August 17, 2003


After Herod Antipas had executed John the Baptist, Mark tells us that when John's "disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb."

Let us take a few moments to reflect on John's life, work, and death. John was, as far as this writer knows, the only prophet who was himself a matter of prophecy. Three Old Testament passages foretold John's coming and his mission: Isa. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6. These passages and their New Testament fulfillment show that John was the forerunner or herald, going before Jesus Christ to prepare His way.

The significance of John and his ministry is further underscored by the fact of his miraculous birth, and its announcement by an angel. John's parents were beyond child-bearing age and his mother was barren, Luke 1:7. But an angel appeared and announced that she would bear a son named John. He would precede the Lord, and would manifest the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet. See Luke 1:5-25.

John's ministry was, of course, a turning point in the unfolding of God's plan to save sinners. "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached..." (Luke 16:16).

John was the first to preach that God's kingdom was at hand. About six months later, Jesus preached the same message, Matt. 3:2; 4:17. So far as is revealed in the Scriptures, John was the first to baptize in water for the remission of sins, Mark 1:4. Though there are some differences between the baptism of John and that of Jesus' "great commission," Jesus' baptism is also in water for the remission of sins, Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38.

As Jesus looked back on the life and work of John the Baptist, He told His listeners, "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matt. 11:11). In the sense of devotion to duty and faithfulness to God, none was greater than John. But John lived and died before the kingdom ever came. Citizens in that kingdom have greater privilege and blessing than John. It is greater to be a follower of the King than to have been His forerunner. Speaking of Jesus, John said, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose," (Mark 1:7). And he also said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

Now John was dead. Herodias would never again have to face him or hear him say her marriage was unlawful. But someday she must face One mightier than John, and so must we all, Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 14:10. 

--Clarence R. Johnson


Paul Harvey recently reported on his noon news of a 73 year old man who was pinned beneath his farm tractor for four days and nights in driving rain and a terrible storm. Concerned friends went to see about him just in time. It seems that he is going to live after his ordeal, but he will lose a leg below the knee. 

Several newspapers have picked up on this little story and have centered upon the amazing fact that a 73 year old man could live after being pinned beneath a tractor for four days. Yes, all of that is amazing, but a more amazing fact is what caused his friends to go to see about him. One friend gave as the reason for this visit that "He missed prayer meeting Wednesday night." That's all? He just missed one service and his friends went to check on him. 

As one preacher remarked, "I believe there are two possible suppositions we can make about this incident.

On the one hand we could suppose that this man was so faithful and regular in his church attendance that everyone knew if he was not there, something had to be seriously wrong. A question: What if you had been the one pinned under the tractor? Would your absence have been noticed? Or, are you so irregular in attendance that everyone would assume you decided to sleep in, or go to the lake? How many services have you missed in the last three months? Could you honestly classify yourself as a faithful, regular worshiper? 

On the other hand, we could assume that the people in this man's congregation have such a concern for the souls of men that when anyone, no matter how regular or irregular, missed a service they went to see about them." 

I don't know which of the preacher's assumptions might be the more plausible, but I would like to see more men and/or more congregations like what he was describing.

Christians need to read Hebrews 10:22-25 daily. No Christian can draw near unto God, hold fast the confession of his hope, or consider his brethren to provoke them unto love and good works who forsakes the assembling of the brethren together. 

I have observed some church members that pick and choose which services to attend according to their mood or by what TV program is showing. These folks are here-again-gone-again and hit-and-miss at the services. 

Weak brethren seem to think, "Well, so what if I'm just at services just every now and then? If that's the worst sin I ever commit, I'll make it to heaven." But are you sure of that? My Bible says that all sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 6:23). We can lose our souls over just one sin not repented of (Acts 8:13-24).

How many times does a person have to miss to be wrong? The first time is a sin as much as the fourth time or the fortieth time if it is willful absence.

Jesus said, "I know thy works, that thou are neither cold not hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). 

Are you cold? Just exactly how faithful are you? Would you be missed if you missed just one service?

--Anonymous, Market St. bulletin, Joliet, IL


Joab "took three spears in his hand and thrust them through Absalom's heart, while he was still alive in the midst of the terebinth tree" (2 Sam 18:14). This is one of the few times in Scripture that the word heart refers to the blood pump in the middle of the chest, As Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, "Nearly all the references to the heart in the Bible refer to some aspect of human personality."

One of the best known examples is Proverbs 4:23: "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." Let's think about this text a bit.

First, a couple of short but important points. Your heart, the verse says. Each one of us must keep his or her own heart. I cannot keep someone else's heart; someone else cannot keep mine. It's true, of course, that we Christians are to look out for each other and warn each other of spiritual danger. The actual keeping of the heart, however, is an individual matter.

With all diligence describes how we are to approach everything God assigns to us. The word diligence means to be hard working and painstaking. We cannot be casual or careless in something as life-affecting as keeping the heart.


The book of Proverbs alone uses the term heart about 85 times, all of them referring to "some aspect of human personality," or perhaps even the entire inner being. Proverbs 3:5 says, for example, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding." To oversimplify, the heart encompasses at least three aspects of the inner man.

-- Intellect. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov 23:7).
-- Will. "Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction" (Prov 19:18).
-- Emotions. "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad" (Prov 12:25).

Keeping the heart, then, means to guard our intellect, our will, and our emotions, to be cautious about both what comes into and what goes out of our hearts.

If our thinking determines who we really are (Prov 23:7), then we must be cautious about what we think. Paul urged, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things." To be practical, that means we must guard what we read, what we watch, who we listen to -- anything that can make its way into our heart. We must not, for example, make friends "with an angry man," because we run the risk of becoming like him and losing our souls (Prov. 22:24).

Guarding what comes into our heart will give us a leg up on controlling what goes out of it. Jesus emphasized the importance of that in Mark 7:21-23. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."


Keep has a bad sense (to conceal) and a good sense (to guard or protect). Our text obviously intends the latter. How can we guard or protect our intellect, will, and emotions? The book of Proverbs has several answers to that question.

If we want to guard our intellect, our will, and our emotions with all diligence, these six keys from Proverbs may not exhaust our resources, but they come mighty close.

--Jim Ward, Lost River bulletin, Bowling Green, KY


Clarence R. Johnson
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John 4:24