Listen to Audio

Jonah 6 The Great City

Jonah 3:10-4:11

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. (Jonah 3:10)

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)

He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. (Jonah 4:2)

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3)

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)

Jonah had gone 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. (Jonah 4:5)

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. (Jonah 4:6)

But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. (Jonah 4:7)

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.” (Jonah 4:8)

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. (Jonah 4:10)

And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)

Me : Fiction

So I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately. Going through some of the classics. I was homeschooled and we were very free-form, and one thing we never did was read these classic high-school literature books, so I’ve been making my way through them. So far I’ve read: the great Gatsby, The Alchemist, Of Mice and Men, The Stranger, Catcher in the Rye, One Flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and most recently To Kill a Mockingbird.

So I’ve liked some of them, loved some of them, disliked some of them.

But I would say that the majority of stories in the world have a fairly predictable protagninist (one who agonizes (pro, for) the good). And an antagonist (one who agonizes against the good).

So we’ve been looking at the book of Jonah, and we’re closing it out today, so this might be an appropriate time to ask the question: “What’s the story about?” Who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist. – And the answer is a little surprising.

And in the book of Jonah, the protagonist, the good guy, is God. And he as the main character is working to bring grace and love and mercy to the big city.

And the antagonist is Jonah, the moral, religious man who wants destruction for the city.

The book of Jonah is ultimately about God’s astonishing love for the big city.

Amazing: Every time God refers to Nineveh, he calls it ‘the great city’.

And over and over God keeps telling his man that he wants him to go and love the great big dangerous city. He’s calling Jonah out of his comfortable life where everybody looks like him and into the big city.

“Go to – big city” – Common – bible.

Here’s what’s amazing: This call, to go to the big city is actually pretty common in the bible.

A few centuries after this you find the jews captive by Babylon. And in Jeremiah you read that he jews came to Babylon, they stayed on the outskirts of the city, and said ‘Well this stinks! Let’s stay out here on the outside of the city and build our own community, where we can be free from the corruption of the big city.

And then in Jeremiah 29 we see God telling them, ‘No, seek the welfare of the city. Move into the city. Care for the city. B/C in it’s welfare, you will find your welfare.’

Fast forward to the book of acts. You see the very first missionaries – Paul and his contemporaries,

We read in acts 19 about how Paul has a dream – of a man in macedonia (greece) “Come over and help us”

So they cross the sea, come to macedonia. Introduce people to the message of Jesus.

And so where do all these missionaries go? They all go to the biggest cities.

And after they spread the gospel to the biggest cities, they left. They ignored the villages and the countryside.

The result: By the year 300AD, approx 50 percent of city dwellers in these regions were Christian. Whereas the villages and the countryside were all pagan. In fact, the word pegan means ‘man of the country’.

The City – Important to God.

The city is incredibly important to God.

Is it the only thing that’s important? No, but it IS important.

Why the City is important

You could say it like this: There’s a head reason and a heart reason.

1. Head Reason:

Where the city goes, society goes.

Remember every time God calls the wicked city of Nineveh ‘the great city’ There’s 2 sides to the meaning of this word in the hebrew:

  1. Large – Like it you have a family room, that’s alright, but some of these new huge houses have a ‘GREAT’ room. Which is much bigger.
  2. Important — “So one thing God is saying is “Go to the strategic city of Nineveh.”

In the village, you reach individuals, but in the city, you reach the culture.

In the village you might reach the artists, but if you want to reach the art world, you go to the city.

In the village, you might reach the lawyer, but if you want to reach the law, you go to the city.

Where the city goes, society goes.

I mean, if you think about cities like New York, San Francisco, LA. They seem to be about 10 years ahead of everybody else. As far as the direction the nation is headed.

For some of you, that’s great news, for some of you, you’re thinking ‘oh sweet Lord, please don’t let that be true.’ – Well it is true. And if you don’t LIKE that thought, well all the more reason for you to buy into the idea that God cares about the city.

