Mercy & Doing Well
May 28, 2017 Series: Jonah and the Rescue of Rebels
Passage: Jonah 3:1–4:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1–10:12, Matthew 18:23–18:35, Titus 3:1–3:7
Wow, guys. So much has happened in the last month. Redeemer turned 12, Dale & Julia celebrated 50 years, the size of our family tripled. I feel like it’s been ages since we’ve read Jonah. And yet here we are, with loads of ground to cover. I think we’ll get there, but we’ve got loads to do. It may seem a bit odd at first, but I want to get started in the New Testament. Turn to 1 Corinthians 10.
The reason, I think, that it’s prudent to start in Paul’s letters is because Paul teaches us how to read the stories that we find in Scripture. We can read the stories of Moses, of David, of Job, or of Jonah all day long for no good reason, if we’re reading them the wrong way. And a lot of folks do read them in the wrong way, so I thought it might be a good reminder to go to the word of God to learn how to read the word of God.
Let’s start in verse 1.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless,with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
So, look, Paul looks back into the Old Testament, and he points at stories - loads of stories. And he’s saying that these stories - and all the stories in the Bible - are given as a measure of protection for us. They keep us on the path. If we read these stories well, and if we take heed, they will keep us from falling into darkness. He says, “Hey look - remember how they fell into idolatry? Don’t do that. It didn’t work out for them. Remember how they grumbled against God? God wasn’t pleased with them, and they fell in the wilderness. Remember how they chased after sex? 23,000 fell that day.”
Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. Because these things took place as examples for us, and were written down for our instruction. That’s the instruction. That’s Paul’s word for us, today. Take heed. Because this was written down for you.
The stories in scripture are written to teach God’s people how to relate to him, and how to relate to one another. They are ever correcting our worldview, always correcting our paradigm. They are teaching us how to think about things, and how to act, and how to respond, and how to relate.
And when you read these stories, you’re going to stumble across questions. Pointed questions. Difficult and cutting questions. Paul says that those questions are for you. And if you meditate upon these questions they will cause you to reconsider your attitudes, your presuppositions, your thoughts and your behaviors. If you take heed, Paul says that those questions will keep you from stumbling, will protect you on your journey toward the Kingdom.
The passage we’re reading today is one of these stories, and Paul would say that this story is the word of God to his people. The words of this story are a gift from God to his people. Here, he says, this will help you on your journey.
I like to think about it this way. I have four daughters, and on occasion one of them will break the rules. Now, in our home we take the rules very seriously, because we’ve chosen rules that will teach our daughters how the world works, and what sorts of action will lead to life and to good things, and what sort of actions will lead to death and to dark things.
As we’re teaching our daughters the rules, sometimes they just can’t understand why this rule has anything to do with them, and why of all things breaking this rule could hurt them in the long run. And so we tell them stories.
There was once a boy on a hill, watching the village sheep. And he thought it’d be funny to pretend that he was being attacked by a great wolf. And so he yelled and screamed and the whole village climbed the hill and rushed to his aid. He laughed and laughed, and the village turned back. The next day, he yelled and screamed about the great wolf, and again the village rallied to his aid, only to find him on top of the hill, laughing and laughing. On the third day, once more the boy screamed, but this time there really was a great wolf. But the village did not come to his aid, because the no longer believed he was telling the truth. And that was the boy’s last day, because the wolf ate him.
Now, whether you find that particular story helpful isn’t the point. The point is that we do not tell these stories to our children to entertain them, or to pass the time. We tell them these stories to warn them and to help them. That’s not a funny story. That’s a horrifying story! But if you tell that story to your kids, you’re doing it to teach them not to lie.
We’re training them. We’re chasing after heart change. That’s the point. We want our kids to understand that what they do matters, and what they think matters, because it shines light or it harbors darkness.
Every action, every word, every state of mind, is either a tool to equip us on our journey toward the Kingdom, or it is a poison to undermine our journey toward the Kingdom.
So this story that we’re about to read is a warning from God, to you. I mean you, and I’m glad we’re reading this now, because I feel like the pointed questions we’ll read are especially poignant. They are deeply challenging right now, I think, because of what’s going on in our world, in our nation. But if you take heed, this question can keep you from stumbling.
Okay, we’re ready for Jonah. Turn to chapter 3.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh,that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe,covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
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.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Okay, so let’s start with a quick review.
