This lesson is based on Jonah’s response to God’s mercy to the Ninevites from Jonah 4. Jonah had experienced God’s mercy and was given a second chance in his life. Jonah was unmerciful in his response to God’s compassion and mercy to the repentant Ninevites. The lesson uses Matthew 18:21-35 to bring in a New Testament Scripture as a parallel passage to teach the truth that God has shown sinners great mercy and believers should respond to those who have offended them with the same kind of mercy.
The lesson can be used for Children’s Church and can be simplified for younger students. You can also browse all our free Jonah lessons and resources.
Bible Story: Jonah Gets Angry at God’s Mercy
Scripture: Jonah 4; Matthew 18:21-35
Target Age Group: Age 9 – 11 (U.S. 3rd – 5th Grade)
Learning Context: Sunday School
Target Time Frame: 60 minutes
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Supply List: Bibles, cards with difficult situations, natural responses, and Scripture references to respond to the difficulty, Paper for students to draw scenes from a difficult scenario, book marks or slips of paper
Learning Goal: Students will learn that as believers we can never forget God’s great mercy to us so our hearts can be compassionate and merciful to others. Unbelievers will learn that God is merciful and compassionate and desires all to be saved.
Learning Indicator: Students will demonstrate their understanding to the concept taught in the lesson by answering review questions. If Conflict resolution activity is used, students will be able to utilize God’s word when faced with difficult situations.
Learning Activity #1: Conflict resolution: Create possible difficult situations that your students may likely experience in their life. After each scenario ask the question: “What is our natural response to this difficulty? As a believer and having the Holy Spirit living inside our hearts how should we respond to this difficulty?” (Obey what Scripture teaches us) To make a variation of this for the students to work on as they wait for the other students to arrive. Create cards with the difficult situation. Create cards with the natural responses (examples: angry, sad, don’t want to be friends anymore, quit, etc.). Create cards with Scriptures that would help them know how to respond to that situation. The students would look over the different cards with Scriptures and choose the one that would most likely help in the difficulty (examples: forgive as you have been forgiven, in your anger do not sin, do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good, etc.)
Learning Activity #2: Give students a paper that is divided into 4-6 parts. Have students think of a difficult scenario with another person and draw pictures depicting the scenes and have the final scenes showing the conflict resolved in a way that honors God and is in obedience to His Word.
Learning Activity #3: Have students perform skits of different scenarios where forgiveness needs to be shown.
Test: Review Questions
Memory Verse: Luke 6:36 “Be merciful, just as Your Father is merciful.”
Teaching Memory Verse: Putting the verse to a familiar tune is a helpful tool for some students to remember the verse. A suggestion would be to sing this Scripture to “God is so good”.
Bible Lesson: Jonah is mad because God is merciful
Nineveh was a wicked city. God saw every evil thing that the Ninevites had done. He saw the times they were cruel to His own children the Israelites. God is holy. Because He is holy God can not allow sin. God is also loving, patient and kind. Sin must be punished. God is merciful and desires for sinners to turn from their sin and turn to Him. He gives them opportunities to repent.
God sent Jonah to Nineveh with a message that He was going to punish them because of their wickedness. When the Ninevites heard God’s message they believed God and turned from their wickedness. God showed them mercy and did not destroy them as He said He would.
How do you think the Ninevites felt to experience God’s kindness? If you were a Ninevite how would your feel? Most people are filled with joy and thankfulness when they have been rescued from death. We don’t know if the Ninevites tried to worship and follow the One True God or not. We can assume they were thankful to Him for letting them live.
God has called His followers to look and act like Him. Let’s look at our Memory verse for today. Luke 6:36: Be merciful, just as Your Father is merciful. Mercy is undeserved kindness. As sinners each of us deserve to be punished for our sins and separated from God forever. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) God has shown His mercy to every man, woman, boy and girl by providing a Savior who left heaven and came to earth as a man. He was sinless and willingly died on the cross taking on the punishment for the sins of all people. He was put to death in a very cruel, painful way by being nailed to a cross. This Savior, Jesus died on the cross so our sins could be forgiven. God has shown us mercy and as followers of Jesus we must show mercy to others even if we don’t like them.
(Pass out Bibles to any student who needs one. Hand out slips of papers/bookmarks for them to place in Jonah 4.)
Let’s open our Bibles to Jonah 4. What can you remember from our study from the Book of Jonah? (Allow students to respond). If anyone had received undeserved kindness it was Jonah. Jonah deliberately disobeyed God and went in the opposite direction he was supposed to go. God could have allowed Jonah to go to Tarshish and live the rest of his life there. That would not have been a good thing for Jonah because no one who is a child of God can live in rebellion against God and have peace and joy in his heart. Jonah would have been miserable all the days he lived his life away from God. God could have allowed Jonah to drown when the sailors threw him overboard. But God showed Jonah mercy. Jonah did nothing to deserve God’s kindness. Jonah was loved by God and God was patient and kind with him. When Jonah repented God continued to show mercy by allowing him to have a second chance to the serve as His prophet.
Let’s read Jonah 4:1-4. Jonah had been forgiven and given a second chance in life and he is furious that God would forgive the Ninevites and turn away from punishing them. If you were here when we studied chapter one of Jonah, why did Jonah dislike the Ninevites? They were enemies of God’s people the Israelites. When the Ninevites attacked their enemies they were cruel and violent with them.
From a human perspective it would be hard to forgive the Ninevites for the wicked, violent things they had done to their enemies. As believers we are not asked to look at others from a human point of view. We are to follow our Heavenly Father’s example. We have to know Him well enough to see others as He does.
(Provide a slip of paper for each student so they can keep their place in Jonah 4 while they turn to the next passage you are going to discuss.)
Jonah sounds like a person in one of Jesus’ parables. A parable is a story that Jesus told His audience to help them understand the ways of God’s Kingdom. Let’s turn in our Bibles to Matthew 18:21.
Peter asked Jesus how many times he was to forgive someone who sins against him. He thought 7 times would be plenty of times. Jesus told him that he was to forgive a person who sins against him 70 times 7. How many times does that equal? (490) Jesus didn’t want Peter keeping track of how many times he was to forgive a person so He tells the disciples the following parable:
Once there was a King who was looking at his books that recorded bills that his servants had not paid him back. As he looked at his book he saw that one of his servants owed him millions of dollars. The King decided it was time for this servant to pay back all that money. He sent his servants to bring this man before him. “You must pay back all that you owe me today.” The man looked at the king and knew he had no way of ever paying that bill in one day. The King commanded that his servants take this man, his wife and his children and sell them as slaves to receive money to pay off the bill that this man owed.
The news of his whole family being sold into slavery broke this man’s heart. He fell to his knees before the King and begged him to be patient with him and he promised he would pay back all that he owed. As the King watched this man beg for mercy, he showed compassion for him. He decided to erase the bill from his record book that the man owed. This man was free from having to pay back anything. He no longer owed a large amount of money to the king. He owed nothing to the King because he had shown him mercy and took away the large bill he owed.
The man left the King’s palace. He had been shown mercy that he did not deserve. As he walked down the street he saw a man who borrowed a couple hundred dollars. He grabbed the man and put his hands around his neck and began to choke him. “Pay me back every dollar you owe me!”
The man is startled and falls to his knees and says, “Please be patient with me and I will pay you back every dollar I owe you.”
The man who had just been shown mercy by the King refused to show mercy to this man and had him thrown in jail until he paid back every cent. This man who owed the king millions of dollars and had his bill erased by the king, showed no mercy to the man who owed him a few hundred dollars.
When the King heard about this man who showed no mercy, he had him put in jail and allowed him to be tortured until he paid back all that he owed.
Let’s read how Jesus ends this parable by reading Matthew 18:35. Like the King in Jesus’ parable God forgives sins and wipes a person’s record clear when they put their faith in His Son Jesus. The price for our sins is not something any of us could ever pay back to God. He mercifully forgives us for our sins when we believe in Jesus. Being forgiven a great debt should cause believers to be merciful and forgiving to others who offend them.
