Do You Have Compassion, Jonah? (Jonah 4)

Note: This is the final post for the book of Jonah. Beginning Saturday, I will be posting shorter daily devotions from the book of Proverbs to carry on through the summer. More on that next time.

Jonah’s autobiography ends on a strange note. We might think that the story would have ended with the repentance and salvation of Nineveh, an incredible miracle of God’s mercy and grace towards a whole city. Instead, a final chapter shows us an angry Jonah pouting in the wilderness as he looks with regret upon the great city below him. It seems that Jonah wanted Nineveh to be destroyed, yet he knew deep down that God planned to save them if they turned from their evil ways. Why is Jonah so upset?

Well, it may be that Jonah was concerned about the honor of God and the trustworthiness of His word. The salvation of Nineveh made Jonah look like a false prophet, he may have thought, because God did not bring the promised judgment upon the city. It is also possible that as he saw the repentance and salvation of this very wicked, lost metropolis, he was reminded of Israel’s own stubborn refusal to repent themselves. Either way, Jonah’s passion for God’s name and God’s people made him forget about God’s love and kindness. As the final verse tells us, God cared about the thousands of lost souls in Nineveh, even about their animals. He cared enough to send Jonah to warn them of the coming judgment, that they might have a chance to repent and believe in Him and be saved. And God wanted Jonah to care about lost people, too.

The takeaway for us is clear: Do we have compassion for the souls of other people? Do we care about the totally lost, spiritually clueless people who walk through our lives everyday? If we say we care, what are we doing about it? What are we doing to reach people in our school, our neighborhoods, our families, and on our teams with the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ? God ends the book of Jonah with a question for all of us: Shouldn’t we share His great compassion for the lost?

The Text (Jonah 4)

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

4 Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you have compassion for your lost friends, family, and teammates? How can you tell?
  2. For whose salvation are you praying right now? With whom are you sharing the gospel?
  3. What can you do to help your church reach the lost people in your community?

Notes

  • We must not be too hard on Jonah. Having a zeal or passion for God’s honor and name is a great quality. However, God is also love, and we need to balance our passion for biblical truth and God’s honor with compassion for people. Our enemies are sin, the world, and the devil – not the unsaved. Jesus died for sinners, among whom each of us is the worst.
  • As the great British preacher Charles Spurgeon observed, God taught Jonah some important truths in this final chapter with a few visual object lessons. God provided a plant to remind Jonah and us of to be thankful for all of our blessings. God then sent the worm to eat the plant to show us that He has the right to take things away from us. Finally, God sent the fierce hot wind to show us that He has the right to send hard trials our way. Most of all, however, God wanted Jonah and us to understand that people are infinitely more valuable than stuff. Do we live like that is true?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Nineveh to God: “Message Received!” (Jonah 3:5-10)

In God’s providence, this devotion is being written the day after a strong message on sin and repentance was received and acted upon by many in the Class of 2024. For the Healthy Heart Day devotion, I (Mr. Reel) had the solemn responsibility of bringing a sobering challenge from Psalm 51 to our current sixth grade. It was an open air sermon that called on the students to acknowledge the sins in their lives, confess and turn from those sins, and pray for God to give them clean hearts and spiritual renewal. I recorded the message in Notability on my iPad and hope that other students may have the opportunity to hear it before the school year ends. We (the sixth grade teachers) believe that the Holy Spirit was working powerfully. Two sixth grade girls came forward for salvation and at least three boys rededicated. About 30 already believing students came down out of the bleachers by the football field for prayer and counsel to help them in their walks with Christ. My gut says that there may be a few others who respond in repentance and faith in the next week after the message sits heavy upon them this weekend. As sixth grade teachers, that is our hope and prayer.

We are also praying for sustained change and growth, the fruits of repentance, for all of our students this summer. I will be blogging each day with short posts from the book of Proverbs to help our students to stay in the Word. Remember, persistent, consistent Bible study is the most important thing people must do to grow in their relationships with Jesus.

I will also continue to plead with our families to be active members of healthy area churches. For all those who understand the dire importance of the local church to our spiritual health as Christians, I beg you to pray continually and pray hard that God will move the hearts of all of our families to commit themselves to active attendance and service in local churches, for the sakes of the parents and their children. If families are out of town a lot, pray that they can find churches where they are (there are churches at the beach, near the lake, and in the mountains).

