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The City God Loves

March 15, 2020

The City God Loves

Passage: Matthew 12:33-45, Jonah 1:1-4:10
Service Type:

Sermon Notes (No Audio Recording)

Matthew 12:33-41

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”39 He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching; and look ​— ​something greater than Jonah is here.

The religious leaders came to Jesus, saying, "Show us a sign. Do a trick. Heal someone. Do something cool." And perhaps a little frustrated, Jesus says that it's an evil and adulterous generation that asks for signs, but okay, “I’ll give you the sign of Jonah.” And then he references the story of Jonah in two parts:

  1. Like Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights, the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights, and
  2. The men of Nineveh will judge the scribes and Pharisees, because when Jonah preached they repented. And now, a greater Prophet than Jonah is preaching, and you Pharisees refuse to repent.

The story of Jonah can be a little hard to find in the Bible, because it's a small book, but it is located in the middle of the minor prophets of the Old Testament. And as you're looking for Jonah, you pass through a lot of other minor prophets, which all begin pretty much the same way: "The word of the Lord came to" Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. So it’s no surprise that the book of Jonah begins with exactly the same words.

Jonah 1:1

Who is Jonah?

Prophet (Starts like others, 2 Kings 14, Jesus words); Specific assignment – only prophet not assigned to Israel. Assigned to Gentiles – major problem for Jonah; Name means "Dove" – symbol of peace/innocence; Son of Amittai – "faithful”; Jonah = "Innocence, son of faithfulness"

What do we know about Nineveh?

  • It’s an old city. Genesis 10. Noah’s grandson Nimrod
  • Difficult journey of over 500 miles to Nineveh. This isn’t an easy trek. You’d have mountains to cross, rivers, it’d be hot and dusty. 
  • Chapter 3 verse 3 tells us it is an extremely great city, and chapter 4:10 says there are over 120,000 people living here, with lots of cattle
  • It’s an evil, wicked city (1:2), They are lost in darkness (4:10 – can’t tell their left hand from their right hand). Skin alive; use as wallpaper

So when God says, “their evil has come up before me”, he’s not kidding around. So if you’re like Jonah, how do you feel about being asked to go to Nineveh? ISIS? Lets see what Jonah does. Jonah 1:3

Should be laughing. Not running from the terror of the Ninevites, that would make sense. Running from “The Lord’s presence.” That’s laughable. The author of Jonah (could be Jonah himself), is showing us the ridiculousness of what he’s doing. Innocent dove, the son of faithfulness, a prophet of the Almighty God, got in a boat to run away from the presence of the Lord. I mean, that’s rich right there. 

This guy can’t be serious. He isn’t a real prophet, is he? I mean, who hears God’s voice and runs away from it? Tarshish is 2500 miles the opposite direction from where Jonah sits. It is all the way across the Mediterranean Sea. Far away as possible / end of known world / Ocean. And that’s where Jonah is headed to get away from the presence of the Lord. 

“Preach against it” means, call them to repentance. Proclaim their wickedness, so that they repent. Jonah refuses to be the carrier of that message, and pays money to get aboard a ship headed as far away from this call as possible. Let’s see how that works out.  Jonah 1:4,5

Author is helping us get the picture: Although God asked Jonah to “get up”, Jonah is getting down. He went down to Joppa, down into the boat, now he is down to the lowest part of the vessel, and had stretched out and fallen asleep – and again, you should be laughing

Did you ever think of the book of Jonah as hilarious? 

  1. First of all, how do you run from God? 
  2. Secondly, how is a guy stretched out and sleeping in a storm violent enough that the ship is threatening to break apart. (creaking, groaning, popping)

But there he is, sound asleep, which kind of tells us what Jonah’s heart condition was. He is running from the Lord, and he’s in a deep sleep. Not even tossing and turning. Jonah 1:6 You try!

[7] "Come on!" the sailors said to each other. "Let's cast lots. Then we'll know who is to blame for this trouble we're in." So they cast lots, and the lot singled out Jonah. [8] Then they said to him, "Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we're in. What is your business, and where are you from? What is your country, and what people are you from?" [9] He answered them, "I'm a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land."  [10] Then the men were seized by a great fear and said to him, "What is this you've done?" The men knew he was fleeing from the LORD's presence because he had told them. 

And again you should be laughing. You worship the Lord? Really. You are fleeing from the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land... in a boat!!!!???? Do you really worship this God?   Jonah 1:11-16

Jonah is running; rather die than go to Nineveh, look at 14-16: Who in the story has the mind of God, caring for human life, worshiping him, and proclaiming his sovereignty? THE SAILORS

Those are all things Jonah should have been doing! 

The original Hebrew readers would have been shocked to see the integrity and spiritual sensitivity of this group of pagans, previously worshiping other gods, see a sign from God, and fall on their faces in worship. And this would confront their belief that non-Hebrews were unworthy of God’s mercy. 

The sailors saw the sign, repented and worshiped. That’s the kind of thing Jesus wanted to see from the Pharisees. Jesus wants them to see themselves in Jonah.  Jonah 1:17

What kind of fish does the Bible say it was? It doesn’t. Why not? Because the book of Jonah isn’t about a fish. And as we read scripture, there are some great questions to ask as we read, the first and foremost being: What does this say about God?

  • Incredibly merciful! To who? 
    • Ninevites, 
    • Jonah, 
    • sailors.  
    • Where do we see his mercy? Patience, salvation to sailors, rescues Jonah with a fish. 
  • In control – God of heaven and earth, wind, water, etc. 

Meanwhile in chapter 2, Jonah is in the belly of this fish for 3 days, and it can’t be a pleasant experience. The fish takes him, chapter 2:6, to the bottom of the mountains. That’s about as low as you can get. 

What about you? Things are pretty low – 1. Virus/State of the World 2. Marriage 3. Walk with God.  // Jonah = would rather die than preach to Nineveh, and God wouldn't let him die. Bottom of the sea in a fish. That’s pretty low. The very mercy Jonah didn’t want God to have for Nineveh, God showed to Jonah. Jonah's life depends on, hangs on, the mercy of God. Washing your hands is prudent, it's wise, it's the loving thing to do. But make no mistake, our lives, our jobs, our health do not hang on how well we use soap. They ultimately hang on the mercy of God.

Again, who is God? He Listens – in 2:7, even at his lowest, Jonah's prayer reached God’s ears in his holy temple. Even there, God heard his prayers. No matter how low you think your life has become, God is there. Psalm 139 has King David writing the same thing – Where can I go to flee from your presence?  If I make my bed in the heavens, or in the grave, you are there. 

And in 2:10, God commanded the fish, who unlike Jonah, listened to the word of God, and the fish vomited Jonah onto the dry land. 

JONAH 3:1-3

A three-day walk = 60miles. Not even NYC

I think the point of saying it's a 3 day walk is found in Jonah 3:4 

That’s it. He only goes ⅓ of the way in, and preaches one sentence. 

Seven words. Nothing of repentance, nothing of mercy. I think he wanted to be a prophet of doom. He had his life planned out, what kind of prophet he wanted be, and God took it in a different direction. I wonder if he kind of muttered it. Jonah 3:5-10

Jonah didn't say anything about fasting. Nothing about sackcloth. nothing about calling out earnestly to God, nothing about turning from evil, and yet the king is all over it! Everyone from the king of Nineveh to the animals are all fasting and wearing sackcloth. To add to the humor of the book, it appears that even the animals are repenting! 

People are calling out to God, turning from their evil ways and wrongdoing, in faith that God may have mercy on them, hungry animals are bellowing. Again, this is very uncomfortable to the Hebrew audience first reading this. 

  • The pagans are repenting, and the prophet is a joke. 

And these butcherers of the ancient Middle East were spared! God was merciful to them, just like the sailors, and God used one of the worst sermons in human history to pierce the hearts of the Ninevites. This isn’t the part where we laugh, this is the part where we say, “what a mighty God we serve!”

Afraid to talk about Jesus: afraid they will say something wrong or mess up. Jonah is your man, friends! Jonah proves you can be the worst preacher on the planet, even preaching with wrong motives, and God can use it for massive change and for his glory. 

You're the one far away from God, and don't think he’d want you anymore – Jonah 3 is your chapter! The butchers of Nineveh are given the mercy of repentance, and God holds back his destruction when they do! This is amazing grace! 

Good place to end, but unfortunately, this dark, sad comedy isn’t over...in fact it's about to get rough.  Jonah 4:1     Hey there, Innocent dove, son of faithfulness. How are things going right now? It’s one thing to be complaining about the failure of your ministry, but the success? 

Again – laughable.  Jonah 4:2-3

So look at the screen: Why did Jonah jump on the ship headed for Tarshish? because I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. Just kill me, God. This is the worst. 

God replies, you’re kidding right? Is it right for you to be angry? Then, comically, Jonah storms out of the city, like a 2yr old throwing a tantrum. Made a little shelter, sat down and watched for fire from heaven. Jonah 4:6  

The Lord appointed a fish, and now the God who rules the fish of the sea, the storms of the air, and the plants of the ground. So God appointed a plant to grow over Jonah’s head to give him some extra shade. Jonah is greatly pleased with the plant (unexpected mercy for himself – relief from the hot sun) Look back to Jonah 4:1 – how does Jonah respond to God's expected mercy for Nineveh? Greatly displeased. 

Jonah was quite thankful for God’s mercy to him, but refused mercy to Nineveh. They must pay. 

