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Post Party Reaction Part Two

In part 1, Birthday Party Gone Awry, I considered the significance of the dance at Herod’s birthday party. For it was the dance that put the fate of John the Baptist in a girl’s hand. Here, I reflect on Jesus’ response to the tragic news. Matthew 14:13 says, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” John the Baptist played a unique role in the life and ministry of Jesus. He leaped inside his mother’s womb when he learned of Jesus’ coming birth. He faithfully fulfilled his life’s calling as the forerunner preparing the hearts and minds of people with messages of repentance and baptism. Even in his death, he prepares the tone for Jesus’ final days. Starting in chapter 16, Jesus begins to talk explicitly to his disciples about his approaching fate. With the weight of grief for John and the magnitude of the cost awaiting him, Jesus withdrew. But what happens? His plans are thwarted or at least delayed. A crowd numbering well over five thousand clamor for his attention. They are (most likely) clueless to his emotional and mental state. They have no idea of his need for solitude. What they do know is that he is unlike any other they have encountered; he engages his followers with a rare mix of authority and great compassion, he is able to both heal and forgive. Rather than making a public announcement, “we are closed for today; we will reopen tomorrow at 9am”, he puts his desires on pause to care for the immediate needs of the crowd. And this same Jesus will perform the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. He will give up his last breath so that we might know his ultimate love. Then alas, the crowd is dismissed and he retreats up to the mountain by himself (verse 23). He does not have to contain his grief; he does not have to bear it alone. He seeks the Father. He turns to prayer. If Jesus responded this way, how about us? When the cares and burdens of life are more than I can carry alone, what do I do? What does my heart seek? Where does it turn? May it be prayer. Prayer connects us with the Father who can bear what we cannot. Prayer points us to his infinitely good, perfect, and wise will even in the greatest heartaches and sorrows. We hear, “this is my beloved with whom I am well pleased” and find confidence in the truth that his righteousness always triumphs the darkness. We are reminded of what Scott Sauls says in his book Befriend, “Death and sorrow are merely a middle chapter, a chapter that will resolve fully and finally when Jesus comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.”

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