Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is week 56, Matthew, part 54 in the series. Today Pastor G covers Matthew 13:37-Matthew 14:14. This is all about how Herod murdered John the Baptist and how Jesus reacted to the news once he heard it.
Welcome to week 56 of our Just Jesus series. This is Matthew Part 54. Before Annette and I left for vacation for two weeks we finished chapters 12 and 13. Jesus had a big showdown with the Pharisees and then taught several parables about the Kingdom of God. Finally, He returned to His home town of Nazareth and found that His hometown folks were offended by Him. They rejected Him and He didn’t do many miracles and didn’t stay long. Jesus summarized it in Matthew 13:37b
… A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household. ~ Matthew 13:37b
Essentially this is another example of a famous adage of ours, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today, please do me a favor and say or type HIT ME WIT IT G! I’M READY! We’re starting in on Chapter Fourteen today. Matthew really should have prefaced verses 1-2 with “SPOILER ALERT” but he didn’t. Let’s read it.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” ~ Matthew 14:1-2
Now, if we were reading this for the first time we would say “WHOAH! Wait! John the Baptist is DEAD? He was just in prison last time we checked in with him. What happened?” Matthew seems to realize that and kind of goes “Ohhhh yeah, did I forget to tell you about John dying? Yeah, I guess I did. Okay, so, by the way John is dead. And then he tells us how it happened. Let’s look at verses 3-5 and following.
For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet. ~ Matthew 14:3-5
We actually talked about this several weeks ago when John was expressing his doubts about Jesus. You may remember, Herod had John thrown in prison because John was publicly criticizing the immoral decisions of the king who had married his brother’s wife without anybody being legally divorced and there were other issues as well.
Both Herod and Herodias would have loved to murder John but they feared an uprising since John was revered by many as a prophet. From the rest of the context we see that Herodias still wanted John dead but Herod wasn’t willing to take that step. Herod, first and foremost, loved power. So Herodias had to watch for an opportunity to have John executed. In Luke 13:32 Jesus refers to Herod as “that fox.” Herod is a shrewd political player. He’s not going to do anything rash. He’s always calculated in his evil. So, John had been in prison for a while when this happened. Look at verses 6-12.
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” ~ Matthew 14:6-8
Herod has made an open-ended and very public oath. His reputation with his power base is on the line. He says, “Stepdaughter, I will give you ANYTHING you ask.” The girl consults with her mother on what to ask and Herodias says “tell him to give you John the Baptist’s head on a platter.” Herod, clearly was NOT expecting that. He probably expected a request for jewelry or a pool party with her friends or a new Mercedes Convertible. Just making sure you’re still paying attention. Imagine if you asked your daughter what she wanted for her birthday and she asked for you to murder someone for her and hand her the person’s head. Everybody turn to a neighbor and say “Ewwww.” How does Herod react? Look at verse 9.
Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. ~ Matthew 14:9
Herod was grieved. Not, like “Awwww? I don’t want to kill John.” We already read in verse 5 Herod would love nothing more than to put John to death. Why is he grieved by the request? Because, again, Herod is a politician. This is the wrong time and way to kill John. Nowadays they would say “It’s bad optics.” Yeah? Herod let his political guard down for a moment and is now coming to regret it. Again, he has foolishly made this very public, open-ended promise in front of all of his party guests which would include political rivals. He’s got to do it. Even though he realizes this will make him look bad. He would have preferred to find a way to kill John privately, secretly, not in this super public and especially heinous way. Still, his hands are tied.
He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. ~ Matthew 14:9-11
Kind of like how your cat will bring you a dead bird or a dead mouse as a gift yeah? Everybody turn to your other neighbor this time and say “Ewwww.” Herodias gets her way. This is an extreme example of course but it’s not that different from how most people react when they are confronted by their sin. The Sunday before I left for vacation I shared John 3:19
“And this is the judgment that light has come into the world and people love the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” ~ John 3:19
The truth of that verse is very obvious here. That’s what is going on with Herod and Herodias. They are sinning. They are knowingly breaking the law. They are knowingly making super immoral choices in their lives. Most of the people in their circles are enabling them in their sin. Even celebrating their sin with them. That happens a lot in our current world too doesn’t it? Not just kings and queens and celebrities, though many of them certainly behave as though the rules don’t apply to them. It’s also the case with regular people like you and me. We live in such a wicked world, where major sins, clearly outlawed in both the Old and New Testaments, are still pursued, celebrated, arrogantly championed as “lifestyle choices” instead of calling them what they are, sins.
John, a prophet of God, calls sinful actions what they are. Sins. And he gets his head chopped off for it. That’s still the world we live in. Don’t be fooled. Standing up for the will of God, standing up for the word of God, insisting that there is still such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil, purity and sinfulness, holiness and depravity, it will often bring persecution your way as well. Maybe not literal imprisonment and beheading as it did with John, but still, tough consequences for you. Like John the Baptist, if we are a fully devoted follow of Jesus, we each have a duty in Christ to stand for righteousness. You are your brother’s keeper. As we shared a few Wednesdays ago, you are an ambassador of Christ. We are called to stand firm, to stand tall for Jesus and the Word of God. Like John, we shouldn’t pacify the sinful behaviors around them and justify them by calling them personal choices. Sin is still sin even in 2021. The Apostle Peter wrote on this same subject in 1 Peter 3:13-17. He says it better than I ever could. He reminds us of our eternal reward when this life is through. The worst they can ever do to us, is what they did to John. They can kill this body, but our soul belongs to Jesus forever. Peter asks us:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. ~ 1 Peter 3:13-17
Now, having said all that, it is also important to not get holier than thou. Don’t assume that we are somehow automatically immune to sinning ourselves. Whenever we find ourselves pointing a finger at someone else’s sinful behavior, stay aware of the fact that we still have three fingers pointing back at us. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:1
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. ~ Galatians 6:1
We all still stumble into, or sometimes even run headlong into, sin at times just like Herod and Herodias did. Maybe not the exact same sins they did but we all still sin. Maybe you haven’t imprisoned or beheaded anyone but you’ve done something else the Bible calls sin. We just all sin differently. When we become aware that something we are doing is a sin, either because a preacher or a prophet or any other person points it our, or whether we realize it ourselves from reading Scripture, we have an obvious choice to make. Like Herod and Herodias, we can choose to try to cover it up. Throw the evidence into prison. Or behead it. So to speak. I’m speaking symbolically.
We can try to keep our sin buried, hidden in the dark. OR, we can choose conviction and confession. Realizing we are sinning, owning up to our sinful choices, bringing that into the light of Jesus and agreeing with Him that it is wrong behavior. If we do that, the next natural step is repentance. Turning the opposite direction of that behavior and making right choices instead. Herod and Herodias don’t do that. Often, we don’t do that either. The closer we get to Jesus, the more His light shines into every nook and cranny of our life, the more of our sins get exposed and the more opportunity we have to be convicted, confess, repent and be restored. In fact, we are only fooling ourselves if we think our sins can be hidden in the dark anyway. Sure, we may fool the people around us for awhile but we will NEVER fool God.
A million years ago I spent a summer teaching in a Christian daycare that was kind of a VBS curriculum and one of the songs we sang went like this: [Pastor G Sings] You can’t fool God. You try but you fail. You can’t fool God. He knows you too well. He knows everything about you to the last detail. You can’t, no you can’t fool God. AMEN? It’s so true. The song was inspired by David’s prayer in Psalm 139:11-12
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. ~ Psalm 139:11-12
I love that! Even the darkness is not dark to You and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You! I think of Adam and Eve trying to hide their sin, hide their nakedness from God in the Garden. We still make the same mistake as the first humans, thinking we can hide our sin from our all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Creator. Realizing that, what will we choose to do the next time God’s light illuminates our sinfulness?
Will we try to step back into the darkness to foolishly think we can hide or cover up our sin, or will we courageously stay in the light to make sure that sin is burned away by the righteousness of Jesus? We are called to call a sin a sin but there is an ever-present danger of self-righteousness creeping in on us while we carry out that command. It’s so easy for us to point a finger at and shake our heads with a tsk tsk at these obviously evil acts of imprisoning and murdering John just for speaking the truth to power. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we are all pure as the driven snow either right? Right now is a good time to stop and think about that. Let’s do what AA calls taking a fearless, moral inventory. Ask the Holy Spirit to search us out. Intentionally, courageously, step directly into the searing spotlight of His holiness and let every single imperfection, every single sinful thought, and word and choice become painfully obvious to us, as obvious as they always are to Jesus. That’s also what we, as Christ-followers, should do. It’s also in that same prayer of King David in Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. ~ Psalm 139:23-24
Daily, every morning, right after the alarm goes off and we curse because we have to get up. That’s the best time to pray a prayer like this. Every day, first thing in the morning, Lord, show me if there is anything in me that does not belong and help me correct it right now, before I ever get out of bed. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The smallest good deed still outweighs the greatest good intention. It is our actual actions that define us. It’s easy to be pulled into sin when we aren’t intentional about staying pure. As fond as our generation is of championing personal “choice” about everything, the primary thing we all need to choose is holiness. AMEN? YAY GOD! Needless to say, Herod and Herodias made a different choice. They persecuted, imprisoned and murdered a man of God just for being a man of God. Matthew tells us in verse 12.
His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus. ~ Matthew 14:12
Jesus, John’s successor, the one John said he was not worthy to untie the sandals of, the one John called the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, has been notified of John’s execution. Before we talk about Jesus’ response to this news we need to drop back and talk about verses 1-2 again. This is where we started today.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” ~ Matthew 14:1-2
The timeline of all this is a little fuzzy. Matthew has been doling out various tidbits about John the Baptist throughout his Gospel. Remember, we’ve said many times, Matthew is not really concerned with telling a strictly chronological account of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He often takes numerous teachings of Jesus, that could have happened on multiple occasions over a three-year period and puts them all together as if they happened on one day in one conversation. That’s not always the case. So these first few verses seem backwards chronologically. Herod heard about the miracles and teachings of Jesus and thought it was John, risen from the dead. Oh, by the way, Herod had John killed and then John’s disciples buried his body and then told Jesus about it and then this is how Jesus reacted. HUH? That’s a little hard to track on Matthew. When did John die? When did Herod hear about Jesus? Which came first? The chicken or the egg? We have to do some CIE Context Is Everything work here and apply common sense.
Obviously Herod hearing about Jesus and wondering if John has come back to haunt him, basically, is a “oh by the way” fact tossed in my Matthew here that doesn’t fit the rest of the time narrative. Because everything else must happen close together. Herod kills John. John’s disciples tell Jesus. Sometime after that – who knows how long after – news about Jesus reaches Herod and he wonders if this is John come back from the dead. That’s certainly not going to happen the day after John dies. Make sense. Okay, so back to Matthew’s narrative. Jesus hears about John and then what happens?
Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself … ~ Matthew 14:12-13a
Jesus gets in a boat and heads out across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus shows time and time again that He is full of compassion. He is 100% God and He is 100% human. So He feels the injustice done to John on BOTH levels. Sure, He knew it would happen but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. We see the same thing later when Jesus hears about the death of His friend Lazarus. Even though He knows Lazarus is going to die. Even though He knows He is going to go see Lazarus and miraculously resurrect Lazarus, Jesus still pauses when He gets to Bethany and He weeps with the rest of the people in grief over the loss of Lazarus’ life. That’s what’s going on here as well.
John was Jesus’ second cousin. John was Jesus’ initial hype man who introduced Him as the Messiah to all of John’s followers. Jesus called John the greatest of all the prophets, the greatest purely human man to ever live and his life and ministry have been snuffed out by a selfish, sinful, arrogant king and his wife who for all intents and purposes have gotten away with it. At least until judgment day. John’s murder IS profoundly sad, deeply disturbing, and incredibly infuriating. So Jesus takes the time to be sad, takes the time to be upset. He models healthy grief for us as well. He withdraws from everyone, and He just wants to go be alone for awhile.
We know from other passages that He, in His humanity, was going not just to be alone, but to be alone with God the Father. We see this pattern throughout the Gospels. In Matthew 4 Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. “In Mark 1 and Luke 4 He went out to a desolate place to pray. Later in this same chapter, in Matthew 14:23, we’ll see it again as Jesus goes up on the mountain by himself to pray alone. He was always finding time to carve out “secret converse” with his Father, especially in times of great stress. That’s what He is doing here with the news of John’s murder. He goes off to be alone with the Father while He grieves the death of His family member and friend and ministry colleague. Jesus, our human model, shows us that’s what we are supposed to do too; with our grief, with our pain, with our fear, with our anger, with our discouragement. Go, get alone with God. [PASTOR G SINGS] In the secret. In the quiet place. In the stillness, You are there. In the secret, In the quiet hour I wait, Only for you. Cause, I want to know you more. I want to know You. I want to hear Your voice. I want to know you more. I want to touch You. I want to see Your face. I want to know you more.
When you spend time alone with God, you gain renewal of physical strength and even more importantly you gain spiritual refueling and refreshment for you soul. In Jesus’ human side He knew that full well and we see Him work through His human grief again and again. As the Prophet Isaiah predicted
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; ~ Isaiah 53:3b-4a
We can relate to the grief Jesus felt over John’s death and His desire to be alone with the Father during that time yeah? Don’t you find comfort that our Lord and Savior knows exactly what it is like to be one of us? The author of Hebrews took great comfort in that as well. They wrote in Hebrews 4:14-16.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.~ Hebrews 4:14-16
Whatever troubles or struggles you are facing in your life right now, whatever loss you have experienced, whatever grief or pain or fear or sorrow, Jesus knows exactly how you feel and He is here, ready to carry that burden for you and help you keep moving forward. YAY GOD? So what happens next?
Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself (so far so good) and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. ~ Matthew 13:13
Isn’t that the way it always works? Even Jesus can’t get a break. Here He is, grieving the loss of His cousin, and just wants a break for a little while to be alone. But as soon as people find out where He is the calls start coming, the door knocks start happening. Everybody still wants a piece of Him. You can relate to that too can’t you? Just like you, when He needs some time alone, the demands of the world never stop pressing in on Him. Days off? Vacation days? Downtime? Make time for them whenever you can because they are few and far between. You are not invincible. You need to get alone with God whenever you can. You need some time off whenever you can. Even Jesus needed those things!
So you know you do too. When the demands and pressures and griefs and discouragements of life keep on coming, keep on pressing, as they always do, you need to do what you need to do for you. Getaway when you can, even if it’s just for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, and get some alone time with God. You say “I can’t. I’m so busy. I have so much to do. I can’t take time off.” Look, do you think you are busier than Jesus was? Do you have more responsibilities than Jesus did?” Listen to me now. Don’t miss this! Listen! If Jesus can take time off, so can you. Jesus grabs a day, or part of a day, alone with God out on the water. And, when Jesus lands on the other side of the sea of Galilee there is already a massive crowd waiting for Him, ready to make demands of Him again. What does He do?
When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. ~ Matthew 14:14
It’s true in your life too isn’t it? The work will always keep on coming. Jesus knew His work would keep on coming so He knew when to pace Himself. If you don’t take those moments to refresh and recharge you will burn out and be unable to perform when the big demands come your way. By the time Jesus lands He is recharged and even though He is still feeling the pain of loss He is still able to find compassion (splangknidzomai – profound, gut-wrenching compassion) for the sick and grieving people. He knows what it’s like to feel that pain and He wants to do what He can to relieve them of their pain and sickness. We want to follow His lead and always be ready to give when the big demands come our way. Make sure we stick close to God, taking regular time alone with the Father, to keep our compassion tanks full as well. AMEN?