If you have your bible, please turn to the book of Jonah chapter 3. I won’t wait b/c it might take you awhile. – If it helps, it’s right after the book Obadiah.
Well this morning I’m concluding a very spread out series called ‘You’re Too Blessed To Be Bitter’. And it’s been a bit of a journey.
In week one we talked about bitterness and resentment and how in my professional opinion, these two forces are two of the most subtle and effective tools the enemy uses to destroy relationships and destroy lives.
And then last week we talked about letting God be our vindicator. A vindicator is the one who will prove us right in the end. And letting God be our Recompense. Meaning a reward for harm suffered. That God says when his people suffer harm, he’ll be the one who will pay them back for that.
And so what I’d like to do to close the series is to hopefully give you some practical tools for the process of forgiving. That if the first two weeks were motivation and steps to keep yourself out of bitterness and resentment in the first place. But maybe you’re thinking “It’s too late Pastor David. I’m already bitter. I’m already resentful.” Well I’m hoping this message will equip you with practical steps to start chipping away at that wax that has formed over your heart.
My title: The Journey of Forgiveness
And so where I want to go this morning is one of my favorite little books in the Old Testament that I think really shows us the dilemma we face as humans when it comes to forgiveness.
On the surface, it’s a funny story about a wacky prophet who has trouble showing mercy, but it’s also this really profound analogy of the life of a follower of God.
And of course the way the story goes is there’s this profit named Jonah.
Ok, so like the all of God’s Hebrew prophets, it was Jonah’s God-given job to call people to repentance and occasionally pronounce judgement.
And so Jonah was tasked with talking the word of the Lord to the great city of Ninevah.
But for reasons that we don’t immediately understand, Jonah HATES the idea.
So instead of heading 500 miles east over land, to Nineveh, Jonah decides to go 2000 miles WEST by sea.
It’s like the most overt disobedience you’ve ever seen. He does the exact opposite of what God told him to do.
It’s like if you, being in Albuquerque NM, God calls you to go to fly to New York, you instead get on a boat headed for Hawaii. Like it’s an over the top disobedience.
Youth Leader Son – Pee Pants
Growing up I had a youth leader and some of us were spending the night at his house, well he had a 10 year old son and the kids had already been put to bed and we watching a movie, and the boy came out and told the dad ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ and the dad said ‘You went to the bathroom 5 minutes ago, go to your room!’ And so the boy just looked him straight in the eye, and started to pee his pants. And all us teenagers were just wanting to amazement. This kid was OUR HERO. He was like ‘sticking to the man’!
Well this is what Jonah is doing, he’s basically peeing his pants to God. Instead of going 500 miles East, to goes 2000 miles west!
So while Jonah is on the boat, God sends that huge storm that threatens to sink the boat.
And you probably know the story. That Jonah has a conversation with these sailors and it’s revealed that Jonah is the problem, so they throw him overboard, he’s swallowed by a large fish, and after 3 days, the fish vomits Jonah up onto the beach.
Now, I have never had the unique experience of being puked up by a fish, but I’d imagine it would have a profound effect upon your life.
And while Jonah is sitting there on the beach, contemplating the meaning of life, the word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time – “Go to the great city of Ninevah and proclaim the message I give you.”
And this time Jonah thinks “Yeah, let’s probably do it this time.” Yeah, no duh. Now I don’t think Jonah here is being super noble or anything, I think he’s just doesn’t want to go back into the fish!
So, the book of Jonah is a book about God’s mercy. And you could say it like this ‘God’s mercy often comes in the form of a second chance.’
Or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th.
So Jonah makes the 500 miles trek to Nineveh. Finally arrives in this huge city.
It’s so big it takes his 3 days to walk through it.
And finally he arrives and preaches his sermon, and here it is:
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” v3:4
We don’t know if every day that he preaches it the number is one less, like 99 bottles of beer. “39 days!!” “38!!”
