At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,
It is quite clear that, in spite of his promise, Herod had no right to behead John the Baptist. He had no right to make such a promise, to begin with; and when he had made it, he was for that reason bound to break it. Nor is it difficult to define the principle which governs all these cases. If a man has no right to do a thing, his promising to do it does not give him the right. Such a promise is void, to begin with.
I. Conflicts of duty are, no doubt, sometimes quite real, and even a very good man does not see clearly which of the lines to follow. But far, far more common are the conflicts of duty in which right is all on one side, and only the appearance of right on the other. What, for instance, can be commoner than the false law of fellowship, which makes any one who has joined in wrong unwilling to do right, because it would seem like deserting his companions? While he is putting off amendment for his companions' sake, he could not do them a greater service than to commence at once, and give them courage to do what they are longing to do, but dare not. But he does not see this, and he will not be allowed to see it; and so he puts this imaginary barrier between himself and his duty, and has a sort of sense that his conscience is in doubt, and that if he is not doing one duty he is doing another.
II. As a rule, these perplexities only beset those who begin by wrongdoing. All wrongdoing has a tendency to call for other wrongdoing, either as its natural and proper sequel, or as its only protection. Herod would most certainly not have had to choose between breaking his word and putting John the Baptist to death, if he had not begun by illegally putting the prophet in prison. The conflict, in fact, is one of the sequels of previous faults, and one of the severest punishments. And if we would avoid the temptation of such a conflict, we must watch our steps.
Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 2nd series, p. 282.
References: Matthew 14:1, Matthew 14:2.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 335. Matthew 14:1-14.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii., p. 296. Matthew 14:2.—T. Kelly, Pulpit Trees, p. 133.
Matthew 14:10-12I. If you consider the manner of John the Baptist's death, as Scripture brings it before us, I cannot help thinking that at first sight it will seem to you rather disappointing. The death of John the Baptist is as nearly as possible what we should have expected it not to be; he becomes a martyr, but without any of the glories which light up a martyr's death; he is shut up by Herod in a castle; there he lingers on month by month, until at length a wicked woman asks for his head, and Herod sends an executioner to murder him in prison.
II. At the time of John's death he had finished his work. His work was not to preach the Gospel, but to point to, and prepare the way for, Him who did preach it; and if Christ was now come, what more need of John? You may say, perhaps, that it was but a poor reward for John the Baptist, that after he had laboured earnestly as the messenger of Christ, he should be shut up in prison, and allowed to drag on a weary existence there, and at last lose his life to please Herodias. This is perfectly true, if you look at the matter from a merely human point of view. But the question is, not whether a man thinks it time to leave this world, but whether he has done God's work in it. The lesson He would teach us is, that we should give to Him the prime of our faculties, and consecrate to His service our health and strength, and then leave it to Him, without a murmur or a sigh, to determine, as seems best to Him, how we shall leave this world when our work is done.
III. St. John was the forerunner of Christ; so far, we cannot be exactly like him. But in what spirit did he go before Christ? This is really the question of questions. The spirit in which he went before Christ was that of simple obedience and bold determination to do God's will. He has taught us that we are to do our duty simply, boldly, and sincerely, as in the fear of God. We are to act as believing that God's eye is upon us; that He knows our acts, our words, our thoughts; that we are His and not our own; that we have a great work to do for Him, and a short day in which to do it, and a long night before us in which no work can be done.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 5th series, p. 248.
Reference: Matthew 14:10.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 45.
Matthew 14:12(with Matthew 28:8)
The grave of the dead John, and the grave of the living Jesus. The grave of John was the end of a "school." The grave of Jesus was the beginning of a Church. Why? The only answer is the message which the women brought back from the empty sepulchre on that Easter Day: "The Lord is risen." The whole history of the Christian Church, and even its very existence, is unintelligible, except on the supposition of the resurrection. But for that the fate of John's disciples would have been the fate of Christ; they would have melted away into the mass of the nation, and at most there would have been one more petty Galilean sect, that would have lived on for a generation, and died out when the last of his companions died.
I. The first point to be considered is that the conduct of Christ's disciples after His death was exactly the opposite of what might have been expected. (1) They held together. The natural thing for them to do would have been to disband; for the one bond was gone. (2) Their conceptions of Jesus underwent a remarkable change on His death. The death that should have cast a deeper shadow of incomprehensibleness over His strange and lofty claims poured a new light upon them, which made them all plain and clear. (3) Another equally unlikely sequel of the death of Jesus is the unmistakable moral transformation effected on the disciples. Timorous and tremulous before, something or other touched them into altogether new boldness and self-possession.
II. The disciples' immediate belief in the resurrection furnishes a reasonable, and the only reasonable, explanation of the facts. There is no better historical evidence of a fact than the existence of an institution built upon it—coeval with it.
III. Such a belief could not have originated or maintained itself unless it had been true.
IV. The message of Easter is a message to us as truly as it was to the heavy-hearted unbelieving men that first received it. The one proof of a life beyond the grave is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore let us be glad with the gladness of men plucked from a dark abyss of doubt and uncertainty, and planted on the rock of solid certainty.
A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 159.
I. Our text tells of a death. It was a sudden and violent death. It was a solitary death. No congenial spirit was with the departing, to cheer him with a thought of hope or with a breath of prayer. The life itself went out in inactivity. It might seem, man might call it, a failure. Its latest days were its least brilliant.
II. His disciples came and took up the body and buried it. They who might not minister to the life shall minister to the death. No jealousy, no tyranny, survives death; so now the disciples are free to come and take the body. There is scarcely one tie in life stronger or more indestructible than that which binds the scholar to his master, if each be what he ought to be. If indeed the relation has been at once paternal and brotherly and ministerial, cemented by mutual love, and consecrated by a common love for One in whom each has his being, then the co-existence is delightful beyond words, and the separation in death bitter—only not to despair. How much more then this discipleship to one actually sent of God—to one who was the kinsman, the friend, the harbinger of Jesus. Scarcely any funeral was ever like that one,—the surprise, the shock, the anguish, the indignation, yet also, let us believe, the thanksgiving of heart and soul which accompanied the laying of that still young life to its latest and only satisfying rest in the enjoyment of a world where doubt is not, where God is. When we think of it we can almost place ourselves beside that tomb, and then go straight with these mourners and tell Jesus.
III. Unhappy that sorrow which cannot tell itself to Jesus. There are such sorrows. The burning fever of passion, whether in the form of baffled lust or dissatisfied ambition or self-defeated speculation, will not, scarcely can, go, quite as it is, to tell Jesus. And yet if it would, it would not be cast out, Little do we know, the best of us, of the largeness of that heart. We, who feel ourselves grieved and wearied, we scarce know why, by the search for something which never comes, by the perpetual baffling of hope undefined and effort misdirected, we are the men sought. Part with the dead lord, with the usurper of the heart's heart, bury him out of thy sight, and come and tell Jesus.
C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 233.
References: Matthew 14:12.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p, 41. Matthew 14:13, Matthew 14:14.—A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 266. Matthew 14:13-21.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 120; Preachers Monthly, vol. iii., p. 291.
Matthew 14:14A Great Multitude a Sad Sight.
I. The Redeemer's reason for compassionating the great multitude is a reason of universal application. It was a reason for feeling compassion for that assemblage that day in Palestine; it is a reason for feeling compassion for any assemblage whatever. Christ's pity was not moved by any of those accidental and temporary causes which exist at some times and in some places, and not elsewhere. Sinfulness and the need of a Saviour are things which press, whether felt or not, upon all human beings. That spiritual malady of sin from which the Great Physician alone can save us is one that is wide as the human race. He sees in it the weightiest reason for compassionating any mortal, through every stage of his existence—from the first quiet slumber in the cradle to the rigid silence in the shroud.
II. The Redeemer's reason for feeling compassion toward the multitude was the strongest reason for doing so. When we think what sin is and what sin tends to, we cannot but feel how rightly the Saviour judged. For sin is indeed man's sorest disease and man's greatest unhappiness. And sin, if unpardoned, leads to death—death spiritual and eternal. A sinful soul is a soul stricken with the worst of diseases, leading to the most awful of deaths. It was because Christ looked on into the unseen world, and discerned the wrath in which sin unpardoned would land the soul, that He felt so deep a compassion as He looked on the great multitude gathered in the Eastern desert.
III. If Jesus thought the sight of a great multitude a sad sight, if He could not look upon the multitude but with compassion, it must have been because He could not look but with compassion on each individual soul in the multitude. And as that multitude was a fair sample of the human race, it follows that Christ feels that there is something for Him to pity as He looks on each of us—on each separate human being. Let us be clothed with humility. It is the right frame of spirit for beings such as you and me. Let us go humbly to the foot of the Cross, and, feeling our helplessness, let us patiently wait till the kind Saviour shall look upon us with compassion and take away our sins.
A. K. H. B., The Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, 1st series, p. 142.
Matthew 14:15-21Jesus and His Bounty.
I. The problem of the disciples. The desert place, the night, and the multitude without food, presented a problem that might well constitute reason for anxiety to any that were of a sympathetic nature. The disciples were prepared for the desert themselves, with or without food; but to be there with five thousand men, besides women and children, and all hungering, was a very different matter. There was no provision in their faith for so unexpected an event. Their advice was to send the multitude away to provide for themselves. There is an easy way out of present difficulties which, if taken, may lead to difficulties in the future which may be of a more unyielding kind than any which beset the present. Great confusion might ensue by sending the multitude hungering away. The disciples seem to have forgotten (1) that the people had followed their Master, not them; (2) that the Master knew as much and more of the multitude than they did; (3) that the Master was moved with compassion towards the people.
