Reassurance for John the Baptist (and Me)
I hate happy endings. Whether I’m reading a book or watching a movie, it irritates me when the two main characters fall in love at the end, the bad guy is killed and all the loose ends are tied. It’s unrealistic and unbelievable.
It’s … not real life.
Life is messy and complicated and full of letdowns and frustrations — and death.
Loved ones die young, people lose their jobs and can’t pay their bills, innocent people are persecuted for what they believe, friendships and relationships crumble, and anxiety and depression overtake the lives of more than some. Big and small, locally and internationally, people are mentally, spiritually and physically exhausted from continuous jabs of devastation.
But you know what, God’s Word illustrates that. The Bible isn’t simply made up of happy stories that feel an arm’s length away. The Old Testament is full of war and death, agony and frustrations, war and death (of course, all the heaviness and hopelessness does point to Jesus— to hope).
And the New Testament also has stories of grotesque deaths. Look at John the Baptist. An innocent, godly, wonderful servant of Christ died an unethical, ridiculous death. It just doesn’t make sense. Yet doesn’t that sound eerily familiar?
Doesn’t it feel like innocent people are murdered everyday and the good guys can’t seem to overthrow the bad guys?
But maybe I’m missing the point of all this …
I need the Lord’s assurance and reassurance.
When an innocent person died or was wronged, I’ve questioned God’s goodness, even His existence. I’m constantly frustrated because I have no idea why bad things happen to good people. And I think many people who don’t even believe in God feel the same way.
But I was encouraged last Sunday when my pastor talked about the life of John the Baptist (can I call him JB?) and his horribly anti-climatic death.
JB was created to make the way for Jesus. And he did so. He lived humbly and served the Lord without letting ego get in the way. He literally said that he would become less just so that Jesus could become more. Although John was baptizing and prophesying and doing all of these unbelievable things — he didn’t let it get to his head.
Still, JB was unjustly imprisoned, which made him question things. In Matthew 11:2-3, JB had his followers ask Jesus if he was the Messiah.
He didn’t say he didn’t believe in the Lord and he didn’t blame the Lord for why he was imprisoned. JB, as a human being, needed something we all need — reassurance.
It’s as if John said, “I just need to hear it one more time. I just need to know one more time that you are who I believe you are.”
The guy who spent his entire life making the way for our Lord and Savior still questioned. That’s encouraging to me. The best of the best, as far as believers go, struggled with exactly what I struggled with … needing reassurance of the goodness of God amid real life frustrations and devastation.
And you know what, Jesus assured JB. How? By reminding him of all the ways He’d fulfilled the Scriptures and been true to His word. He said, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (vv. 4-5).
John is assured and reassured.
But then he’s murdered.
Herod, the king, had JB beheaded because, essentially, he wanted to save face. He had promised a beautiful young woman anything she wanted in the kingdom, and when she said she wanted JB’s head on a plate, he delivered. Herod, who actually thought John was wise and enjoyed listening to him, had him murdered during a dinner party. During. A. Dinner. Party.
When I read that, my stomach drops. It feels like some sick joke. But it wasn’t.
John the Baptist is just like us.
Unjust death happens all the time. Persecuted Christians worldwide who love and serve the Lord are murdered mercilessly. Young children die because of unnecessary violence. Kind, generous, loving people die from cancer or suicide or a car accident.
Where is the justice? In everyday realities, there is none. Those things are horrifically unfair and beyond words devastating. But for those of us who have faith in the resurrected Jesus, the story doesn’t end there.
Seeing a vision in Revelation 20:4, John said, “I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God.”
In the end, death doesn’t have the final word.
There isn’t freedom from death. But there’s freedom from the eternal sting of death, persecution and pain. Jesus never promises us a “good” life. But He will, time and again, reassure us of our freedom.
So I’m taking hope in that.
I want to remember JB everyday, not just his dedication to the Lord, but the fact that he knew the sound of Jesus’ laugh, the texture of His hair and the lines of His face, and still, he questioned. When I need reassurance that the Lord really is who He says He is, I will remember how the Lord brought me out of darkness years ago, and how He can and will do it again.