It is Better that I Die – Jonah 4:1-11

This message may sound very morbid, but it doesn’t have to end that way. I am taking my title from Jonah’s words to God – “It is better for me to die than to live.” We shall see similar sentiments from Paul, Job, Moses, and others, and there was Elijah’s death-wish at Mount Sinai. Each of these, along with a few others, had different backgrounds and different intentions in their utterance. And in them I am hoping that the Lord will grant some direction to all of us – along with perhaps some comfort where necessary.

Let me point out from the outset that this is not a message about suicide. None of the examples I plan to use, actually took their own lives. Rather, each of them were either asking God to take them, they were wishing to die, or they were placing themselves in a position for a semi-natural death. They were praying and hoping that it was God’s will that they die – right now!

When in verse 8 Jonah said – “It is better for me to DIE than to live…” And when he said in verse 3 – “O Jehovah, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to DIE than to live…” The Lord replied, “Doest thou well to be ANGRY?” “Doest thou well to be ANGRY for the gourd?” God’s questions were rhetorical. Of course, Jonah had no grounds to be angry in either case. And God could have asked, “Doest thou well – wishing for DEATH?” Of course, there were no grounds for either anger or death in Jonah – in fact it was just the reverse. God had shown Himself gracious toward the sinners of Ninevah, and then He raised and killed a simple weed. To wish to die over these things is ludicrous. Usually, whatever the suicide sees as worthy of death, is not considered worthy by others – God included.

My premise today is this – it is NOT better die – especially in the light of certain Biblical promises and principles. We can make that a general rule – it is “almost always BETTER to LIVE than to DIE.” It is always best to yield ourselves to the Lord’s control especially in regard to the really important things – like life and death.

And certainly, it is not better to die, if you are OUTSIDE of CHRIST – you are UNPREPARED for DEATH.

A few minutes ago we read the account of the Apostle John’s face-to-face meeting with the glorified Christ. The whole situation was so absolutely awesome that the blood drained from John’s brain and heart into his feet; he nearly died. The voice of Christ was as loud and great as a trumpet blast. Of course, John knew Jesus during His earthly ministry, but now he saw Him differently – “clothed with a golden girdle.” “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.” Then John wrote, “And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”

Part of the revelation that day involved the fact that Christ is the keeper of death and hell. While it is true, in one sense, that death is the natural end of a sinful life… It is also true that the Jesus Christ is the God of death and eternal judgment – hell and the lake of fire. And no one dies without the permission of the Son of God; no one dies at a time Christ doesn’t appoint. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” We see here that Christ has several keys, one of which opens the door to the world beyond death and another which opens an inner door which leads to hell. Without getting into the theology of God’s will versus human will, no one dies without Christ using His keys. And therefore, to die without the grace, friendship and salvation of Christ is a VERY bad death. There is no purgatory, with its ability to expunge, or erase, the effects of one’s life and sin. There is no universal salvation, granting anyone and everyone the joy and blessings of God for eternity. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” It is as simple as that. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” We will come back to this, but I’ll just say at this point, it doesn’t matter how terrible life is, death without Christ is infinitely worse. It doesn’t matter how horrible, how dark, how painful, how empty, how tempted or how contemptible life is, these things make up only the hem of the eternal garment. Death after life without Christ means the second death – eternal death – which is infinitely more of all of these. Death is not better than life, if you don’t know the Saviour who governs death and Who is eternal life.

Then Jonah reminds us that death is not better than life, if our motivation is SELFISH.

Jonah, despite being God’s prophet, was a typical Jew – possessing the Jew’s bent toward racism. He hated the Assyrian people, even though God commissioned him to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. First, he fled from God’s orders, and when he was induced to obey, he hoped that the Assyrians would reject his message of salvation. But the sovereign Saviour gave those sinners repentance, which they proved by their spiritual humility, and “God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them, and he did it not.” I know that the complexities of God’s will are difficult to grasp, but these are the facts.

What kind of hate which would induce someone to wish for death just because that person’s enemy has been blessed by God? Is that man you hate going to be punished or hurt if you die? Will you somehow get even with him – will you get revenge – by dying? In this kind of light, your dead-wish is more sinful than what he has done to you. The man who sold meth to your son has been arrested and while in prison God saved him. Are you happy for him? Maybe not. Are you angry that God has been gracious toward that man? Perhaps forgiveness is something difficult for you at this point. But to wish for your own death because God has blessed that man – should be inconceivable. But the fact is, selfishness can reach to inexplicable depths and darkness. “Doest thou well to be angry” Jonah? “Doest thou well to wish for death?”

