Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dying for Jesus

On May 31, 2014, Bowe Bergdahl was released to US forces by a Taliban affiliate. He had been a "prisoner" for five years. He was instantly hailed a hero by Susan Rice, the acting National Security Advisor to the President. However, a group of fellow soldiers from Bergdahl's Army company saw things differently. To them, Bergdahl wasn't a hero, he was a traitor. 

The jury is still out on Bergdahl's guilt (he'll likely face a court-martial in the near future). But what frustrates his former fellow soldiers the most is why he would betray them, when in their words "we would have died for him." On the front lines of battle, all that mattered to these soldiers was knowing that they were loyal to one another, and would be willing to give their lives for one another if needed. It's a matter of brotherhood and loyalty. A willingness to pay the ultimate price.

Many Christian men today would say that they love Jesus. They express a certain amount of loyalty to the Christian faith. But would most men who profess Christ today, especially in the West, be willing to die for Jesus? As Bergdahl illustrates, making a profession and actually following through don't always go hand in hand. How can a man prepare and know that he would be ready to lay down his life for the Savior? 

John the Baptizer was a man prepared to die for Jesus. He was ready to pay that ultimate price. In Mark 6:14-29, he demonstrates that you will only be ready to die for Jesus in the future if you live for him and love him in the present. 

 You'll only be ready to die for Jesus in the future if you live for him in the present.

John lived for Jesus exclusively. The gospel of Mark and specifically chapter 6:14-29 show three ways John did this. John prioritized Jesus, preached Jesus, and practiced a life pleasing to Jesus. 

From his introduction in Mark 1:4 and following, John is focused on preparing the way for Jesus. At the height of his fame John pointed away from himself and toward Jesus. "He was preaching: “Someone more powerful  than I will come after me.  I am not worthy  to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals" (Mark 1:7). Jesus would do the greater spiritual work (Mark 1:8) and John made it clear to his followers that all that mattered was advancing Jesus and making Him famous (John 3:30). Most people (men included) love to talk about themselves. Not John. Jesus was the priority of John's life. 

John also lived for Jesus in the present by preaching Jesus Christ. John gave up the comforts of ordinary life (Mark 1:6) so that he could go out and preach the gospel (1:4), the good news about Jesus. But he didn't just preach to the adoring masses. He remained faithful to preach even in the face of certain death.

John was faithful to preach even in the face of certain death.

Mark 6 indicates that John had the ability to regularly speak with Herod Antipas, the tetrarch (governor) of Galilee. Herod had sinned against God and against the Jewish law of his time by taking and marrying the wife of his half-brother (Mark 6:17). John boldly confronted Herod on this sin, and the text indicates this confrontation may have happened more than once. John preached and things happened. His words for Herod had consequences. 

Herod's illegitimate wife, Herodias, hated John for his righteous words . She hated him so much that she wanted him dead (Mark 6:19). But Herod had a grudging respect for John. Herod liked what John had to say, but he was conflicted. He wasn't willing to repent. You could say he was a bit confused. So confused that he arrested and held John, but protected him from Herodias. 

So while Herodias sat plotting his death in the background, John continued speaking the truth to Herod. The text indicates John was under arrest for some time (Mark 6:18, 20). With Jesus as the center of his life, it's not too much of a stretch to think that John was preaching Jesus to Herod. If he was willing to call out Herod to his face, he had probably told him about Jesus too. Jesus was the priority in John's life and John preached Jesus even in the face of death. 

But how did John gain the ear of a governor? Herod didn't just respect John for his speaking abilities. Herod respected him because John practiced a life pleasing to Jesus.

John practiced a life pleasing to Jesus.

 John was a righteous and holy man and Herod saw this (Mark 6:20). His holiness stuck. It was noticeable. And his holy life had an impact. John was so consistently righteous in his everyday life, that it took him places. Not into the limelight of stardom that so many seek today. Instead, his holy life gained him the ear of a spiritually bankrupt governor; a governor who at the height of worldly success was humbled by a righteous nobody like John. 

John was ready to die for Jesus because he had lived his entire life for the Christ. He prioritized Jesus, he preached Jesus and and he practiced a holy life for Jesus. Can the same be said for you? My prayer is that this tribute to John would be true of me as well. 

     "I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." - Matthew 11:11, HCSB.

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