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Compassion Conforms the Inside to God's Heart
Scripture: Jonah 4:1-11
Track 4 of 4 in the Inside~Out: Developing the Heart of God series
Running time: 30 minutes, 20 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Compassion Conforms the Inside to God's Heart" September 23, 2007

113,000 people just like that within 25 miles of 48th and Broadway and one too few microphones. Sorry. 113,000 people all with their own individual issues, hurts, problems, every one of them in need of the same fundamental answer -- somebody to help them, somebody to help them in whatever way they need to be helped, but ultimately somebody to help them come to know who Jesus is.

And quite honestly as we have made our way through the book of Jonah what we have discovered is that there are some, hopefully not many, but there are some who just are outside the range of our possibility. I mean, they just don't fit. They don't belong for whatever reason. They just shouldn't be here. In fact, what should happen is that they ought to have God's wrath. At least that was Jonah's perspective as you remember us walking through those first three chapters together.

I have to confess to you that personally I don't know that I've ever had somebody in my life like a Nineveh. I don't suggest that I've always felt accepting of everybody, but I don't feel like I have ever had an enemy like that, somebody that I just loathed. I've read about people who did or should have at least.

I think about the missionary Helen Roseveare who went to the Congo in Africa at the time of the uprisings. She was held captive for months, brutally raped and beaten until she was finally released and sent back to England where she was given an opportunity for healing, and she went back to the Congo and started a medical clinic right there among those who had been her captors.

Some of you are familiar with the movie "End of the Sphere," five missionary men killed by the Alca Indians, Nate Saint being one of them. The movie is the story by his son Steve after their family went back to that same tribe and introduced them to Jesus. In fact, the very man who killed Nate Saint traveled the United States with Nate's son Steve telling the story of redemption. Those people had Ninevehs in their life, and somehow they found it in them to overcome that and still feel open to sharing the gospel.

I've known some people that I was pretty sure would never want to know Jesus. I know lots of stories like that. There is an elder in the church where I was ordained in Idaho. His name came up one night at one of the elders meetings. He was a mechanic in town. Why, Merv would never come to know Jesus. There isn't anybody that could ever reach him for Christ. Did I mention he is an elder now? Because one of the men, Gary, said, nobody is beyond God's reach.

I remember watching a true stereotypical 1960's hippie walk into the gym one night where we were playing basketball and thinking to myself, this guy has got to leave. As I made my way over to talk to him, I really felt prompted, which does not happen to me often, but I felt deeply prompted rather than asking him to leave to ask him to stay. So against my better judgment I said, why don't you stay? He did and became a bible college professor.

I read this fascinating story this week. It's a couple, I don't know, never have heard of before, Louie and Janette. It's a couple in their 80's with a 55-year old son Lewis. Their son was severely mentally handicapped all of his life, cared for in an institution. As christian parents these two prayed diligently that somehow he would come to know something about Christ in spite of his limitations.

About the time -- the story says about the time Lewis was 50 years old an amazing thing happened. The family was together on a car ride when all of a sudden without warning, without prompting Lewis began to speak. By the way, he had never done that before. He said, you know, mom, you know, dad, Jesus was born, Jesus died to save us from our sins, he rose again, yes, he did. The only complete sentence he ever spoke in his entire life. Louie and Janette were greatly touched, it says, by hearing those words from his son. It turns out that someone had conducted a catechism class for a group of people that included Lewis, and apparently Lewis absorbed more of the material than anyone could have anticipated.

And the man who tells this true story ends it this way. God can reach any heart and any mind with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never underestimate his ability nor his determination to do so. He can reach anyone. Never underestimate his willingness nor his determination to do so.

I want to look at Jonah Chapter 4. We come to the end of this look at this little book of Jonah. We get finally to the heart of the story. You know what's transpired so far. God has come to Jonah and said, I want you to go to Nineveh, and he went to Tarshish instead. He gets swallowed by a fish which saves his life from the deep. He gets vomited up on the beach. He spends his next several weeks traveling through the desert until he comes to the city of Nineveh. He walks into the city, and on the first day he says his five word, eight English word, sermon, 40 more days and you are going to be destroyed, and he goes and hopes that that's what happens.

