“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee.” (Matthew 4:12)
Now, it was the time for the earthly adult ministry of Jesus to begin. There is little doubt that, while the news of his cousin’s imprisonment had caused him pain, Jesus knew it was time for His own mission to begin. John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus. John had done that; baptized Jesus; Jesus had victory over satan in the temptations after the baptism; and now it was the time for Jesus to do what he’d come to do.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”(Matthew 4:17)
So, how’d John see that development? I mean, he’d done all the work, was still plenty young yet, and was his cousin about to upstage him while he sat there in prison, an innocent man? Let’s see what the Bible records a bit further along in Matthew.
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11:2, 3)
The disciples of John did as their incarcerated leader asked. Remember; John had been preaching and baptizing folks before Jesus came to be baptized, so there were already disciples ready to do the will of God there.
“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6)
One might ask how Jesus felt about John the Baptist. After all, John was sitting there in prison, wasn’t he? Now, John’s disciples had come to ask Jesus who He was. What would Jesus say behind John’s back about him? Was Jesus threatened by the competition?
“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John… ‘This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…’” (Matthew 11:7,10-11)
Herod was living with his brother’s wife, and John had spoken against such things. So, what did Herod care, right? I mean, Herod was a Roman leader, not a Jew.
However, Herod did care and wanted to kill John, because of his anger over the issue of his brother’s wife.
On the other hand, John was a fascination to Herod, too. In fact, when he was backed into a corner as a result of a promise he made in front of dinner guests, Herod was forced to kill John, or risk losing face before the others.
Herod had John beheaded. John’s head was presented on a silver platter to the daughter of his brother’s wife, because it’s what her mother had told her to request, when given the chance to ask for anything she wanted.
“When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13)
The love Jesus had for his cousin, John, made such a death a real grief for Jesus, and He did what most of us would want to do… find a place to be alone.
What an awful end for this faithful servant! It does sound like it, doesn’t it? On the one hand, it seemed like it should be time for John to get an all-paid vacation to some tropical island to just chill for a while to recover from prison life, right?
On the other hand, is there a paradise any more beautiful than Heaven? Let me submit to you that John did get rewarded for faithfully completing the mission for which God had granted him life on this earth. Who said he had to die of old age? Where’s that written? God had given John a mission to complete; he completed it. Finished.
Did God abandon John the Baptist? Absolutely not! Having experienced some rather difficult situations in my life as a blind person living in an African jungle, I can tell you with absolute certainty , God was with John every step of his journey. There is nothing as difficult as John’s life that could be lived with joy, unless God’s grace was abundantly evident.
God didn’t abandon John. God made it possible for him to go through what needed to be done in order that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. God wants us to succeed.
Then, when John was nearing the finish line, I am convinced that God was right there cheering him on. I believe that a shout filled Heaven as John crossed over the finish line. Everyone waited for John’s entrance into Heaven, no doubt a tremendous party erupted as soon as John stepped through those pearly gates.
Perhaps, when John’s disciples returned with word from Jesus that His ministry had begun, John looked up to Heaven and said, “It is finished.”
John had faithfully finished the work God had given him to do. It was time for John to go home.
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