In the places of our despair, may we remain tethered to His love.
We’ve been talking again, in the larger series of All-In, right? We’ve been looking a lot at John the Baptist. We’ve been doing a study on his life as an example of being all in and we’re going to conclude that piece. The larger umbrella of all-in continues all the way through to Easter. So we’re going to shift and turn our focus towards Jesus, right? How He was a model of being all-in for us when He went to the cross. Ultimately when He rose again, He will be the example of being all-in.
Now, I want to finish with John. I don’t want to assume that everybody has either been here or that you have a familiarity with the scriptures so that you would know a lot about John the Baptist and who he was. Also, I don’t want to go back and just relook at everything. I do need to summarize where we’ve been and set the table for where we want to go. John, as you know, was the one who was the forerunner of Jesus. He was the one to introduce Messiah. He had a tremendously impactful ministry, but there was a certain point where after he had decided to declare that Jesus was the Messiah. It was a surprise even to him, that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one. John wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to do next. That was pretty clear.
There was a period there where the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of John who’s known as the Baptist, because he baptized people under repentance in water, right? Under repentance, that there was a period there where John’s ministry and Jesus’s ministry were kind of running parallel. Then something happened; John was arrested. He was arrested by King Herod. In part because Herod had been provoked by his wife Herodias, who was offended by the things that John was saying about their marriage. John was saying it wasn’t right in God’s eyes. There are reasons for that and we’ll see that in a moment. Well, John was put into a prison cell. We talked about this. You can actually see the ruins of where he was still today. If you were to go to Jordan, there was a palace built on top of that mountain called Machaerus. It was built by Herod. It looks over the dead sea. Do you know the dead sea? Is in between the Jordan and Israel. That water is the lowest body of water on earth.
John was up there confined in a prison cell. It seemed that initially, he didn’t know how long he was going to be there, but the months passed. It could have even been up to a year by the time we get to where we’re at here. John, the man of open space, free-range, a man of the wilderness, a man accustomed to going where he wanted when he wanted, a man in the prime of his life, was now all of a sudden contained in a cell. The air was stale. It was hot and he had no freedom. It’s hard enough to lose our freedom, but for a person who’s accustomed to so much space to be confined, it must have been a particularly cruel development for his life. We forget that, we forget his humanity. Although he was a great man of God and had been a prophet of the Lord as time went on, he began to wonder about certain things. One of which was Jesus ironically, because he was hearing reports of Jesus’s ministry that were so different from what he had expected.
I think the picture of John is that he’s kind of getting a little depressed. He’s losing his confidence in God. He’s not sure anymore. It seems as if Jesus was the Messiah. He wonders if maybe he got it wrong, maybe he didn’t get it right. As he had these conversations with his disciples, he still had followers who were allowed to come and see him, they would tell him news about the ministry of Jesus. When John heard it, it didn’t seem like what he would do, right? They were very different. There was this moment where John says to his followers who are evidently allowed to have these conversations with John, “Look, I can’t go. I need you to go and ask Jesus a question just in case I didn’t get it right. I need you to ask Him, is He the one, the Messiah that I said he was. Can you do that? Go do that.” We’re told that the contention of John’s followers went to go see Jesus ministering. They were met by Jesus’s disciples. When they said, “We have a question for Jesus, from John. He has a question that he needs Jesus to answer.” Jesus basically said, “I’m not interested in having that conversation right now, have them wait.”
Jesus continued on teaching and ministry. He healed people. He says the blind eyes were opened. There were a lot of things happening and John’s disciples were watching it all. We’re told that after Jesus was done, they came to Jesus and said, “Look, John wants to know, are you the one? He just wants us to double-check that he got it right.” Jesus said, “This is what I need you to tell John.” There was a huge group of people all listening to this. They heard the disciples of John ask about John and Jesus from John’s perspective. Then they heard Jesus say this, “You go and tell John everything that you’ve seen and all that you’ve heard. You need to tell him, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” It’s a marvelous statement. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying in front of everybody, John, you have been magnificent, I know you’re hurting and discouraged. You’re a little confused, but I need you to hold the line and stay the course. All things are as they should be. He says you go tell John that blessed is the unoffended of me.
After they left, Jesus turns to the crowd and it’s as if he says, “Just in case any of you are wondering about how I think about John, just in case on the basis of what you just heard you think that somehow I think less of John, because he needed to double-check things about me. Let me tell you this about John.” That’s where we pick up right here. You can fall on your hand out. You can have your Bible out. Let’s just go for this in Luke 7, that was the setting for what we’re about to look at.