Unfortunately, for him at least unfortunately, it wasn't. God relented. Chapter 4 picks that up. Now, you have to understand that this is no ordinary preacher. As soon as you read the first verse you know that Jonah is not your ordinary preacher. He just had a one sermon revival that produced 120,000 results. And the first line of Chapter 4 is, "Jonah was greatly displeased." That's no ordinary preacher.

Any other preacher worth his salt would have been absolutely flabbergasted, amazed, and been writing into the national denominational paper saying, 120,000 converts on one sermon. He'd be looking to get his sermon on preachingtoday.com, anything. He is going to get written up somewhere. I mean, this is phenomenal results. And Jonah, it says, is displeased and he became angry.

You got to be kidding. We are going to offer a song here at the end. I want you to know that if 120,000 of you come forward today I will not be angry. If 120 of you come forward, I will not be angry. If one of you comes forward, I will not be angry nor displeased, because I am an ordinary preacher. But Jonah's problem was so simple. He knew God. Well, let me rephrase that. He knew about God. He says in Verse 2, "He prayed." This is the second time in the book he prayed. This is the strangest prayer I have ever heard. Well, I think. I have to think about some of yours. Jonah prayed, "Lord, isn't this what I said when I was still at home? That's why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."

He knows who God is. He knows who God, what God's character is. I knew, he said, that you were. He should have known. The bible says that at least a dozen times. It starts clear back in the book of Exodus, Verse 34 when God gives the law up on the mountain. Moses is hiding in the cleft of the rock and God walks by and God turns around and in Exodus Chapter 34 this is what he says to Moses. "The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin." He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

From the very beginning, He says, you know who I am. I've been saying this all along. It's all over the Psalms. It's in the book OF Nehemiah. It's in the prophet Joel. It's in here a dozen times, this same phrase, the Lord is gracious and compassionate and slow to anger and he relents from calamity.

Jonah's problem was that he knew who God was. Verse 4 he says -- or Verse 3 he says, "Lord, take away my life. It's better for me to die than to live. But the Lord replied, have you any right to be angry?" It's a strange translation by the way. Have you any right. It isn't about his right to be angry. Everybody has got the right to be angry. You can be angry if you want. The question is -- really the question in the text is, does this anger produce any good? Does this anger produce any good? That's really what the text says. Now, that's a different question. Not is it okay to be angry, but does the anger produce anything positive.

"Jonah went out," in Verse 5 -- this is an odd thing, don't you think? "Jonah went out and he sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen now." Do you hear the incongruity in that? Remember the message. The sermon was what, 40 more days, and he spent three days telling the message. That means there is 37 days left, and he is going to go out on the side of the hill overlooking the city, build himself a little shelter, and he is going to sit there in that shelter and he is going to wait 37 days. He is going to wait and see if God keeps his word. He already knows what God's going to do. He has already said, God is going to relent, and he is not giving up.

This is how bad he feels about the whole thing. I'm going to sit out here and I'm going to pout for 37 days until I see if I can get my way. I always found that to be an effective thing. Tell my wife what I want, and if she doesn't give it to me, I say, I'm going to go pout for 37 days; and she says, go.

And then there is this object lesson. Verse 6, "The Lord provided." There is a great word for you that's all over. He provided a fish. He provided a storm. Now he provides a vine. And the vine grows up and it shades Jonah over his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. Do you know the contrast in the text? 120,000 people repented, God relented from calamity, and Jonah is greatly displeased; but the vine grew up and gave him a little personal comfort and shade, and he is very happy. Yeah, he is a man.

"But at dawn the next day God provided," same thing, "provided a worm which attacked the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching wind." Do you hear this constant ongoing lesson? God is pretty heavily involved in this thing. He is providing the vine, providing the worm, providing the east wind, and now Jonah is a little uncomfortable, so much so that he is growing faint and he wants to die. And he says "It would be better for me to die than to live."

I don't know if Jonah is just really, really slow or what. I mean, this is a pretty obvious object lesson, don't you think? Jonah, didn't you like it when I did good to you instead of bad? I mean, how hard is this one to figure out? Jonah, you like the shade of the vine. You didn't like it when the sun blew. You liked it better on the grace side than on the harsh side. "God said to Jonah, 'Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?' He said, 'I do. I'm angry enough to die.' But the Lord said, 'You've been concerned about this vine. You didn't tend it, you didn't make it grow. It sprang up overnight, died overnight. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'"

Do you notice how that paralleled? God is a gracious God, compassionate, slow to anger, quick to relent. Shouldn't I be concerned about 120,000? You're concerned about a vine for crying out loud, but you don't care about 120,000 people? There is some serious incongruities in this text, did you notice that? There is some serious problems here where this just doesn't make a lot of sense. Jonah has this experience of rescue, both from the belly of the whale and now from the heat, and yet in spite of receiving God's grace he refuses to appreciate the grace that God gives to Nineveh.

