GROWTH AND SUCCESS IN LIFE – Lessons Learned at the Feet of Jesus
Jesus has been teaching about the character of the Kingdom of Heaven and the paths of Disciples – those who have believed in and are now following him. The Matthew narrative of the life of Jesus now holds up and praises faithful disciple John the Baptist – a man who could face off hostile crowds and religious leaders and Herod himself – and was one of the last martyrs of the Old Testament age before the cross and beginning of the Christian church.
Matthew 14:6-12 6On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. 11His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
1. The Growth of the Message of and Opposition to Jesus. Two facts introduce us to the man Herod and the soon-to-be martyred John the Baptist. First, the wisdom and miraculous powers of Jesus were undeniable to both His followers and his critics. Matthew 13:54. Secondly, and again predictive of both John the Baptist and Jesus himself, ‘only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor’. Matthew 13:57. Yet even with these undeniable facts, and as a result of the principle of the paragraph which both reveals and conceals – he limited his miracles among them because of their unbelief: confirming the prediction and warning just delivered: Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Matthew 13:12.2. The Martyrdom of John the Baptist. Herod, a truly evil Roman ruler, had not only ruled by fiat, taking law and lives to his hand, but now takes his granddaughter Herodias, from his son Aristobulus, to which John the Baptist had publically condemned this incestuous union. Herod hated John for this condemnation but did not have the courage to kill him for fear of public opinion. Not so Herodias. Having made a rash promise to her, she asked for the head of John the Baptist, after which Herod killed John the Baptist. Certainly a true application of ‘a prophet has no honor is his own hometown’. This became an early precursor of the fate of all of the disciples which in major part would suffer martyrdom as well at the end of their lives.
3. John the Baptist – Wisdom Proven Right by Her Actions. We cannot leave the life of John the Baptist without remembering the predictions and promises Jesus said about John in Matthew 11, namely: (1) among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; (2) the kingdom has been forcefujlly advanced [by him]; and the personification of ‘wisdom is proved right by her actions’. Matthew 11; 11-19. The point: death was not the end for John’s message, for the growth and vitality of the gospel through Jesus, or for the soon-coming life of the church, waving the banner of the Great Martyr, Jesus, who ‘was crucified and who rose again’, which was the banner cry of the early church.
A thanksgiving thought during this holiday season. A fair question is raised by this Scripture: What are your expectations in your Christian walk? Is it all good and abundant blessings and affirmation? Does it mean a guarantee of the good things only in life? James, the half brother, reminds us that our expectations should be that we will grow up into Him who is our Head, but that this path and process will be structured by God ordained tests and hardships – all designed for our good and for our growth, and leading us to the eternal affirmation of a life well lived ‘as a good and faithful servant’.
James 1:2-5 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
James 1:12 12Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the LORD has promised to those who love him.
We stand on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before us. Not only the biblical examples of faith but maybe a God-fearing parent or family member, a significant friend, spouse or family member who was always spiritually encouraging you. For me, it was a godly Mother who, though never having anything in her life, and raising me as a single parent, never waivered in her devotion to Jesus and encouraging the same from her children. Take a minute and go through your list, and thank God for your spiritual heritage. These are God’s good gifts to us during this wonderful season of Thanksgiving. Stay well.
— John Moore
Photo: Sculpture of St. John the Baptist in the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Baths of Diocletian, Rome. Photo by Peter Chiykowski