#749. THE GOSPEL IS OFFENSIVE (13/2/23)
‘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. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.’ (Jonah 3:10-4:1)
Summary: For many, the idea that God saves sinners by grace seems unjust.
You can watch this devotional at:
Jonah becomes angry because God has decided to spare the Ninevites. Once again, Jonah is running away from God, but this time through his attitude. Whilst God shows mercy, Jonah's anger continues to escalate.
Many people are like Jonah and we all have bit of him in us. We can believe that good individuals will go to heaven, that God will forgive those who have committed minor wrongs, but there is no hope for the worst offenders. This perspective appears logical and is held by many. However, it raises the problem of who is good enough and who is not. Recently, during an Alpha Course session, I encountered a challenge from someone who argued that it was inappropriate for God to forgive a concentration camp guard, as mentioned in the course's illustration. Here is a summary of the story:
In 1972, Corrie Ten Boom, the author of "The Hiding Place" and a survivor of a concentration camp, recounts a powerful moment from 1947. While delivering a speech in Munich about God's unconditional forgiveness, she was personally challenged to the core on this issue. In her message, she expressed that:
“When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
At the end of her talk, she recognised one of her former cruel guards from Ravensbrück concentration approaching her. she wrote of this:
‘He said to me “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there…But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.’
This account challenges all of us I’m sure. At this moment of great challenge to her belief in God’s grace, Corrie had victory over the crouching Jonah in all of us.
Paul writes about the sinful condition of anyone who comes to faith:
'You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:6-8)
Powerless - firstly, we are ‘powerless’ to live a truly righteous life and so be righteous by our own efforts.
Christ died for the ungodly - We are ‘ungodly’. We may have much going for us, but, all of our motives and actions are polluted with sin.
Whilst we were still sinners - We are sinners. We go against God’s will all of the time. God demonstrates His love by dying for us as sinners and not by accepted us because we are good in our own right!
Christ died for us - Jesus’ death for sin becomes unnecessary if God accepts good people and those who have not done too badly. The reality is that we are all sinners and God only saves those who receive His grace in Christ.
Jonah, it seems, thought that the Ninevites did not deserve His or God’s mercy. Jonah was angry for having compassion on this ‘wicked city’. He, it appears, is self-righteous. He seems to have forgotten that he has run away from God in his own life and that God, in His great mercy, had given Him a fresh start.
RESPONSE - KEEP RECEIVING AND GIVING FORGIVENESS
If we are to remain gracious and compassionate toward people, it’s vital that we keep remembering how God has shown immense grace has forgiven us. Remember how God gave His Son for us in our powerless and sinful condition. Keep confessing sin and asking for forgiveness. Keep giving forgiveness in our relationships.
COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
What has God been speaking to you about from His Word this week?
3. RECAP OF SUNDAY’S MESSAGE - PLEASE SHARE IN YOUR GROUP
ANGER AT GOD’S GOODNESS
Please read Jonah 3:10-4:4
MAIN IDEA: GOD’S GOODNESS TO OTHERS CAN CAUSE US TO BECOME BITTER
JONAH WAS ANGRY
We see this strange response from Jonah; he is angry when God has mercy upon Nineveh! Jonah is angry that they have responded to his preaching and that God had relented from judging them because of their belief and repentance.
WHY IS JONAH ANGRY?
Jonah is angry because he doesn’t believe that the Ninevites deserve God’s mercy. He’s angry with God because he believes that God should judge this wicked city. He’s angry because he may feel embarrassed that his word of judgment has not now come true. He’s angry because he’s a part of God’s chosen people and - wrongly - come to believe that others (gentiles) don’t warrant God’s mercy, he’s become racist!
WE CAN BECOME ANGRY
Jonah is in all of us. When God does or doesn’t do things as we believe He should, we can become angry with Him. Jonah is like the older brother in the parable of The Prodigal Son who is angry that his father celebrated the return of his sinful brother; likewise, we can become angry and judgemental when wicked people receive complete justification in Christ. We can become proud and disdainful if we are not careful to remember that, like Jonah, we have also run away from God in many ways!
LEARN TO APPLY GOD’S GRACE
We learn from Jonah that understanding Godʼs grace—and being changed by
it—always requires a long journey with successive stages. It cannot happen
in a single cathartic or catastrophic experience (like being swallowed by a
fish!). If we really want to reach others with the good news of Jesus, then we need to love those we want to reach. And to do that we really need to examine where our
true heart lies every day!
Why was Jonah angry?
When are you tempted to get angry with God and how do you deal with this?
How do you seek to remember the gospel each day so as to remain merciful and humble?
How have you Served, Invested and Invited in your communities this week? (Let’s share about this again next week)
How have you got on with making a list and praying for your non-believing friends each day? (Let’s share about this again next week)
Let’s now pray for specific people that God has put on your heart and in your life.
Let’s pray for each other that the Spirit would fill us with His resurrection power so as to be compassionate and courageous this week.
Let’s pray for Funky Monkeys this week.