MLKJ : ‘I have a dream’ speech – Where was that given? Washington DC. Why not some small town? B/C where the city goes, society goes.

2. Heart Reason:

People are the most precious thing in this world.

And so he storm out of the city, and he builds a little hut.

Maybe he’s thinking: “Who knows, maybe they’ll repent from their repenting and God will come and smoke ‘em after all.”

And so he’s just up there pouting. Essentially.

And then God prepares a leafy plant. And this plant gives Jonah shade. And it grows overnight, in super speed.

And Jonah is very happy about this. He instantly loves this little plant.

And then God prepares a worm, and the worm attacks the plant and as quick as the plant grew, the plant died.

And Jonah is devastated. He’s broken hearted. It’s funny b/c it’s a plant, and he’s known the plant for one day.


But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

He’s very dramatic. He’s always saying ‘I could die!!!’


But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. (Jonah 4:10)

And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)

He’s saying you have compassion on the plant that you knew for one day, and you don’t have compassion on the people. And that’s really backwards.

“The country is the place where there are more plants than people. The city is the place where there are more people than plants. Since God loves people far more than He loves plants, He loves the city more than He loves the country.” (Dr. Bill Crispin inner-city minister)

I don’t know if this logic checks out or not, but I get the point.

You ever heard the saying “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” We all know that no matter how much you love a tree, it’s nowhere near as valuable or as beautiful as a human being.

Imagine a huge rock is flying down a mountain and there’s a person and then there’s a tree. “How are we going to save the tree?!?!” – No of course not. As tragic as a rock hitting a tree would be, it’s nowhere near as valuable as a person.

I love trees, I believe God loves trees. But not as much as people.

So look at a city: Every car, every airport, every traffic jam is filled with the most beautiful thing imaginable.

‘Should I not be concerned with all the people in that city and also many animals?’

I love that the book ends with ‘Should I not be concerned with all the people in that city and also many animals?’

Now I am an animal lover. By every stretch of the imagine. I believe God is an animal lover. But there’s something else going on also…

Our money is very tiny. I know some people still carry cash, but the majority of us our money is all digital now, just bits on computer servers around the world.

But back in Jonah’s time, money was a big larger, and hairier. And you had to feed it twice a day.

God is concerned with the economy of the region.

You know for a city like Albuquerque, people say ‘What a dark horrible place this is, but somebody has to be here to share the message of Jesus with these poor people.’ – That’s not concern for the city. That’s concern for the individuals, but those people don’t care at all about the city.

God is concerned with the welfare of the city.

St. Augustine’s – ‘The City of God’.

For every person in America, there’s a date that is seared into your mind: September 11, 2001.

But in ancient times, there was another day: August 24, 410.

That was the day, for the first time in 1000 years, the walls of Rome were compromised.

Alaric the Barbarian and his army of the goths came over the wall and destroyed everything and everyone.

There were there for 3 days and then they just left. Just to let the great and powerful empire they could.

And were people saying ‘If Rome isn’t safe, there where is?’

For the 100 years before the attack, Rome was becoming more and more Christianized.

People were saying ‘Rome is a light to the world! God is going to use Rome to spread the gospel to the world.’

Rome called itself “Civitas Aeternalis” – Which means the eternal city

And then it’s wiped out in 3 days, and it never recovers.

And so people are thinking “God why did you let this happen?!”

And this is the setting for this book ‘The City of God’. – 1200 pages of Latin.

2 Major Ideas:

1. No earthly kingdom – lasts forever.’

Augustine comes and says ‘There is no earthly kingdom that lasts forever. None.’ – They’re all susceptible to being invaded, and bombed, and destroyed.

The reason everyone is freaking out is they’ve confused their city with the city of God. – They had become nationalistic, essentially.

There’s only one City that is eternal and that the City of God. And if you’re a member of that city, you’re absolutely safe.

If you kill all the people of an earthly city, the city is gone.

But if you kill members of the city of God, all you’re doing is moving them to a better neighborhood in the city. You can’t kill the city of the God.

“Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel has made him just a gardener.” (George Herbert Christian poet)

He used to be scared of death, but now he looks at death and says, “Go ahead. Give me your best shot. All you’re going to do is make me something really great.”

We don’t escape earthly cities. In fact that’s impossible.

I mean, if we as Christians all decide ‘Hey let’s all go live in the desert and get away from this city of man.’ Do you know what you’d have out there in the desert? Another city of man!

2. One way – know – member – city of God – BEST citizen.

One way you know you’re a member of the city of God is you’re the BEST citizen of your earthly city.

In the 200 years before this big tragedy there was 2 huge plagues that killed a 3rd of the population.

Rodney Stark (secular writer who witnessed it)

Rodney Stark (secular writer who witnessed it), says this:

“The doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease … Equally useless were prayers made in the temples … People were afraid to visit one another. As a result, they died with no one to look after them; indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any attention …

The bodies of the dying were heaped one on top of the other, and half-dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets … For the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men … became indifferent to every rule of religion or of law … [Many] pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead … hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion … As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing … when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately.”

I don’t know if you could imagine such a thing. People b/c of the fear of themselves getting the disease stopped caring for the sick.

Dionysius (Eyewitness)

But something different was happening among the Christians. This is another eyewitness account of the plague by a man named ‘Dionysius’ – “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease … and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead …” (Dionysius)

In the midst of a horrific plague, the Christians stayed put. – Not only did they stay put, they gave their lives caring for both the Christians and the non-Christians. And in saving the life of their neighbor, they lost their life.

Now where would they get an idea like that? Jesus. It all goes back to Jesus. Always.

Religion would say ‘It’s fine that they die, they’re wicked anyway.’ – But not the gospel.

The gospel reminds us that we’re only here b/c of the free gift of grace and that’s the same gift we offer others. They’re not deserving, and they’re exactly the point.

Did Jonah ever change?!’

As we close the book of Jonah, I’m sure some of you are wondering.. ‘Well, did Jonah ever change?!’

And of the surface, we don’t know. The book ends with Jonah’s fate still undecided.

But this past week I was reading and I wanted to share with you an idea,

  • How do we know that Jonah was such a racist?
  • How do we know that Jonah went outside the city and a plant grew and then died the next day and Jonah wanted to kill himself? How do we know that?

B/C Jonah told us.

The book of Jonah is anonymous, it might have been written by Jonah but we’re not sure. But we CAN be sure that he was willing to tell this story and that it could be passed down and written.

Tension – leave you w/:

And so here’s the tension that I want to leave you with:

As Christians, we love our city. But we don’t mistake our city for the city of God. We could our state, but we don’t mistake it for the kingdom of God. We love our country, but we don’t mistake it for the kingdom of God.

And you just have to find peace with that tension.

Love your city too little and you become a terrible citizen. Love your city too much and you fall into idolitary.

Neither of those are the gospel. The gospel is being a citizen most of all in the kingdom of God, which results in your caring for the city God has put you in.

Jayne / Alex

So as we close tonight, I have some happy/sad news. This is Jayne’s and Alex’s last Outlet with us. They’re moving to New York city.

And I just wanted to take a second and say that my relationship with Jayne and Alex has meant the world to me. Without them there would be no Outlet.

So we’re not doing communion tonight, but instead we take homemade snacks that a bunch of us have made. Jordan and I made the rice Krispy treats, so you might want to stay away from those.

Also, we have just a couple things for them: First we have just a financial gift from Pastors Marshall and Cindi and the rest of the church, just to help pay for this whole thing which we know is going to be super expensive. And from Outlet, we got you two some preloaded metro cards for the subway.

And we’d like to pray for them as they head out…