JONAH, Week 6, Can God Save Jonah?, Jonah 4:1-11

 Review of Series: Outrageous Grace, The Book of JonahJonah Logo.001

Week 1 – We’re Just Like Jonah

Sermon 1 of 6 – Jonah 1:1-4

We learn that the Book of Jonah is about God not Jonah.

We also learn that every turn from God usually goes down…

He went “down” to Joppa (v. 3).

He went “down” into the hold of the ship (v. 4).

He went “down” into the sea (v. 15). 

He went “down” into the belly of the great fish (v. 17).


Sermon 2 of 6 – Jonah 1:4-6 


1. God knows us better than we know ourselves.

2. God knows how to reach us at the right moment

We also learned about Jonah’s directional issues


Sermon 3 of 6 – Jonah 1:7-17

    1. He Exposes Our Disobedience.

    2. He Makes Us Face the Consequences

    3. He reveals grace to us


Sermon 4 of 6 – Jonah 2

God desires “truth from the inside out.”  He wants truth in Jonah’s life and ours.

We prayed….“Lord, show me the truth about myself.”   Maybe the same prayer Jonah had in the fish


Sermon 5 of 6 – Jonah 3

– Jonah’s simple words, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” Impacted us last week

We saw how the worst missionary created the biggest Revival

And now today the question, 


SERMON 6 OF 6 – JONAH 4:1-11


I. You just can’t please some people.

We love happy endings and fairy tales and stories where the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and the poor young man wins the hand of the beautiful maiden he has rescued.   It reminds me of the immortal words of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption, ”I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” (The Shawshank Redemption (1994)) The ending of the movie or tv show is often the culmination of a great plan, that leads to a powerful ending.  Similar to Johan in the book with his name on it.

So far the plan has come together perfectly.

            God called Jonah.

            Jonah ran away.

            God sent a storm.     

            Jonah went to sleep.

            The sailors throw Jonah overboard.

            The storm ends.

            The sailors worship God.

            God sends the great fish that swallows Jonah.

            Jonah spends 3 days and 3 nights in the great fish.

And that’s just chapter 1.

            Eventually Jonah goes to Nineveh.

            He preaches an 8-word sermon.

            The whole city repents.

            God relents.

            It’s the greatest revival in history.   

You would think Jonah would be happy. But no!

You just can’t please some people.

II. Jonah’s Misplaced Anger (vv. 1-4)

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2 So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”  Jonah 4:1-3

I’m struck by the way the NLT translates verse 1: “This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.” I underlined change of plans because that’s the key to Jonah 4.

1. What Plans Changed?

The fact that God is no longer going to destroy Nineveh.

– There’s a little Jonah in all of us and a lot of Jonah in most of us.  

Jonah’s attitude has been quite clear from the beginning: “I’m fine, Lord, as long as you send them straight to hell and don’t bother me with it. “ That’s how Jonah felt.

2. The fact that God showed mercy was “a great evil” to Jonah. That’s a literal translation from the Hebrew for “greatly displeased.”

       – When God shows great grace, to Jonah it is a great evil.

3. Now at last we understand, Why Jonah was so reluctant to go to Nineveh in the first place… 

“I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” (v. 2). 

That’s a reference to Exodus 34:6-7, one of the greatest statements in the Old Testament about God’s gracious character.

Here is the irony of this story. 

4. Jonah was fine with mercy when he received it, but he couldn’t handle it when God showed mercy to Nineveh. One writer brought the truth home this way:

“You can tell you have made God in your image when it turns out         he hates all the same people you do.”

So Jonah says, “I wish I was dead” or ”Just kill me now!” Talk about a miserable, rotten, no-good attitude. And this was God’s man!  He is God’s prophet in Israel.

5. The real question to me turns out to be, “God, what are you going to do about Jonah?” 

In the belly of the fish, he was about to die and prayed, “O God, let me live.”

