August 2, 2016
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Jesus was devastated. John’s death by beheading at the hands of Herod crushed Jesus. One of the big questions all of us have from time to time is this one: How can something so horrific and unjust happen to a person who is so good and true? How and why does God allow this. From a beautiful life cut short by the attack of cancer to tragic accidents to the quiet suffering that leads some of the most cherished among us to end their own lives, and yes to the brutal torture, burning and beheading of the faithful followers of Jesus for the simple reason that they are faithful followers of Jesus, there are no satisfying answers.
Note how Jesus responds to such tragic and unjust loss. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. This feels a little like looking up the word “redundant” in the dictionary only to find it says, “see redundant.” He WITHDREW by boat PRIVATELY to a SOLITARY PLACE. It’s clear. In the face of unbearable tragic loss Jesus ran to God. And it bears pointing out the obvious here: Jesus, who was/is God, ran to God. He doesn’t try to explain it with some kind of jihadist war theory. He doesn’t pull his disciples around him and strategize some kind of response. He doesn’t play the spiritual warfare card and blame Satan as I am wont to do. Jesus retreated, and I don’t mean he went on a retreat. No, he retreated in the way a losing army flees from their opponent.
There’s a very important learning here for us who follow him. Jesus didn’t try to escape his loss by running away from his pain. He ran away with and in this searing pain of loss. In the face of such inexplicable loss we tend toward one or more of multiple unhelpful responses. We try to escape the pain through distraction; from unhealthy addictions to garden variety busy-ness. We try to assuage our pain with anger by assigning blame and seeking justice, or worse, revenge. We try to cover over the pain by saying things like, “God has a reason,” or chalking it up to spiritual warfare. We try to endure the pain by minimizing our loss and moving on. In trying to isolate our loss we isolate ourselves. Worst of all we try to attack our pain by blaming and withdrawing from God. All of these responses are different and often subtle ways of running from God.
Jesus shows us what it looks like to run to God; to bring our pain before God and to abandon ourselves to the mercy of God. It is ultimately impossible to escape the pain of unjust loss; nor must we simply endure it. We must engage our pain and brokenness through the only way it can ever be healed—in the embrace of Jesus. We must allow our pain to be taken up into the suffering heart of God. He can take it. He did take it—all the way to the cross, to the grave, to the sky and back. Our healing and hope are already embraced in his body, radiating through the scars of his hands and head and feet. So many of us live way too long with open wounds. Jesus can transform them into glorious scars. One of my favorite verses of the classic hymn captures it:
Crown him with many crowns. Behold his hands and side. Those wounds yet visible above in beauty glorified. All hail Redeemer hail, for thou hast died for me. Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.
And don’t miss the beautiful irony at work in today’s text.
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As Jesus was running with his pain to God, so was the crowd running after God to Him. Ponder that.
1. Did you ever realize the extent of Jesus’ grief at the loss of his cousin, John? See the impact of WITHDREW. . . PRIVATELY. . . SOLITARY PLACE. . .
2. Do you tend to run to God with your pain or do you tend to run away from God in your pain? In other words, do you turn to distractions or isolation or . . . or . . . ?
3. I want you to envision the nail scars in Jesus’ hands. What does that tell you about the nature of healing and recovery from suffering, pain and loss?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.