Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent XVII

For a person who plays such a prominent role in the story of Jesus, John the Baptist spends very little time on the Biblical stage.  As we read Matthew's gospel we first encounter him as he preaches and baptizes at the Jordan River.  There he is identified as the one who fulfills the Isaiah prophecy.  He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  Jesus shows up and is baptized.  The next mention of John comes midway through the 4th chapter where the Word simply announces, "Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee."  Surprisingly, the arrest of John is treated almost like a sidebar to the story.  Chapters 9 and 11 tell of John's disciples coming to Jesus with questions and much later just before the feeding of the 5000, we are told of the execution of the Bapitzer.  As we read Matthew, very little is offered to us about this one so praised by Jesus.

It has always seemed a bit strange that Jesus shows no more anxiety about John's situation than he does.  He handles it in what seems to us be a rather matter of fact manner.  However, no doubt there was more concern in His heart than the gospel writers indicate.  We do know that the news of John's execution sent Jesus out in search of a lonely place, but there He encountered thousands in need so He seems to put His need for grief work aside to care for them.  Surely, it must have pained Jesus to know of the tragic death of this man with whom He had grown up.  Their stories were intertwined from the very beginning.

But, Jesus knew, too, the cost of obedience to God.  John lost his life because He was faithful to the ministry entrusted to him.  Jesus also knew John would not be the last to suffer for reasons of faithful obedience.  He would go that way Himself.  It sorrowed Jesus to know of the suffering and death of this lifelong friend.  It must also sorrow Him when we experience such because of our faith, but it must give Him joy that we, along with others, allow our faith to prevail in our living and dying.

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