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East of the City

From the series You Were Made for More

Have you ever been watching a thrilling movie or TV show, when suddenly, without warning it just ends? And you’re left thinking ‘what happens next’? Well in this message, guest teacher Ryan Ingram wraps up our series “You Were Made for More: Facing the ‘Jonah’ in All of Us.” Don’t miss the good and the bad we can learn from the biggest cliffhanger story in the Bible.

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Message Transcript

You were made for more. Like, right now, you were made for more than upward mobility, making money, you were made for more than keeping up with the Joneses. This hedonistic lifestyle of eat, drink, and be merry, because there is nothing more to life, so why not just live it out? You are made for more.

God has a sense of humor, people. You’ve got to read the Bible and understand that He is funny, too.

Like, if we have a sense of humor, God has a better sense of humor. Like, how funny is it that God’s like, “I’m going to appoint a fish, a great fish, and swallow you because you won’t go that direction, you won’t have the ship turn around. But I’m going to, in fact, take this animal and cause him to take you in the right direction there.”

And here’s what we discovered is God delivers us from storms to reveal His mercy, His undeserved favor in our lives, and to position us to fulfill the more we are made for.

And so, Jonah once again finds himself on the shore headed towards Nineveh. And God calls him yet again. He says, “Go and preach to the great city of Nineveh.” And he’s like, “Well, I guess I have no choice because even if I’m going to run from Him, a fish is going to take me back. Hello, I’m going to do it.”

Now, he really gave a half-hearted effort. The city of Nineveh, it was a three-day journey to traverse it. And the text tells us he only went a day in. And then also if you study chapter 3 there, you’ll notice his sermon was a five-word sermon in Hebrew. He went one day in, gave them five words, dropped the mic, “I’m done.” And something amazing happened. Even with a half-hearted effort, the entire city repented and turned from their wicked ways, their brutal ways, and repented. Even the king.

Now, here’s what I love about the response of the king. He’s overseen this and he’s like, it reached to him and he says, “Who knows, maybe God will relent. And let’s repent and turn from our ways,” and what he does is he has everybody in the city, I mean, this is massive, one of the greatest cities in the ancient world. He has everybody repent, but in his idea, he doesn’t know how far to go. And so, he has all the animals repent too!

Like, how do animals repent? I don’t know. But he put on sackcloth on the animals too. So, you’re thinking about this, all the cows in their pastures and the herds, he’s putting sackcloth on them. He’s like, “I don’t know what to do! But I’m going to do everything I know and everything I’m…maybe this, I don’t want to stop too short.” I just think Jonah thought, like, I think he was probably laughing at him.

But here’s what’s amazing. Unfortunate for Jonah, when our external acts of obedience – Jonah did the right thing – do not reflect our internal attitude, his heart, we miss out on the more we are made for. And Jonah was in the city of Nineveh with revival breaking out among the most unlikely people on the planet to turn from God. He’s in the middle of it and he missed out on all of it.

And that’s where we pick up our story today. As we close out the book of Jonah, we actually come to the climax of the book. Now, we would think that the climax is the city, great city of Nineveh repenting, but it’s actually Jonah, chapter 4 where we discover the fundamental shift to the more we are made for. And it’s actually the entire point of the book of Jonah. If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to Jonah chapter 4, with me?

I want to pick up the story in Jonah chapter 3 verse 10 if you’re following along to give you a little bit of the backdrop. The king, the whole city repents. “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.” They repent, God relents, and then we go back to our anti-hero, Jonah.

“But Jonah,” oh Jonah, “but Jonah, to Jonah this seemed very wrong,” in fact, above that just say, “It seemed evil, a great evil.” That’s what it is in the Hebrew here. It’s three different ways to say it’s exceedingly evil and bad. And he became angry, literally, white hot angry. And what is to come is a prayer from Jonah. And the way it’s constructed we miss it in our English. But it’s this exasperated, loud, just rant of Jonah. He’s going to pray, he’s going to pray, but it’s not like this internal seething. Some of us are seethers, right? Like, you’re mad and you’re just going to, “I’m going to seethe. You’re not going to know it but internally, I am angry.” No, Jonah wasn’t internal on this. This was external. This was, like, loud. And he is seething and ranting publicly. “He prayed to the Lord,” and now we get an insight to why Jonah fled in the first place that we didn’t see in chapter 1. “He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said?’” Well, what did you say? “Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.” I didn’t want these people to receive mercy. That’s my heart. That was my aim. That’s why I ran in the opposite direction.

And notice this, “I knew that You are gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” He’s quoting Exodus 34:6, it’s where Moses asks to see God’s glory, “Show me the real You.” And God says, “I’ll pass by you, I’ll hide you in the cleft of the rock.” And He proclaims, “I’m the Lord, the Lord, abounding in grace and compassion, slow to anger.

See, this is Jonah’s understanding of who God is and it confronts our kind of popular concept of the God of the Old Testament, isn’t it? That He’s actually gracious and compassionate, slow to anger. That word gracious is God’s attitude towards those who have no claim on Him because they are outside of any covenant relationship. That is His heart, it’s what He is eager to do. That you’re not inside this relationship with Me. You’re outside and you are far away from Me. But My heart is to extend grace to everyone. And Jonah hates it. Compassion is that picture. In fact, the root word here comes from the idea of a mother carrying a baby. And that compassion that a mother has for their child, that tenderness, that care.

And God is going, “I have this motherly compassionate heart.” And Jonah says, “I knew that’s who You are.” Now. “Now take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Doesn’t he sound like a teenager? Right? He’s just ranting, teenager, “Now, take me, Lord!”

And here’s what Jonah is saying, “If You’re that kind of God showing that kind of grace to these kind of people, I don’t want to live in that kind of world.” That’s what he’s saying here. I want nothing to do with that.

And then notice God’s reply, and I love this. It’s not my reply. I love how God responds, because it’s not to shame, it’s not to put him into place, it’s not even to just have this demonstrative, like, “Who do you think you are?” That’s what I would have replied. Like, who are you? Come on.

He says, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Like you have this indignation. Is it right for you to be angry? And then notice it goes on to say, “But Jonah had gone out and sat down at the place,” where? East of the city.

So, one, let’s just say this. The rant was happening in the city. Think about how awkward that is. He just preached repentance and then he’s ranting at God for saving these people and he should be the prophet serving these people. And he’s ranting about it. He goes east of the city and you’re like, “Well, why does that matter, Ryan?” Well, east of the city, one, if he was going to head home, he would have headed southwest. And so, he’s actually headed further away from Jerusalem, not closer.

And in the Old Testament, this whole idea of moving east had often this connotation of moving from the presence and purpose of God.

Chapter 10 of Genesis, again, in the tower of Babel in the city of people who are trying to build up their own idea of their own God and who they are, they went and moved eastward. It’s this idea, “I’m moving from the presence and the purpose of God.”

And Jonah, instead of moving towards Jerusalem, he heads east. It’s interesting that you can preach and serve God and still be moving in the wrong direction. It’s a call for those of us who are in ministry.

“Then he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” You know, the king responded. He’s like, “Maybe, maybe God might relent and let’s do whatever we can.

Jonah sees God relent, he goes up on this, looking over the city, and he’s like, “Maybe God might get them after all. I’m going to watch and wait and hope and pray.”

Now, notice this. “Then the Lord,” and circle this word, “The Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy,” again, this isn’t just happy. It’s three different words in the Hebrew. It’s a happiness exceedingly, greatly happy.

He’s so overjoyed about a stupid plant. “But at dawn the next day God,” circle this word, “provided a worm, which chewed the plant so it withered. When the sun rose, God,” again, circle it, “provided a scorching east wind that brought such devastation,” and if you look at east wind throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, it constantly brings such devastation across the land.

“And the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’” He is still in teenage land. “But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about a plant?’” A plant? Like, it’s a plant. I know some of you love your plants, so I’ll tread lightly here. Jonah’s response, “It is.” And that is totally teenager, isn’t it?

Those of you who have teenagers, or if you just remember being a teenager and you felt so justified, so right, so this… “And I don’t care, I don’t want, I hate everything about you!” And is it right? “Yes!” That’s Jonah. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” Oh, how often we get consumed with little things and make them everything, and then complain to God about it when they let us down.

“But the Lord said,” notice His response again, “You have been concerned about this plant, you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and it died overnight.”
You did nothing for this. You didn’t even plant it, Jonah. You didn’t water it. You did nothing. It sprang up and it died and yet you are exceedingly, abundantly happy, overjoyed about this and now you’re wanting to die.

“Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” You are concerned about a plant; should I not be concerned about people? And then He qualifies it, helping Jonah, trying to move Jonah’s heart, trying to move his perspective, trying to change his understanding, trying to break through the hard-hearted, “It is” – I’m right and I am depressed because of Your goodness – perspective of Jonah.

