I hope that you've been encouraged and challenged by these short videos on Jonah. Are you seeing yourself in this narrative? Are seeing the gospel of Jesus Christ in these verses?
Today I'm going to ask you to dig deeper. Instead of a brief clip, I want to give you a full session. I've also included the accompanying study guide so you can ask questions that apply these truths to your everyday life.
In this full session, we're going to consider the anger of God. Does that term make you uncomfortable? It doesn't sound as appealing or welcoming as God's grace!
But I would propose that God's anger and God's grace intersect all the time. You can't have one without the other. God's anger is an expression of his love, and his grace can come to us in uncomfortable forms.
Let's study the book of Jonah together and see what God has in store!
Watch The Session
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Read The Transcript
Well I want to get you to think about anger and the God of grace. Often we don’t put those two things together, but they are together in Jonah. In fact, it is the coming together of the anger of God and the grace of God that makes this story make sense.
We’re going to be looking at Jonah, the rest of the first chapter of Jonah. I want to start this way. There’s a movie that I love. I’m not sure I would recommend this movie to you because it’s a bit gritty, but I love this movie; it’s the movie Magnolia. This movie has just incredible character development. What a cast of interesting people in the beautiful sense and the dark sense of what interesting means. It has some of the best music—the score is incredible. The songs that are chosen at the moment they’re chosen are just perfect in this movie. It’s got a gripping plot. You’re apart from this movie and then you get sucked in.
So I’m watching Magnolia the first time, and I’m thinking about all the elements of that. And you get to this dramatic point of this movie and all of a sudden frogs start falling. I mean, thousands of frogs. They’re just everywhere! And I’m thinking, frogs? Seriously? Frogs? I was just getting to enjoy this movie and then stupid frogs fall. It just wrecked the whole movie. So I decided to go back and I would carefully watch through Magnolia, and I keep watching through Magnolia until those frogs made sense. And what I began to realize is that this dark movie is redemptive. And the frogs are a picture of this supernatural thing that takes place that changes every life in that movie, and changes every element of the plot. And by the third time I watched the movie, I was excited about the frogs. I couldn’t wait for the frogs to happen, because I realized that that twist was the thing that made this make sense.
Well, we’re going to see some incredible twists and turns in this story that we’re in. And it’s those twists and turns that are exposing to us this intersection of the anger of God and the grace of God. Let me read for you.
“But, the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea. And there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his God. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So that captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your God! Perhaps the God will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.’
“And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ And he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
“Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?’ For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, ‘Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.’ Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, ‘O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.’ So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”
What you’re confronted with is the anger of God. When you’re reading a narrative and you come across the word ‘but,’ which begins this part, you know there’s going to be a change in the story. Something is going to happen differently. And the ‘but’ is that God sends this incredible storm—you know how vicious this storm is when seasoned mariners are scared to death. This is not the first storm these guys have faced. But this storm is big enough and bad enough that it scares seasoned sailors. And God is saying, “You run from me? Watch me.”
I want to say this before we look at the details of the narrative here, because they are very interesting. The anger of God is not the embarrassing uncle of his characteristics that you should hide from the rest of the family. You could argue that the anger of God is the hope of the universe. If God weren’t angry with sin, there would be no hope for us. If God weren’t angry with sin, there would be no cross. You do not want to live in a universe where the one who is in charge of the universe is incapable of anger, because there would be no justice, and there would be no mercy; it would be a world utterly unlivable.
But I want you to hear this. The anger in this moment is not the anger of vengeance. It’s not the anger of condemnation. It’s not the anger of judgment. I want to say this. If I had been writing this story, the storm and Jonah being thrown overboard would be the end of the story. “You don’t follow me? Drown!” Because I will not have you stand against me.
In fact, in God’s holy righteousness, it would have been absolutely holy and right for him to do that, to say, “You have defied my holy law and you will be judged on that basis.” But God does not do that. Don’t think that it’s not until Jesus comes that grace is preached to you in the Bible; grace is being preached to you in this story. Because God is harnessing the forces of nature in anger, not to condemn Jonah, but to turn him, to redeem him. This is righteous, redemptive anger. And you can’t look at this, I can’t look at this, without in this moment in this story, seeing the cross of Jesus Christ.
Listen. What drove Jesus to the cross? The anger of God with sin. What drove Jesus to the cross? The grace of God toward sinners. On the cross of Jesus Christ, the anger of God and the grace of God kiss. His holy anger is your redemption; His holy grace is your redemption.
And that’s what you see in the story. You see the themes of both of those. Is God angry? Yes, he’s angry. Will he act? Yes, he will act. But it’s not the anger of vengeance; it’s not the anger of condemnation; it’s not the anger of judgment. It’s the anger of grace.
Now these mariners know that they’re in trouble. They’re scared to death. These guys don’t have a theology big enough, they don’t have a worldview big enough, to help them have any sense of what’s going on. They’re just floundering. They say, “Well, maybe we should pray.” This is not Biblical God-awareness. This is weird, abstract deism. It really is true: there are no atheists in a sinking ship. These guys are not turning to “the” God. They’re just hoping that there’s somewhere out there in the great distant beyond who has some relationship to what they’re going through right now, that would somehow help them.
You ought to just have a heart of compassion for how lost these guys are. They’re lost. They’re lost. They’re so lost, they would grab anything at this moment. They have no moral superstructure in their brains, no theology to make sense out of life. Don’t get mad at those people around you who say drop dead foolish things; weep for them. Don’t get mad at a culture that you’re looking at and saying, “How can people believe this is true?” Weep for them. They don’t have a worldview that helps them, and the only reason you have that worldview is your mind has been rescued by glorious grace. Don’t be so proud. Don’t be so easily condemning. Don’t walk through life as an arrogant, self-satisfied Christian who looks down on all the people who don’t understand what you understand. My heart runs out to these poor guys. They’re in the middle of God’s torment. They’re in the middle of God’s storm. God is acting. They happen to be in the middle of what he’s doing and they don’t have a clue.
And the only reason you and I have any clue, is because God has opened our eyes to the mysteries of the universe because of his grace.
Now, get the irony of the moment. The unbelievers are praying, and the one believer is sleeping. I mean, it’s just such an amazing moment where Jonah’s checked out, and these poor guys are in a mess. The one guy who would understand it all, that actually has a theology that could make sense out of this, has checked out. He’s asleep.
And they come to Jonah and in the best of their human ability, they’re asking questions to try to get them to figure out what in the world is going on and what do we do about it. You see that interpretive function going on. They’re trying to interpret their world, but these guys don’t have a basis for interpreting their world that will ever make this thing make sense for them. So they do the kinds of things you would do. If you don’t have a theology, then you put your trust in your ability to do something to make a difference. So they lighten the load. It’s a little bit sad, because this is a huge, big, frightening storm. Lightening the boat is not going to solve the problem. But they’ve got nowhere else to turn. They don’t understand anything else but that.
Psalm 14 talks about foolishness. It says that the center of foolishness is a denial of God’s existence. I don’t think that psalm is talking about philosophical atheism. I think what it’s talking about is, if you don’t factor God into the way that you think about life, you won’t be able to make sense out of life. You’re conclusions will be foolishness. They just won’t be able to do the job. You see foolishness operating here.
They awaken Jonah, and they’re next step is—this is a really human thing to do. If we can’t lighten the load, we immediately turn to assess blame. You know that. Whose fault is this? There’s something that seems satisfying by assessing blame. If I can just point the finger and say, “You did this! It’s you!” Come on, admit it. It’s just satisfying.
But although Jonah is in one way to blame for this moment, Jonah doesn’t control the winds or the waves. Ultimately, this storm is not a revelation of who Jonah is, it’s a revelation of who God is. There’s an almighty God who can harness the forces of nature and control the events of human history to get his will done. You know what God is doing? You got to hear this. He’s puffing out his chest and he’s saying, “You know who I am? I’m the Lord Almighty. I’m Lord of heaven and earth. I’m a God of awesome glory. Watch me!” God is trumpeting his own glory. “Look who I am! I’m God! Bow down and worship. This is my storm.”
Lightening the load and assessing blame. Still misses what is actually happening here. They get Jonah then to identify himself. And he says this, “I’m a Hebrew. And I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” What do you think about when you hear Jonah say, “I’m a Hebrew and I fear the Lord”? Does that seem a little bit ironic to say, this man who’s running from the Lord? It doesn’t actually seem like at street-level he fears the Lord. And there you see just one little vignette of the distance between a person’s confessional theology and his functional theology.
Don’t think because your confession is accurate that your living is holy. Don’t confuse theological knowledge and biblical literacy with spiritual maturity. You can have a high level of theological knowledge and a high level of biblical literacy and actually be quite spiritually immature. This is an abstract, impersonal, theological confession. And that means, read my lips, “That’s bad theology. This is bad theology.”
You say, “Paul, why? Why is it bad theology? Why?” Because good theology doesn’t just tell you who God is; good theology redefines who you are as his child. Does that make sense? Theology is always properly understood when it’s understood personally. You cannot make this declaration without surrendering yourself to what this declaration means in everyday life. That’s good theology. Good theology is never just abstract, it’s never just intellectual. You don’t just think your theology biblically, you live your theology. And you see that gap here.
So what happens next? Well, Jonah says, “Just throw me into the water.” The sailors do that and the sea calms. And then they, it says, “The men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” I don’t know what that means. I don’t know how much that impacted these guys’ lives. It doesn’t say here—this is really different than the beginning of these verses that I read to you—it doesn’t say “They feared the god,” little “g”. It says, “They feared the Lord.” In here is, in your English Bible, it’s capital-L, capital-O, capital-R, capital-D. That’s the name for God—Yahweh—that Hebrew believers wouldn’t pronounce. It’s the Lord.
And so there’s something that’s happened inside of these guys. There’s some kind of awareness, recognition of God. This amazes me because God will even use his angry response to an individual to give witnesses a recognition of his presence and power and glory. In going after this running man, God reveals his presence to men who weren’t even seeking him, who are lost as lost can be. What a God of amazing grace, and maybe for the first time in their lives, these men recognized the actual presence and power of the Lord. Maybe they move from that distant deism closer to a more biblical recognition of the Lord, the King of Kings, the Creator, the Sovereign One, the Redeemer.
What I love about this moment in Jonah is that intersection between the anger of God and the grace of God. You see, I think this is very important for us. I think that we’ve got a too limited view of the grace of God. We think of God’s grace as being his tender touch—the grace of release and the grace of relief. And that’s not a big enough theology of grace because we need to embrace, and to teach and to preach, and to encourage one another—are you ready for this term?—with a theology of uncomfortable grace.
Often God’s grace comes to us in [un]comfortable forms. Its’ the grace of difficulty; it’s the grace of hardship. It’s the grace of personal, relational hardship. That hardship is meant to do exactly what it was meant to do in Jonah: it was meant to bring Jonah to the end of himself so Jonah begins to surrender himself to the God who is his only hope. If you’re God’s child and you’re going through hardship, you better not name that hardship as a sign of his unfaithfulness and inattention. That hardship is a sure sign of the zeal of his redeeming grace. He’ll take you places you don’t want to go. He’ll put experiences before you, you don’t want to deal with. He’ll bring difficulty and trouble. The unwanted, the unexpected in your life. Why? Because he loves you, and he’s doing the one thing that you can’t do for yourself, the one thing Jonah couldn’t do for himself. You can run from a relationship, you can run from a situation, you can run from a location, but you can’t run from you.
You see, Jonah’s run was a delusion, because he couldn’t run from God and he couldn’t run from himself. And so God blows the winds of hardship into his life, not as an act of judgment, but as an act of redemption.
Listen, you’re going to face hardship. If you’re not suffering now, you’re near someone who is. If you’re not suffering now, you will someday. And one of the reasons you will, is because God loves you. And he will use that difficulty to soften your heart, to bring you to the end of yourself, so that you put your faith in him. I believe, hopelessness is the doorway to hope. When you begin to give up on your trust in your wisdom, your trust in your strength, your trust in your righteousness—it’s when you run to the one who is Wisdom, who is Righteousness, who is Strength. That’s grace. Redemption is about the anger of God and the grace of God coming together for our good, for our rescue, for our forgiveness, for our redemption.
Jonah preaches the theology of the cross to us.
Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for this moment when we see so clearly your anger coming together in redemptive cooperation with your grace. We see the power of your anger in a storm that made seasoned sailors afraid. But we see also that the move of that anger is not condemnation, is not judgment, but it’s redemption. And thank you that Jesus was willing to have your anger explode on him so that grace would flow to us. Thank you, we thank you, we thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.