I’ve been preaching for all of my adult life, and I can say confidently that that’s not a good sermon.
So what are the odds of a sermon like that making a big impact of a huge city? An unknown guy yelling a single sentence in a huge city. I’d say hovering at around 0. Do you guys know the cool naked guy who walks around campus? Well he’s not quite naked, but close. I think his name is ‘Don’. Who likes short shorts? Don likes short shorts.
Well imagine he started walking around and saying ‘In 40 days Albuquerque will be destroyed.’ How likely is that to cause you to change religions? I’m gonna say not too high.
I think Jonah just does it cuz he doesn’t want to go back to the fish. You know what I mean? Ha. He’s not TRYING HARD.
But what’s amazing is that the Ninevites are incredibly receptive to the message and what is probably my favorite comedic element of the story : King decrees that everyone must fast and wear sackcloth to repent. Even the Animals. Like if you put a animal in sackcloth and take away it’s food so it’s fasting, does it know that it’s fasting? And can an animal repent?
But yeah, everyone turns from their evil ways.
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)
Now here’s what’s interesting. Both Jonah and I are essentially preachers. We both proclaim the word of the Lord. And it’s interesting that for me, my concern is that people won’t respond to the message. But here Jonah, his concern was that they would.
- He didn’t want to go in the first place
- He purposefully made the sermon bad
- And when they responded positively to it, he was so angry that he asked God to kill him.
So what’s happening here? Well the reason Jonah struggled like he did was not because he was lazy or just defiant. It was specifically because the city God called him to was Ninevah. And he hated those people.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, which is this great, rising, imperial world power.
It also happened to be one of the world powers that oppressed the jewish people. Look at a few of these verses:
… Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land…
… Tiglath-Pilesar, king of Assyria, came…and deported the people…
… Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it.
So here you have ‘Invading’, ‘Deporting’, and ‘Laying Siege’. All against the jewish people, all at the hands of the Assyrians.
- Invading is what happens when you raise an army and then march into another country and take it over using force and power and violence.
- Deporting is what happens when you capture the inhabitants of said country you’ve invaded and forcibly remove them from their homes and jobs and towns and land and then take them far away.
- Laying siege is what happens when you surround a city with your army and in doing this sever the city from its food and water sources so that so many people are starving and suffering and dying that eventually they give up and surrender.
Assyrians – mean, nasty, brutish, violent, oppressive – made life miserable for Israelites. Year after year.
- And so it’s not at all surprising that when God told Jonah to be preach to the Nineties, that he ran the other way.
- And it’s not surprising that Jonah’s sermon was bad.
- And it’s not surprising that when the people repented and God showed them mercy that Jonah was so angry that he wanted God to kill him.
Because this was God showing mercy to the people that Jonah hated.
That’s not traditionally what people want. What people want is for God to bring judgement on your enemy. And really, that’s the core tension of the book. We like it when we hear a word of judgement come to our enemies. Who wouldn’t? When we hear that God is going to come kill the people that I hate, well that just warms the cockles of the heart.
Jonah’s response to their violence is anger. He wants them punished. And if you’ve ever been a victim of violence, or abuse, you understand that anger.
Jonah essentially says: “I hate them so much that I want to die. Kill them or kill me, but I will not live in the same world as those murderous, horrible, people.”
God doesn’t kill Jonah.
Instead, he asks Jonah a question. And the question he asks Jonah is really the climax of the story.
And here’s the question:
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)
Jonah doesn’t respond, instead what he does he leaves the city and goes to a place where he can overlook the city. Still hoping that God would change his mind and destroy his enemies after all.
Leafy Plant Then it says that God provided a leafy plant, which grows like overnight in super speed and provides shade for Jonah. And Jonah is very happy about this. He instantly loves this little plant.
Worm 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 because it’s a plant, and he’s known the plant for one day.
And so the sun rises, and it’s hot, the Jonah is in the sun and he says again to God “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
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 just die!!!’. He’s like a teenager.
