By: Matt Gordon
The sixth chapter of Mark begins with Jesus being dishonored in his hometown and saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.”
However, that is not really what I want to focus on, but rather the dishonoring of another prophet.
Just a few verses down from this story is a recounting of John the Baptist’s demise. The Bible considers John to be one of the best people to ever walk the earth. He was interesting and passionate and full of integrity. He seems mysterious—of both nature and dress. He was a prophet. And he was dishonored.
Due to his unwavering, just convictions, he was imprisoned. He broke no laws, provoked no insurrection. He merely disapproved of the lifestyle choices of the ruler, King Herod. Those same lifestyle choices led to a drunken party and an illicit dance from King Herod’s step-daughter. As if that isn’t weird enough, Herod rewards the girl with a wish. The wish, implanted by the girl’s mother (Herod’s wife), was for John’s head to be brought to her on a platter. No judge, no jury, no justice. That night in the dungeon, John’s head was severed from his body.
This doesn’t seem right, fair, or good.
What does that word even mean?
For me, in this story, it would have meant that John was released and could continue his speaking tour. Or maybe, really good, the old Hollywood kind, John somehow usurps the king and rules justly in his place?
In my life, good means I get what I want when I want it. I have a “good” day when things go my way or fall into place—I get a raise or accomplish my to-do-list. No one bothers me. Good.
But as I read Mark, it is impossible not to notice how God tends to have a very different definition of the word “good.” Jesus worries about the inner person; I concern myself with the outer. Jesus wants his father’s will to be done; I want my own will to be done.
In another place in Scripture, John prays (ironically) that he would decrease so that Jesus could increase. John was called to prepare the way for Jesus, yet many people remained fixated on the messenger well after Jesus arrived on the scene. For Jesus to be magnified and God glorified, John felt that he needed to diminish. That would be for the ultimate good.
Certainly John didn’t know the details God had in mind. I’m sure it was scary in the dungeons. Scarier still when the echoing footfalls of the king’s justice strode toward his cell. The dragging ax heard as the headsman approached.
Good is not what I think it is. And good doesn’t always feel “good.” It does not always align with my hopes and dreams and desires—it can be painful and confusing. It is not all about me. The full-circle view of things is that if God is about His glory and His good, and when that glory and good prevails, then my good comes to fruition as well. One writer has said that there is no good apart from God—good apart from God does not exist. Even if it feels like it. Even if it rankles against our very presuppositions and selfishness. Even if it doesn’t sound like a trumpet fanfare announcing our ascension and instead is the dull grind of a cold ax dragged along stone floor.
John endured a hardship I cannot imagine. But through that hardship more people drew near to Jesus. More people will ultimately hear that ultimate trumpet fanfare. His death was not in vain. It was not even bad—not in the cosmic, macro view. It was good.
And for him? The tremulous moments of doubts and terror as his death suddenly engulfed him—as lightning fast as the swing of an ax—were replaced by reward. By joy. By peace. By purpose realized, renewed, unending, and realized anew. Forever.
A prophet is not without honor. John’s head was on a platter and the evil party raged on in that palace. But John was a guest of honor at the real celebration that evening with his God. And good lived on.