“A Not-So-Happy Ending” (Jonah 4 sermon)

In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities he tells of the Marquis St. Evremonde, an extremely rich man who entertained himself by racing his carriage through the narrow streets of Paris and watching the peasants dive out of the way. But while he was driving, suddenly there was a thud; the carriage stopped. People were screaming and crying. His carriage had hit a child. The Marquis was upset also: “Why is he making that abominable noise? How do I know what injury you have done to my horses?” He tossed out a gold coin to the child’s father, and sped away. 

The passions of that rich man were grotesquely misplaced, weren’t they? He cared more about his horses, and his personal entertainment, than he did a maimed and dying child. But before we shake our heads at him, let’s make sure that we don’t see ourselves in his reflection. What really bothers YOU? What are YOU passionate about? The Kingdom of God and the people God loves? Or your own possessions and comforts?

In our daily Bible reading in the Book of Jonah last week we saw the picture of another man whose passions were misplaced, and sadly this errant prophet looks uncomfortably similar to many of us today! 

Most of us are familiar with the basic story of this book: God told the prophet Jonah in Chapter 1 to go and preach to the City of Nineveh, but Jonah ran from that call; in fact he took a ship in the opposite direction. So God brought a great storm on the sea, and the sailors discovered Jonah’s guilt and threw him overboard. But instead of drowning, a great fish swallowed him, and in the belly of that fish Jonah came face to face with his sin before God; and he repented, and recommitted his life to obey God. Then the fish throws Jonah up onto the shore, and God tells him again to go to Nineveh and preach, and this time he does. And Chapter 3 says when he preached, the people of Nineveh actually repented, and turned back to God, so God spared the city.

One could have just ended the book right there: Jonah gets right with God, he preaches and Nineveh repents. End of story. “Happy ending,” right? Only it isn’t. Because then God gives us Chapter 4, which shows us the “ugly rest of the story.” It begins, “But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.” Instead of being happy with the revival in Nineveh, Jonah was “greatly displeased.” He didn’t want to see Nineveh repent; he wanted to see them judged. Nineveh had been a violent conqueror; he wanted to see them “get their due,” and he was disappointed when that didn’t happen. (This goes with what we saw last week in Luke 9; Jonah wanted the “fire to fall” from heaven and devour them, like James & John!) It’s no “accident,” of course, that God DID give us Chapter 4; to show us some ugly things in the heart of Jonah, that we may just have in our hearts as well. So let’s look at what makes this “A Not-So-Happy Ending” to this book, and how it might apply to us as well: 

I.  He Adopted the Role of a Spectator

Verse 5 says that Jonah went outside the City of Nineveh and sat down “until he could see what would happen in the city.” Did you catch that? What was Jonah going to do here? He wasn’t going to “do” anything, was he? It say he was going to SIT there, and “SEE what would happen.” Jonah didn’t plan to preach any more. He wasn’t going to teach the people how to follow Yahweh. He wasn’t going to minister to them. He didn’t intend to serve in any way. He wasn’t going to DO anything. He was just going to “pull up a good seat” and watch whatever was going to unfold. Jonah had adopted the role of the SPECTATOR. 

Others have one that same thing. One of the most striking verses to me in the story of Jesus’ arrest in Matthew 26, is where it says in :58 “But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome.” Here again, just like Jonah, Peter “sat down” “to SEE the outcome.” He didn’t intend to DO anything about it one way or the other. He was just going to watch. Peter was entirely a spectator. 

And honestly, too many people in God’s churches today are just like Jonah and Peter. They have become “spectators.” Some have always been spectators; some, like Jonah, used to serve, but have stopped, and have now “pulled up a seat” to just “see what will happen.” They’ve adopted the role of spectators in the church and in the work of the Kingdom of God. They don’t preach; they don’t teach; they don’t sing; they don’t go on mission; they don’t serve in any particular way. Their entire “role,” in the church, is just to be a spectator. 

Unfortunately over the years many leaders in the church have cultivated this mindset. They’ve taught that “the clergy,” the “professional ministry” are to do everything, and the rest of the “common folks” are to just leave the ministry to them. Your job is just to come once a week, and sit and learn and give, and we’ll call you a “good Christian.” Whether we’ve purposefully done it or not, leaders basically trained church people over the years to think they are fulfilling God’s plan for them if they just come to church faithfully and are good “spectators”!  As if coming and sitting and watching three times a week was all that Jesus intended for His followers to do.  

