our own perspective, we’re going to struggle to get outside of our own selfish living.
COMPASSION IS ALSO FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T DESERVE IT
But it’s not just our selfish thinking that gets in the way.
If we’re honest…really honest…we often have a hard time showing and giving compassion to other people.
Jonah sure did.
“One of the lessons that the Bible teaches us through the Book of Jonah is that our inward compass often floats too strongly towards justice and judgment instead of mercy and compassion.
And sometimes people deserve compassion…just because. It’s not about earning it.
The Ninevites did NOT earn it.
But we don’t like that.
It’s not fair!!
But let’s not forget. God was not fair towards you. If we got what we deserved, we’d all go to hell.
We can so easily forget that Christianity has nothing to do with earning it.
In fact, the very fruits of the current relationship you are enjoying with Jesus…you did not earn.
He gave it to you.
And yet, when we look at other people, we feel like they have to earn compassion.
Let me give you a simple example of this.
I’ve mentioned many times here that one of my repetitive sins is that I just can’t look away from the comments on news sites.
I know they’re negative and stupid…but it’s like a train wreck…I have to watch.
I watched pretty closely last week, as then Tropical Storm Isaac, crossed over Haiti…and did some fairly serious damage.
And as I was reading the article online on it, and I was blown away, that almost every comment read something like:
“Please don’t donate to these people, they already had their chance after the earthquake and didn’t handle the money well.”
“These people can’t figure out how to govern themselves, so why should we help them? They have to learn to help themselves. Leave them alone.”
But that’s not compassion! That’s not the Love of God.
We miss the boat when we only give compassion when we think it’s deserved. That’s not compassion.
In fact, God calls us to show compassion to people even if people could potentially abuse it.
By the time Jonah was put into the Bible, the Assyrians (that’s the country Nineveh was a part of) has attacked and wiped out Israel…so obviously Nineveh’s repentance didn’t hold or wasn’t influential enough to stop the war.
And yet, God wants us to know: SHOW compassion anyway!
There are people all around you right now that don’t know Jesus. Some of them are involved in some pretty bad stuff. Maybe even some serious sin.
And whether or not we think they deserve compassion is irrelevant.
They deserve it.
The minute we start thinking that we deserved it and they don’t, is the minute we completely don’t understand Jesus anymore.
RIGHT HAND FROM LEFT HAND
God works out the reasoning for this a little bit more for us by using a curious phrase in verse 11.
He says, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?”
At first it sounds like kind of a demeaning statement…but it essentially means this: These people don’t know the true God. They don’t know the true way of living…of life. So how can they be expected to know better?
If they don’t know the most important thing of life, it’s like basically not knowing your right hand from your left
Back in 1960’s, the Parry family of England, felt called by God to share the forgiveness of Jesus in the Congo.
In 1964, while they were fast at work sharing the hope of Jesus, the two parents and two of their 4 children were martyred for their faith.
However, the missionary organization that sent them, Crossworld, kept working in Congo…despite the violence…despite the opposition…and kept telling people about Jesus…despite the fact they were killing their coworkers & friends
The Parry’s two surviving children, were back in England at boarding school at the time of their parent’s martyrdom, and grew up with an uncle in England after their parent’s death.
In 2008 (44 yrs later), they were contacted by a group of believers from Congo and asked to come to Africa for a visit.
The Congolese believers shared with them that many of the churches in their area track their origin to the leadership or influence of the martyrs of 1964.
They let them know that there were now 200,000 believers in their area.
But what if the Christian organization would have said:
Nah…these people are too violent. They don’t deserve compassion.
We’re not going to talk to them until they get their act together first.
Well, thankfully, they didn’t do that.
And one of the reasons, is they were able to say, “These people, in their violence…don’t know their right hand from their left…They don’t KNOW there is another way. Of life and forgiveness. We need to tell them of grace and compassion”
It’s what Jesus said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing”
And it’s not that different in our context.
Somewhere in between our inability to share Jesus with our friends and our unwillingness to share, lies our thinking that these people just need to know how evil/wrong they are. And we get SO stuck on that, that we forget to share Jesus with them.
We forget that, yes, God thinks their actions are sinful, but many of them don’t know their right hand from their left. Meaning, they don’t know any better. They don’t know there is another way. That there is life in following Christ. Great life.