When we first opened the book of Jonah, the first question we asked was about Jonah himself, because the book doesn’t give us any of his background. So we searched the scriptures and found out that Jonah is a prophet sent to the nation of Israel. And Jonah became famous by delivering a message of mercy to the people of Israel, right in the midst of their rebellion. God saw their evil deeds, and their idolatry, but he had sworn not to wipe them out completely, so he worked through an evil king to restore the boundaries of Israel. God responds to the evil and rebellion of the people of Israel with a sweeping act of Mercy. No repentance evident, no idol crushing, no return to the law. God responds to the people’s ongoing acts of rebellion with Mercy. And Jonah is the messenger. He’s the guy who shouts to Israel that God is going to be kind to them, even though they’ve turned away. That’s who Jonah is. Jonah is a messenger of Mercy toward a people who have expressed no desire to repent.
And then we started reading the story, and we saw immediately that God’s mercy is at work again. This time, God sends his messenger of Mercy to a city called Ninevah, which is a gentile city. But Jonah runs away. Why does he run away? Because he hates those people, and he know that if he goes to the people of Nineveh, God’s going to be merciful, because that’s just who he is. So Jonah, at the very beginning of this story, is a messenger of mercy who rejects and refuses a mission of mercy.
Quickly, Jonah runs as far away from Nineveh as he can. He boards a ship that’s going to Spain, and he doesn’t look back. It’s a heinous and murderous act, if you think about it, because he actively chooses the destruction of a people group rather than offering them an opportunity to repent. And yet, God does what God does, and he initiates yet another sweeping act of mercy - he does not let Jonah run. God stops him, right in his tracks, between the jaws of a great fish. Jonah, the messenger and recipient of mercy, who has himself expressed no desire to repent, is yet again the recipient of a dramatic act of life-saving, people-group saving mercy.
And Jonah knows it, too. Because chapter two records his song of praise.
I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
So we know now, without a doubt, that Jonah - the messenger of mercy to a people who received mercy - understands what mercy is, and that it’s been given to him, and to his people, frequently. The mercy of God is top of mind, and it has fueled his praise. This song is about the salvation of God, the mercy of God. The messenger of mercy sings songs of mercy, rescued once again from his own sin.
And then the fish vomits him up on the shores of Nineveh. “Go preach,” God says. And he does (begrudgingly). That’s what we just read. The messenger of mercy shouts a warning to this rebellious people. And they repent, wholeheartedly (unlike Israel, unlike Jonah), and God responds in Mercy (because that’s who he is and that’s what he does).
And that’s when the story takes a left turn.
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."
And the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?"
Do you do well to be angry?
I want you to look very closely at that question. It’s the question that hangs there, doesn’t it, right at the center of your attention? “Do you do well to be angry?” Or, as the NIV translates, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Do you do well to be angry? Hm..
First of all, I think it’s worth noting that this is a question we don’t often ask. I hear a lot of references to “Be angry, and do not sin,” but rarely do I hear, “Should you be angry?” “Do you have a right to be angry?” But that’s the question, isn’t it. That’s the question that cuts at the heart of Job. Should you be angry right now? Better than that, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Here’s the thing: you don’t have a right to your emotions. You shouldn’t feel that your emotions are a right. You shouldn’t feel that your anger is a right. You are a steward of your emotions to the same degree that you’re a steward of your money and your stuff. We will be held accountable for our emotions. They aren’t just something that happens. They aren’t outside of our control.
But they do teach us something. Anita Ladehoff used to talk about this all the time. Your emotions are a signal. They teach you something about your heart. And if you pay attention, you can trace your emotions all the way back to your idols. That’s what you’re truly hoping in. That’s what you’re terrified of losing. That’s what you really want. Find yourself angry, or anxious, or afraid. Follow that emotion back to the source, and it’ll show you something.
Our emotions teach us about what we really love. What we really value. Emotions teach us what we’re hoping in. And if it isn’t the Kingdom of God, if isn’t the rescue of God’s people, if it isn’t the forever praise of God, then your anger, your fear, your anxiety is an act of rebellion.
That’s what this question means, doesn’t it? This question teaches us that sometimes our emotions are an act of rebellion. If you can do well to be angry, then it necessarily follows that you can do evil to be angry. Sometimes our emotions are acts of evil. And so, when we find ourselves experiencing emotions like anger, or anxiety, or fear, or excitement, we need to ask this question. “Do you do well to be angry?”
And if you do, maybe you’ll find yourself where Jonah was. Maybe your anger is an act of rebellion. If you find yourself angry, or afraid, or nervous, and you follow that emotion to the source and find you’re hoping in the darkness, if you find rebellion, if you find an idol, if you find yourself shaking your fists at the heavens, you need to repent. Sometimes that’s the only appropriate response to our own emotions. Repentance.
