What do you do when tragedy strikes? How do you respond when it looks like evil has triumphed? How do you handle great loss?
In Matthew 14 we get to see how Jesus reacted. He had just heard about the fate of his relative and fellow worker, the man who had prepared the crowd for his own arrival – John the Baptist. John must have been such a blessing to Jesus. John was the one who knew and believed and spoke for Jesus first. He had performed the baptism in which the dove and the voice of God announced that Jesus was the loved son of God. I am sure that had been an incredible bonding moment for both of them. And now John was dead. Too young to die, he was just a few months older than Jesus. He still had more work to do. He had been so faithful.
To compound emotions, John’s death had been a violent, vengeful, plotted beheading at the hands of Herod the tetrarch (which means he was a ruler of one quarter of the region formerly ruled by his father Herod the Great). Herod the Great had been the one who had ordered the death of all baby boys 2 years old and younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem, trying to assassinate young Jesus because the Magi had told him the star they were following signaled the birth of a new King of the Jews. Jesus had escaped the grasp of Herod the Great. But, now Herod’s son, with assistance from his twisted family tree, had murdered Jesus’ kin, John, who had boldly told Herod he had sinned by marrying his living brother’s wife. Evil had triumphed in this round. The righteous man John was dead while Herod, Herodias and her daughter lived and celebrated the death.
Jesus’ first reaction is to get away – alone. “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13). There may have been some tears. There may have even been some angry outbursts, perhaps. Or maybe not. We don’t know exactly. But he was wise in seeking a moment of stillness and quiet – just him and God. It doesn’t say he prayed – but we know Jesus. For example, see what he does next time he is able to be alone (Matthew 14:23).
The crowds aren’t sensitive to Jesus’ needs, but they know they need Jesus so they seek him out and disrupt his quiet time. Rather than rebuking them or running away, Jesus compassionately makes time for them and meets their needs. In fact, the next 24 hours are going to see some of the most amazing ministry and miracles Jesus has with the crowd and with his disciples. Many more sick are healed, thousands are fed with one small lunch, and Jesus and Peter walk on the water! And, between it all, Jesus gets in some more quiet time with his Father.
When faced with tragedy, loss, heartache and evil it is easy to be tempted to give up or give in. Jesus shows us how to give it to God (again and again) and continue the fight. Jesus knew the war was not over. This round went to Herod, but there was more to prepare for. There would be more battles. There would be more sick, hurting, hungry, and scared to care for. The victor has not yet been crowned. We look forward to that day! Until then, give it to God and continue the fight.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What loss have you faced? During your lifetime when has it looked like evil has won a round? What was your first response? Were you able to get back in the game? Do you benefit from quiet alone time with God? If so, how? If not, what’s missing?
- Jesus invited Peter to get out of the safe boat and come join Jesus ON the water in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night. And Peter got out of the boat! What would you have done? What would Peter have missed if he had stayed in the boat? Can you think of a time you courageously tried something new for Jesus? What could you do with Jesus if you were willing to step out of the boat?
- Peter was walking on the water with Jesus!! He began to sink when he saw the wind and was afraid. What fears are you sinking in? What could you do with Jesus if fears didn’t hold you down? How can you keep your eyes on Jesus instead of on your fears?
- Jesus rescued Peter and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” What tone of voice do you think Jesus used? How do your own doubts affect your relationship with Jesus? Did John the Baptist ever doubt? What did he do? What evidence can you find to counter your doubts?