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A Good Word For Bad Times – November 26th, 2023

Dr. Rob White - November 26, 2023

A Good Word For Bad Times

July 22nd, 2018
The story of John's martyrdom, set inside the story of the successful mission by the Twelve, assures us that God is at work––and is winning the victory––even in the worst of times.
Scripture Text: Mark 6:14-29
A sermon by Rev. Dr. Rob White for Athens Universal Life Church

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In the biblical narrative of Mark, amidst the successful mission of the apostles, a dark tale unfolds—the martyrdom of John the Baptist. This poignant story serves as a powerful reminder that even in the face of adversity, God’s work prevails, offering a message of hope that transcends the ages.

The Gospel of Mark recounts how King Herod, having heard of Jesus’ miracles, grappled with the belief that John the Baptist had risen from the dead. The narrative takes a grim turn when Herod, prompted by a vengeful Herodias, orders John’s execution. The gruesome details, including the presentation of John’s head on a platter, evoke discomfort and sorrow. However, within this tragic episode lies a deeper truth—God’s unwavering triumph over evil.

Mark strategically places John’s martyrdom within the broader context of the apostles’ successful mission, emphasizing a dual narrative. While the apostles proclaim the Good News, casting out demons and healing the sick, John faces persecution and death. This storytelling technique serves as a reassurance to Mark’s audience, a community enduring persecution, that God’s redemptive work endures even in the darkest times.

The juxtaposition of success and suffering challenges the notion that faithful discipleship guarantees an easy life. John’s prophetic voice, echoing the call to repentance and holiness, led to his beheading. Yet, Herod’s conflicted response reveals an unexpected facet—despite imprisoning John, Herod protects him, recognizing the righteousness in his words.

The story speaks directly to the contemporary struggles faced by Christians. In a world fraught with external threats and internal challenges, the narrative resonates with the complexities of modern life. The threats without—symbolized by locked doors and security systems—mirror the tangible dangers we navigate daily. Simultaneously, the threats within—be it illness or unrequited love—underscore the emotional and spiritual struggles.

Despite the grim circumstances, the narrative insists that God is at work, echoing the sentiment expressed by Charles Colson during his battle with cancer. Colson’s revelation that God pours out grace abundantly in times of fear and suffering reflects a profound truth—there is an overcoming of suffering that transcends human understanding.

Helen Keller’s inspirational journey, marked by her triumph over profound physical challenges, further illustrates the narrative’s central message. Her words, “Although the world is very full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it,” echo the underlying theme that Mark conveys through the juxtaposition of John’s martyrdom and the apostles’ mission.

In conclusion, Mark’s narrative urges us to find hope in the midst of adversity. It teaches that, like the apostles, we can be bearers of light even when facing personal challenges. The story within a story reminds us that God’s redemptive work persists, offering solace and strength in the face of life’s tribulations. As we navigate the roar of the world, we, too, can echo Joyce Kilmer’s sentiments—thanking God for the strife, the stress, and the pain, while ultimately finding gratitude in the enduring presence of God.

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