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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Run for Your Life

The Greatest Among Mortals
Radu Ionita

Wonderful privileges are for every true believer to enjoy! To be the children of the Most High, to have our names written on the palms of His hands, to be redeemed and pardoned by the blood of the Creator, to be predestinated to a life which is measured by the life of God—what more can one desire? Indeed, we are the most privileged citizens of the universe! You, my dear reader, you are the object of the dearest care and sympathy of your Heavenly Father, as though you were the only human on this Earth, because “the soul that has given himself to Christ is more precious in His sight than the whole world. The Saviour would have passed through the agony of Calvary that one might be saved in His kingdom. He will never abandon one for whom He has died.”1 And that you are!

For you and for me are all the promises the Lord has made! He never sleeps, He never tires; day after day He is working in behalf of His dear children. Nothing can harm them without His permission! “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psalm 91:7-–10).

We have to agree that we like this part of God’s promises and dealings for/with us! I assume that we all have some favorite passages in the Holy Word of God. Those that tell of events such as when the angel of God destroyed in a single night an entire army of 185,000 soldiers—to keep His promise to His beloved people (2 Kings 19); or the ironic way by which the Lord saved Elisha from Dothan and mocked the blinded Syrian armies until they were trapped in Samaria. (2 Kings 6.) Experiences such as these give us the peace and assurance of belonging to the royal family above! Yes, we love to have such an Almighty God, and to know how near to us He is at every moment!

The forerunner of Christ

But a question arises: Do the Lord’s promises imply that the faithful child of God shall never be called to suffer? We read, that “no evil [shall] befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psalm 91:10). Does this mean we are called for a sweet, pleasant journey to heaven, avoiding any trial, any difficulty, any challenge? Shall we never pass through terrible hours of despair? Is this what the Lord teaches us in His Word?

You may agree that the answer is . . . NO, not at all!

Let us consider a little bit the life of one of the most prominent servants of the Lord: John the Baptist, who was called for a special, solemn mission. Even before his birth, he had been under the special care of God. In His providence the Lord chose a God-fearing couple—Zacharias, a priest, and his wife, Elisabeth, to be the parents of this forerunner of the Messiah. Loyal to God and living a holy life, the aged parents of John received the news of having a long-awaited son. The first of the heavenly angels, “Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19) had been sent to announce to Zacharias the glad tidings of the coming child. And from his very first days on earth, the Lord accompanied him in such a blessed way! His faithful parents taught him in the ways of obedience.

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel” (Luke 1:80).

Instead of attending the rabbinical schools of his time, to be taught by men how to interpret the Scriptures and thus unfit himself for his holy mission, John rather chose “to forgo the enjoyments and luxuries of life for the stern discipline of the wilderness. Here his surroundings were favorable to habits of simplicity and self-denial. Uninterrupted by the clamor of the world, he could here study the lessons of nature, of revelation, and of Providence. The words of the angel to Zacharias had been often repeated to John by his God-fearing parents. From childhood his mission had been kept before him, and he had accepted the holy trust.”2

“But the life of John was not spent in idleness, in ascetic gloom, or in selfish isolation. From time to time he went forth to mingle with men; and he was ever an interested observer of what was passing in the world. From his quiet retreat he watched the unfolding of events. With vision illuminated by the divine Spirit he studied the characters of men, that he might understand how to reach their hearts with the message of heaven. The burden of his mission was upon him. In solitude, by meditation and prayer, he sought to gird up his soul for the lifework before him.”3

And when the time came, a voice was heard in the wilderness. With a heart filled with love for sinners, earnestly John called his listeners to a genuine change. “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Under the influence of the Holy Spirit which was accompanying him, the crowds were deeply impressed and desired instruction. Faithfully, John the Baptist explained that true repentance is followed by the fruits of conversion. His years of solitude with God in the wilderness gave him a true sense of his inability to fulfill God’s requirements on his own. He was stern in his work, arduously desiring the salvation of his people. When the Pharisees and priests were opportunistically trying to be baptized without an understanding of their real stage and without a desire for a holy life, the Baptist sharply rebuked them: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to ourfather” (Luke 3:7, 8).

