In his book Hidden in Plain Sight, author and pastor Mark Buchanan writes about a woman named Regine. Originally from Rwanda, Regine came to Christ while reading her sister’s Bible during the genocide that ravaged her country. When she fled to Canada for refuge, she met her husband, Gordon. They decided to return to Rwanda to show the love of Christ to the people who had once been her enemies. Regine told Mark Buchanan this story of agape love:
A woman’s only son was killed. She was consumed with grief and hate and bitterness. “God,” she prayed, “reveal my son’s killer.”
One night she dreamed she was going to heaven. But there was a complication: in order to get to heaven she had to pass through a certain house. She had to walk down the street, enter the house through the front door, go through its rooms, up the stairs, and exit through the back door.
She asked God whose house this was.
“It’s the house,” he told her, “of your son’s killer.”
The road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy.
Two nights later, there was a knock at her door. She opened it, and there stood a young man. He was about her son’s age.
He hesitated. Then he said, “I am the one who killed your son. Since that day, I have had no life. No peace. So here I am. I am placing my life in your hands. Kill me. I am dead already. Throw me in jail. I am in prison already. Torture me. I am in torment already. Do with me as you wish.”
The woman had prayed for this day. Now it had arrived, and she didn’t know what to do. She found, to her own surprise, that she did not want to kill him. Or throw him in jail. Or torture him. In that moment of reckoning, she found she only wanted one thing: a son.
“I ask this of you. Come into my home and live with me. Eat the food I would have prepared for my son. Wear the clothes I would have made for my son. Become the son I lost.”
And so he did.
Agape lovers do what God himself has done, making sons and daughters out of bitter enemies, feeding and clothing them, blazing a trail to heaven straight through their houses.
Prayer as we begin looking at Jonah 4
Jonah 4 (ESV) – But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
There are multiple scenarios that could be lived out through the story told by Regine and the text of Jonah 4. First, there is a mother that is so full of hatred and bitterness. Out of a desire to have her son back that she is willing to do anything including exhibit forgiveness to the boy that took her son too early. She realized the road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy. Forgiveness was essential. Second, there is a young man that has owned his story. His story is not a happy one, but it is his story. In the torment of his choices, he was not satisfied and began to look for a way to improve his story. Third, there is man who has been taught religious principles his entire life. This man, Jonah, was perfectly content with living those principles as long as it was on his terms. As soon as God asked for more of Jonah’s story, he decided to run. He decided his ability to make decisions was better than God’s ability. Lastly, there is Jehovah God. He is the creator. He is the sustainer of life. He is the mastermind of all that exists. He is the orchestrator of the universe; nothing happens without God’s permission.
Which of these stories do you relate most?
How you answer this question will determine how you understand the rest of this message. Each of us has one of three options. The first option is “the mother”, the person who exhibited forgiveness during very hard circumstances. This forgiveness was expressed both at a spiritual level and a physical level. Both were required for her to move on with life. Both required a process she needed to engage in. The road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy.
The second option is the young man who committed murder. This young man was living in torment. This young man was saturated and consumed with the consequences of his poor choices. This young man had to make a decision about his story.
The third option is Jonah. Jonah wanted to follow religious principles as long as it was on his own terms. He wanted God to fit into his plan, rather than fitting into God’s plan.
It is possible that each of us can relate to one of these stories. We look at your own stories and sometimes think this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. You were supposed to have more money by this point in life. You were supposed to have a different career than what you currently have. You were supposed to have a better marriage than the one you have. You were supposed to be married at this point in life. You were supposed to have better children by now. Your parents should know better by now. You should have learned not to be so anger and bitter by this point in life. You should have learned not to be so prideful and arrogant by this age. To some degree, all of can say our story isn’t the story that we dreamed about when we were younger. All of us can say if we could change something about our story, we would like to go back and do it again.
God has a message for each of us today.
