When you’ve come into the world with angelic messages and prophetic utterances, as John the Baptist did, you might expect an easy ride, a trouble-free existence. Life is rarely like that, even for God’s servants, it seems. In the second part of our study of John the Baptist, we looked at his imprisonment and death and the lessons these things have to teach us.

John was imprisoned for his blunt comments about Herod’s relationship with Herodias (Matt 14:3-5). Honesty, it seemed, was not the best policy for him. He learned, as so many of God’s people have, that suffering and faith often go hand in hand. Perhaps we should not be so surprised by this if we read Scripture faithfully (see John 16:2, 33; 2 Tim 3:12-13; 1 Peter 3). Jesus Himself had strong words of warning for His disciples:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:28-33; see also Mark 8:33-34)

Luke 7 narrates some of John’s doubts and uncertainties while he was imprisoned; he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:19) What John does with his questions and doubts is the same as what we should do with them: he brings them directly to Jesus. The problem is often that Jesus does not act in the way we think He should. He is under no obligation to do things our way. He is not beholden to us. He is God. He will work in ways that are not like our ways. He doesn’t even think the way we do! The key thing we have to learn is to know who God actually is, rather than who we think He is. We have to come
“[With] eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle?
Are we caught in the middle?” (Casting Crowns, ‘Somewhere in the Middle’)

Sometimes, our faith is shattered and our lives rocked because we have been expecting God to work in a certain way or answer our prayers in a particular manner. We have to be prepared to let God be God, however much that may leave us with unanswered questions. Job’s questions were often not answered, but at the end of his trials, he had a greater understanding of who God actually was.

The death of John the Baptist, told somewhat luridly in Mark 6, leaves us feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Why do the Gospel writers spend so much time on this story? What does it mean that John’s life is ended in such a capricious way? What has happened to God’s purposes and destiny, if John’s life, heralded by the angels, proclaimed by Jesus Himself as a prophet and that there was no one greater than he born of women, can be snuffed out on a whim like this?

The danger is that we adopt one of two false views of God. One view says that He is all-powerful and leads us to believe, therefore, that He is cruel and unloving to allow His faithful servant to be killed on the whim of a woman and because of a king’s spineless cowardice. The other view says that He is all-loving, but fundamentally incapable of preventing such injustices. We need to understand that the Biblical view of God is that He is both all-loving and all-powerful. There is no either/ or reasoning; God can be both things! We do not always have answers to the ‘why’ questions that haunt us. All we have to hold on to is what we know is true of who God is.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8:28-30)

The actions of God in verses 29-30 – foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified – are in the aorist tense in Greek. That tense presents the action of a verb as attained. It states a fact, presenting the action as a point. In other words, God has done these things. He doesn’t need to keep on doing them, because He has already done them. Our ultimate destiny, as John’s, is secure. The first verb in verse 28 is in the present tense, though – God works or is working. In the meantime, in the now, where perhaps we don’t understand what is going on or why God is allowing what is going on in our lives, God is still working. Let’s hold on to all we know of Him, leave our questions and doubts with Him and learn above all to trust in His unfailing love.