Breaking my Stubborn Resistance: “I Have Every Right!” – Jonah 3 and 4

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Breaking my Stubborn Resistance: “I Have Every Right!” – Jonah 3 and 4

arrest-attorneyYou haven’t been watching television for the last three decades if you haven’t heard an officer read a man his “Miranda rights.” These “Miranda rights” were enshrined into U.S. law in 1966 after the courts found the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of Ernesto Arturo Miranda had been violated during his arrest and subsequent trial for domestic violence. Ironically, Miranda was later retried and convicted, but not until his name became a household word on nighttime TV. In fact, American English eventually even formed the verb “Mirandize”, that means to “read the Miranda warning to” a suspect (at the time of arrest). Though these rights do not have to be read in any particular order, New York City police order has become the favorite of nighttime television. Most can recite them out loud:

• You have the right to remain silent.
• Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
• You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
• If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
• Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

It is clear by now that as part of being an American, one understands they were born with RIGHTS. In fact, in my lifetime, I think it is a fair observation that rights have been far more emphasized than responsibilities. We know our rights – but many seem hold significantly less regard for their responsibilities. I wonder what would happen if we recited over and over the following, night after night, on show after show:

• I have the responsibility to respect the life, the property and human dignity of those around me.
• I have the responsibility to live up to my covenants and agreements, to do what I promise.
• I have the responsibility to work hard, pay my fair share of the common expense, and not seek to avoid this responsibility or hide my true worth.
• I have the responsibility to pay for what I take, and not to take what I cannot afford.
• I have the responsibility to testify to the truth, without the need to hide my true intent behind steeped and cryptic legal jargon.

What kind of America would we live in if we saw our responsibility in society was touted to be as exceedingly important as our rights? Do you believe our marriages would be more secured, or our mortgages be more properly satisfied? How would this affect our material prosperity? Would we be comfortable running up massive deficits for our children or systematically eliminating the unplanned unborn due to personal inconvenience? Would the number of people that feel they both need and are entitled to greater and greater assistance be increasing, or decreasing? I suspect we all know the answer.

I would love to tell you that believers are not steeped in their own rights. I would love to be able to share that as a result of their rich and real study in the Word of God – they have decided to emphasize responsibility, and not get caught up in the focus on the “rights” they perceive themselves to have. I would love to – but it would not be true. We are well studied in our culture – perhaps too well studied.

God gave us the privilege and responsibility to see the lost world around us through His eyes, and do all that we can to share His love and message of forgiveness to them. Yet, in truth, the focus on personal rights has hindered us. Our sense of JUSTICE has made a lot of us angry – and we think we have the right to be. Our country is being snatched away from us by men and women who have a different vision than one compatible with the Bible or the Bible believer. Increasingly, believers are being framed as intolerant, resistant, and recalcitrant. We who helped set men free in pulpits, pamphlets, and protests – are increasingly seen as the obstacles of freedom. The vision of some can only see us through tainted filters, and we feel justified in our anger at their distortions and constant attacks. In virtually every public forum, believers are being beaten back and blamed for the ills of society, and it makes us mad. The problem is, we don’t have the right to be angry and withhold love – no matter how many people come together to rationalize it. We are commanded to love, and we are obliged to share a message from God – whether it is well received or not.

Key Principle: When our rights are more important to us than sharing God’s message of mercy, self-righteousness and anger replaces love and grace. God’s people lose their effectiveness, and eventually their testimony.

We are in danger of becoming too rights laden – too self-important to do what God told us to do. What’s worse – is that the problem is not at all new. Believers have had the attitude that they had RIGHTS that were more important than RESPONSIBILITIES for thousands of years – long before American Christianity was even on the scene. Let me show you in a story set perhaps as far back as eight centuries before Messiah – found in the story of an angry prophet named Jonah. His anger, his sense of justice, and his focus on his right to make the call that another face judgment are all strands that tie his story together…

Jonah 3:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. 4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. 6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. 7 He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8 “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. 9 “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. 4:1 But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” 4 The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. 6 So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” 9 Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

“God said “GO!” Jonah said “NO!” He ran, and after a dramatic detour, he finally obeyed. Nineveh heard the message of God and repented. Why did Jonah run? We don’t find out until after they repented – it was hatred. Jonah’s deeply bitter spirit wanted Nineveh’s crimes to pull God’s wrath violently down on them. He admitted to God that he had a deep sense of dread over the prospect of Nineveh’s repentance and God’s predictable forgiveness. His Tarshish run wasn’t laziness – it was a sour spirit dressed in the toga and sandals of a man of God. The Lord’s question to Jonah was this: “Do you have a good reason to be angry at My forgiveness?”

