The Journal of James Hartline
Preparing For My Departure:
But Running My Race Until I Leave
February 4, 2007
Lessons That John the Baptist Taught Me
To Overcome the King Herods of My Generation
John said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet."
I have spent many years studying the life of John the Baptist. For even the most seasoned of Biblical scholars, John's life is a most perplexing one. One of the complex questions about John's life that has always plagued me is the issue of why John suffered such a terrible ending to his life when he had lived so obediently to the will and dictates of God.
Why would Jesus allow John to be executed by the most heinous man on earth when this John the Baptist was living in complete obedience to our heavenly Father? While Jesus was healing many who were living extremely sinful and disobedient lives, He allowed John to be taken into prison and then beheaded. I know these difficult questions have been placed into my heart by the Holy Spirit. God has driven me to find answers to these questions. In my quest for the answers, I have been on a journey to the very core of God's purpose for me while I remain upon this earth.
Picture for a moment the grand beginnings of John the Baptist:
And there appeared unto Zacharias an angel of the Lord standing on the right
side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled and
fear fell upon him. But the angel of the Lord said unto him, "Fear not, Zacharias:
for thy prayer is heard; thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and
thou shall call his name John. And thou shall have joy and gladness; and
many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord,
and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the
Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel
shall he turn to the Lord their God."
There was so much heavenly hope in the womb of Elizabeth. John was ordained from birth to turn the hearts of an entire nation back to God. This would be no easy task in light of the moral decay that ran deep within the soul of Israel. Under the pagan dictatorship of the Roman Empire, Israel's religious and governmental leaders had subjected themselves to the evils of Caesar's mandates, and thus, only a man filled with the Holy Spirit of God Almighty from birth could interject a societal mindset that gave credence to the Kingdom of Heaven and Christ the Messiah. In other words: Enter John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.
As the life of John unfolds, shift for a moment to that glorious incident within the waters of the Jordan River where a mild, but intellectually gifted carpenter's son comes to the Baptist:
And John came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of
repentance for the forgiveness of sins; John said unto them, "As for me, I baptize
you with water, but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to tie
the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Now when all the people were being baptized by John, Jesus was baptized,
and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended
in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, "You are My
beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."
"He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)," were the words of John as he recognized his God-ordained and declining role in the ministry of Jesus. That one statement has become for me, one of the foundational concepts in every aspect of my life as a Christian. All of my old sins and all of my old rebellion must decline and die off as Christ increases within my soul and life decisions. I am not sure that John fully realized when he made this statement just how prophetic and final it was for his own earthly ministry.
And now, shift one more time to the latter stones upon the road that John the Baptist walked. Remember the glorious appearing of the angel of the Lord as he articulated in holy splendor the destiny of John. Remember the precious assignment of John as he held the head of Jesus in his gnarled hands and slowly and lovingly baptized our Messiah beneath the murky waters of the Jordan River. And then think about this:
King Herod had arrested and imprisoned John as a favor to his
wife Herodias (the former wife of Herod's brother Philip). John kept
telling Herod, "It is illegal for you to marry her." Herod would have
executed John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people
believed that John was a prophet.
But at a birthday party for Herod, Salome, the wicked daughter of
Herodias, performed a dance that greatly pleased him,
so Herod promised with an oath to give her anything she wanted.
At her mother's urging, the girl asked,
"I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray!"
So John was beheaded in the prison and his head was brought on a tray
and given to the girl. And the girl, laughing and giggling, gave it to her
wicked mother, Queen Herodias.
John would not compromise the calling God had given him. From his birth to his death, John would not endulge his flesh. While others drank liquor and had adulterous affairs, John was crying out in the wilderness, "Repent! Repent! Make ready the coming of the Lord." He would never be a father to any children, for he never married. He lived a life alone, segregated in allegiance to God. John's only priority was to the throne of heaven and the King that sat upon that throne. John was repulsed by the self-endulgent society that surrounded him. In severe defense of the word of God, John attacked all religious leaders who sought to contaminate the sovereign domain that God had assigned him to defend.
John had a way of angering all of the hypocrites of his time. And the hypocrites, from King Herod to the temple priests, despised John:
But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Saducess come to his baptism,
he said unto them, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee
from the wrath to come?"