“…in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right from their left?” That “right from the left” is an idiom of they don’t know what is morally right or wrong.

Scholars are divided, they don’t really know what the hundred and twenty refers to. Some think it’s, there are a hundred and twenty thousand children in the city. “Is it not right for me to have concern about those who have yet to even learn right from wrong?” They’re at that age.

Others think it’s just people who have never been taught, who didn’t know, who grew up in an environment, grew up in a culture who had no idea that this was so wrong and vile. “Shouldn’t I have concern about them?” And then I also think, this is the part, like, some of you parents know this. Like, you’re in the middle of a heated conversation with your kids, right? And they are down a line of reasoning and argument. And so, then you add just the briefest bit of humor to kind of break the moment, but also to kind of make your point, right? Some of you do this. I do this, at times, when I’m kind of aware of it.

And I think this is what God did here. “Should I not be concerned about a hundred and twenty thousand people who don’t know the right from the wrong?” And then He goes, “And the animals?” And think Jonah is looking out over the city and he sees this whole city that has repented and he has seen the animals with a bunch of sackcloth on them. He’s like, “That does no good.”

And God is going, “Should I not be concerned about the animals too?” And he also knows that Jonah cares more about the animals than the people of Nineveh. “Should I not at least be concerned for the cattle that are there?” And then here’s what’s crazy. That’s the end of the book. Done. It ends. It’s a cliffhanger!

If it was a movie, you would go, “Wait! Wait! We don’t know what happens! You can’t end that way!” And, yet, it does. And it does so for a reason. We do not know Jonah’s response. We never know if he moved east of the city, back into the city. And here’s the reason why: Because the issue is not so much about Jonah and the story, but the issue is for you and me.

The issue is for us to say, “Where are we?” And so often I find myself, maybe you find yourself, east of the city, griping and grumbling to God about things of lesser matter, when God says, “You are concerned about plants. You’re concerned about things. You’re concerned about creature comfort. Should I not be concerned about people made in the image of Me, that have infinite worth and value?”

And He’s making that argument from lesser to greater: Plants, animals, people. And then this causes us, it causes us to ask the question: Where are we and how do we respond? And it’s here that we see the fundamental shift required to live the more we are made for. When our hearts break for that which breaks God’s heart, it fundamentally shifts us to the more we are made for.

When our hearts break, when we can have our hearts understand that every single person on the planet, regardless of whether you agree with them politically, wherever they live is the image-bearer of the God Most High. And God loves them with an everlasting, all-consuming love. And His heart breaks for them. He breaks for the devastation and the destruction that we have created on this planet. And He longs for every single person to experience His grace and His goodness.

When our hearts begin to break, everything else outside of that is just behavior modification and adjustment externally. God wants to do a heart issue, a heart transplant, a heart-change in us. And it returns us back to the purpose of the book of Jonah.

The purpose of the book of Jonah, first and foremost, is to reveal God’s expansive love and mercy for every single person on the planet.
See, the purpose of the book of Jonah is to reveal the expansiveness of His love and mercy and then what it does and what it calls us to in the cliffhanger ending is it’s to act as a mirror. You look in the mirror and see what you really look like, to examine the state of our hearts, calling us to shift our lives onto the very purpose of God for this planet.

And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, there is this warning. Especially I think many of us who have been maybe believers for a long time. The warning in Jonah is so critical because we see the warning again in Jesus’ day. And it’s this: You can know God’s Word and completely miss God’s heart. You can know God’s Word and completely miss His heart. Jonah knew God’s Word. In fact, in his griping about God, he is griping with God’s Word! “I knew You were this! I knew You were that!”

By the way, in the Hebrew of that prayer, there are eleven times the word “I”. “I, I, I, I, I.” Because we can know God’s Word but when our focus is on us, we miss God’s heart. That’s why we see such brokenness in the Church. That’s why we see such brokenness in our lives, because our hearts don’t break for what breaks God’s heart.

In fact, there’s a question that I’ve asked. Because I think it’s the question we have to ask as followers of Jesus, especially as we are growing in the way of Jesus. Does what we know cause our love to grow? Does what we know – like, when we get into God’s Word, and I so want us to get into God’s Word and know God’s Word, so don’t hear me wrongly saying, “Well, it doesn’t matter.

Ryan said, ‘Don’t know God’s Word.’” No, we need to get into God’s Word, but we need to allow it to change our heart, convict our heart – the Word of God acts like a mirror so that we look in it and we actually adjust and change our lives.

