Day 51: Jesus and John the Baptist’s death

Matthew 14 (spring, AD 29)

King Herod really loved the sexy dancing of his niece, and made a drunken offer to her that resulted in the beheading of John the Baptist to please her Mum. It’s tragic to see that Herod was “distressed” (v.9) at the idea but went along with it anyway, more concerned about avoiding humiliation than being just. It feels like a last chance for a man who would subsequently die in exile, betrayed by his mistress’ brother and punished by the Emperor.

What we seldom think about is the impact of John the Baptist’s murder on Jesus: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (v.13).

I don’t know how long the Son of God wanted to be by himself, to mourn and process what had happened, spending intense time in prayer with his Father. He didn’t pretend it was nothing, or say that it was all OK because John was in heaven now. What happened was dreadful and it affected Jesus profoundly.

But even as he went into the hills to be on his own, vast crowds of people followed him. Some who cared about him, others who were excited to see how he might entertain them with more ‘magic’. The stress that would have been on Jesus to have his grieving interrupted like this is significant. And yet…:

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (v.14). Then after several hours, he took responsibility for 5,000 people who hadn’t made meal plans, and miraculously fed them. THEN he took a few hours for himself, because practical compassion and kindness is never a replacement for prayer, and doesn’t remove the need for sleep.

“Shortly before dawn” (v.25)  – i.e. not all that much sleep or prayer time – Jesus then walked across part of the stormy Sea of Gennesaret to join the disciples in the boat, and calmed the storm. On arriving at shore, following a full day of healing ministry and a short night of rest, Jesus…started healing people again…

Our Lord never stopped caring for people, including the ones who didn’t respect or love him, and even when he was grieving. And he will never stop loving you, either. Or inviting you to join him in faith as he did to Peter, when Peter started walking across the water, before his faith failed him.

Look to HIM.

The one who grieves over death and suffering, and who has power over all of nature from weather systems down to molecular structures of bread and bodies.

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