If you’re angry, ask the question, and if the answer isn’t yes, Repent.
But what’s the answer to this question, in this particular instance?
I think there are two answers, because God asks this questions twice over the next few paragraphs. We’ll talk about the second answer next week. And before we discuss the first answer, let me read you a story.
When a certain King began to settle his debts, one of his servants was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his King ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the King of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their King all that had taken place. Then his King summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
Jesus tells this story, and he’s teaching us what the Kingdom is like. A man owes countless riches to his master, and his master forgives every penny. And yet, though he walks away free from an unimaginable burden, that free man immediately demands account from his fellow servant. “Pay what you owe.” This is a picture of the posture of Jonah - who received mercy and grace unspeakable, and yet demanded justice and the destruction of the lives of an ignorant people.
So how should Jonah have responded? There it is, right there in the story. “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy!?” Mercy. That’s the answer. Mercy ought to be the disposition of the pardoned. Mercy ought to be the attitude of the rescued.
It’s simple, really. This is Israel’s messenger of mercy, forgiven an unimaginable debt, countless times a recipient of mercy, sent on a mission of mercy, rescued by an undeserved act of mercy, and sent to proclaim another message of mercy.
How should Jonah have responded to the mercy of God? Did he do well to be angry?
Or let’s ask a different question. How do you do well in the face of God’s mercy? What does it look like to do well as a recipient of God’s mercy.
Let me read to you one more passage, from Titus.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Our disposition toward the world- no matter how sinful, no matter how rebellious, no matter how hateful and murderous and selfish, should echo the mercy of God. Paul looks to a young pastor, and he reminds him that no matter how cruel the Roman rulers, no matter how vindictive the Roman persecution, no matter how unkind the words of the Roman pagans, the church ought to be kind, and courteous, and ready for every good work.
Because that’s who we were. That’s who we were before Jesus. We can’t respond to the cruelty and selfishness and persecution of the world with anger, with vengeance, with demands for justice. Because we had earned nothing but the wrath of God. We had earned our destruction. We hated and were hated, we were malicious and envious fools, just like them. But God our Savior came, and he saved us.
Our disposition, our attitude, our heart toward the world around us should echo the mercy of God toward his people. Our posture toward the world should mirror God’s posture toward us. Every action, every attitude, every thought, every political position, every presupposition, every Facebook post, every text message. We are broadcasting his mercy, we are imaging his mercy, we are painting a picture of his mercy.
Or we are not. And that’s a problem.
So look, there are real problems with mercilessness, with a merciless disposition toward the world in general, or to people groups, or to individuals. That posture is a problem. I mean, think back to the story of the King and his servant. What happened to that guy? Forgiven the most significant debt the kingdom has ever seen. And as soon as he leave the throneroom, debt free, that guy he walks up to - that guy owed him cash. He did. He owed him. All things being equal, that guy had every right to ask for his money back. But all things aren’t equal. A recipient of mercy is obligated to respond in mercy. Obligated.
And all things aren’t equal for us either. We have been rescued. If you place your faith in Christ and look to the new Kingdom with hope, you’ve been pardoned from an unfathomable debt. And that act of mercy, that sweeping act of grace and kindness - that should dictate how you relate to the sin of the world around you.
If we have mercy, it is a signal that we’ve received mercy. If we have no mercy, it too is a signal. Because our mercilessness is an indication of something terrible. And that mercilessness does not go unchecked.
Forgive or you won’t be forgiven. Check it out, Matthew 6, clear as water.
Now what that means is not that Christ doesn’t rescue his people from ALL OF THEIR SINS, including mercilessness. But what that does mean is that mercilessness means something about you, and about how you relate to God. It’s a symptom of a disease. It’s a symptom of Christ-less rebellion. And Christ-lessness is never somewhere you want to be.
There’s a real tension here, in the scriptures. You find that God rescues the worst kind of people, but he also demands that they broadcast that forgiveness, that mercy, wholesale throughout the world. And you also find that some will seem like they’ve been walking in the mercy of God. Some will seem like they’re forgiven, walking with God, loving life on the way to the kingdom. But if they don’t reflect the mercy of God, there is a real possibility that they haven’t received the mercy of God. The King won’t allow it. He won’t allow someone mercy if they won’t broadcast that mercy.
And that’s why, ultimately, this question is so serious.
Do you do well to be angry?
So look, we’ve spent plenty of time considering this question in the abstract, and I’m sure there isn’t a one of you who would say, with Jonah, “Well yes, I do do well to be angry.” I mean, in theory. But this gets tough when you start asking questions about people, and politics, and patriotism. This gets tough when you take heed, and take it home, and meditate upon this question, and reflect upon the posture of Jonah.
Do you wear the posture of Jonah?
Okay, sure, maybe you’ve never bought a one-way ticket to Spain to ensure a people’s destruction. But I want to explore a few areas, here, and I want you to take heed. Like Paul said. Take heed and meditate and consider. And make sure you aren’t wandering from the path.
And I’m going to try to start with me, so you don’t think I’m standing up here claiming that you need to change.
Nearly 16 years ago I was driving my blue Chevy S-10 to Grandview High School on a Tuesday morning when a guy interrupted the music on the radio to announce that a plane flew into the World Trade Center in New York City. I was 17. I don’t think anyone in America stopped watching the news that week.
And I’ll never forget the next day, on CNN, when video played of men and women and children dancing in the streets of Turkey, burning the American flag in celebration.
“Kill them all.” I thought it, and I said it, and I wanted it.
And two months later I joined the Army.
So maybe that isn’t a perfect parallel, but I want you to know that I see what Jonah is doing, and I’ve felt it, that hatred. But 9 months later I sat in my barracks and opened the Bible, and I felt the warm mercy of God.
From that moment I lost the privilege of demanding the destruction of my enemies.
If you’re on Facebook, you know what I’m talking about. On the heels of the bombing at Manchester? Muslims are the problem. They need to be stopped. Destroy them all. A few bombs and our problems would disappear.
Look, you can’t do that anymore. You know what we do to our enemies? We love them, and we pray for them, and we hope for their rescue.
‘I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?
That’s it. Our orientation toward our enemies shifted dramatically on the day of our rescue.
One quick caveat. There are prayers in the Scriptures, prayers that we are encouraged to model, that ask God to crush his enemies, that ask God to wipe away from the earth those who would resist the Kingdom of God. And when all things are coming to an end, the people of God will rejoice with King Jesus crushes the sin-glorifying, God-hating rebellion that has plagued this earth since Adam.
Let me be clear, there is a way to love your enemies and to hate the work of the wicked. There is a way to plead for their souls and look upon their actions with righteous anger. We, the rescued, we hate the work of the wicked and we love the souls of the wicked.
So if you find yourself praying for the destruction of your enemies, notice that David, immediately after praying for the destruction of his enemies in Psalm 139, pleas with God:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
But, look, step a bit further back. Think about politics in the United States right now.
I really want to believe that Christians aren’t capable of the type of slander, the type of hatred on display this past election cycle, but I saw firsthand that (when the rubber hits the road) evangelicals in America are capable of hating their enemies. Again, our Facebook posts and our Twitter posts are not exempt from the mandate.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.
Look, when the strawman arguments fly and the “Pro-Choice” garbage is on display at full volume, we must be kind, and we must be courteous, and we must be gentle. Because that was us - hateful and envious and merciless and wrong. But God saved us, not because of what we did but because of who he is. His mercy is our template. We mirror it. We echo it.
The mercy of God trumps your political positions. It gives you the freedom to walk in righteousness and to love unwaveringly. It doesn’t mean we don’t discuss the issues, or discourage foolishness, or remind people of what’s at stake. But we’re kind and courteous, and we pray for their rescue.
But don’t stop there. Look a bit closer.
No joke, I wrote the bulk of this sermon over the course of four days. And Every. Single. Day. one of my daughters threw a major temper tantrum. Brother, this stuff is no joke. Shea and Dustin dropped by on Friday, and we just traded war stories on keeping it cool when our kids are being crazy.
And that’s funny, right? But at the end of the day I can’t see a step beyond my daughter’s sin. And that sin is frustrating, and I want to defeat it. But in that moment I can’t for the life of me remember that I have sin too, and that I’m fighting that sin (which is just as ridiculous, just as despicable). I forget the mercy of God when I’m staring into the face of the sin of my kids, and that’s what drives my frustration.
I’m totally a newbie, so I’m not giving you advice. But I’ve heard many of you say that it’s easy to stay angry with your kids. Me too, it’s easy. But what if we keep reminding ourselves that we’ve been pardoned a great debt by a kind King, and that we too were once hateful, malicious, mean?
Maybe then our discipline would perhaps mirror the mercy of God, perhaps shine the light of his love a bit clearer?