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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 14



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Verse 10


‘And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.’

Matthew 14:10

When the executioner came into the prison to behead John he came as an angel of light. John was bound in an awful dungeon, without light and without air, and when the executioner came to tell John his order he was welcomed. Why did Herod do this fearful thing? He was not without religious instincts. He feared John. Nay, he did more, he went to hear him preach. He went to hear sermons, and ‘did many things’ because of them. They entered into his heart and mind. Where, then, was the flaw?

I. He heard John, but saw not the Saviour.—Now see why it was that this listening to sermons did this man no good, for it did him absolutely no good—it hardened. He went down and listened to John, but he never saw the Saviour. He was interested in the preacher; he was one of those characters who would always be interested with preaching, but he never saw the Saviour. What is the end of all preaching? Only this—to bring men to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

II. He never gave his heart to God.—Another reason why he so entirely failed was that though he ‘did many things,’ the one thing needful he never did. He never gave his heart to God. Many things may be desirable, many things may be beautiful, many things may be ecclesiastical, but there is one thing needful for us all, for you and me alike—we must give our heart to our Saviour.

III. He would not give up his pet sin.—And another point why he failed was this—he would not give up his pet sin, which was lust. The woman was an odious creature, hideous and odious morally. What did that matter? Her daughter could dance; she danced his soul into hell. The blood of the best man that ever lived was upon that man’s hands. And he lived to mock his Saviour. But to the man who had silenced the voice of John, the Saviour never uttered a word.

You come to hear sermons; not only hear them, not only put them into practice, but give your heart to your Saviour.

The Rev. A. H. Stanton.

Verse 21


‘They that had eaten were about five thousand.’

Matthew 14:21

Of all the miracles worked by our Lord, not one is so often mentioned in the New Testament as this.

I. Proof of Divine power.—This miracle is an unanswerable proof of our Lord’s Divine power. He called that into being which did not before exist: He provided visible, tangible, material food for more than five thousand people, out of a supply which in itself would not have satisfied fifty. Surely we must be blind if we do not see in this the hand of Him who ‘giveth food to all flesh’ (Psalms 136:25), and made the world and all that therein is. To create is the peculiar prerogative of God.

II. A proof of Divine compassion.—This miracle is a striking example of our Lord’s compassion towards men. The Lord had pity upon all: all were relieved; all partook of the food miraculously provided. All were ‘filled,’ and none went hungry away. Let us see in this the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners.

III. Sufficiency for all mankind.—This miracle is a lively emblem of the sufficiency of the Gospel to meet the soul-wants of all mankind. All our Lord’s miracles have a deep figurative meaning, and teach great spiritual truths.

(a) The multitude an emblem of all mankind.

(b) The loaves and fishes are an emblem of the doctrine of Christ crucified for sinners, as their vicarious Substitute, and making atonement by His death for the sin of the world.

Bishop J. C. Ryle.


(1) ‘That marvellous scene in the wilderness comes to me as a revelation of a real but invisible world which is waking silently day after day around me. It serves to open my eyes to wonders more vast and awful than its own outward phenomena. Paradoxical as it may seem, it teaches me to look with more reverence upon the ordinary ways of God’s providence, and to receive with even more of deep thankfulness the bread that comes to me by what are called the common processes of nature, than if it had been given to me directly by the hand of Jesus with no toil or trust of my own.’

(2) ‘If bread be the type of all earthly sustenance, then the “bread of heaven” may well express all spiritual sustenance, all that involves and supports eternal life. Now the lesson which He wished to teach them was this—that eternal life is in the Son of God. They, therefore, that would have eternal life must partake of the bread of heaven, or, to use the other and deeper image, must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. They must feed on Him in their hearts by faith.’

Verse 23


‘When the evening was come He was there alone.’

Matthew 14:23

Christ had an actual human body and soul, yet He was Divine. It was on His human side that He was depressed, sorrowful, as well as at times hungry, thirsty, and weary. It was on the human side of His nature that He felt the need of solitude. We ask, however, why did Christ seek to be alone?

I. Physical exhaustion.—Was Christ conscious of physical exhaustion needing repair? His was an essentially busy life. Why did he escape? Was it not to repair the loss caused by the exhaustive strain on Him? As we believe, He had made Himself subject to conditions such as these under which we are placed, therefore He needed at times rest and quiet.

If this be one of the reasons, how near it brings the Saviour to us, as we think that He knew what it was to feel harassed, weary, and subject to the reaction that follows excitement.

II. Some subtle temptation.—Was Christ conscious of some subtle temptation? The people whom He fed would make Him King. The honour intended by the multitude Christ knew how to estimate. Was it that he had had a half thought that it would be as well to let them do as they would? Thoughts, inclinations, interests, are terrific enemies at times, and are only to be met and conquered in solitude and prayer.

III. Wearied with loneliness of society.—Was Christ seeking solitude because He was wearied with the loneliness of society? All great souls must be solitary in the world. In proportion to greatness of soul, so the loneliness. Such find in nature that which is more congenial to the soul than they have found in society. The weight of a world’s salvation rested on Christ! Who therefore, other than the Father, could sympathise with Him, and make loneliness bearable by His Divine presence and smile?

IV. To contemplate His work.—Did Jesus seek to be alone that He might contemplate the meaning and extent of the work He had undertaken? We think so. He foresees also the ingathering at last, in one fold with the Gentiles, of those who had as yet to reject and crucify Him. The contemplation was a joy as well as a strength to Him. He had an aim. Have we thus measured the effect of our work? What is our aim? What the joy set before us?

To learn the meaning of life we must be alone. We must let the light of God and eternity come in upon our lives. We must be alone with God. He is nearer than we think.

Verse 30


‘Beginning to sink.’

Matthew 14:30

St. Peter, who just before had his footing firm, and felt the sea like adamant, has now no standing ground. What was under him like a rock gives way, and he has nothing certain on which to rest.

I. Beginning to sink.—It is the picture of thousands. It is only a little while ago that you were walking with a sense of security; you felt everything sure underneath you. What has made it that now you seem to have hold upon nothing? Promises the securest have lost their power, and the World yields to you no strength. But to all this there is a secret key,—Christ is not to you now what He once was. You used to feel an imparted strength and joy every time you opened your Bible, and when you prayed, and when you came to Holy Communion,—but it is gone,—why? Simply, you are not looking at Christ steadily, only, expectingly, trustingly, as when you first set out. The consequence is evident. What was below you, is now over you—what was your servant, is becoming your master—what you trampled under foot, is gaining ascendancy over you every day.

II. Saved.—Let us see the escape. In his humiliation, and fear, and emptiness, the eye of St. Peter, which had wandered in the pride of his first confident marching,—went back to Christ. It was the mark that he was a child of God still. You, who feel that you have sunk, and are sinking, just go back again, and let Jesus be to you, and you be to Jesus, as it once was. Look to Jesus, and as you look, tell your fear and confess your shame. ‘Lord, save me, I perish.’ There may be a gentle reproof on His lips, but there will be a strength in that arm such as you never felt before.

III. Restored.—Restored to the communion of the then Church, which, perhaps, he had too lightly thought of, and in the presence and the shadow of Jesus, Whom he had first mistaken and then slighted, all was safe and Peter was at peace.

Many, many are the sainted ones now, who could say, ‘I date my mountings to my fallings,—I never half knew what Christ was, or what myself was, till I fell,—and when I began to sink, then did I indeed begin to rise.’

—The Rev. James Vaughan.


‘It is usual in some swimming schools to teach beginners by sending them into the water with a belt around their waist, to which is attached a rope, which again is connected with an over-reaching arm of wood. As the learner gains confidence the rope is slackened, and he is left to support himself by his own efforts. The master stands by, watching the boy’s struggles, ready to note any sign of real danger. When danger is seen, the rope is again tightened—at the right moment, not before—and the boy is taken out of the water. Jesus knows how long to withhold help and when to bring it. He came to the struggling disciples in the fourth watch of the night.’


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 14:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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