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2. Unwanted Grace (Jonah 1:1-3)

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See the Stormology Series Description for more information on this lesson.



How do we respond to God’s unwanted grace?


How do we respond when God’s grace comes charging into our lives?


When it doesn’t knock on the door -

or ask permission

or say how do you do

or have a nice day

or could we sit down and talk?

When it just barges in and takes over.


That’s the problem with grace, you know—

it cannot be controlled;

it is not predictable or rational;

it cannot be owned.

Grace does exactly what grace wants to do.


I can hear many of you protesting, objecting to the idea of unwanted grace.


Perhaps you’re saying,

I want all of God’s grace I can get. There’s no such thing as unwanted grace.


Perhaps. Let’s see if this is true. Let me ask you a question.


Suppose we put two signs over these two doors,

  • one that says “Grace to have a great life, a wonderful family, a challenging and satisfying career, financial security, with excellent health right up to the end.
  • And we had a sign over this door that says “Grace to die with cancer.”


Which line would you get in?


We don’t want the grace to die of cancer if we can possibly avoid it. Of course we want it if there’s nothing we can do about it, but none of us would get in the cancer line. That is certainly unwanted grace.


Or let me ask you this.


Let’s say your life is going well—

a marriage that is strong and stable,

children who are doing great,

a career that just developed two new gears—

life couldn’t be better.

Or let’s say you’re single and enjoying life—

lots of great friends,

many fun times,

career taking off

and God comes along and calls you to become significantly involved in serving Him

to the point where you must change your life-style,

move out of your dream house,

live on much less,

enter into sacrifice,

and do something for that is so big, so challenging, so overwhelming, you are afraid.

This is unwanted grace for you. You don’t want to do what God is calling you to do.

Or perhaps you’re very satisfied in a support role, very satisfied as a manager—

you don’t want to move up the ladder,

to move into greater responsibility,

to face greater pressure

to travel and be gone one-third of the time.


But the pressure is there, and God’s unwanted grace is calling you,

disrupting you

demanding that you do something for God you don’t want to do.


How do you respond to God’s unwanted grace?


How welcome is God’s disruptive, life changing, redirecting grace?


We look this morning at Unwanted Grace.


If you find this unwanted grace to be unwelcome, then you understand how Jonah felt and identify with him as the prophet of unwanted grace.

I. God Sends Unwanted Grace. (Jonah 1:1-2)

A. Unwanted Grace Comes as a Privilege

1. The word of the LORD was.

a. Jonah didn’t ask for it.

b. Jonah didn’t plan for it.

c. Jonah did nothing to get it.

d. Jonah did not earn it.

e. It was just there—it just showed up.

2. We don’t know how he got it.

a. We don’t know if he heard it.

b. Or sensed it.

c. Or felt it.

d. Or saw it.

e. He just received it.

3. Now remember this is the word of the LORD.

a. Every time we see LORD in upper case letters we must remember it means Yahweh, God’s formal name, His covenant making and covenant keeping name.

b. Yahweh is God’s initiating name—the name used to speak of His initiative to enter our lives.

In the Garden of Eden,

with the call of Abraham,

the commissioning of Moses—

all the way throughout the Old Testament Yahweh initiates, and this initiation is always an act of grace, even when it is not welcome in the lives of those with whom He initiates.

c. Yahweh is also God’s covenant making name, His commitment making, legal contract signing name, and everything He does grows out of the covenants He has made.


So unwanted grace comes from the covenant keeping God who is constantly making grace initiatives in our lives.

B. Unwanted Grace Comes as an Intrusion.

1. It is quite evident that Jonah wasn’t looking for the privilege God has in mind for him.

2. It was much more of an intrusion than anything else.

3. It disrupted Jonah’s life and called him to do something he didn’t want to do.

4. Jonah was one of 16 men in all of history who were called to be prophets in the way he was called.

5. Jonah’s life was the way he wanted it to be.

a. He was a prophet.

b. He was recognized as a prophet.

c. He was a successful prophet according to II Kings 14:25.

d. He had said his king, Jeroboam II, would expand his kingdom’s borders greatly, and it came true.

e. This meant success, blessing, economic prosperity, and Jonah was a prophet with a popular message.


But the God of unwanted grace comes along with a new word, a word Jonah doesn’t want, even though it is a word of opportunity.

C. Unwanted Grace Comes as an Opportunity.


Look at vs. 2.

1. This word of unwanted grace from the LORD called him to action: Arise and go—get up and get going. There is immediacy, urgency in this word from the LORD.

2. This word of unwanted grace from the LORD called him with direction: to Nineveh.


Nineveh was what he did not want to hear—Nineveh was what made this word a word of unwanted grace.


Nineveh was the capital of an ancient empire called Assyria, located in modern Iran. Nineveh was 550 miles from Samaria where Jonah lived. Nineveh was a city of 600,000 people. Nineveh was a Gentile city, and no one spoke Hebrew there, although many spoke Aramaic there, so Jonah could make himself understood. Hebrew prophets would not be all that welcome in Nineveh.

Nineveh was a cruel city. The kings of Assyria developed the concept of captivity, in which a conquered people would be moved from their home territory and settled elsewhere, while alien people would be settled in their former home. One of their kings boasted he had make a mountain red like wool by cutting off the heads of some warriors he had defeated and piled their skulls as a pillar in front of their city. Others boasted of flaying their enemies alive and stretching their skin on the city wall.

At that time Nineveh was in trouble. In the years before Jonah received this word from the LORD, they had experienced two plagues and also a total eclipse of the sun, which they took to be a bad omen of something bad about to come upon them. They were divided politically and in a very weak condition. Left to themselves, they would collapse in a short time.


The prophet received a word from the LORD that called him to action and gave him direction.

3. That word also gave him motivation.

a. God was concerned about their wickedness.

b. Jonah was given the opportunity to have the greatest evangelistic impact in history, but he didn’t want it because he was politically and culturally opposed to Nineveh and did not have God’s heart for them.

D. Unwanted Grace Comes as an Opportunity That’s More Than We Want.


All too frequently we are like Jonah—we don’t want God’s grace initiative in our hearts because it will call us away from our comfort and our security and our desires to care for cruel and troubled place like Nineveh.

And even if this is not the case, God’s initiating grace always calls us to something we cannot do, something that is overwhelming for us, something that frightens us because it is so demanding. Think of it—Jonah was called to go to a city of 600,000 and tell them about God’s demands on them, but he would be the only believer there. There was no steering committee, no team, no advance men and women, no counselor training, just Jonah—and God.


And how did Jonah respond.


He rose up and went as far in the opposite direction as he could from Nineveh.

II. Unwanted Grace Came to an Unresponsive Heart.
(Jonah 1:3)

A. Unwanted Grace Came to a Self-Centered Heart.

1. Nineveh was in a weakened condition, and Jonah wanted it to stay that way.

2. Jonah knew of Nineveh’s cruelty and also of its expansionist desires.

a. Later Hosea, one of Jonah’s contemporaries, prophesied that Assyria would take Israel captive, and Jonah knew that could happen.

b. Yet God told His prophet to go to Nineveh—but His prophet didn’t want this grace from God.

c. Jonah was called to the greatest evangelistic ministry in history, but he turned it down.

d. He didn’t want God’s unwelcome, uninvited grace

B. Unwanted Grace Challenges a Self-Centered Heart.

1. Jonah’s self-centeredness is challenged and stirred up by God’s unwanted grace.

2. In his self-centeredness, in his desire for a safe and secure life, in his effort to keep control over his life and the fate of his people, Jonah chooses to disobey—which may well be what God wanted to happen.

3. Jonah’s choice is clear from verse 3: Tarshish is mentioned three times.

a. Tarshish is as far away from Nineveh as Jonah could get in the ancient world.

b. Tarshish was in Spain, the site of silver mines run by Phoenicians.

c. If you went any further you would drop off the edge of the earth.

4. Jonah “found” a ship going there.

a. The idea is that this was a find.

b. Apparently Jonah left his home up near Nazareth with the hope of going to Tarshish, and there just happened to be a ship going to that very place when he got to Joppa.

c. Surely it was the will of God for Jonah to go to Tarshish—that may well have been what Jonah thought when he made his find.

d. Just think, a one-in-a-hundred chance, and the ship was there.

e. Why else would the ship be there if it weren’t God’s will for him to go to Tarshish—that’s obvious.


And it may well have been true that God provided that ship so Jonah could do what he most wanted to do and get way from the presence of God. Even as God may help you if you don’t want to respond to His unwanted grace. Certainly God didn’t stop Him.