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)
THE END. The book ends with God and Jonah in this intense argument about who God should have mercy on and who he shouldn’t have mercy on.
And there’s not a resolution to the story. And we don’t know what happened to Jonah.
And this story of Jonah, that becomes a part of jewish scripture, for generation after generation these jewish people would read this story and understand the question is not can Jonah forgive the Ninivites, the question is can the jewish people forgive all those who oppressed them.
That’s why it’s survived as long as it has. That’s why thousands of years later, this story of Jonah has made it all the way to your bible.
It’s not a story about ‘Can a man survive 3 days in a fish?’ – It’s asking you this question: “Can you forgive those who hurt you?”
Forgiveness is simple. Not easy. Simple. This is me trying to be real practical
Forgiveness comes in 2 phases.
1. The choice of forgiving.
This is easy. This is where you make the choice. It’s like a when you decide to lose weight. You haven’t lost any.
2. The process of forgiving.
1. Deal with Your Own Anger
The secret to forgiving is not about what you do, it’s about who you are.
The secret to forgiving is about having the identity of a forgiven person.
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)
“Do you have the right to be angry?”
I’ve said this before, but you have to keep in your mind that you’re first and MOSTLY a receiver of forgiveness, and secondly you’re a giver of forgiveness. But if you start thinking that you’re only a giver of forgiveness and you forget that you’re mostly a receiver of forgiveness, you’ll start to become resentful.
But God comes and says ‘Jonah, do you remember the whole fish thing?’ That you’re only here b/c I showed mercy to you?
The reason Jonah was angry was because he forgot the he too, was a sinner saved by grace.
Imagine the story had gone like this: Jonah deserved to die, but God showed him mercy. The Nineties deserved to die, but God showed them Mercy. And Jonah saw himself in their story.’
Forgiveness begins when you’re so humbled by God’s grace that you don’t feel the right to be angry, and yet so affirmed by God’s grace you don’t have the need to be angry.
2. Confront if Appropriate
Think about the story on Jonah: God rejects the violence of Nineveh AND rejects the poisonous anger of Jonah.
How does God handle the violent city of Nineveh? He sends a messenger to them and says ’40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed.’ – That’s quite the ultimatum. The evil stops, the violence stops, or you will be destroyed. There’s no wiggle room here. You stop or you die.
- So on one hand this is super tough.
- On the other hand, it’s really merciful that he sends this one man into this violent city in hopes of restoration.
2 WRONG reactions to being wronged
This story shows us 2 strategies that we’re NOT supposed to take when we’ve been wronged. When someone hurts your you, abuses you, wrongs you, does evil to you.
The 2 things God does not allow: Vengeance. Get ready – Resignation.
- Vengeance is to wound the wrongdoer. It’s a way of dealing with your pain. And it’s not for the Christian.
- Resignation to avoid the wrongdoer. It’s also a way of dealing with your pain. And it’s also not for the Christian. Resignation is not about wounding the wrongdoer, it’s about having nothing to do with the wrongdoer. And Christians do it all day long, thinking they’re doing the right thing.
Neither vengeance nor resignation is concerned with the truth or justice.
I think a lot of people think forgiveness just means not talking about it. But that’s not really true. Think about God handling Nineveh. Does he just let it go and not talk about it? No, of course not. Jesus doesn’t say ‘Pay evil for evil’ but he also doesn’t say ‘Just blow past it and never talk about it.’ No it says ‘Overcome evil with good’.
Here’s a definition of forgiveness that I heard awhile back that I like: “Forgiveness is dealing with and getting rid of your hate and anger before you deal with the wrongdoer.”
That’s very different than either vengeance or resignation.
- With Vengeance, you’re dealing with your anger and hate WHILE you deal with the wrongdoer.
- With Resignation, you’re not dealing with your anger or the wrongdoer at all.
“Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. Forgiving someone does not mean you demand no change in the perpetrator… In fact, forgiveness provides a framework in which justice can fruitfully be pursued.” (Miroslav Volf theologian – Croatia)
Did you catch that? Forgiveness does not mean you demand no change. Rather, forgiveness provides a framework that makes justice possible.
You’re not choosing between justice and forgiveness, without forgiveness, you’re never going to get to justice.
If you haven’t forgiven someone, when you go and confront them, you’re not doing it for their sake, or God’s sake, you’re going for your sake. And you overdo it. You end up wounding, or humiliating.
Most of you are not vengeance people. I’ll tell you how most of you deal with people who wrong you: You hate them on the inside and say nothing on the outside.
That’s what Jonah wanted. He wanted to hate them and have nothing to do with them. Which is the opposite of forgiveness.
Forgiveness requires you to deal with your hurt, then be willing to go and confront.
And I specifically said “If Appropriate”. Because in some cases, confrontation is appropriate and other times you go straight to step 3. Sometimes confrontation is necessary for you, sometimes it’s necessary for the other person. And other times it’s not. But this is something God and trusted friends can help you with. Do I need to confront, or do I just move on to the next step? It’s case by case.
3. Front the Bill
When Jesus talks about forgiveness, he uses the analogy of forgiving debts. And I hope that makes sense to you.
Because when someone wrongs you, there is this inescapable sense that they owe you. And forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who wronged you. Now we’ve already talked about how scripture teaches that God will repay you. But forgiveness means you stop seeking repayment from the wrongdoer.
Lamp Think about money. Let’s say my friend breaks my lamp. And let’s say the lamp costs $50. Well the act of lamp breaking incurs a debt of $50. If I let him replace the lamp, I get my lamp back and he’s out $50. But if I forgive his debt, then he’s not out $50, I am. The debt doesn’t just vanish into thin air. When I forgive his debt, I absorb the cost of the lamp. So to forgive is to cancel the debt, pay the cost yourself, and believe God will pay you back in due time.
“Forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering.” (Tim Keller)
Forgiveness is fronting the bill that they deserve to pay.
This is a letter that was written to a pastor years ago:
“Once upon a time I was engaged to a young lady who changed her mind. I forgave her, but it took me a whole year, and I had to forgive her in small sums over that whole 12 months. I paid these sums whenever I spoke to her and kept myself from rehashing the past, I paid them whenever I saw her with another man and refused self-pity and rehearsal inside for what she’d done to me, and I paid them whenever I praised her to others when I really wanted to slice away at her reputation.
Those were the payments, but she never knew them. However, I never knew her payments, but I know she made them. I could tell. Forgiveness is not only a refusal to hate someone; it’s choosing to love and will the good of the offender. It is painful, but wood, nails, and pain are the currency of forgiveness. Just as Christ’s wood and nails were. It leads to healing and, more, to resurrection.”
4. Stop Bringing It Up
- I won’t bring it up to the person
- I won’t bring it up to others
- I won’t bring it up to myself
I think that last one is the hardest. This is the Green Beret level. But it’s the final step.
We see God model this for us:
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)
So this is not God being UNABLE to remember, this is God CHOOSING to not remember.
Here are specific things to avoid:
- Making cutting remarks and dragging out past injuries repeatedly
- Being far more demanding and controlling with the person than you are with others, all because you feel deep down that they still owe you
- Punishing them with self-righteous “mercy” that is really a way to make them feel small and to justify yourself
- Avoiding them or being cold toward them
Jonah & Jesus
I’ll close with this an amazing contrast between Jonah and Jesus.
- At the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah is outside the city that could have killed him, fusing to forgive them.
- In the Gospels, we see Jesus riding into the city that IS going to kill him, and he weeps over it. He’s weeping over the city that’s about to kill him.
And that is the difference between demanding the wrongdoer pay their debt and paying it yourself.
Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of forgiveness. He is wronged, and he forgives, he fronts the bill. And when that becomes real to you, it melts your anger down.