THE MOST URGENT MINISTRY FOR EVERYONE IN CHURCH by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson
This morning we will conclude our series on the Book of Jonah titled, “Running From God.” Our last message comes from Jonah chapter 4 titled, “The Most Urgent Ministry For Everyone in Church” – Whether you’ve been in church all your life or got here sometime back or this is your first time. Many of you have asked me – “what is this ministry that is so urgent?” Is it preaching or music or prayer or youth or children? It is the SOS ministry. It stands for – “SLIDE OVER SOME” MINISTRY.
Jonah 3:10 – 4:3 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. 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!”
Overall Background: If I had written the Book of Jonah, I would have ended in chapter 3. What a great way to end with Jonah 3:10 “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 (Nineveh), and He did not do it.” What better way to end than on a high note – bad people became good, trusted God’s grace and God was forgiving and merciful as always. In other words, “And they lived happily every after. The End.” But, oh no, listen to Jonah 4:1 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” The verb for anger comes from the Hebrew word that literally means – “to burn.” In other words, it burned Jonah up.Instead of rejoicing over God’s grace towards the Ninevites or helping lead the Ninevites into discipleship, Jonah gets angry. Listen to his prayer again 2 …“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!” Why does Jonah want God to kill him? Because now the pagan Assyrians are on the same level as Jonah. Because now the barbaric Ninevites are just as much a part of God’s family as the children of Israel.
Before we shake our heads at Jonah, we need to examine our own hearts and churches. How hard it is for people to slide over and let others in. The one ministry that is desperately needed among American Christians and churches is the SOS Ministry = Slide Over Some Ministry. I’m not talking about just sliding over in your pew. I am talking about sliding over in our thinking and our acceptance of others in the body of Christ. This message is critical because if this does not happen, American Christianity is drawing its last breath. You may think – how does this apply to me. Don’t check out yet. You’ll be surprised how much you need it.
Let’s see what happened with Jonah: 5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city.
Background: Last time he ran west, this time he runs to the east. Won’t you too? Last time he went west, he got swallowed by the great fish. So he goes east and “There he made himself a shelter (“sukka” = hut shelter) and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. In other words, he is pouting and waiting for God to pick.
Christians pout. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking we don’t. Camera phones and selfies did not invent pouting. It’s been around for thousands of years.
Application: How do you respond when things don’t go your way? We are talking about in the church but also in your home and marriage and at your work.
What is God’s response? 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. The same God who prepared the great fish now prepares a plant and it provides shade for Jonah. God is trying to deliver him from his misery. The word for misery is the Hebrew word “ra’a” = misery/evil/disaster. When you are pouting you are miserable and you make everyone else miserable around you. Misery loves company.
So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. Literally: “Jonah rejoiced over the plant with great joy.”What’s next? 7But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm. The same God who prepared the great fish and the plant prepares a worm.“And it so damaged the plant that it withered.” God showed mercy to Jonah by providing a shade over his head and now God took it away for the moment. What’s next? 8And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement (cutting) 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.”
Where is God going with all this? 9Then 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!”
I cannot help but think of another time in the Bible a similar thing happened. It’s in the Gospels. We’ve all heard the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 – A father has two sons and the younger says to the Father“Give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” He takes his share and goes to a far away country and wastes everything. Then, a severe famine hits the land and the only job he could find was in working with swine. All he could eat was what the pigs ate. Don’t mistake this with pig farms in America. Finally, he comes to his senses and says to himself – “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to share and I perish with hunger.”18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
But you know the story – Luke 15 20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. As he is trying to seek his father’s forgiveness, his father interrupts him and commands his servants to, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
Now, I’m sure that you’ve heard some wonderful messages of the grace of God towards us when we turn towards Him. I’ve preached some myself. But did you know that it’s not the main point of the story. In fact, the whole section begins with this statement in Luke 15 1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them. Because the Pharisees and the scribes complained to Him about the tax collectors and the sinners, Jesus gave this parable of the Prodigal Son.
The real point of the parable is not that the Prodigal Son came home but read how the elder brother reacted to it. He heard the noise of the music and dancing and he was angry. Listen to Luke 15 28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. Just like God came out and pleaded with Jonah. 29 So he answered and said to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
Doesn’t that sound like church people? Preacher – just cause you have some new people coming, you’ve forgotten about the old. He doesn’t care for us any more. We’ve been there all along but now He has found others. How did the Father respond? 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
Application: Do you see others as a threat or as a trophy of God’s grace?
Back to Jonah 4 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. 11And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons (Nineveh proper) who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” What’s the point? Jonah has more compassion over a plant – a plant that he did not put in the ground or even take care of. But, he could care less for people who are made in the image of God.
It is amazing to me how people can get tickled over seeing their azaleas blooming! But God forbid if someone sits in their favorite spot in church. Some people can get so excited over finding 99-cent grapes but it tears them up to see more people or different people come to church.
Application: Let me ask you something – Do plants or animals or things matter more to you than people? Extend that a little – what is the value of one soul to you? The other day I was driving down the street with my boys in the back. I was listening to them making plans for their weekend. “Okay – first, were going to play the Wii, then, we’ll go outside, and then, we’ll watch a movie and eat cookies.” Just then I saw this rough looking guy walking. I don’t know anything about him. He might a horrible criminal who could kill me without thinking twice. Right then a thought crossed my mind – “The same God who made my boys also made him.” He values that person just as much as he values them.
Let me switch gears here – the burden for “sliding over some” is not just for the people who have been here for a while but also for people who are new.
In the Book of Acts, there is a great illustration of this. Acts 6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
Background: The Hebrews were the first Christians and the Hellenists were the next to arrive. It wasn’t long since Jesus had left them. It wasn’t long since they had the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But already, there’s a division in the church. This time the tables have turned. Those who came in after are complaining about those who have were there first because they felt neglected.
The church is a home. How do you act when you go to someone’s home? Do you walk in demanding your way? Of course not. You come in with humility.
At the end of the day, none of us deserve to be here. It’s only by the grace of God that we are what we are. Why do we judge others? John Bradford, the English preacher, when he would see criminals being led to the scaffold, would often say – “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”
This Church is about Jesus Christ. Do you know Him who bought our salvation by His blood?