Let us look to Nineveh for inspiration. These wicked people knew nothing of the Lord, His Word, or His ways. Yet they repented fully and immediately at the very short and confrontational message that God sent them through Jonah. They made no excuses for their sins. They did not try to blame anyone else. They did not tell God that they were too busy to obey Him. They did not try to hang onto the false gods of wealth and comfort and power that they had served all their lives. They did not let their great pride keep them from repenting. No, they immediately did everything they possibly could to show God that they were really sorry for their sins. They fasted, they covered themselves in hot and itchy sackcloth, they wept, and they turned from their wicked ways. They made particular effort to turn from the sin that was their biggest problem – violence. And when God say that Nineveh truly repented, He forgave them and showed mercy and grace. He stands willing to do the same for us now if we will just come to Him in honest repentance and faith. Believe Him today – He is strong and good and able to save you to the uttermost if you let Him!

The Text (Jonah 3:5-10)

5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

Questions to Think About

  1. Why do you think that the people of Nineveh believed God so greatly and immediately after Jonah’s preaching?
  2. Based on your own testimony and the testimonies that you’ve heard from your classmates, what do you think are the most important factors that lead people to come to Jesus Christ for salvation?
  3. Do you want to see God bring a revival to NRCA? Do you want God to bring revival in your own life? Why or why not?
  4. What are your greatest sins that God wants you to repent of today?

Notes

  • Nineveh can definitely remind us of the importance of what the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord.” For the unsaved, the fear of God should lead them to dread His wrath and judgment so much that they repent and trust in Christ for salvation as soon as possible. For the believers, the fear of God should be a healthy reverence, like children for their fathers. We should be ever thankful that God has forgiven us for all of our sins and always seek to live humble and thankful lives that honor Jesus. When we read passages like this, we should be moved to tears of gratitude for the miracle of our own salvation and prayers for God to save others. We should recognize that as our Father, God will discipline us when we ignore and disobey Him. Better to trust and obey now before God has to force us to do it through suffering.
  • We should not miss the fact that it was only after Nineveh actually turned from their sins that God recognized their repentance as genuine and showed them mercy. Walking forward at an invitation and crying tears over sin is confession, and that is a very good thing. But confession must be paired with repentance – a resolve and plan to change, to stop sinning and start obeying God from a heart that loves Him. This is the living sacrifice that pleases God (see Romans 12:1-2).

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Keep It Simple, Jonah (Jonah 3:1-4)

Have you ever heard of the K.I.S.S. principle? It’s been popular in all levels of sports for a long time – “Keep It Simple Stupid” (the modern PC version ends with “Silly” instead). The idea is that sometimes the plainest, most straightforward and simple strategy is the best.

Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh is a prime example of K.I.S.S. at its finest. He had one very simple sermon point – “Your city is about to be destroyed.” No fancy words, no elaborate illustrations or stories, no jokes about his family – just a powerful message from God of certain judgment. He did not need to tell Nineveh why they were about be overthrown. As we will see in the next post, they did not need an explanation. As soon as they heard the words from this stomach-bleached prophet who had survived three days inside a giant fish, their own hearts condemned them. They clearly realized that they had filled up the measure of their sins; they had been weighed by the one true God and found wanting. In 40 days, they would finally pay the just penalty for their sins. They had only one faint ray of hope – repent at once of all of their evil deeds and throw themselves down upon God’s mercy and grace in the hope that maybe, just maybe, He would let them live.

Jonah’s sermon would not have been popular in most church and chapel services today. It may have been longer than one line; the Bible does not tell us one way or the other. But God preserved through Jonah’s own writing the heart of the message that He wanted us to know. The application for us is clear: the power of God is more important in our witness for Christ than having all the right words or telling the most interesting stories. Jonah had just spent three days alone with God. His heart, mind, and soul had been purified by God’s holy work in his life. Nineveh saw this in Jonah’s preaching, and God’s Holy Spirit went to work on them right away. If we want to see more of our friends and family won to Christ, we must spend more time with Him ourselves. We must first repent of our own sins ourselves before we can call on others to do the same. We must be holy as God is holy. People can tell when we have been transformed by Jesus. Let Him give us power as His witnesses today.

The Text (Jonah 3:1-4)

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Questions to Think About

  1. When was the last time that you remember hearing a strong sermon about specific sins that ended with a call for you to repent of those sins and get right with God? How did it affect you?
  2. Do you think that sermons like Jonah’s are common in church and chapel services today? Why or why not?
  3. Do you want to be holy like Jesus? Why or or why not?

