Violence against the Reign of God:
The Murder of John the BaptistMatthew 14:1–13a
“At That Time” (14:1–2) A good title for this section would be "King Herod Notices Jesus" rather than "The Beheading of John the Baptist" for it is a time of increased opposition and growing violence against the reign of heaven on earth.
Setting the Stage: Herod Antipas Arrests John (14:3–5) John the Baptist and Jesus are inseparable. And John 'kept on saying' so he did say one or two things that upset Herod. John wouldn't give up preaching God's Law. Herod likes John. Herod is afraid of what people would think of him if he let's John go.
The Deed Is Done: John Is Beheaded (14:6–12) Why does God allow these evils to go unchecked during the present time? There is no satisfying answer to give. No answer to satisfy human reason or logic. The only answer given is the sign of Jonah. This is God's way, God’s choosing, God’s reign and rule in Jesus. In perplexity then and often now, Jesus’ disciples follow him as he continues his ministry of compassion, even to the crowds who have not understood him.
Israel’s God Feeds the People in the Desert Matthew 14:13–21
Compassion in the Face of Brokenness: Jesus Heals the People (14:13–14)
It is not often that Matthew speaks about an internal motivation of Christ. But here we hear that Jesus feels compassion.
Spiritual 9:36 Jesus feels compassion due to the peoples need for a shepherd.
Spiritual 18:35 Jesus feels compassion due to needs in the parable of the unforgiving servant
Physical 14:14 Jesus feels compassion because the people are sick.
Physical 20:35 Jesus heals two blind men.
Physical 15:32 Jesus feels compassion because the people have no food to eat.
Feeding Five Thousand Plus: Christ Provides in the Wilderness (14:15–21)
The primary message of the miracle is about the compassionate power of Jesus. From the eating of the manna in Exodus 16 to the institution of the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26 to the resurrection from the dead and the great banquet in Matthew 8, God in Christ is acting on the people's needs. This provision is found in the post-communion blessing: The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Departin peace. The church lives in the wilderness until Christ's second advent. Who is this Jesus?
Who Is He? Walks on the Storm—and Saves Matt 14:22–33
Matthew Sets the Scene (14:22–24) The disciples don't have a problem with the rough seas. They know what they are doing. Their problems begin when confronted with who Jesus really is.
First Movement: The Son Walks and Speaks (14:25–29)
They think they see a “phantasum” or a ghost walking on the water. They respond by 1) being troubled, 2) yell out “It's a ghost” and 3) cry out in fear. Jesus responds to each. 1) He calms them by saying “be courageous”, 2) Jesus identifies himself saying “it is I”, and 3) He says “Stop being afraid”. Jesus answers their requests immediately. This should be enough.
Second Movement: Doubting Peter and Gracious Jesus (14:29b–31)
When Jesus spoke earlier to all the disciples who were in the boat, he offered them words only of invitation and encouragement: “Be courageous; it is I. Stop being afraid” (14:27).
Jesus has no words of praise at all for Peter. He only says, “Little-faith, why did you doubt?”
When did Peter doubt? He doubted not once, but twice. The first doubt came after Jesus spoke to identify himself, “It is I” (14:27), but Peter replied, “Lord, if it is you …” (14:28). The second doubt came even after Peter had gotten what he asked for and had experienced a stunning supernatural event (14:30). We might also ask, “What did Peter doubt?” The first time he doubted whether it was really Jesus, and the second time he doubted whether Jesus was able to do what he said he would do for him. Peter is not here a roll model for Christians.
The Closing (14:32-33)
What began with distance and separation concludes with nearness to Jesus and confessing who Jesus is. Truly, you are the Son of God.
Matthew’s hearers/readers may well ask this question: If Jesus is the powerful Lord over the sea, will he save us when we call upon him? What if we have failed to believe the promises that he has made to us—will Jesus renounce and abandon us since we didn’t believe him the first time? What if I am only a “little-faith”? What if I find in myself only doubt when I should have faith that grows and becomes great, like a mustard seed does? Will he save me, or will he, in all his divine power over creation and his frightening majesty, let me sink and give me over to what I deserve?
This narrative answers those questions. Jesus can save, and he will save all who have even only a little faith in him—even if at times we too doubt. The promises he has made he will keep, even now in the present time, as this tired old age still fights against the new age of salvation. He is the Lord of creation, who entered it in order to set all things right.
Compassionate Healings: God’s Reign Continues 14:34–36
This little three-verse pericope acts as a closing bracket around two amazing deeds of Jesus, who has fed great crowds (14:15–21) and revealed himself to his disciples as the powerful and saving Lord over creation (14:22–33). So amazing is Jesus that even those who touch his garment receive his compassion.
Matthew is evoking again the important theme of Jesus’ compassion. It is never to be thought that one can know what Jesus will do in advance. The disciples have just experienced this truth in the middle of a storm! What can never be doubted, however, is the compassion that Jesus feels whenever he sees the brokenness of sin and sickness and evil still wreaking havoc in the world. God grant those who follow this Jesus, even today, to have a similar compassion for all those in need.