Now after the greatest triumph of his life, he prays, “O God, let me die.”

We may read this book and ask, “God, what are you going to do about Nineveh?” But the real question turns out to be, “God, what are you going to do about Jonah?” 

God knows how to deal with wicked sinners. He saves them. But what’s he going to do with smug, arrogant, anger-filled church member? That’s a much bigger problem.  In verse 4, “The Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’

That’s what I meant when I said there’s a little Jonah in all of us and a lot of Jonah in most of us.

III. God’s Object Lesson (vv. 5-8)  

“Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city” (v. 5) 

1. He’s still hoping against hope that God will send down fire  and brimstone and destroy the city. When that happens, he’ll have a front-row seat to watch it happen.

But God has other plans.

Three things happen in short order, all of them caused by God:

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant – v. 6

God provided a worm – v. 7

God provided a scorching east wind – v. 8

The leafy plant was good because it gave Jonah shade. The worm was bad because it chewed up the vine. The east wind was very bad because it caused him great discomfort.

Yet all these things came from God. The same God who provided the leafy plant also sent the worm and the scorching wind. The real question boils down to this. Will Jonah be happy with God only when God makes him happy? What will he do when God doesn’t live up to his expectations?

…This text stimulated my thinking.  While I have been hard on Jonah in this preaching series, and rightfully so, I am always pulling for him.  I am always hoping that he really did turn to the Lord and Repent.  So I ask…

IV. Did Jonah Repent?

This little drama raises a fascinating question that the book itself doesn’t really answer: Did Jonah ever really repent?

The first time God calls (Jonah 1), he runs away. 

The second time God calls (Jonah 3), he obeys. So the answer is “Maybe yes” if we stop reading at the end of chapter 

3. But if we continue to the end of chapter 4, the answer becomes “Maybe no” because there isn’t the slightest statement in the final chapter that shows any hint of repentance.

At no point does Jonah seem willing to obey God out of joy in the Lord and with compassion for the lost. Even in the belly of the fish, when he prays the great prayer in chapter 2, it’s as if God has him backed into a corner so he turns his heart to God because he has no other choice. While I admit that’s a very human thing to do, it doesn’t speak very positively about his love for the Lord.

One final note on the question of Jonah’s repentance. I think me may have repented after the story.  If not, then where did this story come from? How did it end up in the Bible? Only one man knew all the details. And that man cared enough to write his story down.

If Jonah was this honest about his own spiritual journey, perhaps the very existence of the book means that he did at last repent of his stinky attitude toward God and toward the people God loves. And since the book ends with a question, that means the final response must come not from the prophet but from you and me.

V. God’s Heart Revealed                    

“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (v. 11).

Jonah’s story ends not with a statement but with a question: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

1. The answer of course is yes. 

God is concerned about “that great city,” and therefore Jonah should be concerned too.

2. By ending in a question and not in a declaration, the book leaves the issue hanging in the air.

VI. Our Hearts Exposed

Will we have God’s heart for the Ninevehs of our world?

Or will we hate them as Jonah hated the city of Nineveh?

This story speaks to all of us who would rather not get involved in the world. We’d rather be comfy and cozy, and keep it nice and neat inside the four walls of the church. 

This story speaks to all of us who would rather not get involved in the world. 

There is another way of looking at this whole issue: 

1. Jonah has two problems. On the surface his problem is that he has no heart for the people of Nineveh. But his real problem is deeper: He has no room for a God who does. Jonah’s real problem is God! His God is too small, and that’s why his heart is too small. 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that God’s greatest problem is not with the wicked people of Nineveh. The moment they heard the message, they believed it. Oh, they were truly evil–no doubt about that. But God has no problems with them. It’s a sobering thought that in the book of Jonah, the pagans were quicker to believe than the man of God. That’s true of the pagan sailors in chapter 1 and of the people of Nineveh in chapter 3.

Some have said that we can be just like Jonah.  

– God’s greatest problem is not the sinner out there.

– His greatest problem is the saint in here.

We’re a lot more like Jonah than we would like to admit. That’s why we laugh and then we squirm. There’s a lot of Jonah inside most of us. 

IV. Three closing lessons

Let’s wrap up our study of Jonah with three lessons that bring the truth home to our hearts.

1.  God loves Nineveh!

Where is Nineveh today?  Nineveh is Philadelphia. Nineveh is London. Nineveh is your neighbor next door, the one you don’t like who won’t take care of his yard, who makes too much noise, whose kids get in trouble all the time. Nineveh is your boss who is a jerk. Nineveh is the guy in the next cubicle or the woman down the hall. She’s such a drama queen. Thinks the whole world is about her. She’s our Nineveh.

– Should we Run      or Love      ?

Look around, child of God! You live in Nineveh, you work in Nineveh, all your life is lived in and around “that great city.” No one can escape it.

The message is clear:  God still loves Nineveh!  He still loves the people who make their living in the big city, in your city.

God still loves Nineveh!

2. God is still willing to do whatever it takes to get you to Nineveh!

For Jonah that meant spending three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish. What will God have to do to get you to obey him?  

– Our churches are filled with modern-day Jonahs who have taken a holiday cruise to Tarshish. Maybe you are one of them. Maybe God has spoken to you and you have said, “I don’t think I can do that.” 

If so, I’ve got good news and bad news for you: 

The good news is:  Don’t worry about that great storm on the horizon. 

The bad news is: You’d better start worrying about that great fish!

Sometimes we see only the evil and think, “God must hate this city.”  No, God loves this city and these people.  He makes us willing to go.

3.  Nineveh needs you.

Think about this. For all its cruelty and sinful brutality, Nineveh was ready to turn to God. The people didn’t know it, they weren’t consciously aware of their need, and they weren’t intentionally looking for God. But God who sees all things knew that this vile city was primed and ready to turn to him. If only he could find a man–the right man with the right message–who would dare to go there and deliver his message.

What will God have to do to get you to obey him? 

Jonah was God’s man for Nineveh! 

– Where is God calling you?

That place only you can go.

That person only you can reach.

That opportunity only you can fill.   

Nineveh was ready to turn to God.          

You’ve got a Nineveh in your life right now. It might be a friend where you work. It might be that group you hang around with after school. It might be your neighbors down the street, or it might be the women in the PTA or the guys on your bowling team. 

Who knows? Your Nineveh might be your husband or wife or even your grown-up children. Your Nineveh might be someone you love whose behavior has provoked you to the point of anger and bitterness. Your Nineveh might be a new job in a new city or a home on a new street. Nineveh ultimately stands for any part of the will of God that you are afraid to face. 

You’re afraid to go . . . but God wants you there.

You’re afraid to speak up . . . but there are people who need to hear what you have to say.

You’re afraid to make a move . . . but God says, “Trust me.”  Don’t let 6 weeks of learning about Jonah be lost to you.  Apply what you learned.  Figure out where God is calling you to Go and Go without the storm and Great fist.  Go because God calls you to go.

Thomas Carlisle wrote a poem called “You, Jonah.” The last two stanzas are based on Jonah 4, the verses we studied today..

                              And Jonah stalked

                              To his shaded seat

                              And waited for God

                              To come around

                              To his way of thinking. 

                              And God is still waiting

                              For a host of Jonah’s

                              In their comfortable houses

                              To come around

                              To his way of loving.


Father, expand our vision to see the world as you see it. Please make us less like Jonah and more like Jesus. Grant us a fresh concern for those we meet. Renew in us a compassion for those who by nature would be repulsive to us. Lord, do some divine heart surgery and replace our anger, fear and hesitation with your love. May the Holy Spirit fill us with true compassion in every part of our being. Give us your tears for the Ninevehs all around us, and give us hearts to go gladly with the Good News. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.