The Death of John the Baptist

1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2and he said to his attendants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him."

3Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philipís wife, 4for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." 5Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.

6On Herodís birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 9The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. 11His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12Johnís disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Jesusí fame was spreading throughout the land: "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ĎThis is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in himí" (vss. 1-2). The Herod spoken of here is Herod Antipas, the son of the King Herod who ordered the slaying the baby boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Messiah (see Matt. 2:16). Herod Antipas ruled a portion of the land that his father had ruled.

When faced with reports about the miraculous works of Jesus, Herod came to the conclusion that somehow the spirit of John the Baptist had entered Jesus, and was working through him. This was a strange conclusion for Herod to draw, especially since (as far as we know) John the Baptist did not perform any miraculous works. All of us who hear of Jesus must at some point come to a conclusion about Him. We must respond in some way to the claims that Jesus made about Himself. Jesus stated, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). We must make a determination whether the claims that Jesus made are true. The miraculous signs and wonders that Jesus performed are a great testimony to the truthfulness of the claims He made. Herod should have realized this and sought to discover more about the teachings of Jesus. Instead, Herod came up with an absurd notion that Jesus was not who He said He was, but rather was possessed by John the Baptist.

In this section, Matthew tells us about the circumstances surrounding the death of John the Baptist. As we see here, John, in addition to being a great prophet, was one in a long list of martyrs for the cause of God. "Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philipís wife, for John had been saying to him: ĎIt is not lawful for you to have her.í Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet" (vss. 3-5). John, to his great credit, pulled no punches concerning the law of God. No matter who John preached to, whether pauper or king, he told it like it is. "What was a king to him if that king dared to trample on the law of God? [Spurgeon, on vss. 3-4]. Herod and company saw themselves as above the law. John did not see them as being above the law. John was fearless in his demands that people repent and keep the laws of God. John preached in no uncertain terms of the unlawfulness of Herodís relationship with Herodias. John preached this at great peril to himself. In fact, he lost his life because of his forthrightness in preaching to Herod. Oh, if only we could have the courage of John, to faithfully stand up for right, in all circumstances. We face much milder consequences for our boldness than John did, and yet we cower before weak, and powerless men.

"Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet" (vs. 5). Herod, though in name ruler of the people, was a slave to his own weaknesses. It was because of Herodís weakness as a ruler that John remained alive for a time in prison. "Wicked men do not abstain from any sin, but for worldly reasons; they do nothing for regard to God: nothing else did Herod look to but Ďthe fear of the peopleí" [Dickson, on 3-5].

"On Herodís birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ĎGive me here on a platter the head of John the Baptistí" (vss. 6-8). The depraved life of Herod and his family is clearly seen in this episode: the party, the dance, the oath, the request for Johnís head. Herodias, through her daughter, requested Johnís head to ensure that Herod would have to execute John then and there. Her strategy worked: "The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother" (vss. 9-11). Here we have the ultimate in peer pressure: Herod kills John because of "his dinner guests". As for "his oaths", it would have been a virtue to break such oaths.

The king must not have been so greatly "distressed", for John the Baptist was quickly put to death. "If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist" [Ryle, 160]. Many would ask, "How could God let such a great man of God die so early in life?" Clearly, it was Godís will that John die at that time, for Johnís life, since he was a faithful servant of God, was completely in Godís hands. So, why would God allow such a faithful servant of His to die? Johnís work on earth must have been finished. John himself had a premonition (of sorts) of this. He said concerning Jesusí and his own ministries: "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30). "Johnís work was ended; he had come as the herald of the Messianic reign, and that reign was now being established" [Broadus, 320]. Johnís ministry in some ways got in the way of Jesusí. John had followers who would not become disciples of Jesus. In fact, thirty years later, Paul met up with people who knew only of Johnís baptism (see Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3).

So, by His wisdom, God allowed John to be put to death. At times, we learn of faithful ministers and servants of God dying at a young age. We must not fault God for this, but realize that such deaths are allowed by God, according to His will, through His wisdom.

 

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

13When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, "This is a remote place, and itís already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."

16Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

17"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.

18"Bring them here to me," He said. 19And He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

We go from an account of Herodís depraved birthday feast, to an account of a glorious feast hosted by our Lord. This glorious feast occurred as an indirect result of Herodís feast, for "when Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns" (vs. 13). Upon hearing of John the Baptistís death, Jesus tried to withdraw "to a solitary place", presumably to grieve for His good friend. Yet, Christ was not allowed to rest. This was one of His great trials when He was on earth. He was a tireless servant of men. This He chose to be most of the time. But even when He desired solitude, He was recruited into service by the crowds. Nevertheless, far from being angry with the crowds for interrupting His solitude, Jesus "had compassion on them": "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick" (vs. 14).

Jesusí disciples anticipated a problem: "As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, ĎThis is a remote place, and itís already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some foodí" (vs. 15). Their solution was to "send the crowds away", and yet, would Jesus ever send anyone away who seeks Him?

"Jesus replied, ĎThey do not need to go away. You give them something to eatí" (vs. 16). Jesus gives His disciples a command: "You give them something to eat." Jesusí message to the disciples is that they should tend to the needs of the people. This particular command is one that the disciples could not carry out in their own power. They needed Jesusí help to work through them, so that they may tend to the needs of the people. Our Lord chooses primarily to carry out His work through His people. He supplies the power; we do the footwork.

The disciples found some food: "ĎWe have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,í they answered" (vs. 17). We are told in the Gospel of John that the loaves and fishes belonged to a boy (see John 6:9). What child-like faith the boy had in bringing his food to share with all the people!

Jesus accepted the boyís gift: "ĎBring them here to me,í He said. And He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children" (vss. 18-21). Jesus used the meager offering of the boy, and turned it into a meal for more than five thousand people. Our Lord often does this: takes a meager offering of money or talent or time, and turns it into something great.

And make no mistake, this was a great display of our Lordís power. Some would have us believe that no miracle occurred here, that the boyís sharing inspired the crowd to share food with each other. But such an explanation does not fit the text, for Jesus "gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people." It was the boyís food that was given to the people, supplemented in some miraculous way by the creative power of our Lord. The event was undoubtedly miraculous. "It was a thing that no magician, impostor, or false prophet would ever have attempted. Such a person might possibly pretend to cure a single sick person, or to raise a single dead body, and by jugglery and trickery might persuade weak people that he succeeded; but such a person would never attempt such a mighty work as that which is here recorded. He would know well that he could not persuade ten thousand men, women, and children that they were full when they were hungry: he would be exposed as a cheat and impostor on the spot" [Ryle, 162].

There is some significance, I believe, in this miracle, in that it was a miracle that supplied ordinary needs, rather than extraordinary ones. Jesus showed compassion, not only for those who needed healing from physical maladies, but also for those who needed their daily bread. Our Lord is a help, not only to those who are in desperate situations, but also to His faithful followers, toiling day to day in this world, serving Him faithfully year after year.

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