John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.
It has been said that good preaching often comforts the afflicted but must sometimes afflict the comfortable. We fallen and sinful human beings find it all too easy to get cozy in our sins. When this happens what we need is not the warm, comforting voice of love but rather love’s loud voice of judgment. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the most gracious thing God can do for us sometimes is to let experience his judgment. For this can rouse out of our sins and set us on the path of grace and holiness once more. Sometimes we need to encounter the voice of judgment, if we ever have a chance at hearing rightly the voice of mercy.
Kendall Harmon tells of Susan Howatch, who wrote fat, racy novels in the 1970s. She had it all—fame and fortune. She was “on a roll” until something happened that caused her life to fall apart. Her marriage came unglued, and then her thirteen year old daughter informed her that she would rather live with her father. Susan was stunned. She reflected later on, “It made me think about everything. I felt a complete failure as a mother. Religious conversions come in all shapes and sizes and mine was not a Road to Damascus, but a cumulative effect…It as the most alienating, destabilizing experience. All the things I thought important, like money and success, weren’t important at all. God had stripped me of everything.”
What happened to Susan Howatch? Kendall Harmon explains, “Susan met Jesus Christ in judgment, and it was the greatest blessing in her life. She reoriented her life with a new foundation and is now an even more successful novelist.” Susan heard the voice of judgment and then the voice of grace and mercy.
John the Baptist has been calling out with the voice of judgment to Herod and Herodias who are in an illicit marriage. While Herod is somewhat perplexed by the voice of judgment, he longs to hear more. But Herodias despises this voice and seeks to silence it—by murder, if necessary. She prevails, but in doing so she loses. For by silencing the voice of judgment, she will never hear the voice of grace and mercy, like Susan Howatch did. John afflicted the comfortable, but because this was not received, Jesus couldn’t comfort the afflicted.
We, too, often try to silence the wholesome voice of judgment. We ignore it. We avoid troublesome passages of Scripture. We tune out a sermon that strikes too close to home. We tell ourselves that God isn’t concerned with our “small sins”. We compare ourselves with “worse sinners.” We ignore the guilt until the feeling of guilt goes away.
Don’t do this! Listen to the voice of God, whether it comforts or afflicts. If it afflicts, you can be sure that even so it is the voice of love which is seeking to bring you, by and by, to the place of comfort, even if by an arduous path.