If you’ve ever read Philip Yancey’s riveting book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, you know right from the story your heart is gripped as he opens up by telling of a prostitute who figured out she could make more money renting her toddler daughter out to men in one hour than she could of herself in a whole day. Then one day, she meets a group of Christians who try to share the love of Christ with her and invite her to church, when she responds, “Church? Church? Why would I ever want to go there? They would only make me feel worse than I already do.” What this woman places her finger on is a sad reality of the local church, and that is we are known for a lot of things, but grace is not one of them! We are not known for being a place of grace.
I say this is sad, because grace was the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. John said that when he saw Jesus, he saw a man full of grace and truth. We see Jesus incarnating grace as He sits with the woman at the well, lunched with tax collectors and spoke words of life over prostitutes at parties. Grace. What is grace? It is God’s unmerited favor? It’s getting what we don’t deserve. Grace says, “I’ve got you covered, even when you didn’t merit the covering.” Grace is getting the promotion when you didn’t deserve it. Grace is godly children even though you weren’t the best parent. Grace is financial blessings even though you weren’t the best steward. Grace is the forgiveness of God even though you had the affair or the abortion. Grace.
Oh, if I can take a pit stop right here ALCF, I
want to fire a shot and just declare that this is going to be a grace place. No,
this is not going to be a place where we gloss over sin, for grace is not
ignorance. In fact, John said when he saw Jesus, he saw a man full of grace and truth. Grace without truth is
compromise, while truth without grace is condemnation. Grace sees sin, calls
out sin, but grace still forgives and invites and loves. This is not going to
be a place where sinners get beat up, but ALCF will be the kind of church that
challenges each other in our mess, yet does so with an arm around the person
and says at the same time, “We’re family, and I ain’t giving up on you.” Grace!
If you want to know what grace is, look no further than the book we’ve been studying the last several weeks, Jonah. Here we see God saving a whole city of pagans, adopting them into His family when they were formerly the enemies of God and His people—we call this grace. Ah, but it’s important to ask the question: How did the people of Nineveh get this grace? Jonah. And how did Jonah get to Nineveh? Answer: the grace of God seen in God interrupting him over and over and over again, as He sends storms, oversees lots and appoints a great fish to interrupt Jonah, so that Jonah would become a vessel of grace to these wayward people of Nineveh.
I’m at your neighborhood, now. What does this
have to do with me? We’ve learned that God’s interruptions are not His
eruptions, but are expressions of His grace. It’s important to see that when
God interrupts your life, His interruptions in your life are not ultimately
about your life. Instead, God’s gracious interruptions in our lives is done for
the purpose of making us vessels of grace in the lives of others. Or to say it
another way, God’s grace interrupts us so that we can extend that same
interrupting grace to others.
Several years ago I did lunch with a prostitute
(I’m not feeling much grace from you right now). Let me clarify. She was an
ex-prostitute, and there were about 10 of us at the table together. She told us
of how she came to Christ. A man approached her one day with money wanting to
buy an hour of her time. She was shocked to discover that the only thing he
wanted from her was for her to listen as he shared the love of Jesus with her. She
was interrupted that day in the most amazing way by grace and she became a
follower of Jesus Christ. She then went to rehab, got off drugs and left her
life of prostitution. You know what she’s doing now? Having been delivered, she
now has a burden to help other prostitutes—caught in their immoral life and
addicted to drugs—get free by the grace of God. God has used her to set dozens
of prostitutes free. God’s grace interrupted her life, and now she’s become a
vessel of grace.
That’s what God wants of each of us. Hear me—all
of us have received the grace of God, and the worse thing we could ever be is a
rule keeping, legalistic person who castigates and condemns people for failing
to perform, as if you’ve dotted every I and crossed every T all of your life.
None of us measure up! All of us need grace. And having received the grace of
God, I want that same grace to flow freely through my life.
The Problem With Grace
Ah, but grace is not easy. In fact, as we come to our text, we’re going to see some very unsettling truths about grace that Jonah wrestles with, and that we all need to grapple with. Notice something odd in our text as it opens up—Jonah is angry. I say this is odd, because he’s just witnessed what one scholar calls the greatest revival in human history—a whole city comes to faith in God, but now when we meet Jonah right on the heels of this revival, he’s angry. And it is out of this anger that Jonah prays.
Now let me stop right here and deal with something real quick that I hope will bless you. This idea of talking to God out of anger is a real hard concept for me. Now I know we’re in progressive California, but I grew up down south in Georgia, and in my house we didn’t talk to daddy and mama out of anger. If mama made you angry, you held it in, and then I went to my room that was all the way at the end of the house, stood in the corner of my room and whispered, “I hate her! I hate her! I hate her!” Then way at the other end of the house, mama’s bionic hearing would kick in and she’d say, “I heard that!” But again, this notion of talking to authority figures out of anger is foreign to me, and I’ve viewed it as sinful, but it’s not.
Notice, God never castigates Jonah for talking to Him out of anger. He questions the validity of his anger, but doesn’t condemn him for being angry. Why? Well, anger is not a sin. Paul says to the Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin.” Jesus got angry when He cleansed the temple, and theologians say that one of the attributes of God is His wrath or anger. If anger was a sin, then God is not holy, because God gets angry. See, I think the lesson is this—we can trust God with our feelings, not just with our facts, but with our feelings. Now we need to be respectful in how we express anger, but God is all knowing, and if you feel angry, He knows it regardless of if you express it or not. God can handle our feelings, even our anger.
Now, here’s the question: Why is Jonah angry? Look at verse 2 with me. Jonah is angry because God has shown grace to the people of Nineveh. See, the problem with grace, hear me, is that we want it when it comes to ourselves, we just don’t want grace when it comes to the people we don’t like. To say it another way, we don’t want to get what we deserve, but we want the folk we don’t like to get what they do deserve. Do I have any witnesses in the house today? The very thought of a group of people whom Jonah doesn’t like getting grace angers him.
Grace is Insulting (1–2)
See, the first problematic thing we learn about grace, is that grace is insulting. As my friend, Pastor Tullian says, “grace insults our sensibilities.” Now why is this? Well, because we live in a meritocracy. A meritocracy is a society that is based on earning and effort. It’s an equation society, that for the most part says, “do good things over there, get a good outcome over here.”
Tomorrow afternoon I will get on an airplane and fly back to NYC. When I get to the airport, I won’t have to stand in line with the regular folk, but will go to a special expedited line to check in. I’ll also go through the fast lane through security. Then I will sit in the Delta Sky Club—which I didn’t have to pay a dime for—and finally will sit in a nice business class seat that was a free upgrade. Why all this special treatment? Well, because I’ve flown over a million miles with Delta, and I have what’s called Diamond Status. I get treated great because, well, I’ve earned it because of my status. That’s life in the meritocracy—do good things over here, get good things over there.
That’s many of your stories. I’ve talked to many of you who have put in the time with your education. You’ve gone to some elite university. You’ve earned the MBA, and the doctorate degrees, burning the midnight oil. Now you’re working great jobs and living in one of the most desirable places in the world to live, why? Well you’ve put your time in, you did good things over there, and now you’re reaping good things over here. This is the equation; this is life in the meritocracy. And you’re also encouraging your children to do the same.
But here’s the problem with grace: Grace doesn’t play by the rules of the meritocracy. Grace doesn’t treat you according to your effort. Grace is a whole different currency in the kingdom of God. It’s sort of like Monopoly—I love that game. In Monopoly, you work hard, negotiate, buy homes and hotels, and collect a whole lot of money along the way. Now when the game is over, I tell you what you don’t do—you don’t take the cash you earned in Monopoly and go to Bank of America trying to make a deposit. Why not? Because the currency of Monopoly carries no value in the kingdoms of this world. Likewise, God is saying the currency of the meritocracy is fine for this world, but it carries no value in the kingdom of God. Your Ph.D. ain’t gonna get you in the kingdom. Only grace will. Your Ivy League education doesn’t earn you points with God. Only grace does. Your virginity doesn’t make you special in the eyes of God, only grace does. Jonah is upset and insulted because in his eyes, Nineveh doesn’t deserve to get in, and God is saying that’s exactly the point. Grace is insulting.
