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Big Brother - Jonah 4

Jonah: To Live or Die  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

Jesus’ most famous parable is probably the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. How could you not love it? There’s this young kid who wants to trade his family for a frat house. He wants his dad’s money and not his dad. But then, when the money plays out and his friends go away, he realizes for the first time just how much better his father was than them. For the first time in his life, he wants his father, not just his father’s stuff. So, he decides that he’s going to go home and plead for mercy. He works up a beautiful speech on his way home. But, while he’s still a long way off, his dad abandons his own dignity and runs to him. He welcomes him home, throws him a party, and restores him as his son. And, we love that story because we see so much of ourselves there, don’t we? In fact, I made a comparison with Jonah and the Prodigal son while Jonah was in the belly of the fish. So, we so ourselves, and we see Jonah there.
But, it’s not actually the Parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus tells. It’s the Parable of the Two Sons. In fact, the prodigal who runs off and is welcomed home is not even the main point. The main point is found in the second son, the big brother. You see, not everyone celebrated baby boy’s return to the farm. While dad was throwing a party and the town was dancing, big brother was seething in anger. He couldn’t believe that his father would celebrate someone who had brought so much shame upon the family. He had always been there. He had been a faithful son. He had never gotten a party. And, he’s ticked.

God’s Word

You see, we all love to believe we’re the runaway that returns home to the open arms of God. But, the truth is that most of us believe we’re the younger brother when we’re actually the big brother, seething in judgement, jealousy, and misery. That’s probably the best comparison for most of us, and it’s probably the best comparison for Jonah too. So, from Jonah, I want us to see Three Questions Big Brothers Should Ask: (Headline)

Why am I “angry”?

There may be no question I get asked more often than this one. We have this low grade frustration that’s always bubbling beneath the surface, and it always seems to erupt at the wrong time on the wrong people. So, we know we’re angry, but we don’t often understand why. So, we can see ourselves in Big Brother. When Big Brother heard about his little brother’s return and the party his dad threw, Jesus says that “He was angry and refused to go in.” Verse one says the same thing about Jonah.
Our anger reveals our values. It reveals what we believe beneath the surface, even if its in contrast to what we say. So, why are we angry? For the same reasons that Big Brother and Jonah are.
“God” doesn’t follow our “rules.”
Jonah 4:1-3 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.””
There’s nothing we value more than control, is there? We want the ability to direct our lives and the people around our lives according to our rule. Look at how different Jonah’s prayer is here compared to his prayer chapter 2. In chapter 2, Jonah wanted grace himself, but in chapter 4 he resents God’s grace to Nineveh. Jonah confesses grace with theological precision — in a tirade. He’s the original theobro! Rightly articulated theology can be a club in the hand of an abusive or prejudiced person. He knows about God’s grace, but he doesn’t understand it. It makes him angry and harsh, not gentle and kind. Jonah wants God’s grace to operate according to his rules and his law.
That is, Jonah is angry because he’s not in control; God is. The Big Brother is angry because he wants to control the estate, but it’s his dad’s. We blow up on our wives and our children and our friends because we want control. We want them to respond to us as though we are God. And a temper tantrum is often our quickest way. But, God can’t be manipulated by Jonah’s temper tantrum or ours. A loving and wise Father doesn’t cede control to his unruly children.
There’s another source of anger for Jonah and for us:
“Life” doesn’t go our “way.”
Jonah 4:6-8 “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.””
Jonah’s temper settles for a while. He pulls up a lawn chair to wait out the 40 days hoping he may get to watch Nineveh burn yet. And then, a plant sprouts above him that provides him shade for his lemonade. Surely, this the favor of God! But, as quickly as the plant sprouts, it withers away. And, Jonah’s happiness wither away with it. Verse 9 says that he was “angry” over it.
Jonah was angry that his life wasn’t going the way he wanted it to go. James says in chapter 4 that the root of anger is that “you want and do not have.” That’s why you fight with your wife. That’s why you blow up on your kids. That’s why you talk under your breath about your boss. That’s why the Big Brother gets angry with his dad. You have unmet desires. But, you see, God won’t spoil his children by indulging their corrupt desires. He’ll make us angry by stripping them away instead. You see, it could be that you’re angry because of all the things you think you need in your life in addition to Christ to be happy.
I want to ask you what God asks Jonah: “Do you have a good reason to be angry?” (V. 9 NASB)
The second question should really be understood as an extension and clarification of the first.

Why am I “unhappy”?