“Thus the Baptist declared God’s message to Israel. Many gave heed to his instruction. Many sacrificed all in order to obey. Multitudes followed this new teacher from place to place, and not a few cherished the hope that he might be the Messiah. But as John saw the people turning to him, he sought every opportunity of directing their faith to Him who was to come.”4

Selflessness

The success and popularity of John the Baptist did not harm his precious soul. He truly knew God, therefore found he no place for vainglory of himself. When asked about himself, he was ever pointing to the only One, to the Saviour to come, whose shoes he was not worthy to bear. When Jesus came to him to be baptized, he recognized in Him the purity and holiness of Messiah, and faithfully declared: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36)! He lived for God. His only goal in life was that Israel might be saved, and “that [Christ] should be made manifest to Israel” (John 1:31)!

Perhaps the most brilliant trait of John’s character has been his self-abnegation, proving his genuine connection with the Almighty. He was lost from his own sight, as the beauty of His Master was continuously reveling in his heart. When tempted to jealousy by his own disciples, he simply explained: “He must increase, but I mustdecrease” (John 3:30). The same altruistic spirit that moves all heaven, was inspiring this noble child of God. He did not consider himself to be anything but a voice. “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias” (John 1:23).

Without considering the potential consequences against himself, John’s heart and voice stood firmly against sin, guiding sinners to the throne of grace for repentance and reformation. To the adulterous king of the nation he addressed faithful messages of reproof and fervent calls to repentance—and the king knew that the prophet was right. In spite of his unwavering loyalty to God and his courageous, unspotted ministry, John the Baptist was cast into prison.

What can we say about such a loyal steward of the Lord? Was he not under the protection of the Most High? What power could harm or even touch him when the hand of the Infinite One was resting upon him? As the apostle Paul was saying, “If God be for us, who can beagainst us?” (Romans 8:31). Indeed, “the name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

But we see that the faithful servant of the Lord was not, like David, freed from the hand of a wicked king, nor was he, like Daniel, delivered from a den of lions. In the dark, damp prison in which John the Baptist was cast, no angel was sent for liberation, as later happened in Peter’s case. The Lord did not appear to rescue His devoted worker as He did for the three young men in the Babylonian oven!

Naturally, there are some questions that may arise: Why not? Are not the servants of the Lord always protected? Or may they be called to suffer similarly with those who are unfaithful?

Learning from his suffering

By the remarkable experience of John the Baptist, the Lord teaches us that His disciples are not spared from sufferings. It is true that the Lord finds no pleasure in allowing His children to suffer! And He does not permit any drop of suffering to be poured out more than He can use in His infinite wisdom for their benefit and for His plans to be fulfilled.

Terrible were the long days of imprisonment for John the Baptist. “The life of John had been one of active labor, and the gloom and inaction of his prison life weighed heavily upon him. As week after week passed, bringing no change, despondency and doubt crept over him.”5

Even a man of faith like John the Baptist, whom Jesus ranked as the greatest born of woman (Luke 7:28), reached a point in his experience when doubt and despondency crept over him. What about us? Obviously, there will come times in which we will have to pass through similar disappointing experiences. Therefore John’s trial becomes a precious lesson and encouragement for us.

Do our faithful friends help us under such circumstances, or it may happen that sometimes they make the trial even harder? “[John’s] disciples did not forsake him. They were allowed access to the prison, and they brought him tidings of the works of Jesus, and told how the people were flocking to Him. But they questioned why, if this new teacher was the Messiah, He did nothing to effect John’s release. How could He permit His faithful herald to be deprived of liberty and perhaps of life?”6

It is important for us to consider the influence that our friends may exert over our heart when under pressure. Inspiration explains: “These questions were not without effect. Doubts which otherwise would never have arisen were suggested to John. Satan rejoiced to hear the words of these disciples, and to see how they bruised the soul of the Lord’s messenger. Oh, how often those who think themselves the friends of a good man, and who are eager to show their fidelity to him, prove to be his most dangerous enemies! How often, instead of strengthening his faith, their words depress and dishearten!”7

“To the desert prophet all this seemed a mystery beyond his fathoming.”8 May the Lord help us to pay special attention to these inspired words about the unseen war happening around a child of God: “There were hours when the whisperings of demons tortured his spiritthe shadow of a terrible fear crept over him, and . Could it be that the long-hoped-for Deliverer had not yet appeared? Then what meant the message that he himself had been impelled to bear? John had been bitterly disappointed in the result of his mission. . . . Had it been in vain?”9 It is important for us to understand this part of the psychological warfare between good and evil, to distinguish the “whispering of demons” while torturing our spirit. All children of God are called to pass, in one way or another, through such an experience. Our enemy has studied the human mind for thousands of years, and has managed to know it well.10 Disappointment, doubt, unfulfilled expectations are our lot, and the enemy knows how to bring them against us in the most efficient way. Soon, in the last days of probation, the discouragement, the depression, the fear of not having all our sins forgiven will make burdens almost unbearable. We thank God for John the Baptist, an example and an encouragement for us, that through faith in the Redeemer, knowing and having Him, we may be victorious as he was!

Finding hope

What is a disciple of Christ, a child of God supposed to do under such trial? Where to go? Whom to ask? How to discern truth from deception? We are thankful to our heavenly Father for the brilliant example of John the Baptist! He did the wisest thing possible! He turned himself to Jesus for answers! He did not ask Caiaphas or the Sadducees if Jesus was the Messiah. Based on his previous experiences with God, reviewing all the evidences the Lord had given him about Jesus’ messiahship, he chose the side of faith! “John would not discuss his doubts and anxieties with his companions. He determined to send a message of inquiry to Jesus.”11 “And John calling unto himtwo of his disciples sent themto Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another” (Luke 7:19)? Graciously came the answer. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22).

That answer was more than sufficient for the prophet. The same Spirit of God that was revealed in Jesus’ works and teachings was impressing John’s mind. In the report brought by his disciples he recognized the divine signature, and was satisfied. His fears were silenced. “Alone in the dungeon, seeing whither his path, like his Master’s, tended, John accepted the trust—fellowship with Christ in sacrifice. . . . The intelligences of the Universe, fallen and unfallen, witnessed his vindication of unselfish service.”12 “Understanding more clearly now the nature of Christ’s mission, he yielded himself to God for life or for death, as should best serve the interests of the cause he loved.”13

In the Providence of God, it was decided that John the Baptist’s death would serve better the interests of the heavenly Kingdom. John’s loyalty, his sincerity, his integrity, his unwavering service were “paid” in a cruel and altogether unjust way: the sword of Herod’s soldier cut off his head. It is not easy to understand such providence. We know by faith that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28), and in John’s experience it has been the same.

“Satan was permitted to cut short the earthly life of God’s messenger; but that life which ‘is hid with Christ in God,’ the destroyer could not reach. Colossians 3:3. Death itself only placed him forever beyond the power of temptation.”14 In this warfare, the resting days in the prison, prior to his execution, John “had always the companionship of heavenly angels, who opened to him the prophecies concerning Christ, and the precious promises of Scripture. These were his stay, as they were to be the stay of God’s people through the coming ages.”15

A comfort for others

Yes, there are some of God’s dear children with whom He could deal in this strange, unpleasant manner without losing them amid the trial! And these experiences turned to be showers of blessings for other generations of martyrs which were called to suffer for their Master. “And in all the generations that have passed since then, suffering souls have been sustained by the testimony of John’s life. In the dungeon, on the scaffold, in the flames, men and women through centuries of darkness have been strengthened by the memory of him of whom Christ declared, ‘Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater.’ Matthew 11:11.”16