Grace is for the Oppressed and the Oppressor (10–11)
God’s grace has triggered Jonah’s anger, and here’s the main reason: Nineveh is a part of the Assyrian empire, and the Assyrians would be the people who would oppress and enslave the people of God. Nineveh is a part of this oppressive regime. So the very thought of God being gracious to the people who enslaved Jonah’s people angers Jonah! I mean, to put this in perspective, this is the social equivalent of God showing grace to the KKK, the Nazi Party, or ISIS. What? “No God,” so we and Jonah reason, “these people are not deserving of Your grace!”
So how does God respond? He asks Jonah a question, “Do you do well to be angry?” Now when God asks questions, He’s not looking for information He doesn’t have. He’s making a statement. It’s sort of like the questions mama’s ask of their kids. I used to slouch on the sofa and mama would look at me and ask, “How are you sitting?” I’d want to say, “You’re looking at me aren’t you?” But I didn’t. Mama wasn’t trying to get information, she was just pointing something out. Same here with God. God is just pointing out Jonah’s sin.
God now says to this angry, self-righteous prophet, “I’m going to bless you.” The text says, “He appoints a plant to grow over Jonah giving him shade.” Watch this now: while he’s still in his sin, and doesn’t deserve it, God gives Jonah grace. Then God makes this point in verses 10–11…God says, “I love everyone, the oppressed and the oppressor.”
It was Dr. James Cone, the father of modern day black liberation theology, who said that God is only the God of the oppressed. It makes you wonder, what Bible are you reading? Jesus healed a Roman centurion’s servant to the disgust of the Jewish religious. He’s nailed to the cross by the oppressive Romans, and yet says of them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Grace is for the oppressed and the oppressor. Grace is for the lynched and the lynch mob. Grace is for the raped and the rapists. Grace is for the betrayed and the betrayer. Grace is for the faithful spouse and the cheating spouse.
Let me press into this ever so gently, if I may. This church has gone through a horrific church split. I wasn’t here for this traumatic moment in the life of this church, so I can’t speak intelligently about it. But let’s say for argument sake that they were completely wrong, and this church was completely right. We were wronged by them. Now let me ask you a question: let’s say God’s grace is on that church to the point where they explode in membership, they’re the talk of the Bay, and the main catalyst for revival. Are you good with that? How does that make you feel? Does God’s grace on that church insult you? Does it make you angry like Jonah?
Grace is Revealing
See this leads me to the final point: grace is revealing. If you ever want to see your heart, look at how you respond when God shows grace to people you have a hard time with. Grace is like a colonoscopy. I’ve never had one, but everything I’ve heard is, these things are not a day at the beach. I’ve never met someone excited to have one. They’re uncomfortable, and yet necessary to get in and see what’s going on inside of us. That’s what grace is. Grace is like a colonoscopy. When God shows grace to that boss you don’t like, that ex you’re still grieving or those people who’ve wronged you, it gets into our hearts and shows us some things.
Look at what God’s grace to people Jonah doesn’t like, does to Jonah. It reveals his racism. Jonah has a hard time because these people who get saved aren’t like him, they’re Gentiles. It also reveals his self-righteous pride. Just two chapters before, Jonah was rejoicing that God’s grace rescued him out of the fish, and now he’s acting like he’s never needed God’s grace by pitching a fit! All of us have been there, haven’t we! Oh we’ve all battled short-term memory loss when it comes to God’s grace. Those people over there ain’t the only ones who need God’s grace. We all need it. When we want grace for ourselves, yet pitch a fit when others get it, we call that pride!
Look at how our text, and therefore the whole book ends in verses 10–11. There’s no resolution. It just ends abruptly like a bad reality show. You’re like, “are you kidding me? What happens? How does Jonah respond? Why this abrupt ending?” Sinclair Ferguson helps us: “It carries no conclusion, because it summons us to write the final paragraph. It remains unfinished, in order that we may provide our own conclusion to its message. For you are Jonah; I am Jonah.”—Sinclair Ferguson.
God’s been gracious to you. You don’t even deserve to live. How will you respond?
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