Notes

  • When God tells Jonah to “arise” and head to Nineveh, it’s possible that He said that because Jonah had gone home for awhile after escaping the fish. Of course, Jonah could have just been lying down on the beach exhausted and then gotten the word from God right away. Either way, the most important fact it that this time, Jonah obeyed the Lord immediately. A major theme of Jonah is “obey the Lord or else!”
  • Nineveh was definitely a gigantic city for its time. Some scholars estimate that by being “a three-day journey in extent,” the Bible means that the greater Nineveh area (including surrounding villages and towns) was almost 60 miles in circumference! Many of the people probably did not hear Jonah’s preaching directly, but got the message from neighbors and friends. Because the people believed the warning so strongly, they were quick to spread the word once Jonah arrived.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Jonah to God: “No More Idols” (Jonah 2:8-10)

An idol is anything that you worship more than God. How can you tell if something has become an idol in your life? Well, what do you talk about the most? What do you think about the most? What captures most of your emotions, time, and money? What do you most fear losing or doing poorly with or in? What can bring you both your greatest happiness and your greatest sorrow? If you honestly answer all or most of these questions with something other than Jesus, than you have discovered an idol in your life. It may be a sport, your appearance, your grades, your clothes, your electronics, or the approval of other people. Unbelievers are always enslaved to their idols, but Christians can fall victim to idolatry, too, and we must constantly guard our hearts against it (1 John 5:21). Whatever it is that has captured your heart, if it is not Jesus, it will ultimately let you down and lead to your ruin, either in this life or the next. Jesus explained the problem perfectly when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

The end of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the giant fish shows that he has finally figured out this grand biblical truth the hard way. He recognizes that following idols is “worthless.” The physical toughness and nautical experience of the sailors onboard the boat to Tarshish could not save them from the storm, and neither could their fake statue “gods.” Only the one true God of the Bible could deliver them. Jonah knows, too, that the people of Nineveh are doomed to die in their sins as well if he does not come to them with the Lord’s message of warning – their skill in battle and gods of war will not stop their destruction. And Jonah at last realizes that his own national pride and selfishness and whatever else motivated him to disobey God was pure foolishness that almost cost him his life. So Jonah acknowledges that only his God can save, and he vows that he will now worship and serve the Lord again. Something has happened in Jonah’s heart that will lead to him once again obeying the Lord’s calling on his life. God had been waiting for Jonah to come to this resolution, and once He sees the change in Jonah’s spirit and will, He commands the fish to spit Jonah up on dry land. Jonah is free again, both literally and spiritually.

How about you? Are you willing to let God search your heart and tear down the idols that He finds? Are you willing to make changes in your life to cast down your idols and put God first? Are you looking to Jesus alone as your greatest comfort and joy in both this life and the one to come? Are you living for the One who loved you and gave Himself for You, or for something else? My prayer is that we will all glorify and enjoy Christ today as our greatest treasure and hope.

The Text (Jonah 2:8-10)

8 “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.

9 But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”

10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Questions to Think About

  1. Imagine that someone followed you around today and recorded all of your conversations. If that audio file were then played in front of your homeroom, what would your classmates say was most important to you based on your own words from the last 24 hours?
  2. How many times this school year have you missed church because of a sports game or practice (include all-day Saturday tournaments that led you to sleep in and do homework, chores, and other stuff on Sunday)? Now, how many times this school year have you skipped a game or practice to go to church? What would a nonChristian observer say is more important to you based on your answers to these two questions?
  3. Jonah vowed that he would “pay” the God who saved him what he “vowed.” If you are a Christian who claims to have been saved by the amazing grace of God, what do you believe that you have vowed to give your God in return? In other words, what did you mean when you committed your life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? What has your commitment required you to sacrifice and do for your Lord?

Notes

  • In the Old Testament, God’s people were often tempted to worship literal idols, or statues that were supposed to represent gods. These idols represented what their unbelieving neighbors worshipped instead of their real Creator. Today in America, most Christians are not tempted to worship these kinds of false gods. Rather, we are drawn away to the other things our lost culture worships – money and power, success and fame, comfort and pleasure, and increasingly among families – youth sports. The idols are different but the challenge is the same – we must daily choose to set aside Christ Jesus as Lord in our hearts and ask God to show us our idols and help us to tear them down from the thrones of our lives (1 Peter 3:15).
  • Idolatry can happen not just when we worship the wrong gods, but also when we try to worship the right God in the wrong way. The first kind of idolatry is a breaking of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). But the second kind of idolatry breaks the second commandment (“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” Exodus 20:4). God gave this command to prevent His people from trying to remake Him into who they wanted Him to be instead of who He had revealed Himself to be through His Word. The most common example of this idolatry in our church and Christian school cultures today is when people overemphasize the love and mercy of God and fail to balance those traits with His holiness and wrath against sin. In other words, some Christians are tempted to think of God as some kind of “Great Grandaddy in the Sky” who winks and smiles at sin and never disciplines believers and won’t eventually judge unbelievers. The only way to avoid remaking God into something He is not is to faithfully study and hear teaching from the entire Bible rather than just the verses we want to hear. That’s a major reason that I (Mr. Reel) write these devotions 🤔 – to help young Christians learn how to study through books of the Bible and receive the whole counsel of God.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Look to Jesus, Jonah (Jonah 2:3-7)

