AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 14:1-21

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,

2 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 [supernatural events].

What makes the words of Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, interesting is that it is reported he was a Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, and yet, the first thought of Herod was about a resurrection of John, whom Herod had killed. The explanation for Herod’s initial alarming statement was that John the Baptist and Jesus looked very much alike, according to Origen (c. 184 – c. 253), one of the early Church fathers.

The Death of John the Baptist

3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife.

4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.

5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.

6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.

7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.

8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger.

Two Reasons for Evil

9 And the king was sorry [grieved]: nevertheless, for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.

Though Herod Agrippa was momentarily regretted his hasty promise to a daughter of the devil, he still commanded John to be killed for two reasons. First, Herod had sworn by an oath to give Salome a present. Second, Herod succumbed to peer pressure. He was concerned what others at the banquet thought of him.

10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

Sometimes, there is a high personal price that a person must pay in order to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. John was willing to pay that price, no matter the cost. He was arrested and imprisoned at Maquiras, Rome’s only prison, at the foot of Capitoline Hill overlooking the ruins of the Roman forum. In this dank and foreboding dungeon, John waited in one of the two cells for his execution. Some of the early Christians were in prisons often (Acts 16:16; 21:11; 2 Tim. 2:9; 4:6-8).

11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.

The dark deed was done. For the moment, evil triumphed over righteousness. The wicked ate, drank, were merry, and murdered for pleasure. However, from the grave, the ministry of John continued, for the truth cannot be silenced forever. In the end, Herod did not laugh or prosper for long. War broke out with Eritus, a conflict that Herod lost. Then, as an ambitious man, Herod went to Rome only to be banished to Lyon in Gaul where he ended his life in disgrace.

12 And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand, Plus: Matthew 14:13-21

13 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.

The death of John moved the Lord in a very special way. As true humanity, as a cousin of John, according to the flesh, the beheading of His faithful forerunner, and the one who fulfilled prophesy, was traumatic. When Jesus heard of the death of John, initially, He wanted to be alone for a moment. He would weep and pray in solitude on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. Then, Jesus would arise and continue the work His Father had given Him to do.

14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

The compassion of Jesus for people is touching, and manifests the tender heart the Savior of souls has.

“Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

O yes, He cares, I know He cares
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary
The long night dreary,
I know my Savior cares.”

“When you think of God, you should never think of God simply as an all-powerful, all mighty God, who has his thunderbolts by his right hand ready to hurl them out at his enemies, but you should also think of God who has compassion upon those who are looking for a shepherd but cannot find him. You should think of God with a tear rolling down his face, or with a sigh upon His heart, or, you should think of God as a God who can mourn over the passing of John the Baptist” (S. Lewis Johnson). Like Christ, Christians are to have compassion on others, “making a difference.”

From the Feast of Herod Agrippa: To the Feast of the Lord

15 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.

Some details to this story are found in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. “When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?  And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do” (John 6:5-6). “Philip answered him [Jesus], Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:7).

16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

The spiritual lesson to learn, is that it was Jesus who initiated giving to the people what they need to live. The disciples wanted to send the people away, but Jesus wanted to minister to the people. Grace and mercy found a way that could be done. True food does not come by going away from Jesus, but by coming to Him (John 6:51).

17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.

The person who initially informed Jesus of the five loaves of bread and two fish was “one of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (John 6:9). However, Andrew’s report with given in a spirit of hopeless despair because it was so little, and so much was needed.  It has been wisely noted that, “Little is much, if God is in.” God in the person of Jesus Christ was in this moment. Moreover, the lesson is also learned that, what the disciples could not do with their limited resources, Christ could.  What is true of the disciples, is true of the Church today. A local congregation can have its plans and programs, but it is Christ who is the Lord. And even if a congregation’s resources are limited, mighty deeds can be done in the will of the Lord.

18 He said, Bring them hither to me.

When any difficult situation is brought to Christ, the result will be grace abounding. Those who obey the commands of the Lord will find that miracles happen. Faith will replace doubt, and unbelief. The crisis of the moment will be resolved. The glory of the Lord will be manifested. Others will be blessed and helped. How Jesus performed His miracle is not given, nor does it matter. The secret things belong to the Lord.

19 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.

There is a great contrast between the feast of the Lord, who invites His people to come and dine, and the feast of the world. The feast Herod provided was prepared in a natural way, the feast the Lord prepared was supernatural. Herod offered his guests sensual pleasure; Christ gave to His people the pleasure of His presence as the Messiah. The feast of Herod ended in death, while the feast Jesus prepared gave life to all that ate, and that more abundantly. It is instructive that Jesus commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass before there was any food present. It was a trial of faith for the people, and their faith was rewarded. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Once the people were seated and the food was blessed, Jesus gave the loaves to his disciples who then distributed the food indicating that the Lord is pleased to use ordinary people to do extraordinary work.

20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.

The fact that they all ate speaks of the sufficiency of divine provision for the given situation. No one left hungry that day. No one had to work for their meal. It was all of grace. Salvation is just like that. Jesus invites the sinner to eat the bread of life, which is freely given to all who respond in gospel obedience, and depend upon the Lord alone. The remaining baskets remind the Christian of the generosity of our Lord. He gives, and gives again, more than we could ask for or expect. To a religious Jew, the remaining baskets might be a reminder of the twelve tribes, and therefore how gracious the Lord is to all of Israel. No one is left outside the covenant blessing of the Old Testament. In like manner, no one in the New Covenant is without gracious provisions.

21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

There were at least five thousand males present at this miracle, who were joined by many women and children. This is the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-15). Several important lessons are learned from the story, the most important being that Jesus is very God of very God. Like His Father, as the Messiah, Jesus provided manna to the hungry, or food to eat.  Jesus provided for the people because He is the Good Shepherd who always has the best interest of His people on His heart.

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