Today’s Reading: John 12:44-50
Fifteen months1 after John the Baptist was imprisoned, Herod Antipas — the son of Herod the Great who reigned at the time of Jesus’ birth — beheaded John to save face at a banquet.2 John’s decrease was now complete. All eyes turned to Jesus. Matthew recorded that, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13). In the manna-for-multitudes and gravity-defying miracles that follow, it is easy for us to overlook and underestimate Jesus’ grief. But after Jesus healed and fed the thousands who awaited Him in the no-longer-solitary place and before Jesus and Peter walked on water in a storm, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone. (Matthew 14:22-23)
At this point in Jesus’ life, few remained alive of those who had witnessed His angel-celebrated birth and grasped at least in part the heavenly weight of His messianic anointing. Zechariah and Elizabeth, righteous Simeon and the prophetess Anna, the Magi, the shepherds, and probably even Joseph had died. The crowds were curious as well as clueless. The disciples were devoted as long as there was little danger. But John knew who Jesus was. John attested to Jesus’ divine Son-ship when he leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting, when he baptized Jesus and heard God’s voice through the open heavens at the Jordan, and when he asked Jesus to confirm His identity from within the prison that would be John’s last home on earth.
Now, John was gone and Jesus needed solitude to pray.
John’s death marks a turn toward the cross in Jesus’ ministry. From this point forward, Jesus more intensely taught upon and demonstrated the revolutionary nature of His “upside down” kingdom.3 Consequently, the religious tension that eventually nailed Him to the cross dramatically escalated. Alone on that mountain, as Jesus grieved John’s death, He anticipated His own.
We have never reaped such a harvest from any seed as from that which fell from our hands while tears were falling from our eyes . ~ C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892)4
[God] draws the curtain about the bed of His chosen sufferer and, at the same time, He withdraws another curtain which before concealed His Glory! ~ C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892)5
Bring to mind the names and faces of loved ones who have died. What deposits did they make in your life? How did you feel when you first learned of their deaths? Allow your experiences to infuse feeling into the written account of Jesus’ prayerful mourning on the mountainside.
Today’s Fast: Speeding Past Sorrow
Jesus sets an example for us all to sit with our sorrow. He could have easily kept moving in an attempt to distance Himself from sadness. Instead, Jesus sent everyone away and carved out space to pray in solitude. Deaths are defining moments in our lives. It serves us poorly to hurry past them. Today, honor the losses in your life. Instead of speeding past sadness, slow down and be present to your emotions. With Jesus, sit with your sorrow and let loss do its eternal work in your soul.
- Since dates of antiquity are understandably difficult to assert with certainty, Throughout 40 Days of Decrease, I have chosen to reference time between events, as there seems to be more scholarly agreement with regard to the general ordering of events than the precise dating of events. Johnston, Ellisen, and Cheney suggest the dates of December AD 29 for John’s imprisonment and March AD 31 for John’s beheading, hence my estimate of fifteen months. See Johnston M. Cheney and Stanley A. Ellisen, Jesus Christ the Greatest Life: A Unique Blending of the Four Gospels, Logos Edition (Eugene, OR: Paradise Publishing Inc., 1999), 47, 65.
- See Matthew 14:3-12 and Mark 6:14-29.
- H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (1857; repr., London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889), 419.
- Gayle Erwin, The Jesus Style (Cathedral City, CA: Yahshua Publishing, 2011), Kindle edition, loc. 113.
- H. Spurgeon, “The Pitifulness of the Lord the Comfort of the Afflicted,” Bible Hub Online Bible Study Suite, accessed June 3, 2015, http://biblehub .com/sermons/auth/spurgeon/the_pitifulness_of_the_lord_the_comfort _of_the_aff licted.htm.
Excerpted with permission from 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole, copyright Alicia Britt Chole.
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There’s comfort in the fact that our Jesus knew grief. He endured times of great loss and suffering like when His cousin John — the one who prepared the way for Him — was brutally murdered. If you’re in a time of grief, let Him join you in it because He has so much empathy for you. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily