Posted on December 18, 2013
#33: He Knows the Pain of Loss
Growing up, my cousin Amy and I were very close. We didn’t see each other often but when we got a chance to spend time together, we had tons of fun! We still don’t see each other often; when we do, we laugh about our childhood “adventures”—like when we pulled her parents’ heavy pedestal table over on ourselves and screamed for rescue. Maybe you cherish growing-up memories of a sibling or cousin also.
What about the growing-up relationship between Jesus and his “cousin” John, known as John the Baptist? Exactly how they were related isn’t clear, but we know their mothers were near relatives (Luke 1:36ff). Jesus and John were born a few months apart, each under his own set of extraordinary circumstances. They each had righteous parents who were devoted to God. And they each played an extraordinary role in the coming of God’s Kingdom—though John was adamant that his part was nothing compared to Jesus’ (John 1:19-30).
How well did these two outstanding young kids know each other? Did they only see each other as their parents visited the temple each year? Or more often? When they were together, was there a unique quality to their relationship? Jesus paid John a wonderful tribute in Matthew 11:7-15 (see also Lk. 7:24-28), saying, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John…. he is the Elijah who was to come.” How early were they both aware of the other’s purpose?
Read Mark 6:14-29, an account that’s sandwiched between the before-and-after record of the disciples’ ministry internship. (For more context on this time in John the Baptist’s life, look at Matthew 11:2-19; 14:1–13a; Luke 7:18-35; 9:7-9; and John 10:40-42.)
John was a bold witness sent to wake people up, urge them to repent, and get them ready for the Messiah (see posts #2: Preparing the Way in this series, and A Voice in the Desert). He was tough on those who claimed to be righteous but were not. He battled sin relentlessly—even in King Herod’s life. In the process, he made enemies in high places; he infuriated Herod’s wife when he condemned her incestuous, adulterous marriage to the king.
Herodias tried to get rid of John. Herod appeased her by imprisoning John, but beyond that he protected John out of a superstitious fear of harming a “holy man.” Herodias bided her time, watching for her moment. Finally, it came.
Herod threw himself a birthday banquet where his step-daughter Salome entertained by dancing for Herod and his male guests. Historical timelines suggest that Salome was probably between twelve and fifteen years old. We get a disgusting glimpse of a drunk, lustful Herod showing off his power (not as great as he liked to think; a puppet ruler under the authority of Rome, he was banished in A.D. 39 for seeking the official title of king) by rashly offering Salome up to half of his kingdom—which in actuality wasn’t his to give.
Salome ran to her mother for advice, and Herodias seized the opportunity. She sent her daughter back to Herod with a macabre request: the head of John the Baptist, served up on a banquet platter. Herod was trapped, with no way to save face but to honor Salome’s demand.
So ended the life and ministry of John. We might look at this account and ask why. Why would God give Herodias her way. Why would He allow John to die in prison, cruelly beheaded. Possible answers? By the time of John’s death, Jesus’ messianic ministry was well underway; John’s mission to prepare Jesus’ way was accomplished. Beheading was a quick and nearly painless way to die (unlike the prolonged suffering of crucifixion). And Herod’s lingering guilt over granting Herodias’ wish certainly fueled his curiosity about Jesus—though he never did choose Christ as Lord.
Still, we know that Jesus was deeply affected by the news of John’s death and drew away from the crowds for rare time alone (Mt. 14:13). He felt the pain of loss. He grieved. When we hurt over the loss of a friend or family member, He knows our sorrow. We aren’t alone in it.
Grieving this Christmas season? Missing someone dear to you? Carry it to Jesus. He knows.
© Diane McLoud 2013