Paul prayed for the removal of some sort of pain in his life – a thorn in the flesh. Was that a selfish request? To some degree it was. But he didn’t pray for death. And he stopped praying against his thorn, when the Lord corrected him. It could be that God is cultivating an antigen in us through our pain, which may be the medicine someone else needs to survive and live. Under the Spirit’s instruction, Paul concluded, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Death at that point in Paul’s life would have left millions of people undernourished, sickly, and destitute.

Moses and Job faced similar situations. Job replied to Eliphaz in chapter 6 – “Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off!” And then in the next chapter he prayed – “When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint; Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity.” When things started going haywire for Moses he said to God, with his bottom lip stuck out and with a pout… “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” I will come back to this, but both these men had much, much more to do for God. Our lives have been made much richer because the Lord didn’t end their lives when they wished for it. A desire for death very usually is a selfish, sinful desire – and thankfully, God is not obligated to grant our request.

Death is not better than life, if we are UNDER GOD’S CONVICTION at the time.

Revelation 6 describes what will take place during the Tribulation when the scroll with the seven is opened. There will be unprecedented death and the unimaginable terrors of war. Not only will farms and farmers be decimated, but natural disasters will further cause near universal famine and starvation. Then upon the opening of the 6th seal the sun will go berserk. Something will ignite the worst earthquake in earth’s history; mountains, islands and continents will be moved out of their usual configurations. Revelation 6:15 – “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”

That day, which may not be more than 8 or 10 years from now, will bring the most brave, most powerful, most high and mighty men, begging to be hidden from the wrath of God. I agree with John Gill who says that they were begging for death rather than to face the wrath of God. Of course, these people will essentially be atheists, denying the Godhood of God. They will be thinking to themselves that they can escape Jehovah’s judgment by dying. But they will be quite literally throwing themselves from the frying pan into the fire.

This image is reiterated in Hosea 10, and even Jesus refers to it in Luke 23. Those “the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man” will all be experiencing the strength of the little finger of God. They will feel like being crushed by feathers falling from the wings of the Lord. They will know that this is God’s judgment, because they cry out – “hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come.” They may not want to speak Jehovah’s name, but they will know they are experiencing “acts of God.” If they would humble themselves; if they bow their knee; if they would acknowledge the Lord, who knows if they would be spared and saved. But of course, they won’t repent or surrender. Under those conditions death is not a way of escape – it is diving into the volcano of God’s eternal wrath.

By the way, the same is much the same for the Christian – for Jonah, for Elijah and for you and me. For the child of God who is under God’s rebuke, death is not an escape chute out of that chastisement. John 15 begins with the beloved words of Christ, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” Jesus says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” As I preached a couple weeks ago, the Lord says, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” But the second verse in the chapter says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

Christ is the vine and every Christian is one of His branches, grafted into the vine in order to produce fruit. But if our fruit is not of the right quality, or if there isn’t a sufficient amount, the Lord will do what is necessary to increase production. He will purge that branch – literally “cleanse it.” And that cleansing may require some scrubbing. Or to take the metaphor a step farther, Christ’s purging may require some pruning. The best apple-producing tree, cannot be left on its own; it needs trimming, pruning and fertilizing. And from what little pruning I have done, some trees “bleed” when they have branches removed. My tree-loving sister would insist those trees are in pain, and the sap running down their trunks are tears.

Christian, the Lord may be looking at you and saying, “He can do better; he needs some pruning.” That pruning may be painful; so painful you may think that you can’t bear it. You forget that you “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth” you. You may have become so Jonah-ish or Elijah-ish that you say, “it is better for me to die than to live.” I assure you that it is not. The Divine Arborist is taking these steps to make your life more blessed than it has been in the past. Embrace the tests, the pain – the Lord’s preparation – and grow to be better than you have been. “It is better for me to live in service to the Saviour than to die…”

In other words, death is not better than life, if our MINISTRY is yet INCOMPLETE.

Jeremiah is not called “the weeping prophet” without reason. He endured as much or more persecution as any other servant of God. He was forced to endure the general judgment of God which fell on the nation of Israel – sieges and famines. The hypocritical governor of the house of God, “smote Jeremiah, the prophet, and put him in the stocks.” Although he was released he was rearrested several times. Lies were spoken against him. His written prophesies were publicly destroyed. At one point the leaders of Israel were so upset with Jeremiah that he was cast into a dungeon so terrible that he sank into stinky mud. He had no water, no light, no food, no companionship, no internet and no cell phone reception. Within hours he was nearly dead, until Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian, rescued him.

In Jeremiah 20 after pouring out his heart to God about the things he had been suffering and the reaction of the nation to the word of the Lord, Jeremiah essentially said, “it is better for me to die than to live.” To be exact he said, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which the LORD overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” As I say those were Jeremiah’s words in chapter 20, but his book is one of the longer in the Bible – 52 chapters. In other words, if he had died at the time he wished, his life would have been cut exceedingly short. As when Elijah asked for death, some of his greatest work would never have taken place. “Jeremiah you still have a lot of work to do. You are going to bring great glory to your Saviour. Death is not the right choice at this time.”