But now it’s time for us to see what unwanted grace is.


Unwanted grace is God’s unrelenting call for us

to take greater risk than we ever imagined

to face stronger forces than we ever dreamed

to fight bigger battles than we ever thought possible

and nearly all of this is in ourselves!

We must face the greatest enemy of all: ourselves.


The greatest struggle Jonah faced in going to Nineveh was not the 550 trek to the city, but the short distance he had to go to face his own unresponsive heart.


What is even more interesting is the fact that

C. Unwanted Grace Came to an Unqualified Heart.

1. At first it looked as if the LORD’s word came to Jonah because he was qualified to receive it.

2. He was a proven prophet with stature in Israel, so he must have been qualified to receive the word of the LORD.


Let’s go back and look at verse 1 again.


The word of the LORD came to Jonah—a man whose name means Dove, undoubtedly an intended picture of the Holy Spirit searching out those who need God’s forgiveness. Surely a man who symbolized the Holy Spirit would be qualified for the word of the LORD. And he was the son of Amittai, Truth—the son of truth, raised in truth of God. He was a prepared man who came from a godly family, a proven prophet, certainly a qualified man.


But now we see that was not the case.


Jonah was eminently unqualified to receive the word of the LORD. He was as unqualified for his privilege as Nineveh was for its privilege of receiving a word from the LORD. He didn’t have God’s heart; he didn’t love God’s way; he was looking out for himself and his people, not God’s interests.

The unqualified man was sent to an unqualified people so they both could be transformed into what God wanted them to be by His grace. We frequently think we are blessed because we deserve it, but this is contrary to the nature of grace. All grace is undeserved, and we must always remember this.

We don’t deserve grace—we are never qualified to receive grace. We are not given grace because we are qualified to receive it—we are only give grace because we are unqualified to receive it. As it turns out, Jonah was totally unresponsive to God, and Nineveh was desperately responsive to God. Yet God was just as patient with the unresponsive man as He was forgiving of the responsive people—and all of this is of grace.

God’s blessing on us doesn’t necessarily indicate our goodness, but really His grace. In fact, blessing may come to us in the form of unwelcome and unwanted grace for exactly the opposite reason we think: because we are not good and we need to grow. Jonah needed to grow in love, in trust in God, in vision, and in obedience to God’s grace, whether wanted or unwanted. He needed to develop a heart for God’s heart—a heart for what mattered to God, not to him.

Jonah did not deserve God’s grace. Instead, Jonah received God’s grace for others so he could experience God’s grace for himself. Jonah was in desperate need for grace, a need he never sees because he is so convinced he is right that salvation belonged to Israel, even as we can be so convinced we are right that salvation means a prosperous life with an ideal family, a lights out career, and financial security that enables us to give great amounts of money to the Lord. However, the Lord is not nearly as interested in our bank accounts as He is in our hearts.

We tend to think our enemies are God’s enemies, when we may in fact be acting toward God in an enemy way.


Now here is something you really need to understand.


Why does God bring unwanted grace in our lives?

Why does He send us to Nineveh when we want to stay in Dallas?

Why does He disrupt our families with sons and daughters who turn away from following Him?

Why does He give us things to do that we could never possibly do, things that frighten us and demand more from us than we ever thought possible?


Because of what unwanted grace always means in our lives.


Unwanted grace always means death:

the death of pride

the death of self-confidence

the death of self-reliance

the death of false hope

Unwanted grace: the opportunity to become more than we ever dreamed we could become by becoming less than we ever thought we could.



Unwanted grace always brings us to one simple choice: the choice to be Jonah or Jesus.


All of us can be Jonah; there’s nothing hard about running away from what we don’t want. Unwanted grace always leads us to where Jesus went.

Nevertheless, not my will, but yours.

Unwanted grace always leads us to the cross—the decision to take up the cross, to follow Jesus to the grace we need to trust God for resurrection so we can become the men and women God wants us to be. If we resist this we will remain small, caught up in our self-centered and unresponsive hearts, thinking we have a corner on salvation, given over to pleasure and selfish ambition and a life-style of comfort and ease. We will be Jonahs: brittle, demanding, angry, self-centered, and unresponsive. But if we respond to God we will discover what unwanted grace really is:

The opportunity to be more than we ever dreamed we could by becoming less than we ever thought we could.

Related Topics: Law, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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