Let me ask you this: 

  • Parents: Are you pleased with God’s mercy on you, but are slow to show mercy to kids?
  • Married: Are you pleased with God’s mercy for you, but are quick to criticize, condemn, browbeat, nitpick your spouse? 
  • Single: Are you pleased w/ God’s mercy for you, but slow to have mercy for roomates, co-workers, family members?
  • Teens: Are you please w/ God’s mercy for you, but slow to show mercy to your parents?

If that’s us, we’re as foolish as Jonah. Our lives hang on the very mercy we refuse to show others.

And because God also controls the creatures of the earth, [7] When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, and it withered. And because God controls the wind and the sun, [8] As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah's head so much that he almost fainted, and he wanted to die. He said, "It's better for me to die than to live." [9] Then God asked Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" "Yes, it's right!" he replied. "I'm angry enough to die!" 

What is God trying to communicate to Jonah? What is he trying to communicate to you and me? 

10] So the LORD said, "You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 

You cared about the plant, which you didn’t labor over and did not grow. By contrast, God is saying to Jonah, may I not care about the great city of Nineveh over which I did labor and make grow? 

Think about this: All the government, education, cultural, technical, and entertainment institutions, the medical and first responses of a city are by God’s image and design for his image and his glory. 

Riverside was founded in 1872, according to Wikipedia. God has been laboring on and in Riverside for almost 150 years! He has been intimately concerned with it, and makes it grow. Riverside didn’t just pop up, and then God had to figure out what to do with it. I mean, we're grateful for the councilmen and women, the policemen, the community volunteers, etc who serve the city and the county, but they/we are serving the Lord's purposes

God is saying, Jonah, you care about a plant that appeared in one night and disappeared the next night; but Nineveh has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years! [11] But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?"

Nineveh is my plant, Jonah. I care about it. I'm building it and working in it. 

And a worm is attacking it for it's destruction. It will be destroyed if I don't mercifully send someone to push back. 

God has been working in our cities too. God created this town, your neighborhood, to be a hotbed for his image in the world; working to see his glory known and treasured. 

But a worm has also been appointed to your town as well – bringing despair, hopelessness, destruction, a serpent in the garden opposed to the will of God, tempting us to doubt the goodness and mercy of God, convincing us to be the kind of prophet WE want to be instead of what God is calling us to be. 

If there is anything Jonah can teach us about this Coronavirus, it’s that a) God is working his purposes for human history. The virus is appointed by God. God is asking us to trust, while Satan wants us to despair. b) Secondly Jonah teaches us that, like the plant, our lives are actually not in our hands, and never really were to begin with. We spring up and we wither when God appoints it. You may have great plans for your life, but God has the authority to show you how laughable they are. 

But because God loves your city, and can’t stand to see people he created in his image full of sorrow and brokenness and despair in a city, he has called you and me to get up and carry the good news that mercy has come, and to preach that no one is exempt from the mercy of God. 

See Jonah is the Story of God.

We've all been Jonah in the story – wanting our own story, failing to follow God's commands

We've all been the Pharisees – thankful for God’s mercy to us, but slow to give it to others

But what we find is that we're actually the Ninevites and we need a prophet who will be faithful to the word of God, eager to complete the task no matter how long and difficult the journey, one who will say “Not my will but yours be done,” even if it means physical harm.  

So God called on his own Son, Jesus, the truly innocent son of faithfulness, to be Jonah for us. 

  • Jesus was the better Jonah, sent by God on a long difficult journey, to preach the mercy of God to the people he loved
  • Jonah didn’t want to preach mercy to a city known for its brutality and wickedness, yet Jesus came to preach mercy people he knew would whip him, beat him, and crucify him. 
  • And like Jonah, who “died” the death he deserved and spent 3 days in the belly of a fish before he was “brought back”, after dying the death WE deserved, Jesus would spend 3 days in the grave, before God brought him back to life. 

And bc he has, Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 can become your prayer:

Jonah 2:2-10 CSB

[2] I called to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol (the grave = I was as good as dead); you heard my voice. [3] You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas, and the current overcame me. All your breakers and your billows swept over me. [4] But I said, "I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look once more toward your holy temple. [5] The water engulfed me up to the neck; the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. [6] I sank to the foundations of the mountains, the earth's gates shut behind me forever! Then you raised my life from the Pit, LORD my God! [7] As my life was fading away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. [8] Those who cherish worthless idols abandon their faithful love, [9] but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the LORD." 

Thank you Father for showing me mercy. 

Thank you for sending Jesus to me and for me. 

Father, in light of eternity, my life is just a plant – here for a night, gone the next day. I pray you would grant us the courage and strength and faith to rely fully on you each and every day. 

Thank you for your deep and patient love for your people. 

Give us wisdom and opportunity to share that patience and that love with those in our community. And help us not to prequalify who that should be.