Paul had a better grasp on God’s purpose and will for his life, than either of those Old Testament prophets. In Philippians 1 after referring to some of the persecution and opposition he had been enduring, Paul said in verse 21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.” God’s apostle, while not carrying a death-wise, recognized that what the Lord had in store for him on the other side of death was far better than what he was currently experiencing. But there was joy, and there was fulfilment in continuing to serve God in this world, despite all of life’s pains and problems.

And these things bring up a corollary.

Death is not better than life, if we are NOT OMNISCIENT.

Elijah preferred death at the hand of the Almighty rather than the potential torture Jezebel might have inflicted. Elijah became obsessed with what that wicked woman might do to him, after hearing her threats. But the truth was – she never even came close to him, and she was the one to die the horrible death. She was thrown out an upper window and left crushed and bleeding in the street below – before a pack of semi-wild dogs came to eat much of her body. But Elijah went on to mentor one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. And his actual departure from this life was one of the most spectacular in human history. Yes, at one point he wished for death, but God refused to let him die. “And it came to pass, as (Elijah and Elisha) went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”

Until you become God, and until you can accurately see into the future, it is unwise to wish for death. Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah – are you going to say that your Saviour doesn’t care for you? Are you so full of yourself that you are willing to say that God loves you less than you love you? Are you absolutely sure that the omnipotent God cannot correct the problems in your life and use you for His glory? Get off your high horse and onto your knees before the sovereign God. You are not God, and you cannot see what the Lord has in store for you.

Death is better than life ONLY if GOD is GLORIFIED and OTHERS are BLESSED in our death.

And I make that statement with fear and trembling, because some people have over-active imaginations. Some people may think that God WILL BE glorified if they die right now. But if that is true, then why doesn’t the Lord send a stray lightning bolt and take them? I am confident that every Christian has more potential for good in their lives than in their deaths.

In Romans 9 Paul says, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” He doesn’t say in so many words, “I’d give my life if I knew with assurance that my kinsmen according to the flesh could be saved,” but that is in essence what he means. However, the Lord didn’t let Paul die at that point, because his life was more important than his death. If he had died most of Israel’s leadership would have rejoiced. But in his on-going life and his words – his letters and preaching – brought many of his kinsmen to Christ.

Moses said much the same thing in Exodus 32 after he came down from Mount Sinai. “And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Moses’ heart was broken by Israel and her idolatry, so much so that he was willing to exchange his life for theirs – exchange his death for their. But “the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.” Moses had more to give in living than he did in dying. And that is generally always true. But there is one major exception.

The DEATH of the LORD JESUS CHRIST was MORE IMPORTANT than His LIFE.

There are sincere people who try to pattern their lives after Jesus’ life – doing good and raising the fallen. There are others to try to live according to the precepts which Jesus taught in the “Sermon on the Mount.” There are many who equate the Lord Jesus with the great moral teachers of other days and other cultures. But as the Bible clearly teaches us, it is not through Jesus’ words we are lifted from the depths of our sin. It is through the blood which Jesus shed at the time of his death that we are saved. This can be said of no other person.

In the context of the scripture which Bro. Austin read earlier, we read – “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Peter said, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Paul said, we are “justified by his blood” – we who are sinners are made righteous by Jesus’ blood. And the Lord Jesus Himself said, “This is my blood of the new Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sin.”

When Jesus died on the cross, there was ripe-red blood dripping from his body – his hands, his feet, from the wounds on his head, from the wounds on His back. After Jesus, that blood was presented to God the Father to make an atonement for the sins of His people. In Jesus’ death sinners, like us, have life. He said, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And Paul said, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

There has been only one man – the God/man – about whom we can say, “His death was more important than His life.” His death was more of a blessing for others than was His life. His death was essential that we might live for eternity. The death of Christ was the most important event in human history.

But I fear that there are people listening to my voice this morning, for whom that death means next to nothing. There are millions in the human race who are more interested in their feeble, earthly lives than in Jesus’ death, thinking that the death of that ancient Jew is nothing to them. No sir, “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment.” That judgment will be eternal, and that judgment will come under the authority of the one who said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”

If Jesus’ death and blood has been applied to your soul by God’s grace through your faith, then Christ will not have died in vain – as far as you are concerned. You need the death of Christ more than you need your next breath of oxygen. You need the death of the Saviour more than you need your heart to keep pumping. Because one day your heart will stop pumping, and Christ will use His key of death, to take your soul into a new and eternal room. Will He then open the door to Hell to push you through?

I beg of you, don’t let another day pass, without humbly submitting to the one who holds the keys of death and hell. Repent before God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that hath the Son hath life and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”