Do You Do Well to be Angry?
February 12, 2017
One day a man was coming home from a field. But as he drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. The man called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And the servant said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.”
When the older brother heard this, he was angry. And he refused to take part in the food and celebration. It wasn’t fair. He served and obeyed his father his whole life. His brother, on the other hand, devoured the family property with prostitutes. It wasn’t fair. And so he was angry at his father. But his father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
Jonah was like the angry brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Think about it. Jonah did not want to enter the party. Instead, he sat in a booth to the east of the city to see what would become of Nineveh. Jonah did not care for his father’s compassion. Instead, he pointed out how it was God’s mercy and grace that was precisely the reason why he ran away in the first place. Jonah was not going to allow any fattened calves for Nineveh. Instead, he prayed, “O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah was not glad. Instead, Jonah was angry.
This is really sad and senseless. Just a short while ago, Jonah was shown mercy and grace by God. Jonah was supposed to die in chapter two. And yet here he is in chapter four, alive but forgetful of God’s deep sea and God’s great fish. He did not praise the Lord. Jonah, Jonah, merciless and graceless, quick to anger, and abounding in steadfast hatred.
But the Lord our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is merciful to you. He did not give you his justice or his punishment. Instead, he has given you his forgiveness. The Lord is also gracious toward you. He loves you. And he will never let you go. The Lord your God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This is who he is to you… and to Jonah.
For what did God do to Jonah? It turned out that God threw some shade at him. Not a bad Twitter shade. A good teaching-moment shade. A lesson about grace and compassion.
Many years ago, we had a movie night for the Sunday School children at church. There was popcorn, snacks, and glow sticks. The glow sticks were on me. I bought them with my own money, not the church’s. So it was a gift from me to the children. I handed them out, the kids all went crazy, and I was left with a few extra. So I gave the extra glowsticks to a few random kids. This meant that some kids did not get an extra glow stick. This arrangement deeply troubled one little boy, who I will not name. He grew furious at the terrible injustice that was done to him and he started to cry and throw his glow stick around and point at the other kids who got the extra glow sticks. What he didn’t know, and this is the really funny part of the story, is that I intentionally did that, just to see how he would react, and I had one saved just for him. But my plans backfired. Completely surprised and thrown off guard, I immediately gave him his extra glow stick, and we both finished the movie in quiet awkwardness.
What is grace? Grace begins with the fact that those were my glow sticks. My gifts to them. Which means that I could give them to whomever I wanted. But this is America. And in America, if one kid gets a glow stick, then you better have glow sticks for every other kid, or else. I get that. There’s good in that concept.
But salvation doesn’t work like that at all. The kingdom of God, to the surprise of many people, is not based on justice or fairness or even niceness. The kingdom of God and the Lord’s salvation is completely based on sovereign grace - grace of God’s own choosing. In the movie night, justice or fairness meant that everyone should get a glow stick. Before God, justice or fairness means that everyone should go to hell. And that would be perfectly fine. No one could complain about that, because all are sinners and all deserve hell and eternal punishment from God.
But the gospel is that God graciously choses some to be saved and to not die and not receive punishment! This is amazing. God does not have to chose anyone to be saved. I didn’t have to give out any glow sticks to kids. But God does so, out of his sovereign grace. Not because he has to, but because he wants to. Not because you caught his attention, but because he graciously chose you when you were a sinner. Because he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Because salvation belongs to the LORD.
Jonah learned this. He needed to understand that God’s grace is sovereign and that he was not in charge of who gets to receive it or not. So that’s grace. But there’s also compassion.
The Lord God appointed a plant to save Jonah from his discomfort. And Jonah was exceedingly glad about the plant. But then God took that plant away from Jonah. And so Jonah became exceedingly angry about the plant. Jonah asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant? You pity the plant…. should not I pity Nineveh?”
In English class, we are taught that a noun can be a person, a place, or a thing or idea. But in the classroom of sin, Jonah believed that places and things are more important than people. Jonah had so much compassion and pity for his plant. He had no compassion or pity for the 120,000 people in Nineveh.
But God did. At the end of the day, this is a story about God’s heart. And we see that God is a God of compassion toward people. God cares for people - for sinners - far more than places or things. But to reveal Jonah’s foolishness to him, God pointed out that Nineveh had a lot of cattle. He said, “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Brothers and sisters, this is our God. And God’s compassion and forgiveness and mercy and grace - God’s heart - is most clearly seen and understood in the person and work of Jesus Christ. I think about how Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors and the scum of the earth. I think about how Jesus spoke with the woman at the well. I think about how Jesus looked at the rich young man. I think about how Jesus prayed for Peter and converted Saul to Paul. While the Pharisees and the teachers and the lawyers and the older brothers couldn’t stand it, Jesus was compassionate.
Brothers and sisters, let our hearts be similar to the heart of God. Let us be a people and a church that is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Brothers and sisters, let us humbly admit our anger issues. Do we do well to be angry? No, we do not. Let us confess our anger toward God and toward others. James 1:19-20 states, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Ephesians 4:31 states, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
The best way to deal with our anger issues is to believe in the mercy and grace of God. It is difficult to be angry when you know that you are a sinner. It is difficult to be angry when you understand the mercy and grace that God has shown to you. About a year ago, I was wrongfully ticketed for something that I didn’t do. I brought it to a court and I lost. I remember being so angry at the injustice and the undeserved stain on my driving record and the all the fines and fees I paid that day. But God threw some shade at me. It dawned on me that while I asserted my innocence on that day, at the end of the day, when I consider the big picture, I was absolutely not innocent where it mattered most: before God. The fact that I deserve hell for my sins but received mercy and grace through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection prevented me from having any more anger. It was as if I was given the question that Jonah got: “Do you do well to be angry?” The answer is “No.” I had no argument. All I could do was repent before the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, let us repent of our anger toward people and against God. It is sad and senseless. Let us repent of our lack of mercy and grace toward others. Are you sitting in a booth or a tent hoping and wishing for disaster upon someone? Are you running away from or avoiding a particular person? Are you angry at God because of something? If so, I ask that you repent before the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, as you take off the old, put on the new. Let us replace anger toward God with thanksgiving. Let us replace anger toward others with compassion.
And as we do this, let us “allow” people to change. Often times, we keep people in a box in our minds. We say to ourselves, “He always does that” or “She will never learn.” And in a strange but real way, we don’t give people the chance to grow and change, as if we were keeping them hostage to their past. Jonah obeyed when the word of the Lord came to him a second time. But even after experiencing God’s mercy and grace, Jonah struggled to have a change of heart. Yet the Lord was patient toward him. We need patience at church. Sanctification is often a slow and grueling process. It often takes believers many fits and starts before their hearts warm up to certain things. We need patience and compassion. We need to think less in terms of weeks or months and more in terms of years and decades. Lowly believers who know that they are immature can fall into despair and discouragement because other believers hold them down. Let us not allow such a thing to happen here at Highland.
Brothers and sisters, let us get our priorities right. Jonah had pity for the plant when he should have had pity for the 120,000 souls in Nineveh. His priorities were wrong. It was foolish for the older brother to pout about the family property when his younger brother was lost but now found. Please consider things in your life that are super important to you but really should not be. And please consider things in your life that are super not-important to you but really should be. Let us get our priorities right.