And how are they going to know unless we share?!?!
And the other problem is…we try and share…but we share the wrong thing.
I think we’ve spent far too long, thinking the answer to people’s lack of morality is to educate them on morality. No, the answer to people’s immorality is to introduce them to Jesus.
They weren’t really going to change those villages in the Congo in the 1960’s if they came in and put on seminars about the evil’s of violence.
No, they people needed life change. They needed Jesus.
That makes sense right??
Well, let’s take it to a smaller scale then.
Your friends…neighbors…family members who don’t Jesus….
They don’t need you to educate them on the evils of drinking…on the impropriety of swearing…or sleeping around…
They need Jesus.
If all we do is educate people on morality, and not give them Jesus…then we’ll just create a bunch of Pharisees, and how is that any better than a bunch of tax collectors and prostitutes??
No…we are surrounded by a people who don’t not know their right hand from their left yet because they do not know what life is all about.
And our job is to do Jonah’s real job. Not to sit around and ask questions like, “yeah, but do they deserve it??”
Our job is to be like the Grandparent spoiling the grandchildren with presents .
Except our present is GRACE!
“Hey! You need some grace?? God will forgive you?!”
“You did this? Jesus wants to have a relationship with you! He’ll forgive you!”
You had an abortion? You got divorced? You committed adultery? Guess who loves you and wants to come into your life! Jesus!
That’s our job!
And it’s a great one!
BLAINE IS ALSO A GREAT CITY
Look one last time at the last verse of the book of Jonah with me:
(Jonah 4:11) – NIV
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?”
This is the great city that God created. He created these people. He cares for them. He doesn’t want them to perish.
(Ezekiel 33:11) – NIV
Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?
God wishes that NONE should perish 2 Peter tells us.
He says, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?”
And I think God says to us…as a congregation today…should I not have concern for the great city of Blaine?
For the great city of Anoka? For the great city of Andover?
60,000 people live in just this city alone. It’s already half the size of Nineveh…which God sent a prophet to.
And in this city…God has sent a church.
He sent us here to start this church…not so we could set-up a new church shop in a new city and sit here and do “churchy things” with each other while the rest of the city withers away.
No…God is calling…each and everyone of us…to WAKE UP…and to take our eyes off of our plants…off of the things that we devote our time to that are really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
He is calling you to be a part of something greater!
He is calling you to spread hope to the addict, forgiveness to the adulterer, salvation to the drunkard, real life to the rich person who thinks they have it all…but are empty on the inside.
That’s our job.
If God really wanted to, he could have given Nineveh a message from the sky…but he sends Jonah.
It’s our job.
This city and the surrounding cities…they are on our watch.
The roughly 48,000 people who don’t know Jesus…that’s on us.
And our job is to go out with the truth that Jonah understood but didn’t like…it’s mentioned in it’s entirety 7 times in Scripture:
“You (God) are a gracious and compassionate God…slow to anger and abounding in Love”
That’s the message we share.
And we’re going to do it.
God has given us, the people of Renovation, a vision: To be a people…being changed by God…to change the world.
We will not sit on our hands.
We will not sit by another day as the people around us live w/o Christ.
We will not tend to our plants more than we tend to people dying
We’re gonna be the church that:
Goes out instead of turns inward
Shares hope instead of condemnation
Changes the world!
In under 3 years, God has used this church to reach a remarkable amount of people for Jesus.
You sit next to, serve with, and worship with people every week, that 1 year ago…we’re sitting at home wondering what life was about.
Why are they here now? Worshipping their creator?
Because of people like you. Sharing grace.
It begs an interesting question of us? How are WE even here?
Because at sometime…someone told US about Christ. And we get to enjoy Him. And know salvation.
Now it’s our turn!
Not because we “just should…”
BUT because we realize that…at one point…we were just like the Ninevites.
We didn’t deserve grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t deserve it.
But Jesus looked on us…just like the Ninevites…and had compassion. Because he created us…and he loves us.
And I can’t keep that inside. And I hope you can’t either.
Share hope this week. Bring someone with you to hear about hope next week. Don’t come alone.
Let it sink in. God had mercy on us. We didn’t deserve it…but he had mercy on us.
Spread the good news!
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.