“The Witness of John the Baptist: Faithful but Suffering” (Mark 6:7-32)

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The Witness of John the Baptist: Faithful but Suffering

Corrie Ten Boom was a well-known Dutch Christian writer. During World War II, she and her family protected Jews by hiding them in their house from the Nazis. They were all caught eventually. Her father died in prison, while her sister died in a concentration camp. Corrie herself was almost sent to the gas chambers. But one week before the execution scheduled for Corrie and all other young women her age, she was suddenly released from the camp, due to an error in paperwork. Unfortunately, she was the only one to escape.

I share this story because it shows how God’s people can be faithful and yet suffer tremendously.

Today, we will read a passage in Mark chapter 6 about someone who was faithfully obeying God but was thrown in prison and executed. He is John the Baptist. We will also read briefly about what Jesus and his disciples were doing around that time. Let’s pray.

[Read Mark 6:7-13]

To refresh your memory about Jesus’ story so far: As Mark 3:14 mentions, “He appointed twelve [disciples] that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” The disciples had spent time watching Jesus preach and perform miracles. Now, it was time for them to try doing it themselves.

When King Herod heard about their preaching, their many successful healings and exorcisms, he wondered about Jesus. Let’s see what he thought by reading verses 14-29.

[Read Mark 6:14-29]

John the Baptist’s life and teachings foreshadowed Jesus’ own life and teachings. They both preached a message calling people to repent of their sins and return to God. They both criticized religious leaders. They were so similar that people were saying, “Jesus is a reincarnation of John!”

Both men were arrested for their bold message and executed. And so, John’s death foreshadowed Jesus’ own death. If Jesus himself, who is God, suffered unfairly and was killed by men, should we be surprised when we also suffer for obeying him?

This story of John the Baptist may seem like a sudden interruption in the story of Jesus. But I think it helps to create a fuller picture of what it means to obey God faithfully. On the one hand, you see the success of the disciples. They have healed many, shared God’s message with many. But on the other hand, you see the tragic death of John. To follow God is to experience both highs and lows, both comfort and suffering.

It’s easy to see God at work when we hear about miracles. But can we see God at work in the end of John’s life? Personally, I imagine God was with John in prison, emboldening him to continue speaking truth to Herod.

In the book of Matthew, there is another version of the story of Jesus sending disciples to preach and heal. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid of sharing God’s message. He says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” I’m sure John knew that his life, his reward, and his future was in God’s hands.

And what can we say about Herod? He was a conflicted man. Verse 20 says, “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him”. Yet, despite Herod’s fear and respect for the righteous man, his fear of people was stronger. He didn’t want to kill John but he did, just to save face in front of the dinner guests.

John had an opportunity to speak to Herod, perhaps multiple times, but God’s message seemed to not penetrate the king’s heart. However, that was not John’s failure. John had faithfully discharged his mission.

May we receive God’s boldness to speak like John. This doesn’t mean we should speak every time we feel like saying something. We also need wisdom about when and how to speak. Also, the apostle Peter writes that when we explain our beliefs to people, we should do it with “gentleness and respect,” in addition to having a life of integrity and “good behavior” (1 Peter 3:15).

After telling this story about John, the writer of this gospel, Mark, returns to the story of Jesus’ disciples. Let’s finish it by reading verses 30-32.

[Read Mark 6:30-32]

After the disciples completed their mission, Jesus took them to a remote place to rest. They had been so busy, and Jesus knew their physical and emotional needs. Perhaps they also heard the news about John, and needed time to mourn the death of a good man. If they didn’t stop to rest, they would have been endlessly pursued by people in need of help.

Jesus is not like a boss who tells his workers, “Do as much as you can! There’s so much work to do, you can’t afford to rest too long!” Instead, Jesus is the one who takes initiative to make his disciples rest. For those of us who desire to serve Jesus, we can be glad that we have such a master. Serving Jesus may have times of busyness, but it should also have regular times of rest.


