But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Martyrdom is a creature with two faces. One face can be ugly beyond our imagination. That face houses pain, suffering, and often pure anguish. It is the face that makes us turn away our eyes and bow our heads because of our discomfort and disbelief at its ugliness. The other face shines with a beauty that can be found nowhere else. That face warms us with joy and makes us want to dance and cheer in victory because we know how much that success costs. It makes us want to sacrifice just as much of ourselves for the kingdom of God. Both faces are true and accurate, but one face trumps the other because it endures beyond the moment of martyrdom.
John the Baptist was a wise follower of the Lord because he knew that this life, although it carries with it eternal implications, is just a vapor in the wind. We know this by what he was willing to sacrifice during his time here. John’s focus was in furthering the kingdom of heaven and speaking the truth regardless of the consequences. He faced the religious leaders of his day not in condemnation but in an act to bring conviction and repentance for their good. He knew that this would bring trouble, but that was not his concern. This was the same attitude that caused John to honestly tell the king of his evil ways, which ultimately cost him his life. I am sure that his beheading was painful and more agonizing than we could imagine, but John knew that it would not last. What lasts is the spiritual fruit of his faithfulness to God even unto death.
John could have looked at the ugly face of martyrdom and decided to keep his lips sealed. He could have bowed to opposition and retreated like a scared soldier. He could have let the religious leaders continue in their deception without obeying God’s will and confronting them in their sin. He could have kept his comments to himself without ruffling the feathers of the king and his queen. However, the ugly face did not matter to John. His goal was to please his Father in heaven, and if that meant his life, then so be it. What he saw in his life of sacrifice, and what we see in it even today, is pure beauty. Father, teach us how to view our self-sacrifice in light of the eternal glory that it brings instead of the temporary pain we must endure.