The Heart of Jesus

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. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:13-14

This gives us great insight into the heart of Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he tried to get alone. What happened? John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin and the greatest of Old Testament prophets, was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch. And it wasn’t even a noble death.

John called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife and got thrown into prison. Then Herod made a drunken oath to give his step-daughter half of his kingdom. At the prompting of her bitter mother, she asks for John’s head on a platter. It was an unceremonious and brutal death.

John the Baptist was a friend and a herald of Jesus. He was a fellow prophet calling people to repentance and declaring the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew all too well that if they were willing to so flippantly kill John, He would be next.

So Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to grieve. He was grieving the loss of a friend and fellow companion in ministry. He was grieving the death of the greatest of Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:11). He was grieving the death of a family member. And He was grieving His own future, knowing it will look similar to John’s.

The crowds didn’t seem to honor Jesus’s need to be alone and process John’s death. As soon as Jesus came ashore He saw that the crowds followed Him around the Sea of Galilee on foot. They were all clamoring to have their needs met, not once thinking about what Jesus needed in that moment. The crowds weren’t there to comfort Jesus. They were there to be ministered to by Jesus.

What would your response be in this moment if you were Jesus?

It’s in this moment that we see the heart of Jesus, the heart of our Heavenly Father. When Jesus saw the large crowd, scripture says “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Jesus was still loving other people even as He grieved.

If we’re not careful, grief can pull us into a selfish spiral of self-pity. While grieving is healthy and necessary, there can be a great temptation in grief to become self-absorbed. But not for Jesus. He still was compassionate. He still chose to heal all who needed healing.

This is the Jesus we serve and love. This is the Jesus to whom we surrender all. Jesus wants to spend time with us. He wants to be near to us. He has limitless compassion for us and what we’re experiencing. He’s the perfect representation of God the Father’s heart toward us.

God is not put out by you. You don’t exhaust Him. He’s not irritated with you. You don’t bother Him. He loves you. And nothing you do will ever change that.

Overcoming Unbelief

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Matthew 11:2-6

Remember that John the Baptist was one of the first people to announce that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 3; John 3:22-36). John was the one who baptized Jesus in water, saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him, and heard the voice of the Father speak words of love and identity over Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). John the Baptist is the one who saw Jesus and declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!“(John 1:29).

But we also know that John the Baptist was persecuted by Herod the tetrarch because John spoke out against Herod’s unlawful marriage to Herodias–his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-12). John was stuck in prison and probably expecting his impending death. John was having a moment where he was struggling to believe in the calling on his own life and the truth about who Jesus was. Even after all that John the Baptist had seen and heard from the Lord, his difficult circumstances were causing him to wonder if Jesus really was the one they were all waiting for. Doubt can creep in like that!

Has anyone ever been there?

Notice Jesus’s response. He doesn’t launch into a theological argument proving that He is the Messiah. Instead, Jesus lists the miracles that He had been doing on a daily basis. The best evidence of Jesus being the Messiah, the Savior of the world, was the miracles. They not only fulfilled prophecy about His life but demonstrated the tangible reality of the Kingdom of God on earth.

So why did Jesus conclude with, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me?”

I believe Jesus knew that John, and many others, had different expectations of how things would turn out. John didn’t expect, as the Elijah-figure preparing the way for the Lord, that he would spend his final days in prison. He didn’t expect his life to end by execution. And many others didn’t expect the Messiah to go to the cross.

We are witnessing here the same juxtaposition that we experience in our own lives. Jesus is opening the eyes of the blind, causing the lame to walk, cleansing those with leprosy, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor. And yet He’s not miraculously getting John out of prison. He’s not miraculously sending angels to bust John out of prison, saving him from execution (which we know He can and will do at times according to Acts 12 & 16).

This is the tension of the Kingdom of God growing side-by-side with the kingdom of darkness (Matthew 13:30). This tension can cause many to “stumble on account of (Jesus)“. As followers of Jesus we have to live in this tension while living in this broken world. The Kingdom of God is breaking out all over the world but so is the kingdom of darkness. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We have to keep our eyes focused on what He IS doing and not get sucked into focusing on what we think He should be doing.

I also think this passage in Matthew 11 points to the necessity of signs, wonders, miracles, healings, deliverance, and prophecy. The operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) not only strengthens the church, but it also combats unbelief. It helps people know that the Kingdom of God is a tangible reality on the earth and not just a theory, not just a belief, not just a religious principle.

