What would you do on the worst day of your life?
Over the past 15 months, I’ve had some of the worst days of my life- like when I found out my dad passed away suddenly at 60, or when we lost our first-born son-to-be stillborn. But there was a story I’d learned before those ‘worst days’ that helped me desire to be a strong father and brother and son, even in mourning and heartbreak. Its also helped me keep my eyes open on those more regular ‘bad’ days for opportunities I might otherwise miss.
I don’t know if you had a cousin who was your best friend growing up, but I’m sure John (who down the road would add “The Baptist”) would fit the bill for Jesus. Jesus and John were cousins born only six months apart. Baby John leapt in the womb when his mother came near to Mary, so they were practically best buds before they were born. John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth were church leaders (Luke 1) and an older couple who knew Jesus was going to be special. You’d have to think they took a strong interest in mentoring the younger Mary and Joseph, which means Jesus and John would have spent even more time together. I know the Bible takes a serious tone in most places, but if there was ever anyone who gave our Lord and Savior a noogie, it was probably John.
Fast forward 30 years or so. John’s ministry is in full swing, the opening act to the greatest story ever told. Jesus calls John “the greatest man ever born of a woman” (Luke 7:28)- that puts him higher than Adam, Moses, Abraham, David, you name it. As Jesus begins his ministry John is arrested and put in prison. Then one night King Herod gets drunk at a party, makes a promise to dancer whose mother had a vendetta against John the Baptist, and rather than looking bad to the other people at the party, he gives in and orders John to be beheaded.
“His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.” (Matthew 14:11-12)
In verse 13, Jesus responds as you or I might do upon finding out our best friend or a loved one is dead.
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”
He just wanted to be alone. But the people wouldn’t cooperate.
“Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.”
Seriously, people, can’t you let the man alone? But curiosity is a strong thing. I started to write that
the people were curious to see what Batman would do now that Robin was dead, but at the time, John was probably the ‘bigger name’. From their perspective, they may have been curious to know what Robin would do now that Batman was dead. In the past, when one great person died, the next might still be great, but was still a step down. Moses to Joshua. Elijah to Elisha (true, Elisha did more miracles than Elijah, but who ended up on the mount with Jesus and Moses?).
And this is where the story begins to change from what you or I might naturally want to do.
“When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 11:14)
Despite wanting to be alone, he remembered what he was sent here to do. Maybe he also had the thought he didn’t want anyone else to die that day, and he was going to heal as many as possible.
“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and its already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” (Matt 11:15)
Now the disciples may have been being practical, or maybe they were just covering for their leader and trying to give him some alone time. But again, Jesus surprised them, and teod the disciples “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat,” even though they only had 5 loaves of bread and two fish. In the emotional context, you wonder if he’s saying to his disciples, “Its not about how cruddy I’m feeling or you’re feeling, its about them. This is what you do.”
You know the rest of the story- Jesus gives thanks for the bread and fish, who hands it to his disciples to give to the people, (I like how Jesus makes them part of the process- not manna from heaven to those in need, but from Jesus, through disciples, to the needy), and miraculously the 5,000 men, plus women and children, are fed. On the worst day of His life, Jesus performs one of his greatest miracles.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on the mountainside to pray. When evening came, he was alone” (Matthew 11:22-23)
Jesus told the disciples to go on ahead, even though they were probably wondering how Jesus was going to get back to town. Boats are much faster than walking all the way around the lake. “But,” they probably thought, “he did just miraculously feed 5,000 people. Perhaps we’ll give him a pass on this one.” Jesus finally had his alone time to pray that he’d been craving all day.
In the middle of the night, the disciples, despite many of them being experienced fisherman who’d been in boats their whole lives, were still in their boat “a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”
Jesus decided it was time for another miracle. He walked out onto the stormy water to the boat.
“When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “Its a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.” (Matthew 11:26)
“But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
You probably know the rest of this story, too. Peter asks to come out and walk on the water, too, Jesus says yes, and a long as Peter’s eyes are on Jesus, he can do the miraculous. But once Peter started looking at the wind instead of Jesus, he sank. Again, you have that connection of Jesus, to disciple, to the miraculous.
On what was likely the worst day of his life, Jesus performed two of his most famous miracles- feeding the five thousand and walking on water. He had compassion on those in need when he saw them. He taught his disciples that they were the conduit of miracles if only they would have faith and keep their eyes on him.
I wouldn’t wish the worst day of your life on anyone. But you can take heart in knowing that even on the worst day of your life, God is still in control and can still work miracles through us.