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Watch the Traps

The book of Jonah is an interesting one; a beautiful story that shows us the heart of God and the image of Jesus. It's also a book that should cause us to take a good, hard look at ourselves, shouldn't it?

I'll admit, though, I've never dug into the book of Jonah until recently. Before doing so, the only thing that came to my mind when the story was mentioned was, Oh yeah, that dude that got eaten by a whale and then God had the whale spit him up on the beach.

I've come to realize, however, that the message behind Jonah is a tough one. Why? Because what trapped Jonah is one we’ve easily fallen into ourselves. Something, I've heard dubbed a “Pharisee mindset.” A place I’ve been myself a time or two.

If you’ve never heard of the Pharisee mindset before, let me paint a quick picture for you. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He came to earth as a man performing miracles, and proving the prophecies spoken before His time. He was the Son of Man, yet, the Pharisees rejected Him. They said He was a blasphemous liar and viewed Him as a threat to the Jewish way of life. They were so focused on the Law of Moses and living by that Law that they chose to die by it.

They allowed the love of Jesus to slip right through their fingers.

Now, let's be honest, can't we be guilty of the same? Like Jonah and the Pharisees, we can harbor a judgmental and self-righteous mindset. Every thought that causes you to turn up your nose at someone walking past you for how they’re dressed. How about when we begin to gossip about the couple at church? Or that one time you couldn’t believe the pastor said that. Who do they think they are? They aren’t living right; I can’t believe it!

Jonah fell into that mindset. God looked at the people of Nineveh and felt mercy and compassion for them. They did not have The Law. They were a kingdom of lost Gentiles whom God sought to redeem.

And Jonah was angry with God for this decision. So much so, that he ran away from Israel and condemned himself to death over his hate for them. Not once but twice! Wowee!

Jonah's anger was directed at God for showing mercy to a people so cruel and murderous towards his people —the people of Israel. If we stop and put ourself in Jonah’s shoes, it's a trap that makes perfect sense in the natural. He is processing his thoughts: we’re enemies,

you’ve killed my people, (kick rocks), you don’t deserve my God’s mercy!

And... I’ve been trapped, too. I don’t know if you have reader, but I know I have. I’ve been hurt by people who have cast false judgment against me. I’ve had people do that could have cost me everything I have. I felt anger, even hatred, toward those people.

That’s how Jonah felt. In fact, he felt it so deeply that he chose to be thrown off a boat, die in his anger, rather than follow God.

But, God was not done with Jonah. It was from the belly of a great fish that he called out to God for rescue. God knew Jonah’s heart still wasn’t right, but in His endless compassion He still rescued him. (Phew, thank you for the blood, Jesus!) It was after this experience that Jonah followed God’s direction and, albeit reluctantly, did what he was told. Over 120,000 people were saved because of his obedience; 120,000 lives were spared.

Even after all that, Jonah decided to camp outside the city, still brewing in his anger. God begins to question his perspective. You would show pity to one plant, but not over a hundred thousand people in the city of Nineveh. Was Jonah willing to die in his anger instead of showing gratitude for the goodness of his God? The book ends with that question. We never know what Jonah decided, because that’s not the point of the story.

Perhaps God leaves us with a question because He is asking us to consider the same. Where is your heart at? Is it focused on the amount of work you produce or how well the rules are being followed? This is a tough one. One that caused me to look through the window of my own heart.

Jonah knew God was a God of endless compassion and mercy, but because of his inability to forgive the people of Nineveh, his judgment caused him to believe they were not worthy to receive it.

I have been guilty of the same. I refused to forgive, and held tightly to resentment against people who inflicted me with hurt. Until the Holy Spirit pointed out to me that I was putting a price tag on Jesus sacrifice on the cross. That was tough for me to swallow. I was heartbroken, but Jesus picked me back up with the same love that those people deserve. He helped me see that I am clothed in righteousness and His grace is sufficient for every new day.

Again, God’s grace is endless.

His mercy is endless, and the blood of Jesus covers all things. All the glory and honor are yours, Father. Amen.

—Jessica Sleezer, Coordinator, North Syracuse Chapter

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