Before I end today’s message, let me share some thoughts on our main topic today, which is about suffering despite being faithful to God.

There are different seasons in life. As a church too, IBF has gone through many seasons.

When I first came to IBF in 2010, I was encouraged and moved to see so many young people worshipping God earnestly. But I’ve also seen losses and sadness here. For example, many of us grieved for Mieko-san when she lost her life to a serious illness more than 10 years ago. Even in her deteriorating health, she was hospitable. She was a mother to many. She made an impact even on people who didn’t know her well. My wife used to be an English conversation partner; one of her students was a Japanese non-Christian and didn’t attend this church but knew Mieko-san. She said to my wife, “Mieko-san was such a devout Christian. Why did God allow her to suffer?”

Yet, despite these losses, I see the people of IBF continuing to worship the Lord. I think this reflects not so much who we are but who God is. We have found him worthy to be worshipped throughout the changing seasons.

One of the songs we sing here is called “Blessed Be Your Name.” I like how this song acknowledges the ups and downs of life. The lyrics says, “Blessed be Your name / When the sun’s shining down on me / When the world’s all as it should be.” It also says, “Blessed be Your name / On the road marked with suffering / When there’s pain in the offering”.

We sing this because we know that God is not far away from us, even when we fail to feel his closeness. God is at work even in the darkness, when we cannot see or hear him.

In her book called Prayer in the Night, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren writes about her relationship with God during times of grief. In a short period of time, she lost her father and had two miscarriages. Feeling completely broken, she turned to God for comfort and God met her in the darkest pit.

When she looked back, she found that she had grown the most in her relationship with God during this hard time than any other season of life. So, she wrote, “There is an entire class of flowers that only bloom at night. Moonflowers, evening primroses, and other night bloomers can only be glimpsed in full glory if you venture out after dark. And there are things in our spiritual lives, too, that only bloom in the dark.”

While we are in the middle of suffering, we may not like hearing that God helps us grow through our hardships.  I would like to clarify something.  God is holy, but not heartless.  He does not enjoy seeing us suffer.  Because he loves us, he knows our pain.  However, he allows us to suffer sometimes because it is one way for us to mature.  And we should not glorify suffering as something good in itself. Suffering was not a part of God’s original, good creation. But he does allow us to experience the suffering that is already present around us as a natural part of a fallen world. And indeed, suffering can help us truly open our hearts to other people who suffer.

Also, God is not a master who orders his workers to do the dirty work while he sits in comfort. Through the person of Jesus, he experienced mortal life himself. He experienced suffering to a degree that many of us have not gone through. He knows what it is to be misunderstood, disliked, betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, and killed. Isaiah calls our savior “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3).

That is why Christians sometimes call Jesus “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” Jesus’ death on the Cross shows that he chose to be involved with us so closely that he became the representative of humanity, taking the punishment for our sins. And when he rose from the dead, he also represented us—giving hope to the glory we will rise to.

No matter what suffering we endure now, we have a glorious future to look forward to: bodily resurrection in the new heaven and the new earth.

The apostle Paul says this in Romans 8. Verse 18: “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…” Verse 22: “… the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Verse 26: “the Spirit [of God] helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” And lastly, verse 28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Not only do we have something to look forward to later, but also a companion—God himself—to be with us now, in the middle of our suffering.


Let me end with a few more details about the story of Corrie Ten Boom. While in concentration camp, Corrie and her sister shared about their hope in Christ with other prisoners, some of whom became Christians. Before her sister died, she said to Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that [God] is not deeper still.”

As we see in Corrie’s family and in today’s Bible passage, Christians can experience both triumph and tragedy. While being faithful to God, we may yet suffer. I pray that while suffering, we may yet be faithful. God, for his part, promises that he will always be with us. And He knows suffering first-hand.

Let us pray: Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Savior, by preaching of repentance: Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; 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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