Unhappiness may seem like a shallow subject for us to broach, but in truth it’s the deepest problem we seek to resolve. We want to be happy, but we struggle knowing how. The Big Brother is the opposite of happy when his brother comes home. Everyone else is dancing and singing, but he’s seething outside. That describes many of us, doesn’t it? It’s like the happiness of others adds to our misery. That’s where Jonah is too. Nineveh repents, heaven rejoices, and he’s so unhappy that he just wants to die. Why?
We see ourselves “first.”
Jonah 4:2-3 “And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.””
Jonah 4:6 “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.”
Notice in Jonah’s prayer how many times he speaks in the first person. It’s eight times in our English translation and nine times in the original Hebrew. It’s becoming clear whose at the center of Jonah’s world. The Big Brother protests the same way: I have served you.” “I have never disobeyed you.” “You never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate.” Verse 6 is the only time in the whole book that Jonah is actually happy. And, why is he happy? He was saved from “his discomfort.” Two things Jonah hates: 1) Nineveh 2)Discomfort. That is, Jonah hates any version of the world that is different from the one he’s imagined. He hates anything that doesn’t revolve around him.
And so, Jonah had a happiness that worms could destroy. It was superficial and short-lived. The only actual destruction that takes place in the book of Jonah is to the vine — to Jonah’s superficial happiness. So, the only time Jonah is happy is matched with the only time in the book God actually destroys. We better brace ourselves for this one. When our happiness is found in ourselves and the circumstances we prefer and the relationships we prefer and the jobs we prefer, God will let it wither. God is pleased to let superficial happiness wither.
How much happier would Jonah have been if he could’ve celebrated Nineveh’s repentance with God? How much happier would the older brother have been if he could’ve celebrated with his father his brother’s return? How much happier would we be if our happiness was found in what makes God happy? Teflon joy will come only when our happiness is linked to God’s.
Jonah — and the Big Brother — are not just self-centered; they’re also entitled.
We believe ourselves “entitled.”
Jonah 4:1 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.”
Jonah 4:6-8 “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.””
Unhappy people inevitably compare what they believe they deserve with what others have received. The miserable ask: Why do they keep getting what I deserve? Jonah’s plant withers away, and Jonah is so despondent he wants to die. Nineveh had received God’s favor, but not him. The Big Brother is unhappy because his brother is enjoying what ought to be his party.
Victimhood is the close companion of entitlement. That’s certainly how Jonah sees himself. Verse 1 can literally be translated as “it was evil to Jonah, a great evil!” The surest way to being a miserable person is to see yourself the victim of every circumstance.
But, do you know who is unshakably happy in the book of Jonah? The fish. The plant. The worm. The wind. There are five appointments in the book. The fish is appointed to swallow Jonah. The plant is appointed to grow. The worm is appointed to eat. And, the wind is appointed to blow. And, they’re all happy to do it. But, Jonah was appointed to go to Nineveh, and he took his life into his own hands and went the other way. That is, the fish, plant, worm, and wind lived in obedience and trust to the sovereignty of God, and Jonah resisted.
We are not entitled to a pain free life. Our world is broken. Our spouses are broken. We’re broken. But, we can trust, even in the face of the fire-iest trial in the goodness of God. We can trust in his sovereign rule. You see, resist the sovereignty of God like Jonah, and you’ll be miserable. Surrender to it, and you’ll find joy behind every cloud. Our happiness is not found in what is or isn’t happening to us, but in Who is seeing us through.
So again, I echo God’s question: “Do you have a good reason to be angry?” (V. 9 NASB)
You see, the answer to the first two questions can actually be found in a better question.

Why am I “loved”?

Jonah says, “You’re dang right I have a right to be angry! I knew you would do this! You gave your grace to Nineveh, and you took away you favor from me! Of course, I’m angry.” You see, Jonah and the Big Brother are angry for the same reason. The Big Brother is asking his dad basically the same question that Jonah is asking God: “How could you love him the way you love me?”
How could you love “him”?
Jonah 4:2 “And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
Jonah 4:10-11 “And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?””
Jonah, like the big brother, wanted to define the the boundaries of grace, and the whole point of Jesus’ parable and God’s work here is that grace is God’s and God’s alone to give. Jonah was right in ways his heart had never accepted when he said from fish’s stomach: “Salvation is of the Lord!”
If you look back at the confession Jonah complains to God in verse 2, you see that he’s describing exactly the kind of God that He needed. He needed a God who was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love. He needed THAT grace! He ought to be another skeleton at the bottom of the sea, but here he is breathing, praying, ABLE to complain.
That is, Jonah and the Big Brother were angry and unhappy because they were asking the wrong question. The question isn’t: “How could you love them or him or her?” The question is: How could you love me? That’s the question that flips the bitterness and entitlement and victimhood on its head.
How could you love “me”?
There isn’t a counselor worth his or her salt that would advise God to stay in this relationship. I’ve been too unfaithful too many times for too long. How could He love me? Jonah needed what Nineveh needed. The Big Brother needed what his baby brother did. I need what the LGBTQ community needs. They need grace, and I need grace.
Grace is always scandal. That’s what Jonah’s anger teaches us. It seems crazy that God would love Nineveh, but it’s crazy that He would love me, too! God loved Jonah in spite of Jonah. God used Jonah in spite of Jonah. God was good to Jonah in spite of Jonah. All of Jonah’s life was a testament as to why God should abandon Jonah, but grace prevailed. It’s a scandal! And, all of my life is the same way. It lays out clearly why God should abandon me. I have accumulated a debt that I cannot pay, but He “cancelled the record of debt....with its legal demands…nailing it to the cross.” It’s a scandal.
So, I’m not shocked there’s a place in my Father’s house for my rebellious little brother. I’m shocked there’s a place for me.
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