The vile King Herod could no longer tolerate the constant outcry of John as he confronted that blasphemous king for his immoral and repugnant leadership. I can, with great sadness, envision the moment those brutal guards arrested John. They beat him with the blunt end of a sword, knocking him down. Trying as he always did to rise up with the courage of a lion, John tried to straighten his moldy garment of camel's hair, the blood flowing from the wound on his brow. Striking another blow, John fell into the very waters that he once had baptized Jesus in. With blood oozing down his face, Herod's soldiers forcefully placed heavy iron manacles onto John's wrists and ankles. Grabbing John by his soiled long hair, one of the burliest of the guards drug John out of the Jordan and threw him atop a prisoner's cart. From that place, a territory known in ancient Israel as Perea, the cart began the long, desolate ride to Machaerus.
Machaerus, the Fortress of Herod.
Machaerus, the fearful place, the ancient place of Herod's evil doings.
The isolated mountain on which the fortress stood is located at the end of a ridge between the Wadi Zerqa Ma`in to the north and the Wadi Heidan-Mujib (Arnon) to the south. The mountain isolated by deep wadis forms two saddles to the south east and north west sides. It could be reached from the Dead Sea on the west or from the region of Madaba on the east.
Machaerus - just the mention of that name, created dread and fear in the hearts of the common citizens of Jerusalem. To offend the royal family in any way could result in a trip to the dark recesses of Machaerus. John knew what could happen to him for speaking out against the immorality and spiritual rot that had permeated the political and religious leadership of Israel. Yet, John's obedience to God was more important to him than the fear of Machaerus or Herod's death squads.
While the wealthy elite of the Jewish government wined and dined with Herod's adulterous family at Machaerus, the music would play so loudly in the banquet hall that all sounds from the dungeon below were drowned out. During crowded parties, the pagan drum beats coordinated the seducing rhythms of nearly nude virgin dancers in the halls of the fortress. On one such night, when an outside observer could not distinguish between the dancers and the demons which appeared among the drunkards, the unconscious body of John the Baptist was drug through the iron gates of Machaerus.
It seemed that the music got louder and the drum beats faster, as two heavy and sweating guards pushed open the rusting gates that lead down into the dark recesses of the dungeon. As they hauled John's body behind that devil's entry, the guards abruptly stopped and covered their nostrils with well-worn towels. Oh, the stench, the filthy stench. There was no running water in Herod's dungeon. There were no air vents to bring about a breeze. This was to prevent the hellish odors from rising up into the sumptuous rooms of the residential part of the castle. Even with their faces covered, the smell of human waste and vomit nearly caused the guards to faint. In the midst of decaying flesh and the prisoners who were covered with sores and maggots, the guards chained dear John the Baptist to the wall in the darkest part of the dungeon. The new prison cell of John the Baptist was simply called: the pit.
The pit: a five-foot square hole in the lowest bowels of the dungeon. Sinking into the filthy mire of Herod's torture chambers, an unconcsious John began to awaken. John thought that it would only be a short period of time before Jesus came and miraculously removed him from such an unholy predicament. Afterall, a lifetime of obedience would surely result in his rescue. To John's utter dismay, Jesus never came. In a brief moment of lost faith, John conveyed to a rare visitor, "Go ask Jesus, 'Are you the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?' "
Suffering under the tyranny of Herod's control, John was frustrated that Jesus never did come to get him out of the prison. One day, John noticed that the vague laughter flowing down from the banquet hall was louder than usual. Oh, how they loved to mock John, especially that witch Herodias who was living in an adulterous relationship with her husband's brother. Herodias despised John. Everytime he was brought up for questioning by Herod, John would point at her and demand she repent of her adultery and witchcraft. She never did repent and on the day that the music played louder than usual, two guards with black hoods upon their heads entered the cell of John the Baptist.
John was chained to the wall. He could not even lift his hands to defend himself. Herod had reduced this once mighty man of God to a life worse then that of a dog. Without so much as a warning, one of the guards brought out a large, razor sharp sword. The other guard grabbed John by the hair and held his head back. With one swing of that device, the head of John the Baptist was disconnected from his earthly abode. Shrieks of laughter exploded among the political leaders within Herod's banqueting room as the guard handed Herodias the platter holding the head of dear John the Baptist. The wicked rulers of a society consumed by hell's delicacies had triumphantly silenced a prophet of God.
For the first thirty-five years of my life, I was basically the personification of sin and wickedness. Captive to a lifestyle of drugs and homosexuality, there was surely nothing good going to come from my existence. There was no doubt in my mind that I was headed straight to hell and I was desperately trying to find a way out of my dire circumstances. Ultimately, God did answer my constant cries for deliverance. Somewhere on my road to redemption, God really did change me. I owe God everything because He rescued me from an eternity in hell.
As my life in Christ has matured, my appetite for sin has diminished more and more, and my hunger for God's word has steadily increased. I think I have grasped what John the Baptist so eloquently articulated when he said, "Christ must increase and I must decrease." My spiritual journey with Christ has begun to come into a more fuller maturity as I daily draw closer to God's merciful throne room. Today, I am consumed, much like John the Baptist, with giving all of my life to whatever God demands of me. What else could I do, but give my all to the God who has given me eternal life?
It seems that God has driven me into a wilderness. On many days, it is a lonely place, but with that loneliness, comes a great and divine peace. I know I am where God has brought me. It is a lonely place for many reasons. One of these reasons is that few are called there. Most Christians do not really want to be completely segregated from the things of this life. Oh, they will tell us they do, but when the demand to cut off the sinful ways are put before them, there is usually a justification for continuing on with their consumption of such sinful produce.
I am impelled by God to call out to our society to repent. I cannot help it. It burns within my belly. I have no peace if I do not cry out what God has commanded me to tell the world. God tells me to warn the people. There are great catastrophes coming. Our entire culture, our nation, our very existence is in grave danger. Yet, many times when I warn those God has called me to warn, I am raked over the verbal coals of the hot mouths of degenerate political and religious leaders.
I cannot remain silent. It seems as if the spirit of Herod has risen from the grave. There is a vicious hatred in our culture rising up against me. And that hatred is coming from many pastoral offices right here in San Diego, California, the place where I live. It would be easier to remain silent. But God has not kept me alive this long so that I can remain silent. What good is my life, to say I know God, but then disobey my Lord because I fear the tyranny arising from those who claim a form of false godliness.
I had always assumed that if I repented and turned from my wicked ways, that everyone would be so jubilant. That was the greatest false assumption that I could have ever made. The spirit of Herod and his adulterous wife Herodias live on in many churches in the city and county where I live. There is a great spiritual wickedness and corruption in many of the churches in San Diego. I have sought high and low for the answer to this dilemna. I have poked and prodded into these churches and I have come away with a delirious disappointment.
I have actually been threatened by pastors and other church leaders here in San Diego because I have exposed their corruption. It is a most heartbreaking experience. For I know that their attitudes are reflective of very dark things to come. I have seen how the love of money has taken captive the focus of many pastors in San Diego. Their building programs have replaced the New Testament's main mandate which is local evangelism. There is barely any breath left in the local San Diego body of Christ for local evangelism. The pulse of the local gospel is rapidly diminishing. It is a startling occurence in light of the fact that there are over 1,700 churches in San Diego. Many of these churches have buildings bigger than Herod's Fortress at Machaerus and yet the light within them to save the lost in San Diego is darker than the dungeon that John the Baptist died in.
God has commanded me to root out corruption in the cities of San Diego County. I must obey. But oh, how I am despised. I am hated by the radical homosexual activists who consider my stand for God against their ungodly enterprises a major threat to their agenda. I am equally despised by many San Diego pastors who have become enslaved by their own quests for bigger church venues, schools and music programs. And in all this, they resist the cry of God to return to their first love.
There are also some pastors who are partnering with corrupt political forces in San Diego. These dark alliances are creating grave compromises that are ulitmately killing off the effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Working in tandum with each other, I have been informed by numerous confidential sources that these unholy teams are working to silence my voice in our city. For them, it's all about "unity." Unity for what? So they can build bigger Christian schools and elect more corrupt politicians who will approve their building projects. These individuals despise my constant crying out against their corruption. They are indeed, like the Herodian Clan of old.
There is an extremely large church in East San Diego County that actually has a member who advises their building fund. This individual gave thousands of dollars to an extremely wicked politician in the recent 2006 election. Why would he do this? How could he compromise the values of the Bible? How could someone so closely tied to the fundraising project of this large church, compromise the Bible's commandment that we believers are not to partner with the evil works of darkness? Yet, the pastor of this church also gave money to the same politician. What has been this church's response to me for bringing this up to them? I have actually been threatened by some of the leaders associated with this church if I don't back off from confronting this situation.
What does this situation say about the gross darkness that is saturating San Diego, California? With over 1,700 churches in San Diego, California, how is that we have a lesbian District Attorney and a mayor who marches in the gay pride parade each year. I know of numerous Christian leaders in one of the largest churches in San Diego who helped elect this pro-gay mayor. What hope do we have from the impending catastrophes that will surely come when God judges this grotesque injustice and compromise of His word?
I feel there are new Herod's breathing down my neck. But if my obedience to God means I must lay my neck on Christ's sacrificial altar, then I say, "Take my neck and everything else I have in this life." When I get to heaven, I think John the Baptist and I will have alot to talk about.
From The Journal Of James Hartline
A Voice Crying Out In The Wilderness
February 4, 2007
"God: Use My Life To Save My Generation"