Though carrying out God’s most important work, many of the Lord’s servants do suffer for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
John the Baptist’s ministry of preparation for the appearance of Jesus was foretold hundreds of years in advance by God’s prophets. He had a powerful and effective ministry that drew large crowds to hear the good news of Jesus’ coming and to be baptized in order to be cleansed and ready. He performed his work well in the spirit of the prophet Elijah, just as had been written by Malachi, and all played out according to the plan of God. Yet, in the end, John found himself alone in a dungeon in King Herod’s jail. Unlike his predecessor Elijah who had been freed by God from the vengeful Queen Jezebel, John the Baptist would not enjoy divine escape from his persecution, and his depressing situation apparently caused him to doubt whether Jesus really was who John thought he was.
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples 3 and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. 6 And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.” Matthew 112-6 (HCSB)
Jesus was quoting to John from the prophet Isaiah, who was describing the signs of the coming kingdom and its Messiah. This same prophet would also prophesy about the coming of John the Baptist. Isaiah wrote of the eternal kingdom:
1 The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
2 It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice,
Even with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
The excellence of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
The excellency of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert. Isaiah 35:5-6 (NKJV)
This new, divine kingdom would be wonderful, but would not come easily or without a fight. It and its heralds would suffer violent opposition by dark spiritual forces. John would soon be beheaded by King Herod but would later appear to Jesus along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus would be brutally beaten and crucified but was raised from the dead to glory by the Father on the third day. And while not recorded in the Bible, tradition tells us that Jesus’ prophecy given to the apostle Peter after the resurrection would be fulfilled by Peter’s own crucifixion. As Jesus told Peter:
18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” John 21:18-19 (HCSB)
Our life on earth is filled with much beauty, joy, and love, but there is also a spiritual battle going on behind the scenes. Before the great kingdoms of this world give way to God’s divine eternal kingdom, there will be much resistance offered by God’s opponents, the dark spiritual forces reigned over by Satan. Jesus will ultimately prevail over them in great might upon His return, but, until then, we know from the hardships suffered by Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostle Peter that the enemy means business and will do everything possible to deceive and deflect those who might otherwise choose to enter God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus. May the victorious power of God’s divine Light prevail over all darkness in the spiritual desert, and may new buds continue to blossom as believers from every nation come to faith in Christ to join His eternal kingdom.
Father God, lift us up whenever we face discouragement or depression. It is so easy for us to believe the lies and deceptions of darkness that tell us we are without worth or value, perhaps because of something we have failed in, or something we have done, or continue to do. This could not be further from the truth – You love and value us so much that Jesus laid down His life on the cross for our eternal salvation with Him. You want to free us from any sins or shortcomings that have ensnared us, a sin problem that everyone on earth suffers from in one form or another. May You bathe us in Your great love and cleanse and heal us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, poured out so generously for us after Christ’s death and resurrection.. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-11 (NKJV)