This life can really suck sometimes. Just when you thought that you’d been through the worst of it, something new happens, a phone call, test results, a tire screech and suddenly you’re in it. It. The timeless abyss of suck; A parallel universe where most things are the same except for the empty, aching, bottomless pit in your chest.
When I get down about life, when I feel crushed, stomped on, cursed, I think of this story. Yes, it’s from the Bible, but get over it.
It’s a story of two cousins united by destiny, Jesus and John the Baptist. John’s aunt was Jesus’ mother and so they grew up with each other. John was the one who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. He was the first one to publicly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. John launched Jesus’ career, gave him his start, and promoted him heavily. And it was working! Crowds appeared in droves to receive a new life.
If I were John, I would be excited- imagine all the good things they could do together, all the people they could help, a dynamic family duo on the cover of Time magazine. So right when Jesus’ popularity is skyrocketing, John gets thrown in prison. No big deal, the Messiah is his cousin and He can do miracles. It’s not a question of if John gets out of prison, it’s the exciting idea of how. Will Jesus call down angel armies to break down the walls and liberate him? Will He enable him to walk through the prison bars untouched? No worries here.
But days go by… weeks… months… and John sits… and waits. Was he wrong? Is Jesus not the Messiah? When John baptized Jesus he saw heaven open up and heard a voice from above cry out, “This is my Son!” He can’t explain away that. But then why is he still sitting in a horrible prison when his own blood has the power to help him? My conclusions would be either Jesus is not powerful enough to help or He is mad at John. Here’s the text from Matthew 11:2-6:
Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him,
“Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
“Okay, sooooo… when are you helping me?” I would be thinking if I were John. Jesus’ cryptic response is a quote from the prophet Isaiah, whose writings (found in the Dead Sea scrolls) were describing the Messiah. The point? Yes, He is the Messiah and we’d do well to not get offended at how He runs things. I imagine John thinking, “Okay. So this is a lesson, there’s some reason for all of this, okay, God works in mysterious ways, I get it. Be patient and trust. I can do that. Wow, I can’t wait to see what He does next!“
So what happens? A dramatic rescue? Cold. A change of heart in the guy who imprisoned him? Colder. You ready for this? John gets his head cut off and served on a platter. Literally. The end. Feeling better?
As depressing as that story is, this is what I take from it.
1. When bad sh*t happens, it doesn’t mean God is mad at us. If Jesus will allow His own cousin and forerunner to befall that kind of fate then it doesn’t mean that cancer, etc. is a sign of His disapproval. The hardest kind of pain to bear is when it’s personal. I can bear trials easier when I know I’m not being punished or hated on.
2. When bad things happen we can ask bold, audacious questions. Many times I am afraid to challenge God because I don’t want to piss Him off. But Jesus welcomes this audacious and challenging question from John and answers him.
3. We are not the main characters in the story of our lives. God is. Once our pride gets over that, it’s extremely relieving knowing that we don’t have to live like we’re the center of this universe and we can enjoy (or at least accept) the roles we do have.
“Jesus said there are times when God cannot lift the darkness from you, but you should trust Him. At times God will appear like an unkind friend, but He is not; He will appear like an unnatural father, but He is not; He will appear like an unjust judge, but He is not. Keep the thought that the mind of God is behind all things strong and growing. Not even the smallest detail of life happens unless God’s will is behind it. Therefore, you can rest in perfect confidence in Him.” Oswald Chambers.
“We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.” Oswald Chambers