Here’s an old sermon outline that I touched up for a blog post. It’s from Jonah 4:5-11. It has to do with God’s patient providential work in Jonah’s life. Let’s consider God’s providence together today:
First, consider the word ‘appointed’ in Jonah 4:6-8. God is in full control of His universe, isn’t He? A healthy understanding of the providence of God is this: That he works all things after the counsel of His will. That in the universe there is not one rogue molecule floating around. Every atom, every proton, and electron, every single thing in the universe is under God’s sovereign hand and is used by Him to bring about His own eternal purposes for His own eternal glory (Psalm 115:3).
So, we see in the book of Jonah that God is:
Sovereign over Nature (Jonah 1:17, 1:4)
There is no such thing as ‘mother nature’ (Mt. 5:45). There is no luck, no chance, no happenstance, or coincidence. God is in control.
Sovereign over People (Jonah 4:11)
God has the right to pity Nineveh. They are His creation! He has the right to show them grace. At the same time, He has the right to rain down fire on Sodom & Gomorrah. He has the right to show grace and administer justice to whom He wills.
The last verse in the book of Jonah shows God’s patience with both Nineveh and the fleeing prophet, Jonah.
Patience with Nineveh
Aren’t you glad for the Lord’s patience? He is still patient today. God is patient because of Christ’s work until “all the ransomed church of God, be saved to sin no more” (There is a Fountain Filled with Blood).
Patience with Jonah
The verses that end the book of Jonah are a pity-party of sorts for the prophet, aren’t they? At this point, we might wonder why God didn’t just smite Jonah and be done with it? Well, the truth is, if God was not patient with Believers, and if He killed them when they disobeyed, then I’d be first in line to die.
God is patient with Jonah. And He is patient with believers. And so, for the rest of the blog post, I want to focus on our last point:
God’s chief goal for Believers is that we would find our supreme joy and satisfaction in Him and He is willing to go to great lengths in order to meet this goal. We see this in the cross, don’t we? God commended His love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, we know that God is willing and able to do whatever is necessary to prune us.
He is willing to prune us from:
A Love of Sin
Jonah heads out east of the city (Jonah 4:5). He’s holding out hope here that maybe the city will be destroyed after all. So, Jonah thinks he’s going to the movies. Little does he know, he’s actually going to school. God’s school.
God is willing to prune Jonah of his pride and He is willing to prune you of your love for sin. As believers, sin still lurks in our hearts. And love for it manifests itself in our behavior and desires. God is not ok with your sin. This is displayed on the cross in the crushing of Jesus. But it is also revealed in the providence of God in your life.
He is willing to bring things into your life (actively or via secondary means) — not as punishment, but to wean you of your love of sin and to trust Him. Essentially, we can boil down the complexities of the human heart to two main choices. Will I choose to be satisfied in all that God is for me in the person and work of Christ? Or, will I choose to seek satisfaction in something lesser?
Every time you choose sin, you are saying that you think you can find a deeper, truer satisfaction and joy in that sin than you can in Christ. You are believing the lie of Adam and Eve in the Garden. That God is not enough. That He is holding back from you somehow.
And sometimes, believers have been known to pout: (Jonah 4:8). But, understand that God loves you too much to leave you in that state.
We also see that He is willing to prune us from:
A Love of Self
Jonah gets exceedingly upset that God spares Nineveh but exceedingly glad that God provides a plant for his comfort.
I think we have some indicators here in Jonah’s life of when we might be loving self more than we should. When you are okay with removing yourself from God’s work, you have a self problem. God was working, Jonah went out alone.
It amazes me how many people profess to be Believers but won’t be part of the church. They somehow believe being alone is better than being with the community of God’s people. That may just reveal a heart that loves self more than it loves God. And it may reveal the heart of someone who is not actually a Christian.
When a church is ok with arguing over convenience instead of having compassion for the nations, this also indicates a focus on self (Jonah 4:8-9). Churches can fight over silly things, can’t they? Jonah was upset that God took his shade away when he should have been concerned about the people of Nineveh.
I wonder how many mission and evangelistic opportunities are lost while churches squabble over inconsequential matters?
But here is the real point in the text:
God is after Jonah’s heart! This whole ordeal with the plant, and worm, and wind, has been to show Jonah that he is in love with self more than God. God uses the sun to burn Jonah’s head (Jonah 4:8) so that He might soften his heart.
God is pruning Jonah, exposing his idol, and inviting him to see the people of Nineveh the way God sees them — a people lost and hopeless. Wicked, yes. And responsible for their sin. But a people who do not know how to escape their sinfulness. But God knows. That was His plan all along in Christ.
The people of the Old Testament were to trust God: looking forward to what He would do in Christ. But as we get to the end of Jonah, I think we find that not only did God send Jonah to Nineveh for their rescue, but also for his own. And also, for yours and mine. This book is in the Bible for a reason. We need it!
See, love of self is subtle. It creeps in unexpectedly. It leads us to do and say things that are contrary to what God would have for us and His church. And so, God is willing to actively bring or through secondary means allow things into our lives to expose that and shape us into the likeness of Jesus.
God’s Love for You
This does not mean that Christians must see every negative thing in life as God trying to ‘get us’. That’s a sad view of providence. Rather, it is to see that God is in control of all things and that even the crazy, painful, and difficult moments in your life, God is using for a good purpose. He is at work in the chaos and the pain.
God loves His people with a love unable to be put in sufficient wording. When the kids are crazy and the house is a mess and the bills are late and the washing machine is broken: trust God’s unwavering love for you and His uncompromising commitment to your holiness in Him.
When the pink slip comes in or the checkup doesn’t go as planned or the tornado hits your house but not your neighbors’ you must believe in a God who is not just up there wringing His hands, but who is in total control.
This doesn’t mean believers always have neat and tidy answers! But it does mean: He is not through with you. He is not done…You see, God didn’t save you from discomfort. He didn’t save you from not getting your feelings hurt. He didn’t save you from bad days.
He saved you in Christ from His own holy wrath against your sin. God was willing to proactively bring discomfort in Jonah’s life to reveal his heart issue and to show him a clear picture of who God was and His plan for the nations. And this picture of God really finds its full revelation in the New Testament. God’s foreshadowing here of his love for the nations is realized in the person and work of Christ who shed His blood so that sinners from all nations would bow before the throne.
We don’t know how Jonah responded. But may God’s people respond with trust in God’s prevailing, patient, and pruning providence.