This is the sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: Jonah 4:5-11. The sermon theme is: How Do People Get To Heaven?
How Do People Get To Heaven?
Everybody believes in heaven. Whether you look at surveys that people have taken or just ask people on the street, it’s very hard to find a person who flat out doesn’t believe in some sort of heaven. People either naturally think that there’s a better place that people go to when they die, or they would like to go to that place, but don’t know how. This morning, that it the topic that the Prophet Jonah brings to our eyes. This morning we don’t ask the question, “is there a heaven?” No, instead we ask the question, “How Do People Get To Heaven?”
You see, Jonah was a prophet. And he was sent by the Lord to go way up north to the land of Assyria, to the capitol city of Nineveh. And instead, he got on a boat heading to the opposite end of the earth. The Lord loved Jonah enough to show him his sin. And he did so in a very abrupt way. He had a big fish-like creature swallow Jonah up. And there in the darkness of that fish’s belly for three days and three nights Jonah had time to think about heaven and hell by coming face to face with death. Jonah repented of his rebellious sin and then went up to Nineveh. And in three days he went through the massive city. And this was his sermon theme: “”Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”” (Jonah 3:4 NIV) And what happens next is what we hear about in the first verse of our section this morning: “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” (Jonah 4:5 NIV)
Jonah goes off to a hillside in the middle of the Summer heat and waits. He waits to see if the Lord is going to overturn Nineveh with fire from heaven like he did to Sodom and Gomorrah. And two things happens while he is waiting. First, the people repent of their sins. From the greatest to the least, they repent. And second, The Lord provides for Jonah. In verse 6 we read: “Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine” (Jonah 4:6 NIV)
The Lord provides for Jonah by providing a plant to grow and give him shade. This was a miraculous plant. It grew up large and tall in one day. And Jonah thought this plant was amazing. Jonah did nothing for this plant. He did not plant the seed. He did not water it. He did not make it grow. It was all God’s work. And so, not only did God provide a plant, he also provided a worm: “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.” (Jonah 4:7 NIV)
Out of love for Jonah the Lord provided a worm to kill the plant. He did this to show Jonah his sin. Jonah is content to have people die. But if God has this plant die, then Jonah is angry. In verses 8 and 9 we read: “8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”” (Jonah 4:8-9 NIV)
In these words we need to see and beware of Jonah’s sins. Jonah was angry at God because it seemed to him that God was being hard on him. God should be nice to him. He should not only have a plant grow up over him and provide shade for him, but he should also keep that plant alive.
We need to beware of this sin, because it is a sin that we too can fall into. Out of love God comes to us and shows us our sin. Sometimes this happens by someone coming to us and telling us the times and ways we sin. Sometimes it happens like it does here with Jonah. The Lord shows Jonah his sin far more than telling him. When we hold grudges and are filled with bitterness we have no right to be angry with God that we have no friends. When we gossip about people behind their backs, when that gossip gets back to them, we have no right to be angry at God when that person is no longer our friend. And we could list many, many more examples couldn’t we? There are those times that the Lord has us live through the consequences of our sin out of love for us, so that we would repent. And instead of repenting, we are angry with God.
Jonah didn’t deserve that plant that provided shade. The Lord gave it to him by grace. And even more so, Jonah did not deserve to be in heaven. For he was a sinner. But the Lord gave him heaven by grace-God’s undeserved love. That was the only motivation God had for providing this plant and giving heaven to Jonah. And the same is true for us. We are saved by grace-and by grace alone.
People get into heaven by grace. But as these words continue we see that there is another answer to that question. For Jonah didn’t just commit one sin. No, he committed two sins. Jonah was angry at God for being too hard on him. But Jonah was also angry at God for being too easy on the Ninevites. The Ninevites were not nice people. They were a blood-thirsty, evil people. They attacked peaceful people. And when they conquered them they led them away as slaves. They put hooks in the noses of their slaves as they were marching to “encourage” them to march farther and faster. Make no mistake, the Ninevites were evil. And what Jonah was so angry about is that the people were so evil, but their salvation was so easy.
This too is our temptation, not just Jonah’s. There are people who live sinful, horrible lives. But just like these Ninevites, they repent of their sins. And when they die they go to heaven. And I’ve been at those funerals and preached those sermons where those who knew that person say, “there’s no way that person is in heaven. Pastor, you don’t know that that person did to me. If it’s that easy to get into heaven, then I don’t want to be there.”
And there’s the irony. There’s nothing easy about the path to heaven. There was nothing easy about Jesus being perfectly patient when day after day he dealt with one stupid, selfish sinner after another. And was perfectly patient in the place of everyone in the world. There was nothing easy about Jesus bleeding and dying on the cross to pay for the sins of the entire world in its place. There was nothing easy of the work Jesus did in coming to one person after another with his word and performing a miracle, giving that person faith in him instead of hatred. There is nothing easy about what Jesus still does, as we continue to sin day after day, and Sunday after Sunday Jesus gives us his true body and real blood to take away our sins.
There is nothing easy about the path that Jesus paves for us to get to heaven. People get to heaven by God’s grace alone. And people get to heaven by the costly price of Jesus blood. And the blood alone is the only price that pays for sin.
And that leads us to the last verses in our section today: “10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”” (Jonah 4:10-11 NIV)
When we see how much Jesus cares for all people, it moves us to repent. It moves us to repent of all the times we were angry at God for being too hard on us and too easy on others. It moves us to rejoice that we can sing the words of our Hymn of the Day and mean it:
Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor.
Good works cannot avert our doom;
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is the one Redeemer.
And finally, these words lead us to respond. A couple of days ago I heard some people talking to each other. And the one guy said to the other, “I believe that God knows his own and that he will take all good people to heaven.” My brothers and sisters be ready to respond. Be ready to respond with the lesson that Jonah learned: No one is good. We, all of us, are filthy disgusting sinners who deserve hell. And when that person gets angry that it was so easy to get to heaven, you can say to them, “Whose blood is there on the cross? Only Jesus’ blood is there on the cross. That was the only payment that took away the world’s sin. And there was nothing about that payment that was easy. For people get to heaven by grace alone. And they get to heaven because of Jesus’ costly blood alone. Amen.