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The Sulking Servant (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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August 20, 2023 4:00 am

The Sulking Servant (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 20, 2023 4:00 am

Why do good things happen to undeserving people? This was Jonah’s complaint when God spared the Ninevites from judgment. Why wasn’t the prophet rejoicing? Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg takes a closer look at Jonah’s attitude and God’s response.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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Truth for Life
Alistair Begg

Good Things Happen to People Who Just Don't Deserve It And as you're seated, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. And we're going to read from the first verse.

Actually, we'll read from the tenth verse of chapter 3. Jonah went out and 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 to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head, to ease his discomfort. And Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die and said, It would be better for me to die than to live. But God said to Jonah, Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?

I do, he said. I'm angry enough to die. But the LORD said, You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow.

It sprang up overnight and 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. Amen. Now, before we study, let's ask God's help. Father, we pray now that with our Bibles open upon our laps, that the Spirit will be our teacher, that in and through and beyond the voice of a mere man we may hear your voice, that you may speak to arrest, to enlighten, to encourage, to convert, in whatever way you choose. Grant that our minds may be ready to think, that our lives may be open to receive, and that our wills may be brought into obedience to your holy Word. For we pray in Jesus' name.

Amen. Throughout the opening chapters, we have seen the prophet Jonah in a variety of situations. We found him, first of all, running—namely, running away from God and from his clear dictate, seeking to go in the opposite direction from that which God desired for him. We then found him sleeping below deck on a ship that he had taken in order to run away from God.

The incongruity of his sleeping in the midst of the storm was striking to his then. We found him described in chapter 2 drowning, with the seaweed closing over his mouth almost to suffocate him. And then we picked him up later when he was praying, and this time from the belly of a great fish, which God had provided at just the right moment to be present, to pick him up and deposit him on dry ground. As a result of his reinstatement on terra firma, we then discovered him preaching, and he now goes to say what God has told him to say to the people that he had originally sent him. We might have anticipated that we would then find him rejoicing, but in point of fact, as chapter 4 opens, we discover that the prophet of God is sulking—sulking.

And on two occasions, he indicates that his sense of discouragement and depression is enough to bring him to the point of wishing to be done with life altogether. And so it is clear that the prophet, although he is a prophet called by God and given a unique place in the purposes of God, still has a lot to learn. I used to think when I was a younger man that those who had been called to be the preachers and teachers probably knew everything you were supposed to know.

When I would be sitting under their instruction and perhaps hanging around them, I had assumed that they were just about absolutely perfect. I recognized, too, that the preacher always has a lot to learn. And there are, of course, those who are given the place in life of always pointing that out to us, lest we should ever be tempted to forget it. And all of us who listen to the Bible have a lot to learn. And the time that we have the most to learn is usually when we think we've just about learned it all. For then we're at our most vulnerable. Oh, there's nothing more that I have to discover now.

I've pretty well covered the whole text, and I've got it all buttoned down. At that point, we probably have a big lesson about to come over our horizon. Now, it is interesting, at least to me, and I hope to you also, that despite the fact that Jonah had a churlish attitude, that he was narrow-minded in his approach to things, that he was responding in the wrong way to God's kindness, God doesn't write him off. He had provided a large fish to save him, and he could easily have provided a large lion to eat him.

He could have responded to him by saying, Jonah, I've now had perfectly enough of you. I gave you one word, and you went in the wrong direction. I sent a fish to save you.

I spat you up. You began to preach. Now you're as miserable as sin. Why don't I send a lion to eat you? But he doesn't do that, because he is a gracious and compassionate God. Aren't you grateful that God hasn't sent lions to eat us because we were disobedient to his plans? How many of us would still be here this morning if on the occasion of our disobedience he sent a lion to eat us? The congregation would be vastly depleted if we're honest. I certainly would not be the preacher.

I know that for sure. All you would see is one of my shoes sticking out of the lion's mouth somewhere as it went scurrying down Sharon Boulevard. No, God is gracious and compassionate. He treats his servant with patience and with kindness so as to bring him to the realization that what is wrong more than any other thing is Jonah's attitude. Now, we might be tempted this morning, perhaps if we'd come as visitors or even those of us who've been around for a few weeks, to say to ourselves, you know, this is an irrelevant account from somebody who was long ago and far away.

I don't know why we would even spend our time studying something like this. Well, I want to suggest to you that you may well very quickly and quite pertinently find your face reflected in the attitudes of Jonah. I want you to get ready for that, actually.

I don't think you'll go very far now without all of a sudden seeing your face. The reason I say that is because it didn't take me very long into the verses before I saw my ugly face in the reflection of the Bible. The issues of the chapter turn largely on two questions, both of which are posed by God. One he asks twice, one only once. The one he asks twice you'll find in verse 4, and again in verse 9.

The final one is actually the final sentence of the chapter. And the first question is this, Do you have a right to be angry? which he asks on two separate occasions. And the second question is, Should I not be concerned about that great city?