Jonah 4:2 – “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
Ignore for a moment, that Jonah is saying this out of anger. Ignore for a moment that Jonah is arguing with God in the middle of Ninevah regarding the destruction of Ninevah. The message is true in any circumstance of life. The message is true if your marriage stinks and you think divorce is the only solution you have not explored. The message is true if you are buried in debt and have no way to get out. The message is true if you’re stressed about the results of a medical test. The message is true if you’re stressed about college decisions and the bills that go along with that college decision. The message is true if you’re angry with your parents. The message is true if you’re angry at God. The message is true if you hate God right now. The message is true wherever your story is at the current moment.
Here’s the message – I am a gracious and merciful God. I am slow to get angry with you. My love is steadfast and abounding. I relent from bringing disaster on you. You cannot run from me.
First, I am a gracious and merciful God. To be gracious means to be kind, courteous and delicate with each of us. To be merciful is to be full of compassion. Compassion is to suffer with a person through a set of circumstances. You could say it this way – God walks through our circumstances with us and is very kind and delicate with us along the journey. Maybe your response to that is, “Chris, I don’t feel God walking with me. Instead, sometimes I feel abandoned by God. How do I know God is walking with me?” If that is you, I encourage you to answer three questions.
1. When was the last time I stopped long enough for God to speak into my life? (Psalm 46:10)
2. When was the last time I read my Bible outside of church? (Joshua 1:8)
3. When was the last time I asked the Holy Spirit to fill me up? (Ephesians 5:18)
How you answer those questions will indicate why you may not feel God walking with you through this season of life?
Second, I am slow to get angry with you. I don’t need to define anger. Each of us knows what anger looks like. However, verse one gives us a great example of anger, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. If we were to look at the original language, this verse could be written the magnitude of Jonah’s fury made him tremble. We know people who have anger issues and they make life difficult at times. According to Jonah 4:2, the anger process is a slow one with God. The same phrase declares the process to be a loving process.
Third, my love is steadfast and abounding. The original language is extremely important here. This phrase is translated as “numerous amount of faithfulness”. The dictionary takes this phrase and builds this sentence; God’s love is present in large numbers and firmly fixed in place.
Fourth, I relent from bringing disaster on you. Relent means to become less severe. There are moments when our stories have negative turns. We make poor choices. We walk away from God for a season. We refuse to confess our sins and repent from our ways. We know we aren’t doing what we should, but we do it anyway. Even in those moments, God has our best interest in mind. In those moments, God is our biggest fan. In those moments, God could make life really miserable for each of us. Yet, He chooses to relent from bringing disaster on us. We are faced with the consequences of our choices and have a decision to make. Does our story end with those consequences? Do we allow God to continue writing our story?
Jonah 4 shows us that Jonah’s story ends. Jonah chose to be angry that God would not destroy the enemy of Israel. Jonah chose to be angry that God redeemed those who were tormenting Israel. Even in that anger, God walked with Jonah. God protected Jonah. God was pursuing Jonah. Jonah could not escape God’s presence.
One of Jonah’s problems was that he thought Ninevah had too much sin and too much evil for God to forgive. Jonah thought Ninevah had rebelled too many times. Jonah thought Ninevah was too far-gone to be redeemed. Jonah thought Ninevah’s story had been completed.
Maybe you have some of those thoughts about yourself. Maybe you think you have too much sin for God to forgive. Maybe you think you have rebelled too many times. Maybe you think your marriage is too far-gone. Maybe you are full of anger and bitterness and need to embrace “the road to heaven passes through the house of your enemy”. Maybe you wish you could go back and do something over again. Maybe you’re not satisfied with who you have become. Maybe you think there is no way your story could be better than what it is right now. I am here to declare to you today that God is not finished with you.
Here is God’s message for each of us – I am a gracious and merciful God. I am slow to get angry with you. My love is steadfast and abounding. I relent from bringing disaster on you. You cannot run from me.
We are going to respond…
I am going to pray for us and then we are going to respond. There is freedom on how you respond, but I am going to ask each of you to respond in some way. Please do not leave, engage in these moments.
At the beginning, there will be a video that shows Jonah’s story. After that, we will sing a few songs together. The worship team isn’t going to say anything; they’re simply going to begin singing when the video ends.
This entire room is an altar. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”. Please respond any way that God is leading you, but please do not leave early.
God, you are good…