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East of the City, Part 1

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 program, guest teacher Ryan Ingram picks up in our new series “You Were Made for More.” 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.