It sounds a lot like Matthew 18 to me. I don't know if you've read Matthew 18 lately, but Matthew tells this story of Peter saying, Lord, how often should I forgive someone? Should I forgive them up to seven times? And God through Jesus says, no. How about 77. Or if you like the King James version, 70 times 7. 490 if my math does me well. Forgive 490 times? Well, by that time I would lose count. Right. I mean, that's the point, isn't it?

But then there is a parable immediately after that. Do you remember that parable immediately after that little exchange between Peter and the guys? There was a guy who owed a whole bunch of money and a guy forgave him and then he didn't forgive somebody who owed a little bit. He says, if you've been forgiven, you should forgive. In fact, it's reminiscent of the Lord's prayer, forgive us -- come on. As we forgive.

Jonah never got that story. Jonah, you've received great grace, but you don't want to share it. What's the deal? Well, there is at least that incongruity, but there is also this one that doesn't make much sense in this story either. Jonah, you care about a vine, but you don't care about 120,000 people? Now, if I were in a political mood, which I'm not, I might say something like this. You care about snail darters, but you don't care about people? You care about the rain forest, but you don't care about people?

But I'm not in a political mood. I'm actually in a preacher mood, so I might say something like this. You care about paint on the walls, but you don't care about people? You care about the carpet, but you don't care about people? But that would be meddling, and preachers never meddle into people's personal lives.

So let me just make a couple of possibilities here, just observations. Do you think in reading this text that you might come to realize that it's possible to know a lot about God and never know God? Do you think it's possible that you could recite verbatim things about God, like I knew that you were compassionate and slow to anger, and still not figure out what that means?

Well, if you don't think that's possible, read your bible, because it's full of people just like that. They are called Pharisees. They knew everything there was to know about God, but they didn't know anything about Him. Do you understand that difference? Do you know there are people that come to church every Sunday just like that? You can nod your head yes to this one. We know a lot about God, but somehow it never translates from here to here (indicating). It never changes who we are.

I might observe looking at this text that anger is a good thing if it leads to the right results. Can you imagine what this world would be like if it weren't for some angry people over abortion? I'm not talking about people who kill abortion doctors. I'm talking about people who start Care Net centers, who open their homes to unwed mothers, who provide a means to help mentor mothers with small children, who got angry about a world and said, I'm going to do something.

I wonder in looking at this text we might come to realize it is possible, it is distinctly possible to miss the point. Did you have an Aunt Wilda? My Aunt Wilda had the most beautiful living room you have ever seen in your life. I mean, first of all, when you came in Aunt Wilda's house you had to take off your shoes no matter what. It didn't matter where you had been. You took your shoes off at the back door. And when you came in, you passed through the mud room into the kitchen and you walked by the living room. The living room was over here. You could see it, it was beautiful, but you couldn't go in.

I'm not sure why they called it a living room, because nobody ever lived there, but it was beautiful. The only time that there were ever footprints on the carpet was when Aunt Wilda went in and dusted the furniture and vacuumed her way out so there would be no footprints in the carpet. You know I have a point here, right? Couldn't possibly have told you that for no reason.

It reminds me a lot of a building I know down in the St. Louis area that a church constructed because there were lots of kids in the neighborhood, and they thought it would be really great if they bussed these kids from the neighborhood to come to church and learn about Jesus. So they built a nice building and they bussed in kids, and what they discovered was when you bus in kids from the neighborhood they do things like write stuff on the walls and knock holes in the drywall and they scratch stuff in the stalls that you know no self-respecting person would ever want to read. I mean, you had to call in a guy like me who understood that stuff to be able to even know what it meant. So they cancelled the ministry to kids because it was tearing up the building.

I wonder if it's possible for us to come to understand this simple point -- that if you really know God, I mean, if you really understand God's heart, it's going to change the way you relate to the world. I could have said that, and we could have gone home early today, but that wouldn't have been no fun at all. But that's the point, isn't it, when you read the book of Jonah? If you really understand God's heart, it will change the way you relate to the world, because, quite honestly, we're really tempted to dismiss the world and to run and hide. We are.

Now, you may not want to accept that and you may not want to take my word for it, but I'm living proof that that's true. It is easier for me, far easier for me to come out here and sit in my office than to go out into the world. It's a lot easier for me to be a christian who works for the church than it is to be you who are christians out there in the rest of the world and you have to deal with those crazies.

So what do we do? We plan church meetings and we come to church and we gather with our friends in small groups, and I'm not opposed to any of that, but if you're not careful, you will schedule yourself right into a christian compound where everybody is just like you and you'll call it christian spiritual, and what it is it's Jonah. I don't want anything to do with those people.

If we aren't tempted to run from the world, we're tempted to hate it, because of what it's done to us and our families. And, quite honestly, there are times I have to admit that I struggle with wishing that God would be vengeful and hurry up. I can be like Jonah sitting on a hill waiting for God to destroy those people if I'm not careful. We're tempted to run from the world and to just give up in despair and say, hurry up, Jesus, come, but we're not going to participate, we're not going to get involved.

Did you read the paper this weekend? I about -- I just about -- I'm speechless. Steve Eighniger's article about Shoutfest, did you read the whole thing? Next to the last paragraph, right-hand column, down near the bottom. There are some churches in Quincy, Illinois, who forbid their young people to go to Shoutfest because it's evil. You don't have to like rock music. You don't have to like rap. You don't have to like volume. You just have to like people. You don't have to enjoy the music, you don't even have to go, but you've got to love the kids enough to send them, to take them, to invite them, to pay their way, to stand next to them with ear plugs. You got to. This isn't about what you like. This is about what matters.

And the problem is we are way too much like Jonah. We care about vines, but we forget about people. We care about carpet and we care about buildings and we care about buses and we care about budgets, but we don't care about people. We care about ourselves. We care about our sense of comfort. We care about not being embarrassed. We care about not making fools of ourselves. And the whole time 113,269 people who live within 25 miles of 48th and Broadway need to hear about Christ, and you can't -- you cannot, you cannot tell me that the temperature in this room is more important than that or the time that we start our service is more important than that or what songs we sing is more important than that or whether we have this or don't have that is important. You can't even tell me that your most crucial relationships in life are more important than that.

And some little boy is going to walk out of church today and say, I don't want to go back there because God talks too loud. I know that, because I've had that happen to me. I'm not God, by the way, but I do talk too loud.

I want you to hear what's going on here. I was one of those 113,000 people who didn't fit, who wasn't accepted and was not acceptable until somebody had the courage to befriend me and invite me anyway. Two people at the age of this good couple, two people your age -- I assume you guys are close. Well, what I'm trying to say is two people older than me prayed for 11 years everyday that that kid who used to walk past their house would come to know Jesus, and I did.

And I just want to know, who are you praying for? Who are you praying for? Who are you praying for that will come to know Jesus? Who are you lifting up today that may show up at Shoutfest and hear the gospel when it's preached or sung? Who are you praying for today that will be down in elementary worship that will hear the gospel from Keith for maybe the first time today? Who are you praying for that may have a door open to you in the cubicle next-door? You see, my guess is that if you're not careful you're just like me, and next Sunday will roll around and you'll think, oh, I'm supposed to be praying for somebody. But I don't see a single person taking out a pen and writing down a name. I hope you are making a mental list, because that wasn't just a suggestion.

There are 113,269 people by last count within 25 miles of our building who need to know Jesus personally, and we're the ones that are supposed to tell them. So that's what we are challenging you to do. We are not asking you to be comfortable. We are not even asking you to like anything. We're asking you to make what's important important. Should I not be concerned about this 120,000 people who do not know their right from their left? It's the most profound question in the book of Jonah, and it ought to haunt us all. Until at least our neighbor knows that we are christians, until our co-worker knows that we know Jesus, until the man on the street at least has an opportunity to hear about Christ it ought to haunt us.

How many of the thousands of people who drive by this building every single day don't yet know Christ? How many? Does it break your heart, because it breaks God's heart. So who has God put in your path? Who are you praying for? Who do you need to talk to? We are going to stand and sing this song. Make it your statement to be available and useful to God.

[Transcribed by GN12]