When we began our midweek Lenten journey with the Old Testament books of Ruth and Jonah, we said that they present us with at least five important questions for our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ today. The fifth and most important of those questions is this: “How do we see Jesus in these two books?”
Explicitly, we’ve mentioned that when Boaz redeemed the inheritance of Ruth’s husband, he foreshadowed Jesus redeeming us from our slavery to sin and death.
And Jesus Himself compared Himself to Jonah: Like Jonah bearing condemnation for his own sins in the belly of a great fish for three days, Jesus was in the heart of the earth from Good Friday to Easter Sunday bearing the full weight of our sin.
The God we meet in both the books of Ruth and Jonah–Yahweh, I AM–is the same God we see in Jesus, unwilling to see any die condemned by their sin without giving them the opportunity to receive the saving Word of God. More on that in a moment.
The last verse of Jonah, chapter 3, tells us: “When God saw…how [the Ninevites] turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
This is a moment of triumph for God’s powerful Word, both the Law that condemns we sinners for our sin and the Promise or the Gospel that frees sinners from condemnation as it enables us to repent and believe in God.
Nearly nine centuries after the events in tonight’s lesson, Jesus said that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7) As Nineveh turned from its evil and turned in faith to God, there must have been a party in heaven. Nineveh had been dead in its sin and was alive again. Nineveh had been lost to God and now was found. (Luke 15:32; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13)
But Jonah wasn’t interested in joining heaven’s party. Jonah 4:1: “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1)
In the original Hebrew in which this verse was written, you see that Jonah accuses God of doing evil. He prays to God: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2)
Jonah had hopped on a boat for Tarshish when God called him to prophesy in Nineveh at the beginning of this book because he was afraid that if he preached God’s Word to the Ninevites, God would accept the city’s repentant faith!
We were at a party one night years ago and I ended up talking with a woman whose husband had left her for another woman several years before. It had been a sinful violation of the ex-husband’s marriage vows. During this party, the woman wanted my assurance that God would never forgive her ex-husband. I told her I couldn’t do that, that I was counting on the God revealed to us all in Jesus, Who died for our sins on the cross, to forgive my sins and to restore me to fellowship with God as I daily turned to Him. If her ex-husband repented and turned to Christ, he would be forgiven by God, I told her. The woman simply could not accept that.
How gracious and forgiving are we willing for God to be?
In Jonah 2, the prophet, who had turned away from God, was saved from death when God sent a fish to swallow him up. There, Jonah had declared, “you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit…” (Jonah 2:6) Jonah was more than willing for God to be gracious to him, but not to the Ninevites.
Jonah tells God that if God is going to forgive the Ninevites, Jonah would prefer that God take his life. God ignores Jonah’s impudence and asks him: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:5)
Jonah doesn’t seem to answer this question and instead, goes east of the city, builds a shelter, and waits to see what will happen to Nineveh.
God tries to teach Jonah a lesson. He sends a plant that provides shade for Jonah. Jonah loves it. But then God sends a worm to eat and destroy the plant, the way Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh. When the plant dies, Jonah is distraught. He’s even more upset when a fierce scirocco and a blazing sun come his way and Jonah once more says he’d rather be dead. God asks, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah insists that he has every right to be angry and that he’s so angry he still wants to be dead. (Jonah 4:9)
Three times, Jonah tells God that he wants God to take his life. It’s a measure of God’s patient grace for rebellious believers that He doesn’t comply with Jonah’s demand.
Instead, He comes back at Jonah with His Word. God tells Jonah: “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
And that, friends, is how the book of Jonah ends. We don’t know whether Jonah repents and turns back to God or not. But God’s words to Jonah confront us with a question: Will we gladly share the good news of life with God through faith in Jesus with the Ninevites of our time?
And, as to question #5, about how we see Jesus in Ruth and Jonah, it turns out, as we mentioned earlier, that the God we meet in the Old Testament is the same God we meet in the New Testament in Jesus Christ.
This is why God sends you and me into the world today, as He sent Jonah to Nineveh long ago. People may and do spurn Him and His forgiving love, but God wants to save all people!
After visiting Phyllis at Bethany this past Sunday, I swung by Kroger. I went to the deli. I found one of the employees having a tough day. While another employee took care of my order, he wrote a note on the back of a party platter form and handed it to me. It said, “Please! Please! Pray for…my son…”