But Jesus never intended His followers to be mere “spectators.” His call was “Follow Me!” His call was “Go therefore make disciples.” His call was “love your neighbor. His call was “visit orphans and widows.” His call is to action, and that call is to all of His followers. He has called all of His people to serve Him.

When God saw that we had all sinned, and that none of us deserved to go to heaven to be with Him; God the Son Himself came down to Earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to pay for our sins, and rose again to be our Living Savior, so that whoever would call on Him might be saved. And the moment we ask Him to take over our lives, He sends His Holy Spirit into our heart to “seal” us as belonging to Him. And when the Spirit comes into our life, He gives us gifts — special abilities with which we are to serve Him. And EVERY Christian has at least one of these gifts. I Corinthians 12:7 says: “To EACH ONE is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 

So the Bible makes it clear that God has given EVERY ONE of His people gifts, with which we are to actively serve Him. The pastors and other ministers in the church are NOT to personally DO all the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:11–12 says that God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “to equip the SAINTS for the work of the service.” ALL of God’s people are to minister. ALL of us are to serve Him in some way. It may not be what someone else with different gifts and abilities is doing, but you will serve Him in whatever way He has gifted you.

Lyndon Johnson ran in a special election for U.S. Senate from Texas in 1941, and biographer Robert Caro wrote that LBJ’s campaign group was devoted to serving him. Someone sneered at a young man, Carroll Keach, because he was only Johnson’s chauffeur, but Keach replied simply: “Everyone can do something for him. This is what I can do for him.”  (The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path To Power, p. 680)

That’s how we should be with the Lord: we should serve Him in whatever way we can. Why we do may not be “glamorous,” and it may not be what someone else can do, but we can say: “This is what I can do for Him.” 

Each of us should ask ourselves: What AM I doing for Him? Am I serving in some way? We should never be content just coming to church for an hour or 2 or 3 a week and sitting and listening and going home until next week. That is NOT being a good Christian. It may be “traditional” Christianity for many, but it is not Biblical Christianity. It is “spectator religion”, which is not what Jesus has called us to. He called us to follow Him, in worshiping, and in reaching, teaching, and caring for people. And not to be content to just sit and watch. 

Am I a “spectator Christian”? There are some give-away signs of it:

Worshipers come to church to participate; spectators come to evaluate!

There’s a big difference, isn’t there? 

— Worshipers come to participate: they come to sing to God; they come to pray, they come to listen; and to come away with something to DO.

But Spectators come to evaluate: “well, the temperature wasn’t quite right; the music wasn’t really what I wanted; boy, the pastor sure was off today!”

Do you see the difference? The “spectator Christian” comes to evaluate, because they aren’t really there to participate, but just to watch; and so they evaluate and criticize what they are watching, instead of being involved and participating. 

What about you? Are you a “spectator” or a participator in God’s church? Ask yourself today: “What is my role in the church?” Is there something of which I can say, “This is what I can do for Him?”  Or have you just adopted the role of the “spectator”? 

Maybe you would honestly say, I just don’t know what I can do to serve. If that’s so, then first of all, PRAY. Ask God to show you where you can serve. A friend of mine posted this week on Facebook: God knows how to get your feet on the ground where He wants you to be!  ASK Him!  Then when you hear us share a need, step up and volunteer. Or GO to one of our ministers, or ministry leaders, and ask them for way you can serve. (We almost always need more workers in the nursery, preschool, and children’s ministry, talk with Mrs. Tina. Scott often needs help in various ways. Ask Deb Peterson what you can do to serve! PORT MINISTRY has a lot of opportunities, and several of our folks are getting involved there. THERE IS ALWAYS A PLACE AND A WAY GOD CAN USE YOU! 

Don’t be content until you can say of something specific: “This is what I can do for Him!”  Let’s make sure we don’t become like Jonah, and take on the role and the attitude of the spectator.  

II. He Was Consumed With His Own Comfort

After Jonah “sat down” and became a spectator, God planned a little “episode” to reveal Jonah’s heart. Verse 6 says that the Lord God appointed a plant to grow up and give Jonah shade. And notice the end of the verse says: “and Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”  

This wording is so revealing: “Jonah was EXTREMELY HAPPY about the plant.” He’d been so “put out” by how God showed mercy on the people of Nineveh; verse 1 says he was “greatly displeased” at how He had spared them. But now Jonah was EXTREMELY happy! Why? Because now he was comfortable. Now he was in the shade; now he’s got a “good seat.” The “spectator” was comfortable. And that’s what’s important to the spectator: his comfort. He’s not interested in what God might be doing to show mercy in people’s lives; his primary interest is in his own comfort.  