Now let’s flip back to Jonah 4. How are Jonah and the unmerciful servant alike? (Allow students to respond) Jonah had been shown mercy but was furious that God would show mercy to the Ninevites.
Let’s read Jonah 4:5. Jonah did not fully understand God’s mercy and kindness to him. He was selfish and did not want the same for his enemies. He went out and made a shelter. He hoped that he would get to have a front row seat to watch the Ninevites destroyed by God. As he sat in his shelter the heat from the sun made him very uncomfortable but he was not going to miss out on this event of watching his enemies be destroyed from the earth.
Read Jonah 4:6-9. God loves Jonah. He sees this selfish man with unforgiveness and no mercy in his heart towards the Ninevites. He shows love and compassion for Jonah as he creates a vine that grows large leaves to shade Jonah from the hot sun. Does Jonah deserve God’s loving kindness? God sent a worm to eat through the vine causing this plant that made Jonah very happy to die. After the vine dies God sent a scorching east wind to cause the sun to be so hot on Jonah’s head that he feels like he is going to pass out. He began to whine and say “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
God asks Jonah if he has any right to be angry about a vine and he believes he has every right to be angry over the loss of a plant that does not have a soul and will not spend eternity separated from God.
Jonah is blinded by his unforgiving heart. His behavior seems silly as we read about it but we are all capable of behaving this way if we choose to be unforgiving to others and not be merciful as God has been towards us.
Let’s read Jonah 4:10-11. God explains to Jonah that he was concerned over a plant that he had nothing to do with its existence. God created men and women as His most special creation. Sin came into the world and caused them to be separated from Him. God desires all people to be rescued from the destruction that sin brings into a person’s life. He saw the Ninevites and had compassion on them and showed them mercy when they repented.
As we close in prayer allow God to examine your heart. If you are like Jonah and the unmerciful servant ask God to forgive you. If you are a believer He has forgiven all of your sins by allowing His Son Jesus to die on the cross. You are forgiven because Jesus paid your sin debt in full. God commands us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. No matter how badly someone has hurt us we are to continue to forgive. (Note to teacher: Students may be facing bullying, physical or sexual abuse etc. It’s important to let students know that if they are in physical danger they need to talk to a trusted adult for help.) The Holy Spirit living inside your heart will enable you to have the power and the strength to obey God’s command. If you are not a believer your sins are you keeping you from a right relationship with God and you are separated from Him. Without faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, His burial and resurrection you cannot spend eternity in heaven with God. The price of our sins is death and the only way you can have that debt paid in full is by putting your faith in Jesus Christ. Today you can have your sins forgiven. You can speak to us if you need to know from the Bible how you can be saved.
Close in prayer.
- Why was Jonah angry? (Because God had forgiven the Ninevites)
- From Jesus’ parable why was the King going to sell the man and his family as slaves? (To get back money that the man could not pay)
- How much did this man owe the King? (Millions of dollars)
- What did the King do when the man begged for him to be patient? (He showed mercy and cancelled the debt)
- How did the man who had his debt forgiven treat the man who owed him hundreds of dollars? (He did not show mercy and had him thrown in prison until he paid back every cent)
- Why did the King put the unmerciful servant in prison and have him tortured? (Because he didn’t show mercy to the servant who owed him money)
- When Jonah was angry about God’s kindness to the Ninevites what did he do? (He made a shelter hoping to see the Ninevites destroyed)
- How did God show Jonah kindness when he sat in anger in the hot sun? (He created a vine that provided shade for him)
- Who was Jonah more concerned about? (Himself, the vine)
- Who is God concerned about? (People because He wants everyone to turn from their sin and be saved)
- Have you ever felt like Jonah? Has someone hurt you so many times that you want them to suffer? How has this lesson changed how you feel? If it hasn’t changed how you feel about your enemy will you pray for God to change your heart so you can be merciful as He is?