Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who Cares?

Listen to this sermon.

God Cares!

You probably remember the “Miracle on the Hudson.” On Jan. 15, 2009­, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 began a routine journey that ended as anything but. Shortly after taking off from New York's LaGuardia Airport, the Airbus A320, which held 155 people, lost power to both engines after they were struck by birds.

Rather than panicking in a moment of sheer terror, pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III decided to land the plane in the Hudson River in an attempt to avoid crashing in the densely populated area. Amazingly, no one was killed.

After landing in the Hudson, nearby ferry boats, police boats, fire boats, and tugboats picked up passengers who were standing up to their waists in 35 oF (1.6 oC) water and 18 oF (-7 oC) air temperatures. What could have ended in a disaster turned out to be one of the most amazing flight rescue stories ever. For his quick thinking and skill, Sullenberger was lauded as a hero (“5 Amazing Rescues,” howstuffworks.com).

The book of Jonah is a rescue story. But it’s more than a story of God rescuing a prophet from drowning. It’s a story of God rescuing a city from destruction.

“That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (4:2).

Why did God send Jonah to Nineveh? Because God cares. 

Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh? Because Jonah didn't care.

The book of Jonah shows us the great lengths to which God will go to bring salvation: 
  • God commissioned a prophet to confront a sinful city. Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh....” (1:1-2). 
  • God caused a storm to stop a runaway prophet. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up (1:4). 
  • God prepared a fish to swallow a drowning prophet. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah (1:17). 
  • God directed the fish to release a trapped prophet. And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land (2:10). 
  • God recommissioned the prophet to confront a perishing city. And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh....” (3:1-2). 
  • God used the prophet to save a repentant city. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (3:10). 

The Hebrew word shuwb (translated as “turn”) is found four times in verses 8-10. When the people of Nineveh turned from their sin, God turned from the judgment He threatened. The KJV says, “God repented of the evil [disaster]” (4:10). To “repent” means “to feel sorry.” God felt sorry for the Ninevites and spared them. The NIV says, “He had compassion.”

Jesus once compared Himself to Jonah. “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Like Jonah, Jesus shared a message that brought salvation. But unlike Jonah, Jesus fulfilled His mission willingly. And unlike Jonah, Jesus was filled with compassion.

God so loved the Nineveh, that He sent his prophet Jonah, that whoever believed in his message should not perish but live. And “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Do I Care?

“You pity the plant.... And should not I pity Nineveh…?” (4:10-11).

Why did God spare the Ninevites when they repented? Because God cares. 

Why was Jonah angry when God spared them? Because Jonah didn't care.

A Hebrew word frequently found throughout the book of Jonah is ra‘ah (translated as “evil,” “disaster,” and “discomfort” in 1:2, 7, 8; 3:8, 10; 4:1, 2, 6). “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil [ra‘ah] way, God relented of the disaster [ra‘ah] that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased [ra‘ah] Jonah exceedingly” (3:10-4:1). An alternate translation of 4:1 is “But it was exceedingly evil to Jonah.” To Jonah, it was a disaster than Nineveh escaped disaster.

Another key word in the book of Jonah is “perish.” Jonah was not concerned about the sailors and the Ninevites who were in danger of perishing (1:6, 14; 3:9) but was angry when the plant perished (4:10). Jonah cared more about a plant than the people of Nineveh. Do you care more about your things than your neighbors?

Do you care like God cares? If I desire to care like God cares, I must constantly remind myself of three truths:

1. God loves me, and God loves them.

Don’t think that you deserve God’s love more than anyone else. No one “deserves” God’s love. But God is merciful and gracious (4:2). Through Christ, He has made a way to withhold from us the punishment we deserve and give to us the salvation we don’t deserve (just like He did with Nineveh). “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (2:9). Thankfully, it didn’t belong to Jonah or Nineveh would not have been saved.

2. God wants me to be filled with compassion for them.

“As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). The Lord is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

3. God wants me to play my part in His rescue plan.

Most of us would do everything we could to rescue someone in physical danger. If someone was drowning, you would do something to help (jump in the water, throw a life preserver, yell for help, call 911). What about those who are in spiritual danger? There is something every Christian can do.

The purpose of the book of Jonah is to show us that God loves all people and to lead each one of us to ask ourselves, “Do I care?”

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