Matthew 14 A Beheading, A Picnic, and a Walk on the Water
The movement in Matthew of the rejection of Jesus as King and His conflict with the religious rulers continues. This chapter reveals that events are moving to a crisis. John the Baptist is slain on the pretext that Herod must keep his oath. This is an overt act of antagonism toward light and right which must ultimately lay wicked hands on Jesus. Jesus withdraws in order not to force the wicked hand of Herod, for the hour of Jesus has not yet come.
The feeding of the five thousand is certainly the most important of the miracles of Jesus if we are to judge by the attention given to it by the gospel writers. It is the only miracle recorded by all the gospel writers.
At the time Herod the Tetrarch heard the fame of Jesus. And he said to his servants: This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead and therefore mighty works shew forth themselves in him. (Matthew 14:1-2)
If this sounds superstitious to you, you are right. It is superstitious but it is not the superstition of the Bible nor of Jesus nor of His apostles, nor is it the superstition of Christianity. It is the superstition of old Herod and also of other ignorant people of that day. Somebody says, "Well, of course, in our contemporary society we are not superstitious like that." Aren't we? Notice how many people are following the horoscope and astrology charts. Also, religions of the Orient are having a tremendous influence in our modern culture. The human race is basically superstitious, my friend, and the minute you get away from the Word of God, you become superstitious. Even those who call themselves atheistic are turning to cults and "isms" and pagan religions, and we marvel that intelligent people could become involved in them.
The Person and the ministry of Jesus could not escape the notice of the king on the throne. Herod was a member of the family that you ought to look up in a good Bible dictionary.
Just as a plug. I have two bible dictionaries in mind that I like. One is Scott Hahn's Catholic bible dictionary, and the other is Holman's Bible dictionary. Now in recommending them, I am not saying that either of these dictionaries have everything right in them, but they are great tools to use. Now back to our study!
The whole Herod family were a bunch of rascals and of the very darkest hue.
They were the Mafia of the first century, and the Herod of this chapter was no exception.
The first several verses of this chapter are a flashback of what had already taken place. When Herod heard about the preaching of Jesus, he was immediately filled with fear and superstition. Herod had put John the Baptist to death, and he associated John with the Lord Jesus. Herod believed John had risen from the dead, and his fear changed to frenzy because he wanted to eliminate John altogether. Herod was a drunken, depraved, debased, weak man, and he was a killer. He had already murdered John, the forerunner of Christ, and he was prepared to murder the Lord Jesus Himself.
The following verses are part of the flashback describing the circumstances surrounding the death of John the Baptist.
For Herod had apprehended John and bound him, and put him into prison, because of Herodias, his brother's wife. [Matthew 14:3].
Notice that it says that Herod had apprehended John-it was a past action. Herod had imprisoned John "because of Herodias" Notice how Herod was influenced by others. Here it is by Herodias, and later on it will be by others. He was motivated like a politician. Every he did was to gain the approval of others.
For John said to him: It is not lawful for thee to have her. [Matthew 14:4].
John the Baptist had spoken out against Herod's immorality- John wasn't a very good politician!
And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet [Matthew 14:5].
Here we see that Herod was afraid of the crowd.
But on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. [Matthew 14:6].
Herod was a lascivious, lustful old creature, living with his brother's wife at the time, and John the Baptist had condemned him.
Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. [Matthew 14:7].
But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. [Matthew 14:8].
The mother, Herodias, lived up to the Herod name. Hers was a cruel and sadistic request, prompted by a brutal desire for revenge because of John's condemnation of her.
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 [Matthew 14:9].
Imagine a man being motivated like that! He was afraid of what his guests might think of him for having made a promise and not making it good.
And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother. [Matthew 14:10-11].
The sadistic, sad, and sordid account of what took place in that day reveals the type of society that existed then. John the Baptist was beheaded, and his head was given to the dancing girl on a platter! Human nature has not changed much. Lust and murder are part of contemporary society today.
And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus. [Matthew 14:12].
The disciples of John claimed his body and tenderly and lovingly buried it.
The Lord withdrew because He knew that Herod's fear would break out into a frenzy and cause him to do something rash. The Lord Jesus knew this man and wanted to avoid an incident because His hour had not yet come.
Which when Jesus had heard, he retired from thence by boat, into a desert place apart, and the multitudes having heard of it, followed him on foot out of the cities. [Matthew 14:13].
The Lord went by ship across the Sea of Galilee, but the crowd that had followed Him on foot out of the cities did not want Him to leave, so they walked around the shore of Galilee and met Him on the other side. This reveals how popular He was with the crowds.
And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick. [Matthew 14:14].
Notice again that they brought their sick folk out to Him. He healed literally thousands of people in that day. To compare what He did to the so call healers of our day is blasphemous. It casts a reflection on Him-because what He did was above board and evident to everybody.
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 [Matthew 14:15].
Note that the disciples are attempting to advise Jesus what to do. Their advice was to send the people into the villages.
But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give you them to eat. [Matthew 14:16].
The feeding of the five thousand is the one miracle which is recorded in all four Gospels. For that reason alone it is an important miracle.
It was as if the disciples had appointed themselves to the board of directors to tell the Lord Jesus what to do. But He said to them, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." It was an impossible command.
They answered him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes. [Matthew 14:17].
Having only five loaves and two fishes is typical of the sad state of many parishes in our day. Right now folk are saying that we need to send the multitudes away, that there are natural ways of caring for their needs. We send them to the psychiatrist for emotional help and to the government for physical relief. We do have spiritual bread to offer folk, although it may be only five loaves and two fishes, but the thing which is lacking is the power of the Lord Jesus. If we only had that power, we wouldn't need to send the multitudes away. We fail to realize that the solutions today are not in government nor in human imaginations but in God. No wonder many of our parishes are powerless.
He said, Bring them hither to me [Matthew 14:18].
I love that response! He is the Lord, and He says to us, "Bring what you have to Me." It is not what we have that counts with Him but actually what we don't have. The question is: Are we willing to release whatever we do have and let Him be the One to direct us in the distribution of it?
Don't get the impression that this little boy had five great big loaves of bread. They actually were little buns. There were over five thousand hungry people out there, and they had five little buns. This little boy had brought them-they were probably his lunch, and he could have eaten every bit of it. Five loaves and two small fish-and Jesus said, "Bring them hither to me."
And when he had commanded the multitudes to sit down upon the grass, he 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 multitudes. [Matthew 14:19].
In Mark's account we are told that He made them sit down by companies or ranks, by hundreds and by fifties. These folk wore colorful clothing, and out there on the green grass they were seated probably by villages with each having its own distinct manner of dress. It must have been a sight to have seen this colorful group from the opposite hillside. They were probably wearing red, brown, blue, orange, and purple-probably a great deal of purple because purple dye was made in this area. It must have looked like one of those old-fashioned quilts. The Lord had them sit in order. The Lord did things orderly.
“and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes." These disciples who in telling the Lord Jesus how to do things find themselves now as waiters, serving the crowd. And that is really to be the particular ministry of apostles, Priest, Bishops, Popes, and all Christians in our day. We are to feed the multitude. There are too many people in our churches who want to tell how it should be done and too few who are willing to do it. A pastor of a parish once said, "In my church we have all chiefs and no Indians. Everybody wants to be the head of something, chairman of a committee, or in another place of leadership." What the church needs is waiters who are willing to serve others. That's our business. All believers should be waiters who serve others.
And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments. [Matthew 14:20].
There were twelve baskets of bread and fish which were never touched. It is difficult for us who live in the midst of supermarkets to understand that many of the world's population went to bed hungry last night. Most people in that day never knew what it was to have a full meal, but twelve baskets of food left over indicates that everyone had a full stomach.
And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children. [Matthew 14:21].
There were five thousand men. This did not include the women and children. Is it too much to add one woman and one child to each man? The Lord actually fed closer to fifteen thousand than to five thousand people that day.
As soon as the multitude was fed, Jesus sent His disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and He went to pray.
And forthwith Jesus obliged his disciples to go up into the boat, and to go before him over the water, till he dismissed the people. [Matthew 14:22].
"forthwith" is a word of urgency and swift movement. Matthew's record has a strange omission at the conclusion of the miracle of feeding the five thousand. He notes the urgency with which Jesus dismissed the multitudes and the haste in which He sent His disciples over the sea in the boat; however, he does not offer an explanation. John gives us the reason: "Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone." (John 6:15). In view of the fact that Matthew is presenting that phase of the ministry of Jesus which has to do with His kingship, it may appear odd at first that he would ignore this attempt to make Jesus king. This is another evidence of the remarkable character of the claim of Jesus to be King. He is King by right and title. He will not become King by any democratic process. He is not "elected" King by the will of the people. He is King by the will of God. We can see in Psalms 2:8-9 that He will finally become King by force.
And having dismissed the multitude, he went into a mountain alone to pray. And when it was evening, he was there alone. But the boat in the midst of the sea was tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary. [Matthew 14:23-24].
The Lord is in the mountains, in the place of prayer. The disciples are down on the Sea of Galilee in a storm and in darkness; they are in the place of peril. What a picture this is of our own day. Our Lord has gone on to the Father and is seated at the Father's right hand. We today are down here on a storm-tossed sea in the place of peril.
I love this next verse-
And in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea. [Matthew 14:25].
The fourth watch is the morning watch, from three in the morning until daylight. This is the time the Lord walked on the sea, going to His disciples. And I think that will be the watch in which He will come for us when he returns as our Messiah. Christ is the bright and morning star for the Church. We don't know the date of His coming. There are men who would have us believe that they know the time, but they don't know. However, I personally believe that we are in the fourth watch of the night.
And they seeing him walk upon the sea, were troubled, saying: It is an apparition. And they cried out for fear. [Matthew 14:26].
This is the picture: Our Lord is up there on the mountain, and He sees the disciples in the storm, toiling and rowing, as Mark's record has it. Then He comes to them in the fourth watch. When they see Him, they say, "It is an apparition, a spirit; and they cried out for fear." Somebody is going to say, "Well, they were superstitious." Yes, there may have been a certain amount of superstition in them, but what would you think if a man came to you walking on the water?
And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying: Be of good heart: it is I, fear ye not. [Matthew 14:27].
"Immediately Jesus spake unto them" -that is, right away He reassured them that He was no ghost!
And Peter making answer, said: Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee upon the waters. [Matthew 14:28].
Peter has certainly been criticized for this. Some say that he should not have asked to walk on water. Well, I rather admire him. A famous missionary once said, "Expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God." Certainly Peter did that! I am afraid that most of us are satisfied with little things from God.
Notice that Jesus did not rebuke Peter for asking-
And he said: Come. And Peter going down out of the boat, walked upon the water to come to Jesus. [Matthew 14:29].
I hear people say that Peter failed to walk on the water, but that is not the way the Bible reads. The Bible says that Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus. This is not failure! Peter asked a tremendous thing of God. No wonder God called him to be our first Pope!
But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: Lord, save me. [Matthew 14:30].
Peter took his eyes off the Lord Jesus while he was walking on the water. When he began to sink, he prayed the shortest prayer in the Bible, "Lord, save me"! If Simon Peter had prayed this prayer like some of us preachers pray, "Lord, Thou who are omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent . . . ," Peter would have been twenty-nine feet under water before he would have gotten to his request. Peter got right down to business, and you and I need to come to the point where we pray like that.
And immediately Jesus stretching forth his hand took hold of him, and said to him: O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt? [Matthew 14:31].
Peter's problem was that he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves rolling. You and I are in a world today where we see the waves rolling, and this is the time when we need to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.
And when they were come up into the boat, the wind ceased. And they that were in the boat came and adored him, saying: Indeed thou art the Son of God. [Matthew 14:32-33].
Our Lord performed this miracle for His own, that they might be brought into the place of faith. Even Simon Peter, who was audacious enough to say, "bid me come to thee upon the waters" and actually walked on the water, which should have cemented his faith, got his eyes off Jesus, and his faith failed. I don't want to criticize Peter because that has been my problem, also. I have stepped out on faith many times and then have taken my eyes off Jesus. This is the tragedy of the hour for us in our day. But these things were done that the disciples might worship Him and know that He was the Son of God.
And having passed the water, they came into the country of Genesar. And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent into all that country, and brought to him all that were diseased. And they besought him that they might touch but the hem of his garment. And as many as touched, were made whole. [Matthew 14:34-36].
After the storm He continued to minister to the needs of the people. Again, let me call your attention to the multitudes that were healed in that day. We have a detailed record of only a few healings, but thousands were made whole by the Lord.