This is so revealing. When you’re a spectator, the most important thing to you is your own comfort. Since you aren’t really there to DO anything; you’re just watching, you want to be comfortable while you are watching, and being entertained. Think of the best sports arenas you have been in: they have comfortable seats; they have arm rests on the chairs; they have cupholders, and large video screens, and all the food and drinks you want available nearby — and the reason they have all that, is because comfort is important to the spectator. That’s their whole focus: they are just there to watch, so they want to be comfortable while they are doing it. 

Now a participant has a different mindset, don’t they? Spectators in a football game only care about the comfort of their seat. An actual player in the game isn’t focused on comfort; he wears very uncomfortable shoulder pads, and a very tight-fitting helmet, and so on, because he is not focused on comfort, but on competing, and winning the game. It’s the same with a military person; they’re not focused on comfort, but on accomplishing the mission they have been given. 

I love to visit World War II warships, like the battleship Texas in San Jacinto, or the Alabama in Mobile Bay. I remember being on board one of those ships — if I remember right, this particular one was actually a submarine — and seeing the bunks where the sailors slept. There were 3 or 4 of them right on top of each other, and each individual bunk only had about 18” of space until the next one was stacked right on top of it. Now as a spectator, I looked at that and thought: “That doesn’t look very comfortable!” NO ONE would want to vacation on that kind of a ship, right? But the thing is, that ship was not made for comfort. It was a warship! 

As we’ve said before, this is exactly the kind of mindset we need to get into in the church. Too many of God’s people in the American church — whether they would say it or not — regard the church as a kind of “cruise ship” that they think is here for our comfort:

— we want seats that are comfortable

— we expect the temperature in the building to be comfortable for US

— we want songs that suit our tastes

— we want a length of service that we are comfortable with

And so on … and this has become so ingrained into our expectations in America that we don’t even consciously think about it. We just expect it: this should be comfortable for us. That’s the way it’s supposed to be!

This is another reason why it’s so good for us to go overseas on mission: not only to reach people, but also so that we can see what the experiences of other believers are. In India, for example, I’ve been in services with a hundred people sitting crowded on the floor, and there wasn’t room for chairs IF they even had them! And there was no a/c, or sound system, or instruments other than a hand-held tambourine! And after we finished the service, they said, we have to get away; troublemakers are on the way! Why did those people come to that service? It wasn’t because it was so comfortable; they weren’t there just to be spectators; they were there to worship God. And maybe there’s some things we can teach them when we go over there — but I also think there’s also a lot they can teach US! Among them being: for disciples of Jesus, it’s NOT about our own comfort.  

Think about it: many of the concerns that American Christians have today with the church, have to do with our own comfort. And it is because, whether we are aware of it or not, we have become “spectator Christians.” And a spectator is primarily concerned with his own comfort.

When “spectator Christianity” takes hold, then like Jonah, “shade plants” become important to us. We can criticize Jonah for his love for that shade plant, but the truth is, we have our own “shade plants” don’t we:  “shade plants” are the personal comforts and conveniences we love. What might be a “shade plant” for you? Maybe it’s your comfortable chair, or the air conditioning, “your” classroom that you don’t want to give up or share — or some other “comfort” or “convenience” in the church. But it is comfort that is most important to the spectator. 

III. He Had Misplaced His Passion.

In the next verses we see what happens when the spectator loses the comfort he loves so much. Verse 7 says God appointed a worm to kill the plant Jonah loved so much. And He did it to reveal Jonah’s heart. What it revealed was that Jonah’s passion was for this PLANT, this comfort, instead of for the PEOPLE God had called him to minister to. 

These verses really do reveal the passion of Jonah’s heart. As we saw, :6 said that “Jonah was EXTREMELY HAPPY about the PLANT.” He was so happy about the comfort he got from this plant. Not in the revival that took place in Nineveh; not in the repentance and salvation of the people there; he was extremely happy about the comfort he got from that plant!

And so then, when God caused the worm to kill the plant, it says the sun beat down on Jonah, and he got angry. God asked him if he had a right to be angry, and in :9 Jonah says, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death”! “Angry even to death” means he was REALLY angry; that he was so angry he could die, because he had lost this plant, which had given him such comfort. Jonah was PASSIONATE about this plant; which is really to say, he was passionate about his OWN COMFORT. 