Don’t lose track of the purpose of the narrative while reading the details of the story. The story wasn’t written to emphasize the details of God’s message, nor of Nineveh’s response. It wasn’t supposed to become a travelogue of Nineveh’s size and enduring tourist sites, nor a theological primer of God’s decision making processes – those details are only shadows around the real message. This story was about a prejudiced prophet and his bitter reaction to God’s message of grace. The clear intent of the events of the end of the story were for the purpose of God to instruct a man who he didn’t want God to deliver people that he hated. His prejudice was more sacred to him than his responsibility to be a man of God. He ran BECAUSE he thought it was his right to see bad people perish. Their sin gave him a GOOD REASON to skip obedience to share a message of rescue. He preferred them punished.

The truth is this: no one reaches an enemy for Christ – only a friend. As long as I can get away with demonizing and denigrating others while shining a light on sin’s disgusting symptoms– I can justify my inner anger and even withhold obedience to preach my God-given message to them. Jonah did just that. They were cruel, barbaric, and undeserving people. Their language was strange, and their dress was foreign. Their wicked ways were repulsive. God SHOULDN’T love them! How could He? In such an attitude, the messenger became the obstacle to the message.

Let me say it lovingly, but with clarity: If I spend my energy trolling the web for gross evidence of the sins of lost men, regardless of their abnormal behavior or religious label, I will find myself withdrawing from my mission to reach them. If I feed my inner repulsion of the other man’s ways so that anger within ferments into hatred, I shut down my heart and mouth as useful instruments in my Father’s hand. My flesh feeds on anger. In it, I toss away opportunity to allow love and grace to flow through my person – an essential corridor to bring a lost man to God.

Brothers, we hate too deeply and too easily.

I have discovered in my short journey of life, I may find far too many who help feed my anger, my prejudice, and my hatred – because they too are afraid. They are fearful of people who so aptly picture the blindness of the fallen world. They point fingers in panic at such men, who act so thoroughly enslaved to a broken system, their actions stab at my God and my belief system. My angry friend beckons to me: “They offend our way of life and show contempt for things we consider most sacred.” – and my friend is right. They are often even casual with hatred of me – and I am tempted to answer in kind. The problem is that I cannot be obedient to my Master if I will not love them, and I cannot love them if I withhold His message of rescue. Hatred blocks love, and anger denies release. It is not a sin to be resist evil ideas, but it is a sin to hate men – even evil men. There is a place for that battle that is fought in Heavenly places – it is on my knees. Placards cannot do what prayer will. Anger cannot prove irresistible like love will. Why can’t I see it? It is a sin to hate the people I am called to reach. Their rescue should be my goal, not their destruction. To do that, I must face my “good reasons” for being angry.

The story of Jonah in chapters three and four has a GLARING CONTRAST of two kinds of people. Chapter three pictures a city and its people WOUNDED over their sinfulness, seeking God for rescue. Chapter four depicts a hardened prophet – God’s messenger – overtaken in BITTERNESS and ANGER that God would show mercy to the sin-sick and decadent Ninevite. Let’s take a closer look…

The Desperate Hearers (Jonah 3)

The Proclamation of Judgment (1-4)

God gave the assignment. It included the completion of his journey to face the Assyrian people at Nineveh (3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city.. .3 So Jonah arose and went...).”

God provided the message. The judgment message was God’s Word – Jonah was only to GIVE the message God told Him to give (3:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time…2…proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.)

God included the SCOPE of the task. This was a LARGE city, and Jonah would need to courageously offer a damning message in the face of an enormous threat. (3:3 …Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.)

