William Kelly Major Works Commentary
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,Matthew Chapter 14
Nor is this the whole sad truth. About this time the twelve were sent forth. This we have had in chapter 10, forming part of the special series of events transplanted into that part of the Gospel; but, in point of time, it followed the people's fleshly judgment of Christ. Their mission was beautifully given before by Matthew, so as to complete the picture of Christ's patient persevering grace with Israel, as well as to testify the rights of His person as Jehovah, the Lord of the harvest. Here consequently the fact is omitted, but the effect appears. "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him."
This gives occasion to the Spirit of God to tell the tale (vers. 3-12) of the extinction of John the Baptist's testimony in his own blood. It was not only a blinded people, but in their midst ruled a false and reckless king, who feared not first to imprison, and finally to slay, that blessed witness of God. Not that he did not fear the multitude (ver. 5); for his passions would have impelled to do the deed; nor that he had not sorrow and qualms when it came to the point (ver. g); but what can these restraints avail against the wiles and power of Satan? Bad as Herod was, he was not altogether without a conscience, and the preaching of John had reached it, so far at least as to render him uneasy.' But the issue was what one might expect who knows that an enemy is behind the scene, hating all that is of God, and goading man on to be his own slave and God's foe, in the gratification of lust and the maintenance of honour worse than vanity. What an insight into the world and the heart we have here from God! And with what holy simplicity all is laid bare which it would be profitable for us to hear and weigh! "Man being in honour abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning." So sang the Psalmist, and surely it was right and of God. "And he (the king) sent and beheaded John in the prison; and his head was brought in a charger and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother" (vers. 10, 11). Such is man, and such woman, without God.
When word was brought to the Lord about John's death, He marks His sense of the act at once - "He departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed Him." There was no insensibility in Him, whatever His longsuffering and grace. He felt the grievous wrong done to God and His testimony and His servant. It was the harbinger of a storm still more violent and a deed of blood darker far - the awful sin of His own rejection. He would not hurry the moment, but retires. He was a sufferer, a perfect sufferer, as well as a sacrifice; and while His sufferings rose to their height in that most solemn hour when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, it would be to ignore much if we limited our thoughts and feelings of His love and moral glory to His closing agony. The Lord, then, so much the more felt the evil, because of His unselfish love and unstained holiness. It is ever felt most in God's presence, where Jesus felt everything. The work of rejection goes on.
Did this deep sense in His spirit of the growing power of evil in Israel interrupt the course of His love? Far from it. "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick" (ver. 14). Let murderous unbelief act as it may, He was Jehovah, present here below in humiliation, but in divine power and grace.
The disciples poorly profit by His grace, and leave small space for the display of His beneficent power. So, when it was evening, they "came to Him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals" (ver. 15). "Send the multitude away!" - Away from Jesus? what a proposal! The greatness of the strait, the urgency of the need, the difficulty of the circumstances, which to unbelief are so many reasons for men to do what they can, are to faith just so much the more the plea and occasion for the Lord to show what He is. "Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat." Oh, the dullness of man! - the folly and slowness of heart in disciples to believe all! And yet, beloved friends, have we not seen it? Have we not proved the selfsame thing in ourselves? What lack of care for others! What measuring of their wants, in the forgetfulness of Him who has all power in heaven and on earth, and who, in the same breath that assures us of it, has sent us forth to meet the deepest necessities of sin-darkened souls!
"And they say unto Him, We have here but five loaves and two fishes." Ah! were they, are we, so blind as to overlook that it is not a question of what, but whom, we have? Jesus is nothing to the flesh even of disciples.
He said, "Bring them hither to Me." Oh for more simplicity in thus bringing every lack and every scanty supply to Him whose it is to provide, not for us only, but for all the exigencies of His love; to reckon on Him more habitually as One who cannot act beneath Himself.
"And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children" (vers. 19-21).
How blessed the scene, and how the perfectness of Christ shines through it all! In nothing does He depart from grace, spite of the recent display of murderous hatred in Herod; His very retiring apart before it is but a further step in the path of His sorrow and humiliation; and yet there, in the desert, to this great multitude, drawn out by their wants, comes forth this striking testimony. Should they not have assuredly gathered who and what He was? Jehovah had chosen Zion - had desired it for His habitation - had said, "This is My rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it." But now an Edomite was there, the slave of a ravening Gentile; and the people would have it so, and the chief priests would shortly cry, "We have no king but Caesar." Nevertheless, the rejected One spreads a table in the wilderness, abundantly blesses Zion's provision, and satisfies her poor with bread. The miracle may not be the fulfilment of Psalm 132:5, but it is the witness that He was there who could, and yet will, fulfil it. He is the Messiah, but the rejected Messiah, as ever in our Gospel. He satisfies His poor with bread, but it is in the wilderness, whither He had withdrawn apart from the unbelieving nation and the wilful apostate king.
But now a change opens on our view. For "straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone" (vers. 22, 23). The crown was not yet to flourish upon Himself. He must leave His ancient people because of their unbelief, and take a new position on high, and call out a remnant to another state of things also. Rejected as Messiah on earth, He would not be a king by the will of man to gratify the worldly lusts of any, but go above, and there exercise His priesthood before God. It is an exact picture of what the Lord has done. Meanwhile, if the masses of Israel ("the great congregation") are dismissed, His elect are ushered into a scene of troubles in the absence of their Master during the night of man's day. "The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary."
Such were some of the consequences of Christ's rejection. Apart on high, and not in the wilderness, He prays for His own; locally severed, and yet in truth far nearer, He prays for the disciples left alone, to outward appearance. They are "such as should be saved," the chosen ones, companions of His own humiliation while the nation despised Him.
"And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (vers. 25-31.) Without dwelling now on the moral lesson, with which we are all more or less familiar, a few words on the typical instructions conveyed by the passage may be welcome.
He will leave His intercessional place above, and rejoin His disciples when their troubles and perplexity are deepest. The mountain, the sea, storm and calm, darkness and light, are all, as to security, alike to Christ; but His taking part in the distress is the terror of the natural mind. At first even the disciples "were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear," only hushed by the sign of His speedy presence. This hardly goes beyond the circumstances and condition of the Jewish remnant. If there be any part which does, it is set forth in Peter, who, on the word of Jesus, quits the ship (which presents the ordinary state of the remnant), and goes to meet the Saviour outside all support of nature. It is our part to cross the world by divine power; for we walk by faith, and not by sight. The wind was not hushed, the waves as threatening as ever; but had not Peter heard that word "Come"; and was it not enough? It was ample as from the Lord and God of all. "And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus." As long as Jesus and His word were before his heart, there was no failure any more than danger. "But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me." Peter failed, as the Church has failed, to walk toward Christ and with Christ; but, as in his case so in ours, Christ has been faithful, and has delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in "whom we trust that He will yet deliver." "And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God" (vers. 32, 33).
Jesus now rejoins the remnant, and calm immediately follows, and He is owned there as the Son of God. Nor this only, for "they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of Him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto Him all that were diseased, and besought Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment; and as .many as touched were made perfectly whole" (vers. 34-36). The Lord is now joyfully received in the very scene where before He had been rejected. It is the blessing and healing of a distressed and groaning world, consequent on His return in acknowledged power and glory.
And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.
For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.
Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.
And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger.
And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.
And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
He said, Bring them hither to me.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.
And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased;
And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.