So God confronted Jonah in :10. He said: “You had compassion on the PLANT … which came up overnight and perished overnight — should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great CITY, which has 120,000 PEOPLE, who do not know their right hand from their left … ?”. God was saying: Jonah, think about your heart! You are so passionate about this perishable PLANT, just because it gives you comfort, but you don’t care whether hundreds of thousands of PEOPLE, live or die or go to heaven or hell?!

Jonah is a great example of what happens when God’s servants have misplaced passions. It’s not that they don’t care about ANYTHING; they’re often very passionate, but they’re passionate about the wrong things. They are passionate about their own “shade;” they’re passionate about their own comfort; they’re passionate about temporary things, instead of being passionate about GOD and His MISSION and the PEOPLE God so loves! 

This 4th chapter of Jonah calls for soul-searching from each of us as God’s people today: have we become “spectator Christians,” who are only concerned about our own comforts, and get more upset about when our favorite comforts are taken away, than we do over the fact that people are lost or hurting or in need? 

Paul said in Romans 10:1 “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Paul’s passion was to see people saved. He didn’t care about his own comfort. He said in II Corinthians 11:  “Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked … in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” Paul was no spectator. His passion was for God and His mission and the people God wanted him to reach, and he passionately sacrificed his comfort, for the sake of the mission. 

But spectators pervert that, and become passionate about our own comforts instead. When like Jonah, our little “shade plants” and comforts get taken away, we become as upset about THAT as we SHOULD be over the people God wants us to love and win.   Think about it:

What do you think would cause the bigger uproar in the church: 

— if the air conditioning went out and we didn’t fix it in time for Sunday?

— or if we knew that there were children in Bulgaria — or children within a mile of this church — who don’t know the name of Jesus?

— Would people be more upset if we replaced all the worship center seating with foldable metal chairs? 

— Or that we knew there were senior adults who are at home, who felt abandoned and alone?  Are we passionate about the right things?

I remember talking years ago with a senior adult woman from a church in Florida. She shared about how all these new kids who were coming to their church — but she wasn’t excited about  it; no, she was COMPLAINING about it. She said: “Do you know what kind of mess they made in the pews? Do you know how much toilet paper they use?!” I’m like, “seriously? Your church is reaching kids and families, but you’re upset because they’re using too much toilet paper?! 

See, what bothers us, gives us away, doesn’t it? Our passions reveal where our heart really is. Am I more concerned with my personal “shade plants” in the church — or “reaching, teaching, and caring” for people?

Several people told me last Sunday that the Lord really convicted them through His word in Luke 9. I said, that’s because He convicted ME with it first — you’re just getting the overflow from it!  And it’s the same this week.  This account in Jonah 4 is SO convicting: am I really more concerned about people, or my own comfort? We’ve GOT to learn to get past this as God’s people.  I think in a very real way, the Christian life is about learning to do what GOD wants us to, even when It’s hard, instead of what is naturally comfortable to US. For example:

— it’s more comfortable to sleep in, but will we do the hard thing and get up and spend time with God instead?

— it’s more comfortable to stay home than to go to the nursing home, but will we get up and go instead?

— it’s much more comfortable NOT to go on that mission trip; but will we make the sacrifice go tell people about Jesus instead?

I’m praying for our Bulgaria team as they fly home today: a 12-hour flight. Honestly, I HATE that: being confined, in a middle seat, for 12 hours! It’s SO uncomfortable. There is only one reason to do it: to help reach people for Christ in a country that far away. It’s not comfortable. But we’ve got to learn to set aside our comfort, and go. And not just to Bulgaria. The same thing applies here. It’s not “comfortable” for Kyle to step on that ship in the Port and talk to a sailor about Jesus. It’s not “comfortable” for you to talk to a friend about the Lord, or step into a nursing home and visit a senior adult. But the question is: will we learn from Jonah’s “not-so-happy ending,” to obey God and love His people, more than we do our own comfort?  


— Have you become a spectator? Would you take the first step and pray, and ask God to show you where to serve?

— Have you gotten consumed with your own comfort? Are you more passionate about that, than reaching people for the Lord? What’s the last thing you got upset about? A person who was lost? Or some personal comfort?

— Maybe there’s something hard He’s asking you to do, and you’ve been reluctant. Ask Him for the strength to do it.

— Maybe you just need to ask Him to help you continually, in the “little” things of life, to do what HE wants you to, instead of the “easy” thing.

— Maybe God’s speaking to you about something else I haven’t even mentioned. Talk to Him about that …

— Maybe you need to take the first step in following Christ, and ask Him to be your Lord & Savior today …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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