God had been at work. The people seemed tender and prepared for the message. Jonah wasn’t even part way into the city, and people listened intently. (Jonah 3:4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”)

Ancient Nineveh’s towering gate can still be seen near the banks of the Tigris river opposite the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. In ancient times, it a city of more than 100,000 people – extraordinary for the time. The ruins have been the subject of numerous excavations since the mid-19th century. Beginning with some basic attempts by French Consul General at Mosul, Paul-Émile Botta in 1842, and more aggressive excavations by a famous British archaeologist named Austen Henry Layard – with many others thereafter. The site has been a treasure trove of history. A string of important palatial structures have been found, including the lost palace of Sennacherib with its 71 rooms and enormous bas-reliefs, the palace and library of Ashurbanipal, which included 22,000 cuneiform tablets. Fragments of prisms were discovered, recording the annals of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal, including one almost complete prism of Esarhaddon. Massive gates and mudbrick ramparts and walls were unearthed. The walls encompassed an area within a 12-kilometer circumference. Many unburied skeletons were found, evidencing violent deaths and attesting to the final battle and siege of Nineveh that destroyed the city and soon brought an end to the Assyrian Empire. (adapted from Popular Archaeology, June 2011).

For a city of this size and power, with a reputation for brutality and lascivious lifestyle to simply repent – God was already at work. Often He is. He calls a believer into a situation because He is opening the opportunity to both the person to be reached AND the person through whom He will be reaching the lost one.

The Pattern of Repentance: (5,6)

The people accepted the Word of God as true – He existed and He would act. (3: 5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God…).

The people took responsibility – agreeing with God (believe) about sin. (Jonah 3: 5b “…and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Three actions showed the work of God in them:

• They changed habits (proclaim fast).
• They changed appearance (sackcloth).
• They eliminating distinctions (greatest).

Their leaders REPEATED THIS PATTERN! (Jonah 3:6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.)

Don’t pass this by without a closer look. Repentance is part of coming to God, and being embraced by Him. The arrogant and self-sufficient cannot come to God and receive His pardon or His peace – for they have not truly grasped God’s person and have not seize a sense of the violation of God’s holiness. Only when the people BELIEVED, did they CHANGE. The changes were profound – affecting their LIFE PATTERNS.

Don’t forget there are some rules to the whole idea of repentance. In the moments we have on this subject, let me use the words of others that say it better than I could:

• First, time to repent of sin is limited. “If we put off repentance another day, we have a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in.” – source unknown.

• Second, repentance is an act of inner surrender, not merely “turning over a new leaf” of behavior: “According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act, and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it. Confession of sin and reparation of wrongs are fruits of repentance.” (L. Berkhoff, Systematic Theology, p. 487).

• Third, repentance is a requirement of salvation and rescue: “In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church’s integrity problem is in the misconception “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.” He goes on to say, “It is revival without reformation, without repentance.” (Quoted by C. Swindoll, John The Baptizer, Bible Study Guide, p. 16)

• Fourth, though it happens as surrender within, it can be easily seen without:The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ is as applicable to the right method of judging ourselves as of judging others. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.” -M. Cocoris, Evangelism, A Biblical Approach, Moody, 1984, p. 65.

• Fifth, repentance is not sought as an option among others – it is only truly understood when we see it as our only real option: “Wabush, a town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada, was completely isolated for some time. But recently a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and thus, only on one road leading out. If someone would travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only way he or she could leave—by turning around. Each of us, by birth, arrives in a town called Sin. As in Wabush, there is only one way out–a road built by God himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.” – Brian Weatherdon.

• Sixth, one who repents has the open hand of God as his resource: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.” – Andrew Murray.

The Proclamation to Repent: (7-9)

3:7 He issued a proclamation and it said…

Fast: “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. Change what you are focused on – what you are gathering together for. Meals should be stopped, and mourning should replace them. Be SICK over what we have been. Cast your appetites aside and fall before God.

Mourn: 8 “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth.” Everyone and everything must be made to recognize our dependence upon God above. We are in His hands, and we must mourn our ignorance and hard-hearted forgetfulness of that truth!

Pray: “…and let men call on God earnestly.

Change: “…that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.

Humble: 3:9 “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”

To a nation that worked for itself, and ignored God’s Words and warnings – the message was not some smooth talking “Divine psychotherapy” to help people feel better about themselves – it was repentance.

The message from above was not about how to continue in rebellion but attempt to gain the fruits of blessing – it was about humble surrender. To a people who sought the material over the real, the “quick fix” over Divine exaltation, the “now” over the future – God’s message was simple: “Stop!”

Why? Because God’s message is directed at the real need, not the temporary symptoms. The real need is a change of heart brought on by humble surrender. It is a change of focus from “me” to what God has said. Self-absorbed people aren’t set for a great future. They will violate God’s standards on their way to inflicting great harm to each other – only to end alone and broken. Each man dies alone, and faces God alone. A turnaround is the only real hope – facing both my sin and God’s provision. Yet, in an effort to avoid that turn, men will devise more and more elaborate legislation and administration to help them stem off the results of poor choices, while continuing to walk further from the truth. We are broken, and we need healing. Only God can do that.

The Point of Repentance (3:10)

Repentance implied a change in “works” and repentance demanded a turning from “evil” – but repentance also included a change in penalty. 3:10 “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.”

God relented on the impending doom. The chain of cause and effect was broken by GRACE – God’s unmerited favor. Their humility didn’t cancel out all the damage they caused, but God saw hearts and God pulled back the judgment that threatened them. That was the VERY REASON Jonah got depressed.

The Depressed Prophet (Jonah 4)

The text says that Jonah was DISPLEASED with God’s actions, and ANGRY in 4:1. He offered God a bitter “I told you so!” (4:2). Jonah knew God’s character so well that he could recite Exodus 34 and tell God what He would do if people humbled themselves. God is NOT NEARLY AS UNPREDICTABLE as people who do not walk with Him think He is. God’s character is unchanging, and His Word lacks little clarity when it comes to His love and His standards.

In the face of forgiven Ninevites, Jonah just asked to DIE. A deep depression settled on his soul. That depression started like it usually does – it began when he felt mistreated by someone. (4:1). It was really an issue against the control of God- Jonah didn’t like the way God was working His plan for people. (4:2). His pain led him to the wrong conclusion – the impulse to RUN! Here is the problem: You CANNOT RUN from God (4:3). Even in death, God is still there. Even if you don’t like Him, you will still have to face Him. If you resist Him – He will not budge. In a depressed state of mind, Jonah failed to really hear God’s questions to him (4:4), and failed to see the provisions God had given him. (4:5). It is not in our nature to see God’s hand while we are licking our wounds and feeling abused by God.

When Jonah couldn’t get God to respond to his request, he sulked. He sat on a hill and got pre-occupied with HIMSELF. A depressed person spends much of their time occupied with personal comfort and satisfaction. (4:6-8). God sent the plant to comfort, then the worm to inflict. It is not in comfort that God’s Word is best heard – but in desperation. Self-sufficiency kills dependence. Need sharpens the ear to God’s call. From God’s voice, Jonah got the hard challenge:

4:9 “…Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?

God has a message for the stubborn, depressed and angry believer: I will keep teaching you (4:9). I will keep softening you because I need you to see the world the way I see them (4:10-11).

Why do you suppose God gave us one of the sixty-six books in the library of His love to depict a believer who was embittered, rights-bound, and justice dependent – a man with standards that gave him self-justification to withhold love to others and obedience to God above? Could it be that God knew the peril to the cross that would come in the hands of believers like US today?

We watch our TV and we become angry that God won’t smite the ungodly and bring peace and prosperity to our land anew. We hunger for the destruction of those we are called to LOVE. Something is wrong!

We forget that God never promised us that the world would HELP US bring the Gospel to the world. He never said that a believer should anticipate a government that will speed him on his way. It is time for the church to understand that we cannot sustain cultural Christianity any longer – we need real surrender to Christ. We need real love for God and real compassion for lost men and women – no matter how they act, what they wear, or where they live.

I want to finish with a simple statement by a former police officer, now a preacher:

When I was a police officer, I responded to several traffic accidents, some of them with very severe injuries. At the scene of these accidents there are three groups of people, each with a different response toward those involved in the accident. The first group is the bystanders and onlookers. They are curious and watch to see what happens but have little active involvement. The second group is the police officers, of whom I was one. My response was to investigate the cause of the accident, assign blame, and give out appropriate warnings and punishments. The third group is the paramedics. They are the people usually most welcomed by those involved in the accident. They could care less whose fault the accident was and they did not engage in lecturing about bad driving habits. Their response was to help those who were hurt. They bandaged wounds, freed trapped people, and gave words of encouragement. Three groups – one is uninvolved, one is assigning blame and assessing punishment, and one is helping the hurting. Which group are you in?” (Pastor Larry Sarver, taken from sermon central illustrations).

When our rights are more important to us than sharing God’s message of mercy, self-righteousness and anger replaces love and grace.