“In the hour of greatest need, when discouragement would overwhelm the soul, it is then that the watchful eye of Jesus sees that we need His help. The hour of man’s necessity is the hour of God’s opportunity. When all human support fails, then Jesus comes to our aid, and His presence scatters the darkness and lifts the cloud of gloom.”17 Thus we all will be helped to victoriously pass the trial! In death, like John the Baptist, or in life like Daniel in the lions’ den, we will have Jesus. And that is sufficient for us. This is a part in the divine purifying process through which the Lord passes all His beloved disciples. At the end, we will reflect more brilliantly the glory of His face!

The Lord knows how important this process is for the transformation He wants to write in our experience, as well as in helping and encouraging others, by our example. Therefore, this process is not reserved for only some of God’s children, but for all. “All who follow Christ will wear the crown of sacrifice. They will surely be misunderstood by selfish men, and will be made a mark for the fierce assaults of Satan. It is this principle of self-sacrifice that his kingdom is established to destroy, and he will war against it wherever manifested.”18

In preparing the way for the Lord’s first coming, John the Baptist is a symbol for those who are called to prepare the way for His second coming—it involves us today. What was the secret of John’s resistance, of his success? How could he pass through the darkness of doubt, of fear, of depression and even to face death? He was continuously turning to the fountain of strength and light. “Under the guiding of the divine Spirit, he studied the scrolls of the prophets. By day and by night, Christ was his study, his meditation, until mind and heart and soul were filled with the glorious vision. He looked upon the King in His beauty, and self was lost sight of.”19

This man of faith showed to the world the strength that true religion brings to human beings. The way he knew God became the foundation of his victory against self, with all its weaknesses, and against the powers of darkness. The sufferings and death of the Baptist shed a wonderful light over his life, his love, and his devotion. And this will happen with all children of God who today know and love God in the same way!

Again and again, the power of God’s love will prove infinitely much stronger than the power of Satan’s malice, hatred and persecution. As our Master has been called to suffer, His beloved disciples will be called to so suffer, too! This is the highest honor to which the Lord can call us. “And of all the gifts that Heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the most weighty trusthighest honor and the .”20

Therefore, let us rejoice, because “blessed are ye, when men is shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12).

And one day, when the redeemed shall see His face, when all trials and sufferings will have passed, they will realize that that path has been the best for their feet. “God never leadsotherwise than they would choose His children to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as coworkers with Him. Not Enoch, who was translated to heaven, not Elijah, who ascended in a chariot of fire, was greater or more honored than John the Baptist, who perished alone in the dungeon.”21 They will see the glory of God’s purposes and plans. They will see the wisdom and the love behind any tear that has been shed and any distress the heart underwent. And they will praise the name of the Lamb for the beauty of His glory.

Among them, my dear reader, you have your spot. Grasp the hand of the Almighty, and walk trustfully in His fellowship. Soon the night of trials will be over, and He Himself will crown you in His royal family!

References:
1 1. The Signs of the Times, January 13, 1909.
2 2. The Desire of Ages, p. 101.
3 3. Ibid., p.102.
4 4. Ibid., p.108.
5 5. Ibid., p.214.
6 6. Ibid., pp.214, 215. [Emphasis added.]
7 7. Ibid., p.215. [Emphasis added.]
8 8. Ibid., p.216.
9 9. Ibid. [Emphasis added.]
10 10. (See Medical Ministry, p. 111.)
11 11. The Desire of Ages, p. 216.
12 12. Education, p. 157.
13 13. The Desire of Ages, p. 218.
14 14. Ibid., p.224.
15 15. Ibid.
16 16. Education, pp. 157, 158.
17 17. Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 530.
18 18. The Desire of Ages, p. 223.
19 19. Conflict and Courage, p. 272.
20 20. The Desire of Ages, p. 225. [Emphasis added.]
21 21. Ibid., pp.224, 225 [Emphasis added.]