When our faith wavers, sometimes we need to see the power of God on display right in front of us. We need to know that Jesus is still opening the eyes of the blind, causing the lame to walk, cleansing those with leprosy, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor today!

So many Christians today who do not believe in the miraculous gifts and do not operate in the miraculous gifts are falling away from their faith. In a cultural sea of unbelief and doubt, tangible and experiential evidence of God’s supernatural power is irreplaceable.

Have you seen God do the impossible recently?

He will baptize you…

“I baptize you with (or in) water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with (or in) the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Matthew 3:11

John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come. He prepared people’s hearts by preaching a message of repentance. He baptized people in water as they came to confess and seek forgiveness for their sins. But John also declared that the Kingdom shouldn’t stop with repentance and forgiveness of sins. John pointed to Jesus, the One who would baptize with more than water.

So many of our conservative evangelical and liberal mainline protestant churches have people who are only baptized in water. The gospel that is preached is mostly about repentance and forgiveness of sin, which was the message of John the Baptist. Many churches have yet to move on to the gospel of Jesus which offers much more than that.

Some people believe that when you receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you, that is what it means to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Even if we assume that is true (which I’m not sure it is), then what about being baptized in fire?

John prophesied that Jesus would baptize in both the Holy Spirit and fire. Where is the baptism of fire? Where are the messages that preach and teach about the baptism of fire? Unfortunately, it gets glossed over and lumped in with the salvation experience. I’m convinced there is more available to us because I’ve experienced it firsthand.

In the Gospel of John (John 20:22), we see the resurrected Jesus breathe on the disciples in the upper room, and we see them receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s very next words were about forgiveness of sins. Receiving the Holy Spirit within us is about being forgiven of our sin and being able to forgive others when they sin against us.

Then, before ascending back to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus says to His disciples (who’ve already received the Holy Spirit within them), “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high“(Luke 24:49).

Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, reiterates this same point in Acts 1 and brings meaning to the words of John the Baptist. Speaking about the resurrected Jesus before He ascended, Luke writes,

On one occasion, while he (Jesus) was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with (or in) water, but in a few days you will be baptized with (or in) the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5

Then in Acts 2 we see the disciples “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This experience in Pentecost was very different than what the disciples experienced in the upper room when Jesus breathed on them. This was a much more powerful and violent experience of the Holy Spirit. There was a sound of a violent wind, tongues of fire and speaking in tongues. This was the disciples being “clothed with power from on high.” This wasn’t about forgiveness of sins like the upper room experience in John 20. This was about the Spirit empowering the disciples for purity and powerful ministry.

One way to say it is that first the disciple received the Spirit within them and then they received the Spirit upon them. The first was the breath of God; the second was the wind of God. The first was for their own salvation; the second was for the salvation of others. The first came gently, intimately, and quietly; the second came powerfully, outwardly, and loudly.

If one still wants to maintain that we as Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at salvation when we receive the Spirit within us, then we could still call the event that happened to the disciples at Pentecost a baptism of fire. It was still something more. John’s words stated that Jesus would baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

For others, it is clear that baptism in the Spirit is a second event that results in us being “filled with the Spirit“(Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18) similar to what happened at Pentecost. Some experience this second event months or years after salvation and others experience it simultaneous with conversion. I didn’t experience it until over two decades after my conversion experience.

Either way, (whatever you want to call it – baptism of the Spirit or baptism of fire) the truth remains: There is more available to us than most Christians are experiencing! There is more power of the Spirit, more gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12), more supernatural encounters, and more freedom from sin.

So many churches in American have stopped at the ministry of John the Baptist. They preach a message of repentance and baptize with water, but never introduce their people to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. They have a room full of people on Sundays baptized in water but hardly anyone (if anyone) baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire.

No wonder the world is so skeptical of the gospel message. We claim to proclaim the message of Jesus but only experience the ministry of John the Baptist. We proclaim a supernatural God who came in the flesh in Jesus, performed signs and wonders throughout His ministry, and rose from the grave. Yet, people come to our churches and don’t see any of this: no supernatural gifts of the Spirit, no healings, no casting out demons, no supernatural encounters with God. It’s not too hard for people to see that, while we preach a supernatural God, there is nothing supernatural happening in the lives of many Christians or in the life of the church.

We need to be teaching our people that the Christian life is more than water baptism, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins. There is more than the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus made available to us a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Have you had that kind of baptism?