Here is the word of the Lord
Matthew 14:1–13 ESV
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
Here we have before us the narration of the death of John the Baptist.
As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of people who pick up the Bible to read it have one of two common literary categories in mind – fiction and non-fiction. They’ve either read storybooks or textbooks. Therefore, there are many who approach the bible as a storybook with good morals, and many others who approach it as a storybook, and both get it so wrong.
The Bible is neither a storybook nor a textbook. They are the words breathed out by the One who stands enthroned in the Great Halls of Heaven. Higher than the highest, Glory beyond fathom, More important than we’re able to understand the importance, Name above every name, the whisper of breath that sustains your life, the eye that sees your inner frame, the One intimately acquainted with all your ways, the One before whom impossibility kneels and trouble bows, and power & might lay prostrate before his feet to bid his command.
The Bible is God revealing Himself to us. The reason faith comes only by the hearing of the word of Christ is that faith is a gift hidden behind the curtains of this book. Those who dwell within the words of this book are preserved for eternal life.
John 8:31–32 ESV
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Scripture holds the power to set you free, in its pages is written truth, the living and active truth that is able to pierce you like a double-edged sword.
And though the word is full of stories, doctrines, instructions, poems & prophecies, all these literary genres like threads weave together as a cohesive whole revealing the glorious pattern of God’s truth in Jesus Christ. This book is life for the Christian.
Therefore, when you chance upon a passage such as the one that is before us, let us not in haste be done with it. Let us remember, let us ponder, and let us pray that God would help us see the work of his hands, and the fulfilment of his sovereign will.
This is indeed a sad story, but it is not the end of the story, not by a long shot. In Scripture, we often find that tragic ends are often the stone throw that creates the avalanche. Playing our part in the grand narrative of God’s redemptive plan may mean that we meet death on different paths and though not all of us die the same way, our death in this life as Christians is never the end of the story.
Matthew 14:1–2 ESV
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”
- The fame of Jesus was now spreading more rapidly. It had reached the ears of the tetrarch, the governor of the province. The tetrarch in the Roman empire was the governor of one of four divisions of a country or province. Herod Antipas was made tetrarch of Galilee and Perea and had a long rule (4 B.C.–A.D. 39).
Crowds would follow him wherever he went and the miracles he performed were now the talk of most towns.
- Now, when Herod heard about this Jesus, he was distraught. Upon seeing the power of Jesus’ works, the Pharisees called him the prince of demons, the people in his hometown who took him for a fraud were offended by him and wanted to kill him, and now the tetrarch himself brings to bear his theory.
“This is John the Baptist [raised]” – When word of Jesus had reached Herod’s ears, he had already put John to death. We are told in the flashback account that follows that Herod,
Matthew 14:5 ESV
5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But we read in:
Mark 6:18–20 ESV
18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
Both Matthew and Mark point out to us how conflicted Herod was in putting John to death. He hated the fact that John questioned his relationship with Herodias, he hated the fact that righteousness stood in the way of his malice, and that guilt knocked ever at his door.
Unlike the vast majority of Pharisees who closed off their hearts to Jesus, Herod heard the voice of a prophet and found gladness in it, though with great perplexity.
Matthew 14:3–5 ESV
3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.
He saw righteousness and understood it, he regarded John as a Holy man, and also understood it as his duty to keep safe a holy man. He even held him to be a prophet. This means that at some level Herod understood that he was a sinful man. He probably would have preferred that he never met John instead of having his heart pulled apart by sin at one end and the guilt brought upon him by the words of a righteous man.
Therefore, when he heard about Jesus, I wonder if his guilt welled up in him to make this remark – John is raised. I wonder if he ever hoped for John to be raised. The other Gospel accounts mention that the message that reached Herod’s ears was that this was the raised John that was doing these things. In either case, Matthew accounts that Herod did make this remark and believed Jesus to be the raised Baptist.
We read in:
Luke 9:9 ESV
9 Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.
The account of John is then detailed for us by Matthew as a past event.
Matthew 14:6–8 ESV
6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
- This then is the inevitable end of those who cleave dearly to their sinful way of life, and to God’s word, they are overwhelmed by sin.
Luke 9:62 ESV
62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Matthew 6:24 ESV
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Herod while keeping his wife in the palace, and the holy man in the dungeons was trying to hold on to both. The best of both worlds, but little did he know that these worlds are on a collision course that no man can stay.
And so when his stepdaughter danced before the guests at his birthday, he promised her an oath that no man in his position ought to have made. Mark details in:
Mark 6:22–23 ESV
22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”
Everything about that moment was sinful. The pleasure in her dance, the pride of his stature, the value of his guests. He made a promise he shouldn’t have made. Sin had laid its trap, and he was caught in it.
- Prompted by Herodias, the girl’s mother she asked for John’s head. Herodias hated John. She was the wife of Herod’s brother, and Herod wanted her as his wife. He coveted his brother’s wife and their affections were mutual and sinful.
So, when John opposed them, she had the wits to do what Herod could not, or so she thought. Here we see the sin of a manipulative wife. What she saw as strength was foolishness. Her wits to do what Herod could not come from her inability to see the light that Herod could. She manipulated the situation to put her husband in a position to do what she wanted him to do.
She knew what buttons to push and levers to pull when it came to her husband, something I’ve heard many wives pride themselves on. But the one who pushes and pulls turns the steering wheel, and that is not the role of a wife. She is not the leader behind the leader. She is not to be the head behind the puppet. A wife who knows her husband well will neither pull nor push for her benefit or to make his decisions for him. She is a faithful friend, a constant help, that picks up his hand and keeps putting it back on the steering wheel. The constant voice of comfort and encouragement that says, “I trust you to lead me. Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. Lead me on”.
And Herodias failed. She failed her first husband and now her second. Her love for Herod failed her first marriage, and her hatred for John condemned her second husband.
Matthew 14:9–11 ESV
9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
- Trapped in his sin, he caved. The King was sorry but he fulfilled his oath, and John was beheaded.
So, you can imagine how perplexed he would have felt when he heard of Jesus. “This is John raised!” Resurrected in power. That was his only conclusion.
It appears that the Pharisees, those of Jesus’ hometown or members of his own household, or now Herod; all saw Jesus in light of what they held close to their hearts. If we will not allow our hearts to be led by the truth of Scripture, to purge whatever we hold dearer than God, then let it be known that whatever you hold dearer to your heart than Christ, will be the thing that misinterprets and twists the scripture. Either the light of the word will reform you, or the darkness of your heart will attempt to reform the word.
Paul has a name for those who would try to reform the word – “Fools!”
- Though Herod wanted to meet Jesus then, he meets him only later when he was brought to him in chains.
Luke 23:6–11 ESV
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.
- But Jesus is not John the Baptist. He is not just a prophet, but a prophet king. He is not merely a righteous man, but the rightful heir to the throne. Herod could not keep him like he kept John.
- But what strikes me is that Herod longed to see Jesus hear him and see his signs. He welcomed him at first. But we are told that Jesus made no answer.
Herod was once glad to hear the words of a prophet, but his love for sin had taken him and his refusal to save the prophet had earned him this great tragedy. For now, God stood before him and would make no answer. Herod would not hear another word that would make him glad. He had chosen his master.
Matthew 14:12–13 ESV
12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
- John’s disciples honoured John as we later see Joseph of Arimathea do for Jesus.
- And they came and told Jesus. When Jesus heard this, he withdrew with his disciples to a desolate place. For Jesus knew what this moment signified.
When John was first put in prison, we read what he did. He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him,
Matthew 11:3 ESV
3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Matthew 11:7–11 ESV
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Matthew 11:14 ESV
14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
- Foretold by Gabriel and named by God
- In the spirit of Elijah
Luke 1:12–17 ESV
12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”