God spares Nineveh, and Jonah is
angry. He said: God, I knew you'd do that. That's why I didn't go, because I know
you're gracious and forgiving, and you forgive sins. I knew it, and you did it.
Now let me die.
Think of the one person or family
or group of people in the world or the land that you hate the most. Think of
your ultimate enemy at this moment in your life.
"Ah," you say,
"but I'm a Christian. I don't hate anybody!" God bless you. If you
don't hate anybody, I'll give you a second choice. Think of the person you love
the least. Some of you say, "I'm a Christian. I love everybody."
Okay, that's pretty neat. Number three then: Think of the person you like
the least. You've got to answer that one. Or if you can't answer that one, who
is the person or group you fear the most?
The point is, I want you to think
of the person you know is your enemy, the person who does not mean you well,
the person who has no done you well. Think of that person right nowâ€”your enemy.
Suppose you had it in your power
to help that person or that group of people to prosper enormously, spiritually
and materially. If it were in your power, would you do it? Or if without your
help they prospered, how would you feel right now if this enemyâ€”this group of
people or this personâ€”suddenly flourished spiritually, were healed, were
abundantly blessed financially?
Now you understand Jonah's situation.
He did bless those people, and they did prosper and respond.
"Love your enemies" is
so clear all through the New Testament. We see it here in the Old, but also in
the New Testamentâ€”in the fulfillment of God's gracious plan for our lives
through Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, the wind and the fire, God in us and
with us right now. Over and over again it says "love your enemies"â€”a
Never mind liking them. The
command is not to like your enemies, because you can't do that. Liking is involuntary.
You can't control who you enjoy being with. If you go to a certain dinner party
and you're bored or angry or resentful, you can't help that. But love is an
act, and Jesus says anybody can love anybody they choose to, because love means
you work for that person's well being. You can love your enemies. You can't
like your enemies, so forget liking.
But if we love them, we will
cause them to prosper through our prayers or maybe through some direct
intervention, or maybe, like Jonah, a witness. He simply stands among his
enemies, and he says, "Listen, God doesn't like what you're doing.
Change!" and they changed. His witness is used by God to bless his
enemies. If we are faithful and obedient like Jonah, God will bless our enemies
God blesses our enemies with his grace
What we are dealing with here,
friends, is the grace of God. Jonah is confronted in no place more clearly in
the Old Testament than right here. The New Testament abounds in it, but in the
Old it's as clear as in the New Testament. In "Oh for a Thousand Tongues
to Sing," the first line is about the glories of God's grace. I wish I had
a thousand tongues to sing my awe and wonder and gratitude for the revealed
grace of God.
Think now about your enemies.
Think of the prodigal son and the elder brother. Who is the enemy to the elder
brother who stays home, works the farm, is dutiful, is moral, is obedient to
the father? It's the younger brother, who goes off and squanders in riotous and
debauched living his half of the inheritance and then comes home and wants to
share in what's left. To the elder brother, the enemy is the younger, prodigal
son. Could the elder brother bless him? No. He did not. The tragedy of that
story is not that the younger one stayed lost; he comes home. The elder grinds
his teeth and is angry; he could not bless his enemy.
Think of that incredible story of
the laborers in the vineyard, in which a man goes out and hires a bunch of
workers, and each hour of the day as he finds more unemployed, he hires them.
At the end he pays them all the same wage, and the ones who worked all day for
a fair wage said, "This is not fair that those who came one hour
from closing time get the same wage that we get. We don't like your grace. It's
terrible. Don't do that."
We see something of what our
judgment is. In our Lord's prayer every Sunday (and every day in your private
devotions, I hope) we pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our
Who is our enemy, our Nineveh, as
a nation? I suppose Iran comes as close as anybody. How would we feel about a
great spiritual blessing and great financial prosperity in Iran? It would test
us, wouldn't it? In the Christian Conciliation Service they say to the two
Christian parties, "Is it so important that you get your pound of flesh,
that you get your due reward, that you make that person pay what he owes you?
Or can you, for your sake as well as his, forgive and move on with
living?" That's the grace word as over against the law and the just word.
"But it's his fault!"
and "He doesn't deserve . . ." are the attitudes that undermine our
understanding of and living with God's grace in terms of our neighbors.
But does it matter? If, as I've
done, you've lost money invested with a Christian friend, whether he squandered
the money, he was evil, or he stupidly went bankrupt, it doesn't really matter.
The money is gone. For me to say, "Well if he had done . . ." or
"I think in his heart . . ." or "He was evil or maybe just
stupid or maybe not a good business person," is unnecessary. In God's eyes
it doesn't matter. He is my enemy; he betrayed my trust. But God says,
"Forgive. Forgive." That's a hard word for any of us.
Jean Anouilh, an amazing writer,
talks about the final judgment. He says that all the good people are gathered
around the gates of heaven, waiting for what has been promised to them as their
reward from God. The rumor leaks out that God is going to forgive all the other
people that weren't good. Suddenly there's rumbling and anger. People curse God
for his stupid way of living, and by so doing, they are lost.
The final judgment is: Can you
and I forgive those who have no reason to be forgiven? That's what this Book of
Jonah is all about, and what the gospel is all about.
Who are your enemies as you were
thinking about your enemies? I have no trouble thinking about my enemies, but
if you have trouble, I hope you thought of somebody. Maybe it's your parents,
who failed you because maybe they died on you when you were born; you never had
a mom or dad. Or maybe they were abusiveâ€”sexually, verbally, emotionally. Maybe
they were withholders. Maybe they lied to you and said you were the darling of
the universe, and spoiled youâ€”indulged youâ€”for real life.
Maybe it's an ungrateful and
rebellious child, a child in whom you poured everything you
hadâ€”love and caring and money and helpâ€”and that child now has done the
unspeakable and turned on you or betrayed you.
Maybe it's a spouse, who
withholds his or her love from you, knowing how desperately you need that one
to hold you and cherish you and care for you when you least deserve it.
But he or she doesn't. Maybe your enemy is your spouse who cheats on you. Maybe
your enemy is your spouse who left you for somebody else.
Maybe your enemy is a friend whom
you trusted and who betrayed you, told about you, gossiped about you. Maybe
your enemies are political enemies. You believe strongly in certain causes,
dealing with life, death, abortion, war, whatever, and the people who oppose
your view, your logical view, your godly view, become your
enemies. Maybe your enemies are theological, ecclesiastic enemies: people in
the church who do not call truth what you and I call truth. So we say these
people are polluting, diluting the church, and they become our enemies.
Maybe your enemies are
international enemies. You feel strongly about equality; maybe South Africa is
the abomination in your sight because of their rigid apartheid and unbending
ways. Maybe it's Soviet Russia. Maybe your enemy is either the Contras or the
Sandinistas, depending on your politics.
The amazing thing is that our
enemies vary. Do you know that in 1982, for example, Iraq, in its bloody war
with the Iran, was selling tanks to Iran so Iran could fight them with those
same tanks? Iraq captured about 150 Iranian tanksâ€”American, C
tanks that we supplied earlier to Iran. But Iraq has a Soviet arsenal and
couldn't use the tanks. They needed money desperately. Since Iran couldn't buy
any more arms from us, Iraq sold the tanks back to Iran, because they needed
cash to continue the war! Maybe that's biblical: you bless your enemies! I
don't know. It's seems strange to me.
Who would the enemy be for the
survivalist? There are hundreds of thousands of them (we know, because they buy
survivalist goods) who have hidden in places, in caves and bomb
shelters, in tight little cabins with guns and arms. Hundreds of thousands of
people are preparing for nuclear war or a great world depression. They've spent
their life and their savings getting ready.
Suppose it never comes. Won't
they look foolish? Their enemy then might be the peacemakers, whose existence
might signify that the survivalists wasted their lives. It's interesting
to think who your enemy might be.
I was saddened recently, as you
were, to read in a feature story in the newspaper that our
casualties in Vietnam were 58,000 dead, but there have been 75,000
V' suicides since the warâ€”more than our casualty list. Who is
the enemy? Is it usâ€”our attitude? I don't know, but there is some enemy out
there, stalking our beloved Vietnam veterans.
the enemy for you are the people who make illogical demands on your
timeâ€”interrupters. If you have a busy job or busy life, people who knock on
your door or call you and make demands are the enemyâ€”those who don't know how
busy you are.
a wonderful story that took place years ago in Philadelphiaâ€”W. C. Fields's
least favorite city. An old couple come into a hotel at 11:00 on
a rainy night and asked for a room. If you were that night clerk,
you could say, "Are you crazy! It's raining outside, 11:00 at night; you
have no reservation. Why are you bothering me? I can't help you. We're filled
Instead, the night clerk said,
"We don't have any good rooms; they're all gone. But I'll tell you what: I
have a room here. It's not much, but I'll have Mary, the night housekeeper,
clean it up and put some flowers in there. Wait here a few moments. I'm sure
you'll be comfortable for the night. I hate to send you out in this rainy
Mary came back and said,
"The room is clean."
Then the clerk said, "Now
you two can go upstairs, and I'll have some hot tea sent up for you."
That's one way to handle your enemy if they make unreasonable
The strange thing is that a year
and a half later, when the great Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York was built
and finished, John Jacob Astor, who was the man who with his wife came to the
hotel that night, said, "I want that night clerk to manage my hotel."
You never know when your enemy might bless you if it's an interrupter.
The blessing of our enemies should cause us to rejoice
Let me give you a test for
spiritual maturity. How do you feel about your Nineveh, that person you have a
hard time praying for, blessing, or being a blessing for? Do you rejoice in
that person's blessing? If you do, you have come a long way in the grace of
Jesus Christ. You are extraordinary.
