First Mennonite Church
July 7, 2019
Is It Right for You to Be Angry?
Text: Jonah 3:10-4:11
The book of Jonah is unlike most other prophetic literature in the Old Testament in many ways. Unlike most prophetic materials that are poetic in style, Jonah is in narrative style. Jonah is a character in the story, not the one who tells the story. In the book of Jonah, God’s concern was not Israel, but a pagan people. Unlike most of God’s prophets, who to a large extent failed to achieve their mission, Jonah is the most successful prophet of God. We are told that it took three days to walk across Nineveh, but Jonah only walked one day preaching his eight-word sermon and not only did all the people, including the king, repent, but also did the animals.
The book of Jonah is unique in other ways too. Although God’s concern was for a pagan and violent nation, he chose one from among his people to deliver his message to the Ninevites. While some other prophets in the OT tried to find excuses to not obey their call, like Moses who said he had a speech impediment or like Jeremiah who said he was too young to engage in adult affairs, Jonah tried to avoid his call by fleeing as soon as possible and as far as possible. But God did not allow his fleeing prophet to avoid his mission. God raised a storm in the sea. And interestingly, God used a pagan and polytheistic crew to redirect a God-fearing prophet. That was something! It would be like if God were to use agnostics or tree-huggers, or even the wiccans to remind Christians what God has told them to do. How would you feel about that? In the book of Jonah, God used a man-eating whale, a worm, and a plant to teach his prophet. The book of Jonah is the only book in the Bible that ends with a question from God: Should I not be concerned for the people in Nineveh . . . ?
Once Jonah was back on dry land after spending three days in the stomach of a big fish, he began his mission. You know, each of my sermons consists of between 1500-2000 words, including the text, but Jonah’s sermon only consisted of 8 words. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4) Jonah only walked one day, out of three, proclaiming his message. We are told that the entire population of Nineveh of a hundred and twenty thousand people turned to God pleading for mercy and giving evidence of repentance. These were a people who could not distinguish between right or wrong. Yet, upon listening to Jonah they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, to put on sackcloth. From the king to the lowest servant, everyone began to plead with God to spare their lives.
The Ninevites could not distinguish between right or wrong. Yet as for Jonah is concerned, he not only worshipped the Creator God of heavens and earth, but he also knew that this God, is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. Jonah knew firsthand the goodness, mercy and patience of the God who not only called him, but also spared his life in the sea. This very same God was seeking to warn and restore the ignorant Ninevites.
And in chapter three, verse 10, we read: When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. What God did was exactly what Jonah did not want God to do. Jonah would have preferred the Ninevites to be wiped out by God. Jonah would have preferred the Ninevites to receive the reward for their evil deeds. Jonah believed it was wrong of God to let go unpunished the wickedness of the Ninevites. Jonah wanted justice and retribution for the Ninevites. But God preferred mercy, not judgment. Therefore, when Jonah saw that God changed his mind, Jonah got so angry. And in his anger, Jonah prayed and told God that his relenting from his threat to the Ninevites was the very reason Jonah tried to avoid preaching to them. He knew God would change his mind. And in Jonah’s anger, he pleaded with God to take away his life, for it would be better for him to die than to live.
Anger. To be angry. Jonah was so angry because God spared the Ninevites. Jonan was so angry that he preferred to be dead than to be alive. God’s answer to Jonah’s prayer came in the form of a question: “Is it right for you to be angry?” This time Jonah did not answer God. Instead Jonah went and sat down on the east side of the city and from a vantage point where he could see the city. Jonah built himself a shelter and waited there to see what would happen to the city. That night God made a leafy vine grow over the shelter to ease the Jonah’s discomfort from the burning sun. But by the following morning, the plant had died and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head that he started fainting. And once again, Jonah wanted to die. Also for a second time God came and asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And this time, Jonah blasted, “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
Anger. To be angry. Is it right for you to be angry? What things make you angry? What things really get on your nerves? Maybe, we would not openly admit what they are. But I am sure there are things we can hardly see or hear without them irritating us or making us rage in anger. There might be attitudes that make you lose our patience easily. Some people, and even we at times, live with swirling anger just beneath the surface of a smile. Anger is like a tumor under the skin that gradually makes its way up to the surface. Anger corrodes our character and can burst at the slightest irritation, bring out the foul and unpleasant hidden side of ours. When anger is given the freeway in us, cynicism, sarcasm, and hostility bubbles unrestrained. According to Jesus, anger is the seed from which murder comes. (Matthew 5:22).
We become angry when we feel that we have been wronged. Anger is triggered when our sense of justice is violated. When our expectations are not met, we become angry. You tell someone to do something by a given time and when the time comes and nothing has been done, you feel wronged. It is then when we should hear God asking us the question he did to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Let me tell you, the worst thing you can be asked when you are angry is, “Are you angry?” But our culture has taught us some ways we can avoid admitting that we are angry. We often hide anger by using more acceptable emotions to describe our feeling of anger. We say, “Be careful, I’ve been moody since this morning.” Or, “I felt irritated at the meeting last night.” Or, “I am so frustrated with my coworker.” When anger takes over, jealousy, resentment, envy, and malice control our character and personality. And when these things take over our lives, others see them and avoid us and the sense of anger only grows.
God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Here is the point. Jonah was angry because God pardoned the people Jonah hated. Jonah wanted to take pleasure in seeing God raining down fire and consuming the Ninevites. But he forgot that God’s love is for all. He makes his sun rise on the righteous and unrighteous. He makes his rain to come down upon everyone without exceptions (Matthew 5:445).
We live in society divided by many kinds of lifestyles. And there will be lifestyles, which we might consider wrong. Some of these lifestyles might make us feel uncomfortable or even angry. But those who might chose those lifestyles might be the equivalent of the Ninevites who did not know their right hand from their left hand. In the same way, we like Jonah not only know what is right and wrong, but we also know the goodness, mercy and patience of God. Let us therefore remember that God prefers doing mercy, having pity, and sparing lives. As the apostle Peter writes, The Lord is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance (2Pt. 3:9). God is patient with all. Therefore, when we feel angry about something or at someone, let us remember how patient and kind God has been with us. Let us remember that God has sent us to deliver a message calling others to come back to God.
Every time we feel angry, we should ask ourselves the Jonah question: “Is it right for me to be angry?” Amen!