Before we dive in, I just want to warn you . . . a lot of you are not going to like this series. We’re going to deal with stories that are very difficult, and you probably won’t feel better at the end of the messages. I just wanted to tell that up front, so you’d say, “Gee, I’m really glad I came to church today, can’t wait until next week”
But here’s the deal, sometimes you run up against stuff in scripture, just like sometimes you run up against stuff in life that really doesn’t make sense and it certainly doesn’t make you feel better. But I think it’s important for us to tackle that stuff.
Today, we’re going to look at the idea that there are times when it seems that God is inattentive. It seems like not matter what you say or how you say it, God just isn’t listening.
And to make it worse, there are people all around you who seem to get everything they want while you’re still waiting to hear from God. You’ve got something really-bad going on in your life and you just want to catch a break. But they get all the green lights and the good parking spot at the mall. Their relationships are intact, their family is healthy, their finances are stable, their car never breaks down . . . And you’re like, “Come on God, give me something, anything”
Then there are the preacher’s stories. You know how everything always seems to work out when the preacher tells a story.
You hear those stories and you look at the lives of the people around you and you begin think, “Well that didn’t happen like that in my life”. And so you say to God, “You know, I show up to church, and I pray, and I serve, and I tithe, and I’m so faithful but I’m not seeing any blessings from you in my life”
Where is God when life doesn’t seem to make sense? That’s what we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks.
As we jump in to this series, we’re going to look at the story of John the Baptist.
If you don’t know much about John, you first need to know that he was not a Baptist. That was just something he did, he baptized people. He was Jesus’ cousin, which means that he was Jewish, and he was tasked with the job of preparing the way for Jesus, the Messiah.
This was a job John had taken very seriously because things had to change; the way the world was just wasn’t the way God intended; and so, John was on a campaign to tell everyone, anyone who would listen that someone was coming, and when he came, everything would be turned on its head.
Crowds of people traveled from all over, out to the muddy banks of the Jordan River because the crazy guy with the camel hair was saying something . . . something that got them thinking about their lives, how life as they knew it was definitely not the life God imagined for them.
And he said things like this, “The ax is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire! His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire!”
Those aren’t feel-good words and yet they had somehow become compelling to those who heard them.
But it was this type of message that also got him in to trouble with King Herod Antipas.
Here’s the backstory.
King Herod Antipas was married but he started to be interested in his brother’s wife. She’s cute and he’s powerful, so they started flirting with each other. Eventually, Herod divorced his wife and married his brother’s wife. Her name was Herodias. This was a massive scandal in the community.
So, John the Baptist, decides to get all up in their business and he begins to preach against them saying, “What you are doing, is not right.”
As you can imagine, this doesn’t settle well with Herodias. I mean, who wants to have their stuff called out? So, she wants him killed.
Lesson #1; don’t mess with women.
But Herod believed that John was a Godly man so instead of having him killed, he just had him arrested and thrown in jail . . . Which is nice, I guess, but he’s still in jail.
Now, if I’m John the Baptist and I’m Jesus’s cousin and I’ve been faithful preparing the way for Jesus; I’ve been building him up and defending him and when people say that they want to follow me I tell them, “Don’t follow me because they guy I’m telling you about . . . well, I’m not even worthy to tie his shoes”
I’m probably assuming Jesus has got my back and he’s going to do something to get me out.
But he doesn’t, instead Jesus keeps pressing forward with his ministry as John sits in jail.
So, John’s followers decide that they’re going to go and see what Jesus is up to, and perhaps to find out what’s so important that John had to take a back seat . . . and the reports they brought back about Jesus were a little, different than John had predicted.
Jesus was not preaching the fire and brimstone judgment that was the theme of pretty much all of John’s sermons.
Instead, Jesus was hanging out with sinners, healing people who were sick, and eating dinner with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other undesirables . . . and preaching sermons about loving your enemy and doing good to those who hurt you.
Everything that John had thought about who God was, about what he expected to happen, about how things would turn out . . . well, it all was different.
So, John sends his followers back out to Jesus to get some clarification.
They go to Jesus and say, “We thought you were the guy—that’s why John was preaching all that stuff from the banks of the Jordan . . . So, are you the Messiah? Or should we be looking for somebody else? Because you’re not doing what Messiah’s ought to be doing”
Listen to Jesus’ answer: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor!”
In other words, Jesus was doing exactly what God sent him to do. He was being faithful to his calling.
And although it didn’t make a lot of sense to John, he continues to cling to the hope that Jesus will make things right . . . while waiting in jail.
Meanwhile, Herod throws a keg party. Everybody is partying and drinking, and the king has a little bit too much to drink. And here’s where the story starts to get really-weird. Herodias’ daughter, Salome, begins to dance for the king. We don’t know what kind of dance it was but whatever it was the king really, really liked it.
