August 29: The Beheading of John the Baptist

An artist's depiction of the beheading of John the Baptist
“The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist,” by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824–1898)

A Unique Role:

John the Baptist was a unique man who had a unique role to play in the story of our salvation. He was a man who spanned the gap between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament disciples. The story of his birth is a remarkable one (celebrated in the Christian calendar on June 24). The story of his ministry is a remarkable one. And the story of his martyrdom grips us as well, cementing his place as a hero of our faith.

What I love the most about John the Baptist is that I find him relatable – if not in his all-in passion, then in his moments of discouragement and doubt. Even if we know that faithfulness will have a cost, in those moments when we are faced with that cost we can find ourselves second-guessing all that we have given our lives to.

Relatable in Weakness

In every age it has been true that those who speak out against sin elicit a strong reaction. God’s faithful prophets are followed by the spiritually hungry, but they are also hated by those who do not wish to hear (or heed) the call to repentance. And this is how it was that John ended up in the prison of an immoral king, awaiting execution.

And the Gospels tell us that from prison, John sent word to Jesus with a question that breaks my heart:

“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?” (Matthew 11:2-4, NASB)

But Jesus offers no rebuke for John’s query. Instead he reminds him of what he (John) already knows, of why it is that John has given – and is still giving – his all to remain faithful:

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.” (Matthew 11:4-6, NASB)

Yes, John, yes. You were right. You are right. It is all worth it – and there is more to come.

A prayer

The collect (prayer) for this day from the Book of Common Prayer goes like this:

O God,
who didst send thy messenger, John the Baptist,
to be the forerunner of the Lord,
and to glorify thee by his death:
Grant that we, who have received the truth of thy most holy Gospel,
may bear our witness thereunto,
and after his example
constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice,
and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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A meditation in song

Perhaps you are familiar with Audrey Assad’s evocative song “Even Unto Death.” It was written in response to the modern-day martyrdom of Christians, and it forms an appropriate meditation for us as we consider these things. This is the lyric video with full lyrics written out below.

Jesus, the very thought of You, it fills my heart with love.
Jesus, You burn like wildfire, and I am overcome.

Lover of my soul, even unto death:
With my every breath I will love You.

Jesus, You are my only hope, and You my prize shall be.
Jesus, You are my glory now, and in eternity.

In my darkest hour, in humiliation,
I will wait for You: I am not forsaken.
Though I lose my life, though my breath be taken,
I will wait for You: I am not forsaken.
One thing I desire: to see You in Your beauty.
You are my delight. You are my glory.
You, my Sacrifice, Your love is all-consuming.
You are my delight. You are my glory.


“Inheritance” CD by Audrey Assad


 

August 29: The Beheading of John the Baptist
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