The gospels record the story of John the Baptist’s ignoble death (Matthew 14:1-13; Mark 6:14-29). A man, whose birth heralded so much promise (Luke 1:66) and whose ministry ushered in the Messiah (Luke 1:76-77), would die at the simple request of a girl. The girl pleased King Herod Antipas with her dance. So he promised to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, she asked for John the Baptist’s head. Consequently, the life of greatest prophet was snuffed out at the whim of a child. As Jesus explained, “From John the Baptist onward the Kingdom of God will suffer violence and violent men will take it by force” (Matthew 11:11-12).
But what struck me most as I recently read this story is the effect John’s death had upon Jesus. When John’s disciples reported his beheading to Jesus the news seems to have hit Jesus like a knockout punch. He gathered His twelve apostles and ordered them to row to a solitary place where they could find rest (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:31). Only when a mob of five thousand intercepted His “retreat” was Jesus shaken out of His grief. Their hunger, sicknesses, and distress moved Jesus from grief to compassion. He miraculously healed their sick and satisfied their hunger (Matthew 14:14-21).
Think about it. Jesus was shaken by the violent death of John the Baptist. And do you remember what Stephen said as an angry mob was hurling stones at him. Just before he died, Stephen said that he saw Jesus standing at God the Father’s right hand (Acts 7:55). Jesus is elsewhere always described as seated at the Father’s right hand (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34-36; Ephesians 1:20; Colossian 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). But at Stephen’s death Jesus stood to His feet. Could He have been so affected by Stephen’s death that He rose to His feet in concern and anguish? If so, this corresponds with those words in Hebrews 4:15 and Isaiah 63:9 that Jesus sympathizes (suffers with) our weaknesses and afflictions. This is certainly something to ponder whenever we feel abandoned and isolated in our suffering. We are not alone. There is Someone in heaven whose heart goes out to us whenever we endure pain and sorrow.
And can you imagine what Jesus’ feelings will be when all of this heartbreak is finally over? Can you imagine how Jesus will literally scream with joy when He finally meets us face to face, knowing that His work in us is done and that all of our suffering is behind us? Can you visualize Jesus running to us – as the father of the prodigal son did – wrapping His arms around us and kissing us repeatedly (Luke 15:20)? Doesn’t it make perfect sense that our entrance into heaven will be as joyful to Jesus as it is to us? Won’t Jesus gleefully recount all those times in our dreary sojourn when we remained true to Him when suffering for His sake (compare Luke 22:15, 28)? Will not Jesus, with ecstatic joy, proclaim to all heaven our faithfulness to Him (Matthew 10:32)?
Yes, no matter how much this life of trials and temptation is a burden to us, it is most definitely a burden to Jesus. He yearns for it to be over, for it hurts Him as much as it hurts us. As a mother in labor endures pain while bringing forth her child, so Jesus endures pain in bringing us through this birth canal of life. And as her joy knows no bounds when she finally holds the babe in her arms, so will Jesus rejoice when He finally welcomes us home.
So be faithful until death. Do nothing to mar this glorious reunion, but serve faithfully to enhance it.
Dear Father in heaven, please open my eyes to see the joy that awaits me when I finally meet Jesus face to face. Prepare me, O God, for that glorious day. Help me to spend my hours and my energy in serving You and in being a blessing to others. Amen.