II. The solution of the Master. "Give ye them to eat," said the Master. The command seemed extravagant; but they knew that it had not been His habit to gather in where He had not scattered abroad. It made them feel how inadequate they were, with the little they had, to obey it. They had only five loaves and two fishes, do as they would, and with a multitude to feed. The loaves were, however, just what the people needed. We have all some little which, if wisely used, may be of benefit to our fellows. Whatever of good and holy things we have should be holily and usefully employed. The two talents are as valuable within their sphere as five are within theirs. The Master took the five loaves and two fishes from the disciples, and manifested His great power through that which they gave Him. He brought them into the fellowship of His mystery. Our first condition of usefulness is to take the little we have to Christ, if only we have the little. And we shall find that if we have taken whatever of thought and feeling and opportunity we have, and if all have been blessed by Him, that that which is blessed by Him is equal to all that life's occasion demands; but without being blessed our loaves remain five, and the people, however frantic our effort, continue hungering.
J. O. Davies, Sunrise on the Soul, p. 321.
References: Matthew 14:15-21.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii., p. 304; T. Birkett Dover, The Ministry of Mercy, p. 109. Matthew 14:17, Matthew 14:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 453. Matthew 14:19.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 139. Matthew 14:19, Matthew 14:20.—J. Shaw, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 76; W. Gresley, Parochial Sermons, p. 209. Matthew 14:22-26.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii., p. 312. Matthew 14:22-33.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 128; J. Hawker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 168. Matthew 14:23.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 327; Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 326.
Matthew 14:24I. Very evidently the first thing here suggested is that the way of duty is not always easy. In saying that I do not allude to the inner difficulties which we have frequently to overcome before we enter upon the path of obedience, but rather to those hindrances which come upon us from without, while we are honestly trying to go forward in the course which, believing it to be commanded us by God, we have begun. Let any one set out to do anything positive or aggressive for Christ, and all experience declares that before he has gone far he will have to face a contrary wind.
II. Now, what shall we say to sustain ourselves amid an experience like this? (1) This, at least, we may take to ourselves for comfort—namely, that we are not responsible for the wind. That is a matter outside of us and beyond our control, and for all such things we are not to be blamed. The contrary wind is in God's providence, and is to be made the best of; nay, so soon as we recognize that it is in God's providence, we will make the best of it. (2) The attention required for bearing up against the contrary wind may take us, for the time being, out of the way of some subtle temptation. In general, all such adverse providences have operated in keeping us nearer the mercy-seat, and in leading us to depend more implicitly—or, as the hymn has put it, to "lean" more "hardly"—on the support of the Lord. (3) There may be much in contending with a contrary wind to prepare us for higher service in the cause of Christ. Our Lord withdrew to the mountain to give the disciples a foretaste of what should come when He went up to heaven; and I have a firm conviction that much of that persistence of the apostles in the face of persecution, which so strongly impresses us as we read the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, had its root in the remembrance of what they had learned in this night's contending with adverse winds on the Galilean lake. This was one of their first experiments in walking alone, and it helped to steady them afterwards. (4) As we bend to our oars while the wind is contrary, we may take to ourselves the comfort that the Lord Jesus is closely watching us.
W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds and other Sermons, p. 7.
References: Matthew 14:24.—T. Birkett Dover, The Ministry of Mercy, p. 116. Matthew 14:26.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 957. Matthew 14:27.—W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 1; J. Hiles Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 203; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 4th series, p. 86; J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 215. Matthew 14:28.—Spurgeon, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 22. Matthew 14:28, Matthew 14:29.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 95; J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year, vol. iii., p. 221; J. M. Neale, Occasional Sermons, p. 144.
Matthew 14:30There are three conditions of soul: some think they are sinking and are not; some are sinking and do not know; some are sinking and do know it—know it truly and miserably.
I. Let me gather up the steps towards the sinking. An emotional state, with abrupt and strong reactions; a self-exaltation; a breaking out under a good and religious aspect of an old infirmity and sin; a disproportion between the act and the frame of mind in which the act was done; neglect of ordinary means with not sufficient calculation of difficulties; a devious eye; a want of concentration; a regard to circumstances more than to the Power which wields them; a certain inward separation from God; a human measurement; a descent to a fear—unnecessary, dishonouring fear; depression; a sense of perishing; beginning to sink.
II. Let us see the escape. In his humiliation and fear and emptiness, the eye of St. Peter, which had wandered in the pride of his first confident marching, went back to Christ. It was the mark that he was a child of God still. It was the mark in the judgment-hall; it was the mark now; it is the mark everywhere. You who feel that you have sunk and are sinking, go back again, and let Jesus be to you, and you be to Jesus, as it once was. Those declining steps and sinking affections want the Saviour more than ever, and He is the Saviour still. The same eye is towards you, as loving, as gentle, as affectionate and kind. Return—away from every wind that blows and every wave that beats—away from the gulfs that yawn, and the depths that will swallow you up—away from your own guilty self—look to Jesus.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 154.
References: Matthew 14:30.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 14. Matthew 14:31.—Ibid., vol. v., No. 246, vol. xxxi., No. 1,856; A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 174; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 41. Matthew 14:36.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 382.
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.