Bad News and Good News.
Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9
“As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.” – Matthew 14:13 NLT
Over the centuries, the spread of the Good News has not been without its share of difficulties, setbacks and even tragic losses. From the very beginning there have been costs involved in following Christ and spreading His message of salvation through faith in Him alone. Once Christ rose again and returned to heaven, even the disciples suffered greatly as they took over the responsibility of disseminating the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. In fact, Jesus had just warned them of this reality right before He had sent them out on their first official missionary journey. “But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues” (Matthew 10:17 NLT). He had told them that they would be arrested and tried for being His followers. There would be those who would want to kill them. And many of the disciples would end up dying as martyrs at the hands of those who stood opposed to Jesus. The Gospel is costly. Living for Christ in the midst of a world that despised and hates us is dangerous. And it has been that way from the beginning.
John the Baptist was the first martyr for the cause when he was beheaded by Herod. John had had the audacity to stand up to this powerful leader and call him to account regarding his immoral relationship with Herodias. She was actually his brother’s wife and Herod had stolen her from him. John had warned him against marrying her because it was in violation of God’s law. John’s message was not received well, and it ended up costing him his life. This faithful servant of God was brutally murdered by a corrupt political figure whose life provided a vivid and stark contrast to that of John. It seems so unfair. It doesn’t make sense. Why should someone so gifted and obviously called by God, be snuffed out in the prime of his life. Yet Herod would continue to live a life of luxury and moral license. But this pattern has been painfully repeated over the centuries with the deaths of men like Steven recorded in the early chapters of the book of Acts. And there have been countless others who have suffered and died as a result of their faithfulness to the call of Christ – men like David Brainerd, William Tyndale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jim Elliot. Even the apostle Paul would eventually die a martyrs death, having spent most of his ministry life imprisoned and persecuted for his faith. And it was a reality he willingly, if not eagerly, embraced. “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (1 Timothy 4:6-7 NLT).
When Jesus received word that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod, He had to get away by Himself, so He went by boat to a remote area. We’re not told what He did there, but I have to believe that Jesus spent time in mourning over the death of His cousin and ministry partner, but also in prayer, asking His Father for wisdom, strength, and perseverance to finish the race strong, just as Paul had desired. It is interesting to note that Jesus would have been without the disciples at this point, having just sent them all out on mission. So He would have been entirely alone when the news of John’s death arrived. Jesus would not have taken the news lightly. I am sure His heart was saddened, but He also would have been fully at peace with His Father’s plan and the timing of it all. I am sure when the disciples returned and heard the news, they were probably just as upset, but also confused by the events surrounding John’s death. They would have had questions and concerns, and raised issues regarding the fairness of it all – just as we would do today. They would have had no idea that a similar fate was awaiting many of them in the not-too-distant future. This was just the opening salvo of a deadly and dangerous spiritual war that is still going on today. Around the world, there are those who are still dying for their faith in Christ. The enemy is still attempting to stop the cause of Christ by attacking the followers of Christ. As Jesus Himself told us, his objective is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT). He is vicious and relentless. He is obsessed with the thwarting of God’s purposes and the destruction of God’s people. But we have a Savior, and He has a plan. His redemptive work is not yet complete. His victory is assured, but the battle still wages on. We must remain steadfast and faithful. We must trust in His purposes and rest in His plan for us. It will not always make sense. It will not always appear fair. But God is faithful. He knows what He is doing. We can trust Him. And we can rest in this timeless truth given to us by John: “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT).
Father, keep our eyes focused on You. Don’t let us lose hope in the midst of the seeming victories of the enemy. When we see a brother suffer or fall, keep us trusting in Your perfect plan. You never take Your eyes off of us. Your never stop loving us. You are faithful, true, and completely trustworthy. There will be bad news as we continue to spread the Good News. There will be martyr. There will be sufferers. But the battle is won. The victory is assured. The end is already determined. Help me to rest in that reality. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men