James would tell us when we fail to apply God’s Word, we end up deceiving ourselves. In fact, you can listen to a sermon and go, “That was a great sermon,” and walk away and not apply it and end up more deceived, but feeling better about yourself.

Does what you know, does what I know cause my love to grow? Does it cause my heart to break for the things that are on God’s heart? Does it cause my heart to beat for the things that are beating with God’s heart? Does what I know cause my love to grow so that I begin to do and move in the ways that God is moving? Or am I just stuck east of the city? Griping, looking at what’s wrong and where I wish God would work and what He’s not doing?

Tragically, Jonah was depressed about God’s goodness. Warning: We can know God’s Word and completely miss God’s heart. The question: Does what we know cause our love to grow? The principle: God is working in big and small ways in your life to realign your heart to His. God is working in big and small ways.

And we are kind of fascinated with the big, aren’t we? We want the big. We want God to, like, have that, like, “Ryan,” you know, moments. Or, “Show me a sign!” Or it’s just – and He’s working in the big and the small.

Jonah chapter 1, when God provided, we circled all that, a great fish, a huge fish. But in chapter 4, He provides a plant. And then he provides a worm. Think about that. Big fish; little worm. Still God providing, God working, God showing. And the He provides a scorching east wind. And all of it was, “Jonah, you’re missing it. You’re east of the city. You are moving from My presence and My purpose. You’re moving farther away from Me. You’re missing it. And I want to work in big ways, yes, but also in small ways.” He’s actively working, actively wooing, and this is one of those moments where he’s actively working and wooing and drawing you towards Himself.

I think the question then is how do we know the condition of our heart? I mean, how do you really know? And we are not a very good touchy-feely culture anyways. Like, “My heart, Ryan? That feels like – what are you? My heart? I don’t know.”

And also, don’t we have a profound capacity at self-deception? Can’t we see the problems in others, see the problem in Jonah? But how often do we then justify our actions? Why? Because we have a good reason for it, right?

It’s not fault, it’s not my problem, it’s not my issue. I’m busy, life is full, and you don’t know the valley. Gosh, you don’t know my workplace. You don’t know my marriage. You don’t know my singleness. We have a profound capacity to deceive ourselves.

Let me give you three questions from the text of identifying our heart condition. First question: What gets you worked up? What gets you worked up? I almost put “angry” there, but I knew there would be too many of us in here that would go, “Ryan, I don’t get angry.” And then we justify ourselves, “Well, that’s not me. I don’t get angry. I get even.” No, I’m just, but...

Right? But what gets you worked up? God’s mercy got Jonah worked up. It was evil to Jonah, a great evil. He was angry, hot angry. What gets you worked up? “I could never forgive them.” “No, no, I hold grudges.” “They don’t deserve my forgiveness, my mercy, my availability, my time.” What gets you worked up?

Jonah got worked up. He’s east of the city. And he’s griping over a city that responded in revival and repentance. You compare that with Jesus. And you know what He prayed over Jerusalem? He actually weeps over the city. He says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who killed the prophets. O how I wish to gather you as a hen gathers its chicks.” Jonah is seeing widespread revival and Jesus knows that He is heading into Jerusalem and they are going to kill Him too. And His heart weeps. He’s like, “I wish that I could gather you and draw you in.” What gets you worked up?

Second question: What do you live for? What do you live for?

Jonah was happy over the plant, a great, exceeding happiness. Jonah was more concerned about his personal comfort than people in crisis.

He’s east of the city because of his comfort. He’s east of the city because of his prejudice. He’s east of the city and he’s more concerned about a plant than people, more concerned about a plant than even livestock. And so often, isn’t it true that we spend our days where we’re focused and we are living for little things, small things, temporal things, things that are here today and gone tomorrow, that vanish? Plants.

And God says, “Would you live for something bigger? Live for something greater? Live for something eternal.” You know what’s amazing about Jesus? In Hebrews chapter 12 and it’s just coming after the hall of faith and where it’s explaining God’s, these incredible faithful people. And it talks about, “Therefore, for us, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, calling us to run the race that God marked out of us with perseverance, getting rid of anything that trips us up or the sin that so easily entangles us,” and then it says, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”

Church, you can do nothing wrong when you fix your eyes on Jesus. You are living in your full purpose when you are fixing your eyes on Jesus. “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.” And then it says this, this is amazing. What did Jesus live for? The very same thing that He died for. “Who, for the joy set before Him, scorned the cross.”

“Who, for the joy set before Him, He took on the cross, scorning its shame.” Well, what was the joy set before Him? It was you.

