Be bold! Lessons from John the Baptist
In the last post we sought to encourage you with the testimonies of the life and death of the English martyrs Ridley and Latimer. This time we will look into the even more powerful story of the death of John the Baptist as recorded in Mark chapter 6.
Around the world 2023 is likely to be a year when Christians will continue to die for their faith. We also live in a time where many people are still prepared to make up their minds about Jesus without examining the most basic facts about him. We should not be scared offering them the chance to find out more through 1-2-1 conversations, or with courses like Christianity Explored.
But do not be surprised by their reactions. Mark 6:15-29 reminds us that Herod had no sensitivity to the Jewish people. He went against the Old Testament law (Lev18:16) by marrying his brother's wife, while his brother was still alive. He arrested John (v17) because he had denounced him for his marriage. But Herod found John intriguing ("He liked to listen to him" v. 20). He recognized John was godly and upright and did not wish him dead. Perhaps he had never encountered someone so honest, outspoken, and fearless. But we know Herodias "nursed hatred and wanted to kill him" (v19). Herod could not control his own impulses of lust; so Herodias used Herod’s desires to bring about the death of John.
Mark 6 offers at least two challenges to us as believers today:
The first is the challenge for Christian distinctiveness where an Islamic worldview is influential. Many Christians face violent opposition to their faith. According to some interpretations of Islamic law (Shari'ah) adult Muslim men who choose to convert to another faith and refuse to return to Islam may be put to death. Some schools of Shari'ah teach that this should be applied to women as well. Other punishments include the annulment of marriage, the removal of children and the loss of all property and inheritance rights. Even in places where Islamic law is not the law of the land, Muslim converts often face widespread hostility and aggression from their own families and communities occasionally even death threats. We must pray and support our persecuted brothers and sisters.
The second is the challenge for Christian distinctiveness in our sexualise society. Herod chose his own passions over God and this issue is the same 2000 years later. In the last 40 years some parts of the church have been slowly abandoning the Bible’s teaching on sex outside of marriage. The church is feeling the pressure to bow before the god of political correctness and trends in culture. How should we respond? We need to love God and our neighbour and to remind ourselves and others that the gospel is good news to all offering new life and hope if we turn back to God. In turn with the help of the Holy Spirit people will be able to live in line with God’s revealed will to us as expressed in scripture.
What might this mean? Pray and encourage the English Bishops who meet this month to stick to gospel and the Bible’s teaching. John the Baptist reminds us of God’s way. This is the way rejected by many and results in Christians being misunderstood, disliked and abused. The reason why many people in our culture today are spiritually blind and feel that their lifestyle choices are being threatened and rejected is a failure to understand the heart of the gospel. Remember how in John’s ministry he had courage to speak and not to compromise.
John the Baptist is a model to the followers of Jesus today. His life and ministry are calling us to share the good news! Do you see this? As Christians, we need to be willing to cross the pain line and risk rejection and speak up for Jesus. The passage of course reminds us that when we in step over the pain line with Jesus you become like Jesus. This is what John did challenging Herod over his lifestyle, but Herod would not change. What a tragic tale Herod’s engagement with John was, not because John was beheaded, but because Herod lost his soul! Reject the gospel and it leaves you at risk of Herod’s fate. Popular culture or nervousness to adhere to politically correct thinking leaves us at risk of missing our own opportunity to repent and find God’s mercy as well as not offering that opportunity to others. Let us thank God for Ridley, Latimer and John the Baptist.