12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”[f]
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
According to Matthew, these verses occur right after Jesus’ forty days and forty nights of temptation in the desert. The angels had come and attended to him. Sometime after enduring this and heading back to civilization, He learned of John’s imprisonment.
John and Jesus were related. Luke’s account is the most detailed of his birth which is where we learn he and Jesus are related. I wish the bible told us more of their relationship. We know John was an only child born late in life to Elizabeth and Zechariah. We know Mary came to see Elizabeth, and the baby in her womb leapt when it heard her voice in reaction to the presence of the Messiah she carried within her. But, did they know each other growing up? Did they spend time together playing games as their families visited? By this stage of their lives, however, there is no doubt John knew exactly who Jesus was—probably more than anyone else besides Mary.
Matt 3: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
John had been serving the Lord for quite some time. If anyone ever had a mission and calling from God upon his life from birth, it was John. He was the fulfillment of prophecy that said, “I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me.” (Mal 3:1). All four gospels tell of him and his call for people to repent and then baptizing them. He continually spoke of the coming Messiah.
After hearing the news of John’s imprisonment, Jesus continued on to do the work He came to earth to do. Could He have done something to change John’s circumstances? Of course, but it was not God’s plan. John had come to “prepare the way”. Jesus knew this. He is The Way! I love that Jesus recognizes John’s work and begins his ministry using the exact words John used. It is as if He is picking up where John left off: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
In the book of Luke, Jesus gives an amazing testimony of John. This happens after some of John’s disciples come to ask Jesus if He was the “one to come or should we expect someone else?” John had sent them to ask that question. I am sure in his mind, sitting in prison was not what John had expected for his life. Jesus sent the message to John, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away because of me.” (Luke 7:23). He was encouraging John to stay strong to the end, to finish the race.
Isn’t that the way it happens for us? We have this mountaintop experience where God has allowed us to be used by Him in a mighty way. But afterwards, when life changes or some trial comes into our lives, we doubt God’s love for us, or we doubt the calling on our lives. Jesus speaks those words as encouragement to us as well: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away because of me.” We need to cling to Jesus for our strength. We need to trust God is in control.
Thank you Jesus for and being the Way for us. I cannot imagine a life where I couldn’t talk to you whenever I wanted. I am ever amazed by the prophecy of the bible and how You allowed us to see it. Reading Your word is like sifting through sand and finding treasure that is beyond value. Please continue to teach us and reveal greater depths of Yourself to us. Help us to keep our focus on You and not the circumstances around us. In Your name I pray.