When All Seems Lost
When All Seems Lost
Survivor Man always finds his way out. I guess it would be a pretty-short lived TV show if he didn’t. We like shows that depict someone facing great adversity, but they always pull through. They always rise above. They always win in the end. But what about…real life…where people don’t always pull through? They don’t always rise above. They don’t always win in the end. As many of you know, Aaron and Emily Pelsue had an experience this past Fall with an adoption that didn’t come through right at the very end. We like to talk about our successes and blessings, but what about those times when things don’t work out? I’ve asked Aaron to share with us a little bit about their experience, so let’s welcome Aaron.
As we continue our series from the Gospel of Mark, we read about a man who was faithful to God, but in the end, things didn’t work out the way he thought they would. When we started this series a number of months ago, we started with this man baptizing in the wilderness, and all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized. Even Jesus comes to him to be baptized. This man was wildly successful and wildly popular. Whatever field you’re in for a career, think of the top job. Think of the person who’s at the top of his or her game. That’s this man from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. You can’t climb the ladder any higher than baptizing Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
But then something happens. This man, John, disappears, at least in Mark’s Gospel. The last time we see John is right after he baptized Jesus, with almost a footnote in the Scripture that reads, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14). And that’s it. That’s it? This guy who was the most popular guy in all of Judea? This guy who baptized hundreds if not thousands? This guy who introduced Jesus to the world and baptized Him—and now all Mark writes is, “Now after John was arrested”? O, and there is a little note later in Mk. 2, not about John, but about his disciples, that simply says, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting” (v. 18).
If you flip through the early chapters of Mark’s Gospel, past the first half of the first chapter you don’t read anything about John’s fame, the power of his ministry, how wonderful he is, and how he’s changing the world. What you do read is how Jesus calls His first disciples, how Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit, how Jesus heals many, how He preaches in Galilee, how He cleanses a leper, how He heals a paralytic, how He calls Levi—and I haven’t even gotten through chapter two yet!
And where is John? Well, it appears he’s been left in prison. Forgotten? Alone? Ch. 2 in Mark’s Gospel passes. Ch. 3—still nothing about John. Ch. 4, nothing about John. Ch. 5, same thing. And then we come all the way to chapter 6, and we read this, Mark 6:14-29. If you have your Bibles or a Bible app, go ahead and turn there, and then, if you would, let’s stand together out of respect for the reading of Scripture.
You may be seated. So…let’s make sure we’re getting this right. John was at the top of his game. He was the #1 prophet in all of Israel. He introduced and baptized Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Then he gets thrown in prison, and no one comes to rescue him. No one comes to his defense…including his cousin, Jesus. The very One who had the power to do something…does…nothing.
If you were John, how would you feel? Where’s Jesus when you need Him? Maybe you don’t need to be John to feel that way…maybe that’s the way you feel right now.
Well, here’s how John felt. Mark doesn’t record this part of the story, but Matthew does. In Matt. 11:2-3 we read this: “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, `Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3).
Do you hear the hint of sarcasm in John’s question? “Jesus, I hear about all these wonderful things you’re doing—healing people, even raising a young girl from the dead—and yet, do you remember me? Remember—I’m the one who baptized you? I’m the one who cried out in the wilderness saying, `Prepare the way of the Lord,’ and now you’re just leaving me here in this prison to rot away?!? Are you really the one who is to come, or should we look for another?!?”
Survivorman always finds his way out. According to Mark 6, John…didn’t. Here’s what we see in our text. John stood up against the most powerful ruler in that region, Herod Antipas who ruled Galilee and Perea. John stood for truth. He stood up for what was right. In v. 17 we learn of why John was imprisoned—because he spoke out against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herodias is really the one who wanted to put John to death, but, v. 20 says, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe” (Mark 6:20).
So, you remember what happens next in the story we read earlier, vv. 21ff.? Big party. King gets a little drunk. Wants to show off. His niece/step-daughter comes in and dances. He promises her whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom (v. 23). She’s been well coached by her avenging mother and comes back to dear uncle/step-daddy and requests the head of John the Baptist on a platter. V. 26—the king was exceedingly sorry, but pride gets in the way. He’s not going to back down in front of those he wants to impress, so he orders the executioner to start sharpening his sword.
Now, it’s right at this point in the story, right between vv. 26 and 27, that if we were scripting this for a movie, we would have written this differently. We would have Jesus showing up at the prison right as you see the executioner walking down the hallway to John’s prison cell. The light penetrates the darkness of the prison, the guards fall to their faces in fear, the prison doors are blown wide open, and John and Jesus walk out to freedom. What a story! Jesus the Rescuer! Jesus the Deliverer! And King Herod falls to his knees in repentance, the whole kingdom comes to Christ, and all of Israel is saved! Yeah, God!!!
But that’s not the way this story goes, is it? V. 27—“He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother” (v. 27).
And the very last part of the story, the last thing we read about this powerful prophet now slain is that his disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb (v. 28). The end. Fade to black.
Now, I’m going to ask the question that all of us are probably asking, Why? Isn’t that the universal question of all humanity in the face of suffering and death? Why? Why didn’t Jesus intervene with John, and yet he did with Jairus’s daughter back in Mark 5. He did with the leper in Mark 1. He did with the paralytic in Mark 2. He did with the man with the withered hand in Mark 3. He did with the disciples in Mark 4. In every chapter so far, we see Jesus stepping in and saving the day—except in ch. 6 with John.
There are no easy answers to this question, are there? And there are no pat answers that we can memorize and walk out of here today and say, “Good. That’s solved. What else?” Because this isn’t about some equation or deduction; this is about real life—people, family members, friends, and even you and what you may be going through.
Right now in our church family, we have a young couple, Tiffany & Lee Carter, who are living this in a very painful way. I’ve asked them for permission to share part of their story…
1. Everybody has a story, but each story is different
God had a purpose and plan for John that was different than Jairus’s daughter, the man with leprosy, and the demon-possessed man.
God has a purpose and plan for your life…in life…and in death.
Death is part of everyone’s story. The lame man Jesus healed eventually died. The man with leprosy whom Jesus healed eventually had to face death.
What is the story we tell in life? What is the story we tell in death?
John the Baptist told a story in life—faithfulness to Jesus, trust in Jesus, conviction. And he told a story as he faced death. Stayed true to Christ. Never backed down.
What story are you telling in the way you live your life? What story are you telling in the way you face death?
2. Make Jesus the center of your story
John’s whole life, including how he faced death, had Jesus at the center of his story. He was born to be the forerunner of the Christ. He lived to call people to follow Him. He died as a testament that Jesus was worth dying for.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26a).
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Jesus has conquered death (1 Cor. 15:54a-57).
Survivorman always makes it out. John the Baptist didn’t…or did he? If Jesus is the Lord of your life, if He’s the central part of your story, you do win in the end. You will make it out. This life isn’t the end of the story. When John’s disciples came and took John’s body and buried, that wasn’t the end, and it didn’t fade to black. The story continues not with darkness but with light and with new life! The Bible says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). This is the hope that Aaron Pelsue has, regardless of life’s circumstances. This is the hope that Tiffany and Lee Carter have, regardless of what happens in this life. And this is the hope that you can have, too, whatever you’re facing, whatever you’re dealing with—we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I pray that whatever your story is—because everybody has a story—Jesus Christ will be right at the center. Let’s pray.