At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.
On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Have you ever been in a season where you’ve questioned if God really hears our pleas and cries in the midst of great oppression and injustice; Whether they are national, political, congressional, familial, or relational?
And if He hears, does He even care?
Well I think that today’s reading demonstrates something about how Jesus navigates these trying circumstances in our lives that will help us to begin to see His present care and concern for us if we realign our vision and focus in on where His efforts are actually being displayed.
To set the scene, John the Baptist had been wrongfully imprisoned. His only crime is telling the truth. But rather than receiving correction and changing his ways, Herod instead tries to snuff out the light as all evil men must do in order to continue on with their evil deeds.
John the Baptist is thrown into a dingy dark cell in an attempt to silence his testimony.
Through the course of his incarceration, John is then executed through the design of Herodias, at her daughter’s request of Herod – a mere puppet in this evil plot – to whom he promises upto half his kingdom in a moment of drunken folly which he would soon regret.
Sidenote: This teaches us that evil can be forwarded in one of two ways:
1. When people act to maliciously forward their evil desires.
2. When we unquestioningly serve the evil desires of others without considering the nature/motives of their request.
Either way, the deed is done, and the news of this execution-styled death of God’s forerunner is reported to the Messiah, Jesus Himself, shortly after it happens.
And Jesus’ great heart of unfailing love is broken, and we know this for a few reasons.
If you’ve ever been asked ‘who was the greatest person in all of the Old Testament,’ there may be many people that would quickly come to mind:
– Moses, the Lawgiver and one through whom God parted the Reed Sea
– David, the beloved former greatest king of Israel who was commended as one whose heart was wholly after God
– Elijah, with his spectacular miracles and chariot of fire entourage into heaven,
or the many others who could easily be named.
But for Jesus, there was one who stood so far apart from the others that he was given the title ‘greatest‘ by Jesus himself!
I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.
Or as another writer puts it:
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;
So you can imagine how deeply broken the heart of Jesus had to be at hearing the news of John’s death at the hands of unjust systems and the plots of wicked men and women.
In fact, it affected Jesus so deeply that the writer is sure to tell us:
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
Even Jesus knew that it was healthy to mourn the death of those we love when they passed away.
Death is such a foreign topic to eternal life, that even though He knew that He would one day see John again because of his faith in Messiah, even a temporary separation was enough to pain Jesus’ holy heart.
But what is even greater than Jesus’ love for John who He regarded as the ‘greatest’ was Jesus’ love and concern for all those who were still with him here on earth.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, (believers who will resurrect unto life eternal) so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
We know this because in the very next verse, even though Jesus’ mourning is cut short, when He sees how desperate the people are to follow him amidst this national outcry of injustice, he turns and does something miraculous:
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
You see, Jesus did not rectify the world’s injustices by starting a protest towards Herod outside of his palace for killing his friend, or by inciting a group of Zealots to retaliate on John’s behalf.
Instead, He forwarded the Kingdom of God in the only way that the Kingdom of God has ever been forwarded: by love expressed through sacrificial charity.
In fact, not only did Jesus heal their sick, but the following paragraph jumps right into a story about when Jesus then feeds all of them… At least five thousand of them!
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat…. ”
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he (Jesus) gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children
Matthew 14:15-16, 19-21
Imagine that! John, the one that Jesus regarded as the ‘greatest born of a woman,’ is killed, and Jesus’ recourse was to heal the sick and feed thousands.
That’s like hearing that your friend is killed by murderers for fun and enjoyment one morning, and then your response is choosing to comfort others in their grief and volunteering your time at a local food bank that evening.
In response to this paradoxical wisdom of the Kingdom of God, G.K Chesterton writes:
“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
I write this today because sometimes I wonder what our personal recourse for injustice is? And do our ideas for justice resonate with those we see detailed in the Bible regarding the Kingdom of God?
How many times have worldly concepts of countering injustices been used by professing Christians to justify a different course of action than we see exemplified in Jesus’ life and teachings that instead brings reproach upon the Gospel through this misrepresentation of the true ways of righteousness?
Clearly Jesus is not the one leading things like the atrocities and violence of the 12th century Catholic crusades. Yet most of the unbelieving world would falsely believe this is true if you look at the lives of some who have professed to know Him.
No, Jesus is more likely to be the who sits with you to mourn a departed friend and reminds you of our common hope through the Gospel.
And He’s more likely to be working through that friend who was thoughtful enough to remember that you probably haven’t eaten in a few days, and drops off a meal for you and your family that is so abundant that you have leftovers for days to follow!
I pray that as we round this second half of 2018, we’ll continue to grow up in our knowledge to comprehend that deeper place in us that God wants to restore so we can better display our trust in God and the ways of His Kingdom that recognizes how present He is indeed always with us – even amidst the temporary trials and tribulations through the reign of unjust people and world systems – that matures us in our reactions to these things knowing that God is still in control, and will one day make all things right.
To this end I implore you: