Matthew 14 – Jesus Displays Authority over Nature
A. Herod and John the Baptist.
1. (1-2) Herod fears that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
a. At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus: The fame and report of Jesus spread around the region. This Herod was known as Herod Antipas and was one of the sons of Herod the Great who reigned when Jesus was born.
i. “Tetrarch literally means the ruler of a fourth part; but it came to be used quite generally, as here, of any subordinate ruler of a section of a country.” (Barclay) A tetrarch was lower than a king. Herod Antipas wanted to be recognized as a king, and later asked the Emperor Caligula for this title, but Caligula refused. This humiliation was part of what later sent Herod to exile in Gaul.
ii. This Herod the tetrarch – also known as Herod Antipas – ruled over Galilee and therefore heard much about Jesus. His brother Archelaus ruled to the south, and his brother Philip ruled to the north.
b. This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead: Though this may seem unreasonable in retrospect, Herod’s guilt and superstition led him to this fear.
i. “He imagined still that he saw and heard that holy head shouting and crying out against him, staring him also in the face at every turn…God hath laid upon evil-doers the cross of their own consciences, that thereon they may suffer afore they suffer; and their greatest enemies need not wish them a greater mischief.” (Trapp)
ii. Barclay cites the ancient Christian writer Origen, who said that Jesus and John the Baptist closely resembled each other in appearance. If this were true, it would give more reason for Herod Antipas to believe that Jesus was John come back from the dead.
2. (3-12) Herod’s cruel treatment of John the Baptist.
For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
a. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her”: Having told us of the death of John the Baptist, Matthew will now explain to us how he died. It began when Herod imprisoned John for the bold rebuke of the king’s sin. Yet he did not immediately kill him because he feared the multitude.
i. John spoke out against Herod’s marriage because he had illegally divorced his previous wife and then seduced and married his brother Philip’s wife named Herodias. The father of Herod’s first wife was the King of Petra, and he later made successful war against Herod Antipas because of how he had disgraced the King of Petra’s daughter.
ii. Adam Clarke on Herodias: “This infamous woman was the daughter of Aristobulus and Bernice, and grand-daughter of Herod the Great. Her first marriage was with Herod Philip, her uncle, by whom she had Salome: some time after, she left her husband, and lived publicly with Herod Antipas.”
iii. In speaking out against Herod and Herodias, there is the suggestion that John did this repeatedly. “It was, moreover, perhaps more than a passing remark: said is in the imperfect tense, which may indicate a continuing ‘campaign’.” (France)
iv. In that he feared the multitude, Herod is like many people today. They fear the opinion of people before fearing God. The only thing that kept Herod from even greater wickedness was the fear of man.
v. Yet one must say that Herod seemed to fear his wife Herodias more than he feared the multitude, because he imprisoned John for the sake of Herodias. “She ruled him at her pleasure, as Jezebel did Ahab…But it never goes well when the hen crows.” (Trapp)
b. The daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod: Herodias’ daughter shamelessly danced before Herod and friends, winning favor and a special request.
i. This daughter Herodias is described as a girl (Matthew 14:11). This means that she was not a cute little girl; “Girl is a term which can be used of those of marriageable age; she was at least a teenager.” (France)
ii. “The dancing of a mere girl would have been no entertainment to the sensual revelers. The treat lay in the indecency.” (Bruce)
iii. “The dances which these girls danced were suggestive and immoral. For a royal princess to dance in public at all was an amazing thing.” (Barclay)
iv. “In these days mothers too often encourage their daughters in dress which is scarcely decent and introduce them to dances which are not commendable for purity. No good can come of this; it may please the Herods, but it displeases God.” (Spurgeon)
c. Having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter”: The request of Herodias shows that the mother had this planned for some time. She knew her husband and she knew the situation, and knew she could get what she wanted this way.
i. She was shrewd enough to demand that it be done immediately, while the guests were still at the party. “That was an essential part of the request. No time must be left for repentance. If not done at once under the influence of wine and the momentary gratification given by the voluptuous dance, it might never be done at all.” (Bruce)
ii. “It would have been bad enough if she herself had sought ways of taking vengeance on the man of God who confronted her with her shame. It was infinitely worse that she used her daughter for her nefarious purposes and made her as great a sinner as herself.” (Barclay)
d. And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her: Because Herod was afraid to go against his wife or to lose face before his friends, he did something that he knew was wrong.
i. “Rash promises, and even oaths, are no excuse for doing wrong. The promise was in itself null and void, because no man has a right to promise to do wrong.” (Spurgeon) “Like most weak men, Herod feared to be thought weak.” (Plumptre, cited in Carson)
ii. “All points to immediate production of the head on a platter in the banqueting hall before the guests; gruesome sight!” (Bruce)
iii. “The HEAD was in the possession of Herodias, who, ‘tis probable, took a diabolic pleasure in viewing that speechless mouth which had often been the cause of planting thorns in her criminal bed; and in offering indignities to that tongue from which she could no longer dread a reproof.” (Clarke)
iv. Herod had a terrible end. In order to take his brother’s wife Herodias, he put away his first wife, a princess from a neighboring kingdom to the east. Her father was offended and came against Herod with an army, defeating him in battle. Then his brother Agrippa accused him of treason against Rome, and he was banished into the distant Roman province of Gaul. In Gaul, Herod and Herodias committed suicide.
e. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it: The disciples of John the Baptist honored his life and memory the best they could. He had lived and died as a great and righteous man.
i. “It is not said by the Evangelist that they buried John, but ‘they took up his body, and buried it,’ not him. The real John no man could bury, and Herod soon found that, being dead, he yet spoke.” (Spurgeon)
3. (13) Jesus departs, not wishing to run afoul of Herod.
When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.
a. When Jesus heard it, He departed from there: Again, this was not from cowardice but from an understanding of the Father’s timing, and also of prophetic timing.
b. When the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot: Jesus could escape the potential violence of Herod, but He could not escape the attention of the multitudes. Though both the religious and now the political leaders opposed Jesus, He was still popular with the multitudes.
i. The Puritan commentator John Trapp admired the diligence of these multitudes: “Whose diligence and devotion is check to our dullness and devotion: if Christ would set up a pulpit at the alehouse door, some would hear him oftener.” (Trapp)
B. Jesus feeds the five thousand.
1. (14-16) Jesus’ compassion for the multitude.
And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
a. He was moved with compassion for them: The great compassion of Jesus for the multitude moved Him to heal the sick and to teach them (Mark 6:34). Jesus did this all the way until evening. His gracious compassion for the demanding crowds was remarkable.
i. “Jesus had come to find peace and quiet and loneliness; instead he found a vast crowd eagerly demanding what he could give. He might so easily have resented them. What right had they to invade his privacy with their continual demands?” (Barclay)
ii. Jesus and the disciples could have made many legitimate excuses. “This isn’t the right place.” “This isn’t the right time.” “The people can take care of themselves.” Indeed, there was no physical necessity to feed this multitude. These were people who were used to skipping meals, and they certainly expected nothing. Yet Jesus had compassion on them nonetheless.
iii. His compassion was great: “The original word is very expressive; his whole being was stirred to its lowest depth, and therefore he proceeded at once to work miracles of mercy among them.” (Spurgeon)
b. You give them something to eat: With this, Jesus challenged both the compassion and the faith of the disciples. Yet He did not ask them to do anything to meet the need without also guiding them through the work.
i. “If they remembered the miracle of the wine in Cana (John 2:1-11), they should have asked Jesus to meet the need, not send the people away.” (Carson)
ii. Both Jesus and the disciples were aware of the great multitude and aware of their needs. Yet it was the compassion of Jesus and His awareness of the power of God that led Him to go about feeding the multitude.
· The people are hungry, and the empty religionist offers them some ceremony or empty words that can never satisfy.
· The people are hungry, and the atheists and skeptics try to convince them that they aren’t hungry at all.
· The people are hungry, and the religious showman gives them video and special lighting and cutting-edge music.
· The people are hungry, and the entertainer gives them loud, fast action, so loud and fast that they don’t have a moment to think.
· The people are hungry – who will give them the bread of life?
iii. Spurgeon used the words, they do not need to go away (they need not depart in the KJV) as the basis of a sermon. The theme of the sermon was that if there was no need for these mostly casual hearers of Jesus to depart, there is even less reason for the follower of Jesus to go away from continual communion and fellowship with Jesus.
· Circumstances don’t need to make you go away. You won’t have things so hard or so easy that you don’t need Jesus.
· There is nothing in Jesus that would make you want to go away.
· There is nothing in the future that will make you need to go away.
2. (17-19) Jesus distributes bread to the multitude.
And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.
a. We have here only five loaves and two fish: These were obtained from a little boy among the crowd (John 6:9). It is much to the credit of the disciples that they themselves traveled light, without carrying a lot of food for themselves. They trusted Jesus to make sure they were provided for.
b. He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass: This command suggests that this was more than just putting food in their stomachs; that could be done standing up. The idea was that there was a bit of a banquet-like atmosphere of enjoyment.
i. “What a feast this was! Christ for the Master of the feast; apostles for butlers; thousands for numbers; and miracles for supplies!” (Spurgeon)
c. Looking up to heaven, He blessed: Jesus blessed the Father for the food that He did have. He may have prayed a familiar Jewish prayer before a meal: “Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.”
d. He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes: This miracle displays Jesus’ total authority over creation. Yet He insisted on doing this miracle through the hands of the disciples. He could have done it directly, but He wanted to use the disciples.
i. No one knew where this bread actually came from. Jesus showed us that God can provide out of resources that we cannot see or perceive in any way. It is easier to have faith when we think we know how God might provide, but God often provides in unexpected and undiscoverable ways.
3. (20-21) The multitudes are fed.
So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
a. They all ate and were filled: Not only was God’s provision abundant, but God also did not want the leftovers to go to waste. Therefore they took measures to preserve what was left over (and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained).
i. “God’s generous giving and our wise using must go hand in hand.” (Barclay)
b. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children: The number of 5,000 men suggests a total perhaps of 15,000 to 20,000 people when women and children are included in the count.
i. The prominence of this story – recorded in all four gospels – shows that both the Holy Spirit and the early church thought this story was important, and important as more than an example of the miraculous power of Jesus.
· It shows that Jesus could feed the people of God, even as Israel was fed in the wilderness. There was a common expectation that the Messiah would restore the provision of manna, and this adds to the messianic credentials of Jesus.
· It shows that Jesus had compassion and care for the people of God, even when we might have expected His patience would be exhausted.
· It shows that Jesus chose to work through the hands of the disciples, even when it was not essential to the immediate result.
· It shows a preview example of the great messianic banquet that the Messiah will enjoy with His people.
ii. The feeding of the 5,000 also gives us three principles regarding God’s provision.
· Thank God for and wisely use what you have.
· Trust God’s unlimited resources.
· Don’t waste what He gives you.
C. Jesus walks on the water and comforts His disciples.
1. (22-24) Another storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
a. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat: Jesus felt it was important for He and His followers to leave the area quickly. Perhaps this was to avoid the multitudes clinging to Him as a potential source of constant bread. Therefore, Jesus compelled (made) the disciples get into the boat.
i. Actually, there were several reasons why Jesus did this. He did this because He wanted to be alone to pray; because He wanted to escape the crowd and get some rest; and because He wanted the crowd to disperse so as to avoid a messianic uproar (John 6:15).
ii. John 6:14-15 tells us that the crowd responded to the miraculous feeding with a rush of messianic expectation. If the disciples shared this enthusiasm – perhaps sensing that now was the time to openly promote Jesus as Messiah the King – then it was more important than ever for Jesus to get the disciples away from the excited crowd.
b. He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray: Jesus was jealous for time spent alone with His Father. In the midst of His great ministry to others, He did not – He could not – neglect prayer.
i. “Secret prayer fats the soul, as secret morsels feed the body.” (Trapp)
ii. “Whilst the disciples were periling, and well-nigh perishing, Christ was praying for them: so he still is for us, at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Trapp)
c. The boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary: The Sea of Galilee is well known for its sudden storms, and during this storm Jesus wasn’t in the boat with the disciples.
2. (25-27) Jesus comes to both help and comfort His disciples.
Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
a. In the fourth watch of the night: This was somewhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. According to Mark (Mark 6:47-52), Jesus came to the disciples when the boat was in the middle of the sea and after they had exhausted themselves rowing against the waves and windy storm.
b. Jesus went to them, walking on the sea: This walk on the water must have been quite a shock to the disciples; they were indeed troubled and they cried out for fear.
c. Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid: Jesus didn’t come to the disciples to trouble them or make them afraid. Therefore, He immediately spoke to them these comforting words.
i. There are two good reasons to put away fear. One reason may be that the problem is not nearly as bad as one had thought; perhaps you are afraid because you exaggerate the danger. The other reason is that even though the problem may be real, there is an even greater solution and help at hand.
3. (28-33) Peter’s bold move and subsequent lack of faith.
And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
a. Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water: We have no idea what prompted Peter to ask such a question, but his faith in Jesus was remarkable. He really responded to Jesus’ invitation and got out of the boat.
i. “Peter’s protasis (‘if it’s you’) is a real condition, almost ‘since it’s you.’ The request is bold, but the disciples had been trained for some time and given power to do exactly the sort of miracles Jesus was doing (Matthew 10:1). What is more natural than for a fisherman who knew and respected the dangers of Galilee to want to follow Jesus in this new demonstration of supernatural power?” (Carson)
b. He walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink: This is a wonderful picture of walking in faith, showing that Peter was able to do the miraculous as long as he looked to Jesus. When he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was troubled by fear and began to sink.
i. “Peter walked on the water but feared the wind: such is human nature, often achieving great things, and at fault in little things.” (Bruce)
c. Beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me”: Even when Peter failed, Jesus was there to save him. Peter knew who to call out to at the moment of crisis. Jesus then brought Peter back to the boat.
i. “What a sight! Jesus and Peter, hand in hand, walking upon the sea!” (Spurgeon)
d. O you of little faith: Once Jesus rescued Peter, He spoke to Peter about his little faith. This little faith led to the doubt and distraction that made Peter sink under the wind and the waves.
i. “It was not the violence of the winds, nor the raging of the waves, which endangered his life, but his littleness of faith.” (Clarke)
ii. “THERE is only one word in the original for the phrase, ‘O thou of little faith.’ The Lord Jesus virtually addresses Peter by the name of ‘Little-faith,’ in one word.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Peter here shows us the weakness of little faith.
· Little faith is often found in places where we might expect great faith.
· Little faith is far too eager for signs.
· Little faith is apt to have too high an opinion of its own power.
· Little faith is too much affected by it surroundings.
· Little faith is too quick to exaggerate the peril.
iv. Yet Peter also shows us some of the strengths of little faith.
· Little faith is true faith.
· Little faith will obey the word of Jesus.
· Little faith struggles to come to Jesus.
· Little faith will accomplish great things for a time.
· Little faith will pray when it is in trouble.
· Little faith is safe, because Jesus is near.
v. “You do believe, and if you believe, why doubt? If faith, why little faith? If you doubt, why believe? And if you believe, why doubt?” (Spurgeon)
e. Why did you doubt: Jesus only asked this question once Peter was safe and in the boat again. Yet at that point it was an entirely reasonable question to ask. Why did Peter doubt?
i. “Doubt is literally ‘be divided in two’; true faith is single-mindedly focused on Jesus.” (France)
ii. “If you believe a thing you want evidence, and before you doubt a thing you ought to have evidence too. To believe without evidence is to be credulous, and to doubt without evidence is to be foolish. We should have ground for our doubts as well as a basis for our faith.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We can say that in theory, there might be reasons for doubting Jesus and His promises.
· If on former occasions, you have found God unfaithful to His promise.
· If some old follower of Jesus has solemnly told you that God cannot be trusted.
· If your problem is a new one and so extremely difficult that it is certain that God cannot help you.
· If God has abolished His promises, and made them no longer valid.
· If God has changed.
iv. “Our doubts are unreasonable: ‘Wherefore didst though doubt?’ If there be reason for little faith, there is evidently reason for great confidence. If it be right to trust Jesus at all, why not trust him altogether?” (Spurgeon)
v. It is useful for us to confront our doubts.
· Was there good reason for your doubt?
· Was there any good excuse for it?
· Did any good come from your doubt?
f. Those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him: They moved quickly from fearing the storm to worshipping Jesus. This was a logical reaction considering the power Jesus showed in walking on the water, and the love He showed in taking care of a sinking Peter.
i. “This is the first time we meet with so plain and open an acknowledgement of his being the Son of God.” (Poole)
4. (34-36) Multitudes are healed as they touch Jesus.
When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.
a. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret: The Gospel of John tells us that this crossing over was miraculous. As Jesus got into the boat with them, miraculously the boat was instantly carried over to the other side (John 6:21).
i. “Gennesaret was a region (not just a town) on the western shore south of Capernaum. [This was a] surprising return to Antipas’ territory.” (France)
b. Begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment: Even the hem of Jesus’ garment provides an important point of contact for their faith. Like Paul’s sweatbands (Acts 19:11-12) and Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15), Jesus’ hem provided a physical object that helped them to believe God for healing at that moment.
i. “The stricter groups, such as the Pharisees and the Essenes, counted it an abomination to rub shoulders in a crowd – one never knew what ceremonial uncleanness one might contract.” (Carson)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission