Today’s read reminds me of a question that often keeps people from believing in God: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “If God is so powerful and good, why is there so much evil in the world?” These are valid questions, and to answer them properly would require a lengthy discussion of deep theological truths. Ultimately, they are like all questions we have about God…the answers must be received by faith, not by human logic.
In Matthew 14, we are told about three separate events. First, John the Baptist is beheaded by Herod at the request of his mistress, Herodias. John was in prison because he had the audacity and courage to confront Herod with the sin of taking Herodias, his brother’s wife. Herod was a little afraid of John since the people believed him to be a prophet of God. Of course, Herodias was angry and insulted that John meddled in her personal business. One night, Herod held a feast with many friends, and Herodias’ daughter danced for them, pleasing Herod. He makes a public promise to give her whatever she asks; she consults her mother and asks for John’s head on a platter. Herod has no choice if he wants to save face in front of his friends, so he has John executed.
The other two stories are very familiar to us. Jesus feeds five thousand men (plus women and children) by multiplying five loaves and two fish. Later, He comes to the disciples as they are crossing the Sea of Galilee, walking on the water. Peter wants to also walk on water, and trusts Jesus enough to get out of the boat, but is quickly distracted by the wind, and takes his eyes off Jesus in fear. He starts to sink, but Jesus pulls him into the boat with Himself and chastises him for his doubting, little faith.
What are we to think of these contrasting pictures of Jesus? He can supernaturally defy the laws of nature. He brings fish and bread into existence, simply by breaking it and sharing it. He literally walks on water. With this kind of power, why was John left languishing in prison, ending his life with his head on a platter? It’s obvious that Jesus could have rescued John at any time. He could even have raised John back to life after his head was cut off. John was his cousin, his friend. He spent his adult life preaching repentance and proclaiming Jesus was the expected Messiah. He humbled himself and pointed to the Savior. He lived for Jesus.
Here’s the lesson we need to remember. God’s (apparent) lack of action on our behalf does not reflect a lack of ability. Just because we live faithfully for God doesn’t mean He will rescue us from every uncomfortable or life-threatening situation. And if He chooses not to rescue us, it does not in any way diminish His power to do so.
It was God’s sovereign purpose for John’s life to end. John’s mission was complete. He was the forerunner – the one who prepared the way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, who urged those who heard him to get ready to receive the Messiah (Matthew 3:3). He lived a sacrificial, simple life, and instead of building his own band of disciples, urged them to leave and follow Jesus. He was completely selfless, expending his life for one purpose – to point people to Jesus. Jesus didn’t rescue him because his work was done.
By all appearances, Herod won that day. He extinguished John’s nagging voice of conviction and went on in his sinful, evil lifestyle. In the same way, sometimes it looks like evil is winning. Government authorities still overreach and make terrible, immoral decisions that hurt people. Suffering and death continue to rage in our world. Immorality grows greater and more perverse every day. Evil seems to be winning. Why won’t God do anything to fix it?
Isaiah 59:1-4 – Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken falsehood, your tongue mutters wickedness. No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.
Our world is very much like Israel was in the days of Isaiah. They turned away from God, and so God allowed the natural consequences of sin to take effect until such time as Israel repented. I’m sure there were faithful followers among the captives that went to Assyria. Though they, themselves, had not rejected God, they still lost their homes, their loved ones, their way of life. They suffered as God judged the wicked because God was operating on a sovereign timetable, with sovereign purposes.
One day, when our mission is complete and the paperwork on our last assignment submitted to the “home office,” God will rescue us. What is our mission? To tell a wicked world that Jesus loves them, that He came to pay the debt for their sin and urge them to repent and turn to faith in Christ alone for salvation. It’s also to warn a wicked world that judgment is coming. God is a just God and His wrath is stored up for the day of judgment. Yet, He is patient and kind; His kindness leads us to repentance because is He unwilling that any should perish (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
Do you feel that God has forgotten to rescue you? Are you doubting His power because you are distracted by fear? Take heart. God has not forgotten His children. When our mission is over, He will rescue us just as He rescued John the Baptist. After all, we know Jesus…our suffering is temporary and minuscule compared to the eternal suffering that awaits those who reject Him. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, fully convinced, unwavering in faith, and trusting in Him to sustain us, equip us, provide for us, and protect us until He calls us home.