Luke 15;:1-10 “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.'”
Religious pride is a nasty thing. This parable neatly contrasts the heart of God with the heart of the self-righteous. All the Pharisees and teachers of the law could see was what their hard hearts condemned – sinners and Jesus associating with them. God in contrast seeks out lost sinners. God rejoices with His host in heaven when one sinner repents. God has a heart for the lost, for the sinners and the broken people of this world. Self-righteous people don’t. Yet, God has a heart for the self-righteous too.
Sin is sin. Lustful excess of the flesh doesn’t stink more than a pride puckered heart clenched tightly around its own overvalued sense of self as far as God is concerned. What we tend to forget is that the self-righteous need saving as well. And the self-righteous are very hard of hearing believing that there is nothing wrong with them. God has a heart for both kinds of sinner. The Book of Jonah illustrates this reality.
Jonah ran from God’s call to go an preach to the sinners of the great city of Nineveh. It’s easy to think that Jonah ran from God’s call because he was afraid of getting beat up and abused by the ‘good’ citizens of Nineveh. But when the people of Nineveh from their king to the least of them repented, we discover Jonah’s real reason; “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” (Jonah 4:1,2)
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he didn’t want to see the people of Nineveh saved and he knew God would not destroy them if they repented. Jonah thought he was better than the people of Nineveh and judged them to be undeserving of God’s grace; “. . . he did not want God’s mercy and grace to be showered on the people of Nineveh! They were Israel’s enemies, and he did not want to have anything to do with bringing them good things from God. These pagan Assyrians were more receptive to God’s will than Jonah was.” (Foreunner Commentary)
Did God blast Jonah for his uncharitable heart and self-righteousness in judging? When Jonah went off to sulk God ministered to him; “And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” (Jonah 4:6) Jonah loved the gourd because it made him feel good. The next morning God caused the gourd to die and a harsh hot wind to blow that made Jonah miserable.
God used the gourd to teach Jonah a lesson for when the gourd vine died Jonah was angry because he liked it; “Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10,11) Jonah had a heart for that which made him feel good. But God had a heart for the sinners of Nineveh and his self-righteous messenger.
Obedience to God’s will overcomes a lot of sin. Even a self-righteous person struggling with his or her religious pride can find salvation in it. Jonah ran from God, spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish, repented and struggled with his character flaws yet his submission saved him. But we have to be obedient to the righteous will of God not the things that make us feel good or look good. Jesus warned us that in the end we will all face His judgement; “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” (Luke 11:32)
Thank you God, that you didn’t consider the people of Nineveh a lost cause. Thank you Jesus that God has a heart for people like Jonah and me! He has a heart for us all!
Praise the Lord!