Jonahâ€”this man of Godâ€”did not
pass the test. Jonah begins this book as a nerd. He rises to greatness and goes
back full circle to being a nerd again. That's my story, too. I have
moments of greatness. (It's kind of hard to believe, but I do.) Then I come
full circle back to being a nerd again, and I flunk the test of believing in
grace. So the sad thing is, Jonah has become like Nineveh. The scary thing
about having enemies is that when you fight them and don't wish them well, you
become like the very person you fight. Jonah has become like an unlovely alien
See your enemy through God's
eyes. God says to Jonah, "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city
in which there are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their
right hand and their left?" (Jonah 4:11). That almost sounds contemporary,
doesn't it? They don't know their nose from their elbow. God is saying: Listen,
if these people knew more or were more or were more healed or had more
or something, they wouldn't have done these dumb things. So can't
you, along with me, pity your enemy?
If your parents had been more,
they could have blessed you more. If your friend, your spouse, your boss, had
been more, they could have blessed you more. But they were crippled. They were
hurting. God is saying, "Listen, they don't know their right hand from
their left. Out of their own pain, their ignorance, whatever, they're evil.
They have hurt you, but now can't you, with me, pity them? Can't you pity
When we believe God's grace for ourselves and for our enemy, we really live
The real question is, do you want
to live? There's a very moving story about Sid Caesar, who was the highest paid
entertainer in America when he was in his twenties. Then barbiturates and
alcohol got him, and he was off the boards and television screen for a long
time. His faithful wife stuck with him, but he says in his own story (a book
that was a best seller) that the question came to him alone: Sid, do you
want to live or do you want to die? And he said, Iwant to live! And
that meant changing his ways.
Spiritually, God is saying,
"Do you want to live or do you want to die? Do you want to live? Then
begin to believe grace for yourself and grace for your enemy."
Clarence Darrow, one of the
great criminal lawyers, wrote to his fellow lawyers in an article
entitled "Attorney for the Defense," and said, "If you want your
client to be judged guilty, then fill the jury with Norwegians or northern
Europeans. If you want them to be acquitted, fill it with southern Europeans.
Beware of Lutherans, especially Scandinavian Lutherans; they are almost sure to
convict. If you have a Scandinavian Lutheran jury, plead your client
Well, that's me. My parents were
Lutherans and Scandinavians. That's me! He has observed that for some reason
people who come from my ancestors' part of the world believe more in law than
grace. So I've got to work extra hard. Now you people whose roots are in
southern part of Europe have more going for you.
But the point is, understand this
is not an easy thing. God is saying, "Do you want to live or do you want
to die? Then believe in grace. Believe in grace. You don't have to like your
We love our enemy by helping them
There's a wonderful story about
Mr. Johnson, the founder of Ebony Magazine. Every year a big advertising
firm in Chicago would invite Mr. Johnson to their offices for tea, always for
Brotherhood Week. One day they're there for tea in a big ad exec's office. As
they're leaving, the ad exec puts his arm around Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson
unwound his arm and stepped back two steps and said, "You know, you don't
have to love us. Just give us your business."
God is saying. You don't even
have to like people, but give them your business. Give them your prayer. Give
them your witness. Help your enemy prosper for your own sake."
If I die and never preach another
sermon anywhere, hear this: Don't turn down the grace of God, which we see
fulfilled in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and his Holy
Spirit. Don't turn down the grace of God or deny it to another. That sums up
everything about the Word of God.
The gospel ought to be Jonah 5. Jonah ends with 4,
obviously, but 5 could be God saying, "Jonah, now you are Nineveh, and I
want to forgive you. Go back and forgive your enemies."
You see, God still loves Jonah
the jerk. God is still talking to him. As he forgave Nineveh, he forgave Jonah
and said: Jonah, don't you understand? Try to get it. Love your enemies.
Can you be a Jonah and say,
"I flunked the test again." God says: Yes, you did. You will pay
twice for that. I won't do it to you, but try again, Jonah, a second chance.
Let me close with a story from
Native American lore. An Indian brave found an eagle's egg. Since he couldn't
find the nest to put it back, he did the thing: He put the eagle's
egg in a nest with prairie chicken eggs. So the eagle was hatched and began to
live with the prairie chickens. All it saw were chickens, so it clucked and
scratched and pecked around and was a chicken for years. And then one day it
saw a glorious sight in the sky, a great bald eagle soaring up there. He said,
"What is that?"
The chicken said, "That is
the eagle, the king of birds. But forget it. That's not for you; you are a
chicken." And he lived the rest of his life clucking, pecking, and
scratching, and not flying.
Listen, friends: by the grace of God, you and I are called
to be eagles to soar. That means loving your enemy. That's the law and the
Bruce Larson is
of Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. His books include My Creator, My Friend (Nelson,