It says when John’s messengers had gone, in verse 24, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John. He says, “Let me tell you about John. What did you go out in the wilderness to see? I know what you’re thinking. Did you think you went out to see a reed shaken by the wind? I know the question sounds like someone who isn’t firm, but I’m telling you right now, this is no man to be underestimated. He’s no reed blowing in the wind. He is no vacillator, I’m telling you that right now. The very reason he is in prison is that he’s the real deal. So don’t even let that start to creep into the discussion. My estimate of John is very high. What did you go out to see? Did you go out to see a man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing, they live in luxury and are in kings’ courts, not John. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes. I tell you he was a prophet. But I’m going to tell you this, he was more than a prophet. This is he of whom it was written, behold, I send my messenger before your face and he will prepare your way before you. He wasn’t just a prophet. He was a prophet who prepared that way for the coming of the one. That’s what I’m telling you.” It’s almost like Jesus was saying, “Don’t ever forget how great John was. Just because he’s having a bit of a questioning moment, don’t underestimate the unique qualities of this man.” He was affirming John to the crowd who were obviously wondering if Jesus still held him in high esteem.
What we know is that after this, John was put to death and we know how it happened. We know the details. If you look at Mark 6, we’re told, this is a long piece here, let’s look at it together. It says “for it was Herod who had sent and seized John,” remember I told you, King Herod, had bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias. That was Herod’s wife, his brother Phillip’s wife because he had married her. So there was a little scandal there. For John had been saying to Herod, “It’s not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias had a grudge against him. She wanted John put to death. It’s like she wanted John silenced. Silence this man. He was making a public statement and declaration about the scandal of their marriage. Herod was bothered. Herodias was offended at a deep level and said, “I want this man shut up permanently, have him killed,” right? But she could not because Herod feared. Look at verse 20, Herod feared John knowing that he was a righteous and a holy man, he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. In other words, Herodias says, “I want John put to death.” Herod says, “I can’t do that. I think he’s from God.” Herod is a bit superstitious and very religious in his own way. He just wishes John wouldn’t say some of the things he says but another part of him is compelled and intrigued by John. He recognizes things in John that he thinks are from God. He doesn’t want to be responsible for killing him. At the same time, he can’t ignore his wife’s requests. Also, he himself is being affected by it as well.
So Heros comes up with an idea; I’ll take him out and I’ll put him in the prison cell in Machaerus. That’ll keep him from saying things. On top of it, anytime I want to have a religious conversation or something I want to discuss in the scriptures, I can just walk over there and have my own little private time with him. He’s like my own private little prophet that I’ve got locked up. Whenever I’m in the mood, I’ll go find him and we can talk. I’ll keep him there. When I’m interested again, I’ll come back again. It’s the perfect scenario. She’s happy. I’m happy.
John, on the other hand, right? He was in a difficult situation. I think we underestimate how he was withering in that situation, how hard it was for him. I really do. It was really hard. But we know that something happens. Herod, we’re told, and you can see it here. Verse 21 says, “but an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles, military commanders, and the leading men of Galilee.” The picture is of him having this huge feast banquet party that he’s going to set up for the rich and the elite and the powerful of the region. Those are his friends. It’s going to be stuffed flowing. It’s going to be quite a decadent thing because he was a decadent man. They’re going to let it all happen and hang. This is what we’re getting a picture of, a lot of people coming from a lot of places to have this opportunity to be in this very, very elite gathering. Look at verse 22, “for when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced she pleased Herod and his guests.” In the middle of this gathering, they’re feasting, eating, and having, I guess laughter and discussions and you know what happens? They’re getting drunk. It’s a wild kind of environment. You know how it is when people get inebriated, a lot of the pretense comes down. All of a sudden they’re a different person, right? It’s wild.
That’s why the Bible says if you’re going to drink, do so in moderation and do not be drunk. Be filled with the spirit, but not with wine wherein there is excess. In other words, wash yourself to not do things that you will regret. That was just a little side note. I threw it out. It’s true though, for a follower of the Lord, right? In our mind’s eye, we got it, we read it. We go, “Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yes, sir. No, no, no.” It’s wild.
In comes an erotic dancer. Her name was Salome. Herodias’s daughter, Salome, comes in. She dances in front of all these inebriated people. Herod is also there and watching. There’s still kind of a frenzied environment. Look what it says he does. It says when she came in and she pleased Herod and the guests and they loved it. It says the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish,” right? Imagine that moment. “I’ll give it to you. I’ll give it to you. Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you. I promise I’ll give you half of my kingdom. What do you want? What do you want? I need to go ask my mother.” Watch what happens, she went out to her mother. Herod’s made this big display, right? The moment has happened. She’s got them all. It’s all going on and then Herod says, whatever you want I’ll give it to you, in front of everybody. She runs back to her mother, right? She went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” It was the opening that the queen had been looking for. She said, steely and as cold as ice, “I want the head of John the Baptist.” She came in immediately. Salome runs back in. It says here that with haste to the king she runs back in quickly and says, “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king’s first reaction, if even Herod, was stunned. He realized, no, no. The next thing he’s looking around and everybody’s looking, everybody’s watching. These are his peers. He had made the big statement. He had made this statement, I’ll give you anything you want. Just ask for it. He said it in front of everybody. Everybody was, “What are you going to do now King Herod, Vacillator in Chief? What are you going to do?” He didn’t want to kill John, but he made the promise and it would be humiliating. “Fine, fine.”
We’re told that immediately, the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. Look at that verse 27, “and he went and he beheaded him in the prison. Then they brought his head on a platter and they gave it to the girl. They gave it to Salome. Salome took the platter and John’s head on it and gave it to her mother, Herodias.” That’s John’s end. When his disciples heard it, they came, they took his body, and they laid it in the tomb. Look at what Matthew’s account adds, the last piece there. It says “his disciples came and took the body and they buried it.” But they didn’t stop there. They felt like they had to do this. As soon as they were done burying John, they went and they told Jesus what had happened. And when Jesus heard this, look at verse 13, we may not appreciate it, but it is the picture of Jesus emotionally affected because he had been ministering. It says, when Jesus heard this he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. He pulls away to process the loss of John. He feels compelled to get away from everybody and be alone in a desolate place. It emotionally affects Him. We’re told that Jesus gets into a boat and He’s been ministering on one side of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee really is a big lake, the Lake of Gennesaret, it is called the Sea of Galilee.
It’s a pretty good-sized body of water. You can see the other end of it from side to side. It’s beautiful actually. It’s very possible that as Jesus hears this news, he says, “I just need to be alone. Let’s go to the other side, leave this group. I need to get in the boat now. Let’s go.” He gets in there and I don’t think anybody’s talking. Jesus is making his way in the waters, they’re beautiful, have you seen the hues of the Galilee? It’s like pastels of light blue, purple, and lavender, and almost a beige could feel of the mountains around it. On a sunny day, the sun just dances off the waters. It is both calming and melancholy all at once that sea. You get the picture of Jesus on a boat, making His way as the waters are rippling through. He’s thinking long thoughts. People have thought, what was He thinking about? Partly about John. No question, that’s pretty clear, right? But He’s maybe also thinking about his own path. John has been beheaded. He’s been executed, in the prime of his life. Jesus knows that His pathway is going to have the same thing. It won’t be the acts of an executioner but it will be a different kind of an execution, but it will be one. It won’t be nearly as quick.
Jesus knows where he’s going. But it still doesn’t change the fact that in His humanity, it was awful news. It was a loss, and it affected Jesus. It really did. It says in verse 14 “when He went to shore, He saw a great crowd and He had compassion on them and He healed the sick.” Now, when it was evening, the disciples came to Him and they said, “This is a desolate place, the day is now over, send the crowds away and go into the villages to buy food for themselves.”
I find this fascinating. Jesus was affected enough that He felt the need to center himself alone. Of course, what do we see? Do you see it? The crowds pursued Him. In fact, what is implied is that the only actual real alone time He gets is that little journey across the sea in the boat, right? Because what happens? The crowds who are just kind of all caught up with Jesus realized that if they could get where He was going, then perhaps the winds were contrary or not strong, they could actually by foot go around with the Sea of Galilee on the edges and get to the other side and meet Him there, which is exactly what happened. By the time Jesus gets there, and we know this is not an exaggeration, there were thousands of people waiting for Jesus as that boat is coming in. His only alone space was that from one side to the other. He’s been thinking about things and looking at them, again, reflecting on loss, His own life, and John. It got me thinking about loss. What I saw here was a loss. That’s why our message is overcoming loss. In a way that’s what Jesus’s death is, overcoming loss. It’s the ultimate overcoming loss that brings the gain, right? The cross is the path of life, but that’s a whole another truth. But I was reflecting on loss. Stay with me here. I went back and forth on this because I was thinking when you talk about loss, a lot of times people might think, that’s only for people who are older in life. Only older people in life experience loss. That’s not true. We can experience loss very easily in life. In life, there are all kinds of loss. There’s relational loss. We have a relationship that doesn’t go right, we lose it.
We can have a loss of health. Maybe not as common when we’re younger, more common when we’re older. We can have a loss of a job, loss of a career, loss of a dream we had, that we were filled with a lot of enthusiasm around, but the reality of life has beaten that dream out of us. We can have those kinds of things happen in our lives in regular ways. We can have a loss of our finances or a loss of other things as well. The fact of the matter is loss is everywhere. We can have a loss of our family.
I remember when I was just a boy, not quite a teenager when my mother and father said they were not going to be together anymore. That was the end of whatever that was supposed to be, right? Many of you have had that, you lose something and you adapt. It’s part of life. We may lose people in our lives. This has happened, I’m sure to many of us. We lose people who we had loved. We felt like we needed them. They are lost, they die. It’s a loss to us. All of us ultimately will die. It’s inevitable. “Wow, pastor, you’re really encouraging us right now.” Because you know why? Our culture doesn’t talk about real life. Most of it is fake. It’s about curated imagery. Images and stories that only show the good and can’t deal with the bad. That is why a lot of times what happens is we’re finding ourselves in an extraordinary place right now. Where so many people are addicted and in need of medication just to numb the pain, don’t know how to handle it. Don’t know how to process it through.
I’m not anti-medication but I am saying there are so many people who are addicted to drugs right now. We have an epidemic of suicide. You would think that in such a prosperous culture, there would be so much more life in it. People can’t even talk about real things. If we can’t do it in Lord’s house, this is the place to talk about why we exist, the purpose of life, the meaning of things, how to cope with and walk through and deal with hard things that hit us. The reality of life, death, life, real issues, things that are important, working for relationships to prevail.
Do you know what? I’m going to put this up. I know some of us take notes. I’m a taker. Anytime I listen to a message, I take notes. It’s just part of my commitment to the ritual of learning. But here’s something I want to put up there. I think one of the things that Jesus is teaching us is that to be good at life, we’re going to have to be able to deal with loss. To prevail as a healthy follower of the Lord, we’re going to need to have a framework for dealing with loss, because we’re going to be hit with it from time to time. What do we do about that? I’m suggesting that Jesus gives us a model. In the few minutes we have left, I want to look at His model and use it for something to draw from when you need it, when we need it. Here’s the first thing I want to put up there, is that we need to be honest. We need to be honest about the impact of loss when it happens, right?
We all experience it differently but loss is a reality on this side of glory, and it affects all of us. It’s part of the human story. It’s part of the human story, we will lose. If you really think about it, even at the very beginning of the book of Genesis, it’s about loss. But then it’s also about God’s recovery in that loss. The whole message of Christ is about recovering that which was lost. But loss is everywhere. The human experience begins with loss. The pronouncement out of that experience is that there will be loss. Apart from God, we are lost, right? It’s about that.
Jesus was affected by John’s death. I need to be alone. I need to pull back. We know that later on, he will lose a friend, his name is Lazarus. You read about it in John 11, he dies. Jesus is so affected by the loss of his friend that he cries. He weeps. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, Jesus wept. What was that weeping over? The loss of a friend in his humanity. He felt that pain, right? He wept.
I think we all get affected by loss. Sometimes loss can send us into a nosedive, right? Sometimes, if it’s unaddressed, that loss can send us into a place of deep discouragement. Sometimes loss could send us into a depression as well if it’s not addressed. We need to acknowledge the loss, not ignore it, not deny it. If Jesus took time to pause, so should we. Because listen, He was the most whole human being to walk the earth and He took time to be with loss. If the most whole human being who ever walked on earth paused in His humanity to take time to be with loss, it’s okay, and the right thing for us to do as well. Second, notice the necessity of solitude as a key for processing through the losses of life. As a way of pulling out, positioning, stealing, and quieting the soul. Here’s a word, this word isn’t used that much in this generation. In fact, it hasn’t been used for a number of generations, but in past generations, the word that I’m referring to was used frequently as a way of describing what it means to have settledness of soul. That word is equanimity. Equanimity had to do with the idea of evenness of mind, especially under stress or another way of saying it is dispositional balance, right? Dispositional balance under duress and centering our thoughts on the father’s plan, right? This is a key.
Jesus took time to cross the sea, create a space, that’s what he did. He created space, right? In his case just being on that sea, there was a therapeutic effect to it. I thought there are times when we’re under in places like this, we just need to create space, take a prayer walk, a long ride maybe. We live in such a beautiful city. It’s a hop, skip, and jump to the ocean. You look out at the ocean, think long thoughts as long as that ocean on the horizon. Take a walk at Golden Gate Park, be alone in your thoughts. We have a lake, Lake Marcel. It’s not big like the big lake, but it’s a little one and you could walk around it. I don’t know. We can do it. We have so many things. We have the city as well. For me, I got up real early in the morning and I was thinking about this message, creating space, and being alone. But I was up early and the streets were empty. There is a unique beauty in the city, walking through the streets.
You have to be smart obviously where you walk. But there’s a kind of beauty to being alone with God. Some of us have a garden place. We have to have places where you can go to think long thoughts, grieve loss, to be alone. I think there’s something about nature too. Because of God’s artistry, God’s creative work, something about the way nature is set up that even Jesus himself on those waters, those melancholy waters of the Galilee, there’s that healing, right? There was almost a therapeutic component to just being out on the water.
In loss we need those spaces to sit with God. The last thing to notice is this, don’t underestimate the power of focused engagement and compassion as a way of moving forward. I’ve said it a little differently up there, but you get the idea. Don’t rush past this. John was a focused man, a truly great man, a man of tremendous intensity and vigor. He was all in for God. Jesus was also all in, but in a different way, wasn’t he? He was like Mark’s gospel presents him, a tireless servant. Each of the gospels presents Jesus in his slightly different angle of light, right? It shows different aspects of his ministry and personality. Mark’s gospel presents Jesus as the tireless worker, the ultimate servant, the giver who’s always seeking to help and strengthen people, right? Creates space for them. John preached and proclaimed. That was what he did outside of culture. Jesus engaged people. He moved among them. He taught them. He healed them. He served them.
When Jesus got off the boat, he was greeted by a crowd of people. He had a decision to make. Still grieving the loss of John, he’s on his way to a desolate place, but when he gets to the shore there’s a multitude of people waiting for him. He has a decision to make, do I say this isn’t the time? Or does he engage them? Do you know what ends up happening? One of the greatest recorded miracles of Jesus occurs right at that moment. What follows and we didn’t read it is the feeding of the 5,000. He organizes the people in rows and then he feeds them in a miraculous way.
Thinking about this, he decided to minister to them in his loss. In his loss he gave. That is the principle. There is a power in it, right? In so doing, He models for us a part of being all in for the Lord involves being there for others, yes. It’s an engaging faith. It’s not an isolated one, but it’s also a way of overcoming loss. It’s a hugely important way of overcoming loss. Do we see it?
Jesus shows us the value of solitude, service of alone time, giving time, and of processing and pushing on. There is a time to give. Because what’s the tendency when we feel like we’re losing, is to shrink. It starts to define our world by our loss. What I think Jesus models is, there’s a time to be alone, yes. But there’s also a time to give and serve as a way of breaking out of that. Otherwise, it starts to define us so God shows us the example of how to do it. How good is that? The model. It’s one of the reasons why we are trying to encourage everybody to think about what it means to serve others by inviting, by giving, by sharing. That’s the whole purpose of coming to see, and rise and shine, right? All those things are designed to create ways of serving others, sharing our hearts with them. But this is the example of the Lord.
Okay. I’m going to pray. We’ll have our close here, but let me just pray into this word for all of us. Before we have our time of giving here Lord, as a model for how to negotiate the losses of life, the disappointments that sometimes surface in our lives, or that have been a part of our life in the past that you invite us not to deny them. At the same time not to let them define us. In a part of the way it is having space for you, and then also being open to being a giving and serving person who is focused on others just like you modeled.
That when we do this life flows, the dimensions of loss are broken, as life begins to move through us. There’s something about the principle and what you taught us that we really need to hear and consider. I just pray for these closing minutes that we’re sharing in song, that you would just speak to our hearts about what it means to be a people who are healthy, more whole, and more capable of dealing with the things that inevitably will confront us because we live in a broken world. There’s a lot of disappointment and pain in it, but you’re able to teach us how to overcome these things and how to prevail. I ask that your wisdom would flow. I thank you for it, Lord. I thank you for the coming weeks. Change people’s lives forever. Bring good into the broken and lost places. That’s my prayer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.