Finally, what are you concerned about? You want to know the condition of your heart? What are you concerned about? God’s question to Jonah, “Should I not be concerned about this great city? Should I not be concerned about people?” Jonah, east of the city, he’s concerned about himself, his comfort, just whatever he wants.

And then you see Jesus. And isn’t it amazing? Think about this. Think about that the Pharisees who knew the Word of God, remember, you can know the Word of God and completely miss God’s heart, the Pharisees who knew the Word of God completely missed the Son of God who was the Word of God incarnate. And so, when the Son of God showed up on the planet and is doing the things that God does and doing the things and getting after the people that break God’s heart and working in ways, the Pharisees who are the most religious missed it, didn’t get it.

In fact, on one occasion, which happened many times, they are saying to Him, “Why in the world do You eat with tax collectors and sinners? What is wrong with You?” And then Jesus tells a parable to explain the heart of God, what breaks God’s heart. What He’s concerned about.

In fact, He gives three stories. You know it. The parable of the lost sheep. That what breaks God’s heart and what God lives for, what God is concerned about, what God goes after is if He has a hundred sheep and ninety-nine are in the pen, if there’s one lost, He’s going after the one because the one matters to God.

And then He tells the parable of the lost coin. That a woman had ten coins and lost one. And she did everything to find and searched that one lost, valuable coin. And in both of those stories He says, “There’s more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, one person who recognizes their need and turns than ninety-nine righteous. Like, heaven rejoices!

And then He builds it to the climax. It’s the story of the lost son, or we know it as the prodigal son. When the prodigal son says to his father, “Hey, I want my share of the inheritance.” Now, there are two brothers. There’s an older brother and a younger brother. This is the younger brother.

And everybody goes, “Of course it is the younger brother. That’s a younger brother move.” The younger brother says this and the father, again, God’s heart and response instead of shaming, instead of even giving him a lecture, he gives him the inheritance.

The son goes and squanders all that he had on wild living, eventually destitute. He’s working with pigs and he’s starving. And I love how the text says it. He says, “Then he came to his senses,” and realized even servants live better than he was living in his father’s household and so he made his way home. And he rehearsed this speech and he’s working on his way home. And I love it. It says that the father saw him a long way off and he ran to him, what no proper man would do. Patriarch in the ancient day would ever run, because you’d have to lift your garb and run and expose your legs. And it was a completely humbling.

He would never do that and he does that and he runs to his son. And he gives him and embrace, he doesn’t even allow his son to finish his speech. He puts on the ring of sonship, the sandals, and a new garment on him, and welcomes him home.

And, again, there’s no lecture. It’s just the father with open arms saying, “Welcome home.” And then he throws a party. I love it. He kills the fatted calf. And then we get to the point of the story. We get the heart of God for all of humanity, wherever we are at, that it breaks His heart. And that is the reason Jesus came.

“I came for every single person to experience My grace and love, that none should perish but all come to know Me.” And the point of the parable, like the point of Jonah is to draw our attention to the older brother. Because, remember, He’s talking to the Pharisees who knew God’s Word, but didn’t know God’s Son.

See, the Older brother sees the party and instead of celebration, He’s outside the celebration griping, just like Jonah is outside the city griping. And the father goes to him, and says, “Son, come in and celebrate. Your brother who was dead is alive, who was lost is found, we have to celebrate.” And he’s got on his mind fairness. He doesn’t deserve it.

And he says, “Son, we had to celebrate. All that I have is yours. Come into the celebration and celebrate, your bother was lost and is found.”

And like Jonah, Jesus ends the story right there. And we don’t know, we don’t know how the elder brother responded. We don’t know if he went into the celebration or if he stood outside judging, critiquing, condemning, feeling self-righteous. And just like Jonah, the call is for us, not to judge the elder brother. No. It’s to see the elder brother in us, to see the elder brother in me, to see the elder brother when I look down and I judge someone, look down when I don’t reach out, look down on people and I’m just simply treating people – or I just want to live for my own comfort, my own ways, and gripe about when it doesn’t go my way.

It’s the call for us to look in the mirror and this is the prayer I want to leave you with. Would you make this prayer for you this week?

Heavenly Father, would You break my heart for what breaks Your heart? Would You do a heart-work in me? I don’t want to be east of the city. I don’t want to be outside the city, outside the celebration. But I recognize that’s where I’m at. I recognize there are parts of me that have that. Would You break my heart? Would You do a fresh work? Would You do a heart-work in me for the very things that break Your heart?