Now, these questions are well put, are they not? Because Jonah's reaction is strange for a preacher. Instead of the repentance of Nineveh providing a basis for his encouragement, it actually provokes him to fury. You would have thought that having now gone and said what God had called him to say, and as a result of that seeing the people turn in repentance, he would have said, What a privilege to have been used in God's service.

I'm so grateful that God has been kind to me and has not cast me off, didn't write me off, but has given me the privilege of a second chance. And yet what do we discover? The literal translation of the opening sentence is, It was evil to Jonah, a great evil. It's translated in the NIV, Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. The absence of the calamity that he expected, a calamity which he thought and actually hoped would come upon Nineveh, proved to be a calamity in Jonah's own thinking.

So because there was no calamity on Nineveh, it was a calamity for Jonah in his own thinking. Now, we should not think that Jonah had disobeyed God. This is not the disobedient Jonah of chapter 1.

This is the obedient Jonah of chapter 3. And the obedient Jonah of chapter 3 is perplexed in his obedience, because as a result of being obedient and on account of what he knows of God, it has set up in his mind these questions with which he is wrestling—questions which thoughtful people in every generation will be forced to wrestle with. Although he had gone where he'd been told to go, although he had said what he had been told to say, he was clearly not in complete harmony with God's gracious plan.

That is a word of caution, incidentally. We may go where we're told to go, we may say what we're told to say, we may externally conform to that which is the standard expectation of God for us as his servants, and yet at the very core of our lives, in a circumstance like this this morning, not really be in harmony with the unfolding of God's plan. He's wrestling, I think—in fact, I'm sure—with an issue that each of us must face. It is a supreme issue, and it is a question that anyone along the journey of faith will come to sooner or later—and probably sooner rather than later.

The question is the sovereignty of divine grace. Now, for some of you, you say, Immediately, I'm not sure what that actually means, and furthermore, I'm not sure that it means anything that is of remote interest to me. I was hoping that when I came this morning, I would have some kind of practical insight into the fact that I'm dealing with a tremendous amount of stress in my life. I was hoping that the sermon this morning would be called something like Seven Principles for Being a Better Dad, because I've really been quite a wretch over the past month or so, and I've been longing for my children to go back to school and get out of my hair. I was hoping that something along the journey may help with the fact that our air conditioning broke down and that somehow or another there must be something practical that the Bible has to say about these issues. And now here I am, and I've come, and I'm in this room. It feels as though the air conditioning has broken down in here, and he announces the fact that the central issue is the sovereignty of divine grace.

Yes? Oh, I could address those questions for you Sunday by Sunday. I could have sermons for you that are just like that, seven principles for dealing with stress, five ways to be a better dad, six ways to be a good mom, fifteen ways to clean your bedroom, and so on, and you could all scribble the notes down, and it may have absolutely nothing at all to do with the Bible. You say, well, I don't know about the sovereignty of divine grace. Well, that's fine.

I'm going to tell you about it. You see, that's why God gives to the church pastors and teachers, so that we might edify the saints so that you can do the works of the ministry, so that we might tackle issues that are not immediately apparent to the rank and file, who say, I'm not so sure that the sovereignty of divine grace is a matter that is number one or even in the top five of my considerations. And before we finished the study in Jonah chapter 4, we said, I didn't realize how pressingly important that was. You see, the real issue of God's dealing with humanity is this matter of his grace. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, he says to Moses, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Paul, wrestling with this in Romans chapter 9, on this whole matter of election, quotes from the Old Testament in the fourteenth verse of chapter 9. And it is this matter which is the very basis for the perplexity to which Jonah the prophet gives voice. He is angry, he is arguing, and he is praying simultaneously. It's not an easy feat, incidentally, to be angry and prayerful at the same time. "'O LORD,' he says, this is exactly what I said." Listen to him as he tries to justify his previous sin.

You ever been tempted to do that? Sin that was so clearly wrong, a disobedience that was so obvious. God forgives you, picks you up, puts you back on track. Then you go to him in prayer, and you try to come back and say again to him, by the way, you know, thanks for forgiving me, but the real issue was this.

It's like children, we do it with our parents all the time. Oh, please forgive me, we get forgiven, and then we come back in the kitchen and we say, you know, I know you forgive me, but the reason that I was doing what I was doing, there was a perfectly good reason for me being there, or doing this or doing that. Now, what we have here is not Jonah the Bible answer man, but what we've got here is Jonah the Bible question man. And while it is good for us to seek answers in the Bible, and the Bible is full of answers, it's also full of questions.

And I'm not sure that those of us who like to be quick on our feet with an answer aren't guilty many times of providing answers to questions that people aren't even asking and refusing to hear the questions that people are justifiably bringing to us. And it is of striking importance that this is not some crazy little man who has no knowledge of God who is asking these kind of questions. This is somebody that God has chosen from all of eternity, called into his service, given him his word, and made him a preacher.

And he's not alone. Throughout the story of the prophets, you find them asking questions. Let me illustrate it from the book of Jeremiah. We could go all through the prophets, but let me just give you three illustrations from Jeremiah. If you want to turn to them, the first is in Jeremiah chapter 12. And this is how he begins, "'You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you.'"

In other words, he establishes the nature of who God is and his understanding of theology. And having said that, then he says, "'Well, I'd like just to have a word with you, if I may, about your justice. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?'" Now, have you ever found yourself asking that question? The Psalmist asks it. The prophet asks it. Why, since you are a just God, do people who do so many bad things come off so well, and those who are your chosen who seek to obey you come off apparently so badly? Chapter 15, you've got another one.

You tell me you haven't asked this question either of circumstance facing yourself or a loved one. Verse 17, he says, "'I never sat in the company of revelers. I never made merry with them.'"

In other words, I haven't been going down the pub and getting smashed. "'Instead, I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation.'" Now, here's the question.

Why is my pain unending? "'And my wound grievous and incurable. Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?'" In other words, are you gonna hang me out to dry God? Are you gonna say, come over here and there's water? And I get over there desperate for a drink of water, and I discover that there is no water at all. It's a mirage in the desert.

This is the question of the prophet of God. I said I'd give you three illustrations, but two's enough. I can tell by the pained expression on your face that we need to keep moving. Let me say this in passing. Let us beware of always wanting to be the people with the answers.

Right? I don't mean let us embrace vagueness, let us walk around saying, we don't know and nobody knows. There are certain things that the Bible has given us absolute clarity on concerning which we can be clear and straightforward. But the fact of the matter is there are dilemmas in life which will remain unresolved until we see God face to face, and we are known by him, and we know even as he knows. And it is not a service to the Christian cause for us to seek to dance around those issues and provide trait answers to deep-seated questions. I would warrant that more of our friends and neighbors who are wrestling with such issues will be more closer drawn to a consideration of Christ by an honest acknowledgment on our part of the dimension of mystery that is contained in so much that God does rather than an attempt on our part always to have some slick and immediate answer to any question that they're able to raise. My dear sensible people, you need to consider that kind of thing.

Questions are understandable, although all of our questions are not always commendable. And there is, I think, a key to what's going on here when you consider that in the arguing of Jonah there is a little too much Jonah. You notice how many times the personal pronoun pops out. Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick. I knew, take away my life, it's better for me to die than to live. You and I find ourselves arguing with God. If we're honest, we'll find there's a little bit too much beg in our questions.

At least in my case, in yours, of course, apply your own name. I'm prepared to carry the weight for my own, but I'm not prepared to carry the weight for yours. What is he doing? Well, he's presenting the issue as a matter of Jonah's word against the Lord's word, and he rather thinks that his own is better.

You ever been there? Now, I know, Lord Jesus, that the Bible says this. My feeling is this.

I like to go with my feeling if that's okay with you. I know that it says this clearly, but actually, I have another approach to it. And in Jonah's case, the root issue is a double standard.

He has a standard for himself and the people of God, namely Israel, and then he has another standard by which the foreigners and the enemies of God's people are to be judged. It was okay for God to forgive Jonah's disobedience, but not, in Jonah's mind, just as right for God to show his mercy to the Ninevites. I kind of like it, God, that you're kind and compassionate towards me.

Got me out of that dreadful problem there where I was about to drown. But I don't like this idea of your kindness and your compassion being shown to them. After all, this Assyrian power, God, is an enemy of your people. These are bad people, God. I mean, when I went in there to pronounce judgment, I was pumped about it, because I said, Let it fall, you know!

Let it come down! Let it rain down on them fast and hard! But God, I don't expect you to be compassionate to them. They're not monotheistic like us. They don't pay attention to the law of Moses like us. They don't bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of God, obeying the Shema in Deuteronomy 6. They don't observe the various codes and shibboleths and dimensions of an existence of those who are the true people of God. God, why would you be merciful to them?

You see, it's the question I posed earlier. It's the issue of the sovereignty of God's grace. Now, whenever you find yourself thinking that way, as did Jonah, then it will be clear that we have forgotten just how undeserving we are to be the recipients of God's grace. When God decides whether to judge or extend mercy, He does not look for our input. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend with Alistair Begg.

We'll hear more next weekend. Knowing God's Word and doing what it says are two distinctly different challenges. Today, we want to recommend to you a book that will help you mesh the two. It's a study of the New Testament book of James, and it's titled, Radically Whole, Gospel Healing for the Divided Heart. If you've ever read the book of James, you might find his lengthy list of guidelines for godly living a bit overwhelming. We're told we're to love all equally. We're not to boast. We're not to covet. We shouldn't speak evil.

That's just the beginning of the list. In fact, James' letter is a little bit like a spiritual CAT scan. It exposes the true nature of our sinful hearts.

So what do we do? Well, the book, Radically Whole, acknowledges that James' letter cuts like a knife. But with God's help and with intentionality, you can control both your thoughts and your heart to be more in line with what the Bible teaches. You'll find the book, Radically Whole, provides tremendously helpful encouragement for healing a divided heart. Find out more about the book, Radically Whole, on our website at truthforlife.org. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for including us in your weekend. So what is it that a genuine believer embraces that a Pharisee can never quite grasp? Next weekend, we'll hear the answer to that riddle. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-27 12:51:55 / 2023-08-27 13:01:28 / 10

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