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The Heart of God in the Heart of the Sea

Devotion Twenty Three

May 1, 2024

Sitting in the Shade

Daniel Barta

After preaching to the city, Jonah traveled east and took a nice seat looking west, back toward Nineveh. He made himself a nice comfortable little spot and he waited. He sat there like a spectator of a sporting event waiting to see how the game would unfold.

Jonah... made a booth for himself [east of the city]. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. - Jonah 4:5 (ESV)

Would God judge the city for their sin? Would God be true to His name and not let the guilty go unpunished (see Ex 34:6-7)? Or would God show mercy? Would He spare Nineveh? Would He forgive their sins? Would the people return to their sins? Or would their initial show of repentance and belief persist?

Sitting in the shade, Jonah's desire for justice and God's richness of mercy seemed irreconcilable. It appeared that either...

A) Nineveh would get what they deserved (justice), or

B) God would, by showing mercy, fail to uphold justice.

Jonah hoped that God would be true to what He said about himself,

The LORD, the LORD a God... who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation. - Exodus 34:7b (ESV)

The Ninevites committed great acts of evil, and Jonah and his people were direct victims of some of their brutality. Though Jonah missed the heart of God by missing God's mercy, there was rightness to his desire for justice. His heart cried out for sin to be dealt with, for God to judge and vindicate the wronged.

Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted... Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. - Psalm 10:12, 15

Before we judge Jonah too harshly, we must remember that even in God's own words of revelation to Israel He asserts two truths that appear contradictory on the surface - "I will show mercy" and "I will not let sin go unpunished." Jonah and the rest of us should ask, "How can this be?"

God Establishes His Justice and Extends His Rich Mercy at the Cross

Through the whole Old Testament, the resolution of God's mercy and God's justice remained incomplete, but in the sacrificial death of Jesus both are resolved. To the one who asks, "How does God show mercy without compromising justice?" the LORD replies, "My Son has taken the punishment of sin."

In Christ, we learn that God does not leave sin unpunished when He chooses to show mercy. Rather, the sins of the world he laid upon the back of Christ. The guilty do not go unpunished. Instead, the Innocent One willingly and sacrificially took their punishment in his own body by dying their death. In Christ, God upheld righteousness and extended mercy to all who place their faith in Him.

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. - Romans 3:22b-26 (ESV)

According to the apostle Paul, God did not ignore, minimize, or sweep under the rug the sin of Nineveh. His mercy to Nineveh did not mean that he just ignored their sin as if it were no big deal. Instead, God "in his divine forbearance... passed over their sins" until Christ would come to "as a propitiation" for them. God in His mercy chose to delay the just punishment for Nineveh's sin until Jesus Himself would come as a substitute to pay for their sins. In this way, God maintains His justice even as He shows an abundance of mercy.

Propitiation "refers to the removal of God's wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath [of God]; he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself. God's wrath is just, and it was spent [on Jesus] not withdrawn." - John Piper, Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die, p. 21

Long For Justice, Extend Mercy, and Look to the Cross

As Christians, we too should long for justice. We should delight in justice and hope for justice. We should take comfort in knowing that justice will be and has been upheld.

At the same time, we should abound like God in mercy. We should experience compassion in our hearts for those captured in the snare of the devil and enslaved in the bondage of sin. We should desire with God for all men to come to a knowledge of the truth. We should feel sorrow and sadness even in the death of the wicked. We should look out on the mass of humanity and weep over their condition.

How do we long for justice and feel pity that compels us to show mercy? We, like God, look not only at the sinner but at the cross where Jesus died not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world. We know by looking at the cross that justice has been upheld and mercy is possible for all who place their faith in Jesus. We, the believers, have tasted and experienced this mercy. If then we have been shown mercy, should we also not desire mercy to go forth to others?

It is at the cross that our longing for justice and our commitment to extend mercy find legitimacy. Let us then fix our eyes on Jesus. Let us preach Christ and him crucified. For from His cross the radiant glory of both justice and mercy shines bright.

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