Life is hard. Everybody has problems. Even people who seem like they have it all together really don’t – at least not through their own power. In middle and high school, it can be tempting to look around and see other students and think, “Man, if only I could have their circumstances or abilities or height (guys) or looks (girls) – life would be so much easier.” But the truth is that those students are facing their own daily battles, too. Just like you, they wrestle with anxieties about school, sports and extracurriculars, their friends, their families, and especially themselves. Everyone at your age is trying to figure out who they are, whether or not they are good enough to “do life,” and what their purpose is. And like you, they are struggling with their faith. The issue is not whether or not life will be hard. The real issue is: What will you do about it? When you face your problems today, how will you deal? And when things get really bad, where will you turn for help? How will you handle life when it seems like you are sinking down into the depths of distress?

Jonah found himself having to answer these faith questions in today’s passage. There he was, trapped in the stomach of a giant fish. After three days and three nights of stewing (both literally and figuratively), the reluctant prophet finally did the right thing – he turned to his God. Jonah lifted up a broken prayer, reciting Old Testament Scripture to help him express his deep sorrow and need for God’s comfort. In Jonah’s case, his suffering was God’s discipline in response to Jonah’s disobedience and sin. However, for Christians, not all suffering in our lives is the result of our sin. Sometimes we suffer because of the sins of others. Sadly, some of our students are experiencing the painful biblical truth that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) can hurt their children (Exodus 20:5-6). We are all ultimately responsible for our actions and will each one day stand before the Lord to give account for our lives; our students are no exception. Yet when parents forsake the Lord and His commands, their children also feel the harshness of living life outside of God’s good plan for families. Other times, we suffer simply because we live in a fallen world that God is still redeeming in His own sovereign way and time. We do not always understand what God is doing in our trials, especially while we are going through them; His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes all we can do is cry or cry out. Until we look to Jesus.

Jonah did exactly what we must do every day – look to Jesus and live. He was poetically and literally honest about the pain of his situation. But Jonah took his burden to his God. He did not stay in despair forever. He knew that all he could do was appeal to God’s mercy and grace, so that’s what he did. And that’s what we need to do, too. Jesus came to save broken and sinful people like us. He came to make the sick get well and bring the dead to life. That’s not just the certain hope of heaven that we have through our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. No, we can experience hope today and every day, even in the midst of our sorrows and trials. Read today’s passage yourself and let Jonah’s prayer be your prayer. Ask God to help you pray the verses and really believe them it. Look to Jesus and live today!

The Text (Jonah 2:3-7)

3 For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas,

And the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.

6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.

7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever had a particularly dark or difficult time in your life? Did you turn to the Lord then? What happened?
  2. What trials and battles are you facing in life right now? Over what part of your life do you most need to pray today’s passage?
  3. Do you ever find yourself quoting Scripture when you pray? Can you give some examples?

Notes

  • The phrase, “All Your waves and Your billows passed over me” is a quotation of Psalm 42:7. The idea of sinking into the deep and being covered with floods of waters can be found Psalm 69:2. In fact, some commentators see at least eight different quotations or paraphrases from older parts of the Old Testament in Jonah’s prayer, especially from the Psalms. If a prophet like Jonah turned to the Scriptures to help him pray, how much more should we do the same today? One of the reasons we study our Bibles and memorize verses is so that we can pray God’s Word back to Him. Sometimes we cannot express our hearts to God on our own, but His Word can help us pray when we are spiritually speechless.
  • Jonah’s prayer shows what was going on in his heart and mind at this point in the book. How and what we pray can say a lot about where we are spiritually. If you find that it has been many days since you prayed, God will seem distant and strange. But when He draws you back to Himself (hopefully the gentle and not the hard way!), then you will find yourself praying honestly and frequently again.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel