Read the Passage: Matthew 14
Earlier, in Matt. 4:12, we saw that John the Baptist had been imprisoned. In Matt. 11:2–6 we saw how John was questioning whether or not Jesus was the Christ. This was likely on account of the difficulties he faced in prison and the fact that Jesus had not enacted a physical rule over Israel. Here in Matt. 14:1–12 we finally learn the reason for John’s imprisonment, which is that he had confronted Herod about his marriage to Herodias (cf. Mark 6:14–29; Luke 9:7–9; 7:19–30). Note that there are six Herods in the New Testament. The Herod in this passage is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and half-brother to Herod Philip I. Herod Antipas was ruler of the region of Galilee. John’s issue with Herod Antipas’ marriage to Herodias was likely that it violated Old Testament law in that it was both adulterous (cf. Deut. 24:1–4) and incestuous (cf. Lev. 18:16).
Matt. 14:6–12 records the events that led to the death of John the Baptist. In this passage we learn that there was a birthday celebration for Herod Antipas. At this party the daughter of Herodias and Herod Philip I danced for Herod Antipas. History records that this daughter’s name was Salome. Note that she later married Herod Philip II, who was both her uncle (through her father—that is, her father’s half-brother) and her great uncle (through her mother—that is, her mother’s uncle) at the same time. In Matt. 14:7 we learn that Herod Antipas was so pleased with Salome’s dance that he promised her “whatever she might ask” (Matt. 14:7). Being prompted by her mother Herodias, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist. It is interesting it is recorded that “the king was sorry” (Matt. 14:9), for earlier we learned that Herod wanted to kill John (cf. Matt. 14:5).
Generally speaking, the 37 miracles Jesus performed in the Gospel narrative fall into one of two categories: miracles of restoration (or creation) or miracles of suspension (or interruption). Matt. 14 contains one of the best examples from each category of miracles. In Matt. 14:13–21 we read of the feeding of the 5,000. Note that this is the only miracle recorded in each of the Gospels. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus had already been ministering for roughly two years and was near the apex of His popularity. Christ had performed 13 miracles that are recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. However, upon hearing of John’s martyrdom, Jesus “departed from [the east side of the Sea of Galilee] by boat to a deserted place by Himself” (Matt. 14:12). Clearly, Jesus wanted to mourn for his friend John; however, due to His popularity, the crowds followed Him into the wilderness.
Given the loss of His second cousin John, and His desire to be alone, it would be understandable if Jesus was irritated or even angry with the crowds who sought His presence. Yet, Matt. 14:14 records that when Jesus saw the great multitude “He was moved with compassion for them.” This is an important verse, for it shows us one of the main reason why Christ did miracles—that is, out of compassion for those affected by sin. Jesus did not mainly do miracles to display the raw fact of His power (cf. Matt. 13:58), but to communicate the redemptive purpose of His coming (cf. John 10:37–38). Indeed, the majority of Christ’s miracles were not about the suspicion of natural order, but the restoration of natural order. We later learn the command that the disciples feed the crowd was a teaching moment about Jesus’ ability to meet needs (cf. Matt. 16:9–10).
Just as Matt. 14:13–21 contains one of the most well-known of Jesus’ miracles of restoration, so Matt. 14:22–36 records one of Christ’s most familiar miracles of suspension—that is, Jesus walking on the water. In this narrative, Jesus sends His disciples across the Sea of Galilee ahead of Him. It seems Christ still desired to have a quiet time by Himself in order to pray and to mourn the loss of John. Matt. 14:25 reports that during the fourth watch of the night, which was sometime between 3:00–6:00 am, Jesus walked out to the boat, on the water. Mark 6:52 alludes to the fact the Jesus’ walking on the water was not just matter of expediency, but was done in order to show the disciples His divine character. Matthew writes that once the disciples witnessed this miracle they worshiped Jesus and confessed His deity (cf. Matt. 14:33).
- Why did Jesus allowed His second cousin, John the Baptist, die in prison (cf. Matt. 14:3–12), while he miraculously fed more than 5,000 strangers (cf. Matt. 14:13–21)?
- Why are we sometimes afraid of confronting sin in others? What is the best way to confront sin in the church while being loving and striving for holiness?
- Why did Herod kill John if the request for John’s death made him sorry (cf. Matt. 14:9)? Why was Herod sorry? Why did Herod grant such an audacious request?
- Is it appropriate for Christians to mourn over the death of a loved one? How can Christians mourn well (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–14)?
- Why did Jesus perform the miracles that He chose to perform? Would more people have come to faith if Christ had performed more miracles?