So, he tells her, “I’ll give you whatever you want”.
Now, she’s a teenager, so you’d think she’d ask for an iPhone or front row tickets to a Taylor Swift concert but instead she goes to her mama, and says, “What should I ask for?”
Herodias replies, “You ask for the head of John the Baptist” and so she does.
Now, Herod is caught between a rock and hard place because he made a promise to give Salome whatever she wanted but he didn’t really want to kill John.
But apparently the guy had some kind of integrity and he lives up to his word. He immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring Johns head on a platter.
This is where the story gets amazing . . . as the guards go to kill John, there’s an earthquake and an angel of the Lord appears with two flaming swords. He strikes everyone blind except Herodias because he wants her to see what’s about to happen.
Then, the fire of God comes down and consumes the executioners, and everyone dies. At that moment, the shackles fall off John the Baptist. The door flies open. The music swells as smoke fills the room and then John emerges from the smoky room with a blue face, like Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart, and he shout’s “Freedom”.
Well, that’s how I would have preferred this story to end. I mean, that kind of stuff happened to other people in the bible; earthquakes, and angels, and consuming fire, and cell doors flying open but that’s not how it went down for John.
Instead, the soldiers went, beheaded John and brought his head back to the party on a platter.
I warned you that this wasn’t going to be a feel-good story, didn’t I?
Jesus had the power to rescue John, but he chose not to and that’s when you begin to say to yourself, “This really doesn’t fit into my version of Christianity. This doesn’t fit in with whom I believe God to be. This doesn’t make any sense.”
And I’m totally there with you but let’s step back from it and disconnect from the emotion of the story and ask what happened.
Here’s what we know . . . John’s desire, and passion, and commitment to prepare the way for Jesus was fulfilled. He was faithful to his calling, and he was successful in his mission.
But more importantly, God’s purpose was fulfilled, that the blind would see, the deaf were hearing, and the gospel was being proclaimed. It just didn’t happen the way John had planned.
John’s preconceived ideas about who God is, what God had come to do in the world . . . well, they were in effect broken. Shattered. Completely dismantled (as was his head).
But maybe that’s what’s supposed to happen. Maybe our expectations and our lives have to be broken. Maybe the boxes we create to define and contain God need to be completely dismantled and shattered.
Because the reign of God that Jesus came to usher in was completely different than what everyone expected. And the welcoming of God’s dream for the world was going to require a dismantling of expectations, even a breaking down of dreams and ideas that had been so concrete for so very long.
And then a reassembling of the pieces of our expectations, and dreams, and hopes, and beliefs . . . into something beyond what we never imagined.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
As we wrap up, I hope you’ll embrace this big idea in your heart . . . You don’t have to understand the plan to trust God’s purpose. You see, there’s something that is true about God . . . God is good, God’s purposes are good, and God’s plan is good! God can’t be anything but good.
And because God is good, we shouldn’t try to interpret the goodness of God through our circumstances; things aren’t working out the way I want or expect so I’m not so sure that God is good.
Instead, we interpret our circumstances through the goodness of God which means that You don’t have to understand the plan to trust God’s purpose.
And here’s where we struggle . . . all of us have hit one of those times when it just doesn’t make sense; someone was sick, you prayed for healing and it never came. You tried desperately to have a child and begged God to intervene, but he didn’t. You were good at your job, but they still let you go. You raised your child in a Godly home, but they still went astray. You’ve tried so hard to get on top of your finances, but the bills keep piling up.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ve asked God, “Ok, I don’t understand what’s going on right now, but can you at least tell me what the plan is?”
But God says to us, “Trust my purpose because many are the plans in a person’s heart but it’s my purpose that prevails.” And that is just really-hard to hear, isn’t it?
But you need to know that you are not alone.
If you fast forward just little bit from this story of John, to the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus knew that he too was going to be put to death, he fell to his knees in prayer and cried out not once but twice, “My God, remove this cup of suffering from me . . . but not my will, but yours.”
God if there’s any other way, please let it be but it’s not my plan but your purpose that prevails.
And just before Jesus gave his life, he looked up and said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Why are you silent? Why won’t you do something? Why do you seem inattentive?
Just because God is silent, does not mean that God is absent.
Here we are 2,000 years later and everything that our faith clings to, hinges on this moment when God seemed inattentive.
When God doesn’t make sense and you cry out . . . there will be times that you will see God’s goodness displayed in ways that you could not even imagine.
But there will also be times when your plans and your prayers don’t go exactly as you think they should. It’s in those moments, we must move our faith from our plans in order to trust God’s purpose.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
Let is be so, AMEN!