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This Chapter opens with an account of Herod's having murdered John the Baptist. In the after part we have the relation of some of the miracles of Christ.
"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 show forth themselves in him. (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. (9) And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. (10) And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. (11) And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. (12) And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus."
What a vast variety of solemn thoughts arise from this short, but affecting narrative of the death of John the Baptist. The cruelty of the actors, the implacable hatred of the human mind, towards this poor Prophet, the savage feelings of Herod's guests, and, above all, the Lord's providence in the appointment! what endless meditations arise from these, and the like subjects, suggested by the event. Oh! what a proof the whole brings of that solemn scripture: The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance, he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, verily, there is a reward for the righteous, verily he is a God that judgeth the earth. Psalms 58:10-11 . Reader! pause over the subject. Who that would desire truly to know to what a state the human nature is reduced by the fall of man, must learn it; under divine teaching, from such savage instances as are here exhibited. What one man is capable of doing, all are; and, but for restraining grace, if temptations arose to prompt to like acts, would do. The seeds of every sin are in every heart, the same by the fall. Reader! do you believe this? Yes! if God the Holy Ghost hath convinced you of sin. And until this is feelingly known in the heart, never will the infinitely precious redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ be understood or valued. Oh! how precious to them that believe is Jesus! 1 Peter 2:7 . Hence a child of God reads this account of Herod, therefrom to abhor himself, and to love Jesus! 1 Corinthians 4:7 .
"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. (14) And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. (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. (16) But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. (17) And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. (18) He said, Bring them hither to me. (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. (20) And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. (21) And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children."
I pray the Reader after he hath duly pondered the many blessed instructions contained in this miracle, to attend to one feature in our Lord's character, which can never be too often regarded, nor too affectionately valued; I mean the movement of Christ's heart upon this occasion, which is here sweetly noticed and testified, in the immediate act of healing the sick among the multitude. It ought to be our chief delight to notice, in every act of Jesus where it is more immediately recommended to our view, those actions of our Lord where his human feelings are brought forward to our observation. What can be so truly blessed as to mark the tendencies of Christ's love to his people, in that very nature of ours which he hath taken into union with the Godhead, and in which, and through which, the mercies of his divine nature flow to us in a way and manner which are peculiarly his own; that is to say, the mercies and compassion of the God-Man Christ Jesus! Oh! what an endless subject of joy ariseth to the mind of the redeemed, when properly considered from this one point of view! The mercies and compassions of my God and Savior, are the mercies and compassions of God, for He is One with the Father over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But they are no less the mercies and compassions of the Man Christ Jesus, for, verily, He took not on him the nature of Angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham, and on purpose that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. So that by this blessed compound of the two natures, his Godhead gives him an infinite fulness to supply all mercy towards his redeemed, and his Manhood gives him a fellow feeling, that those mercies come to us through an human channel, and in, and by both, they are the sweet, precious; and most affectionate compassions of the God-Man Christ Jesus, who is the Head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him which filleth all in all. And, Reader! without amplifying, in this place, the subject, think what will be the communications of glory, if such be now the communications of grace, when we shall see him as he is, and we shall know even as we are known!
"And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. (23) And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone."
Those retirings of the Lord are sweet incidents in his life, and they are held forth to the Church in strong endearments of character. But who shall undertake to describe them? Who shall take upon them to say, what passed in those hallowed seasons between Christ in his Mediator-character and the Father? We read of the transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-9 . We read also of his agony in the garden, Luke 22:41-45 . But here we pause. Every circumstance in the life of Jesus is, and must be, pregnant with somewhat great, but oar part is in silence, and holy awe, to exercise our contemplation!
"But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. (25) And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. (26) And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. (27) But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. (28) And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. (29) And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. (30) But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. (31) And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (32) And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. (33) Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God."
Many very blessed instructions arise out of this short memorial of Christ's grace to his disciples, which we ought, through the Lord's teaching, to gather. The ship tossed with the waves; and the winds contrary, represents the case of the Church of Jesus at large, and the instance of believers in particular, it is such the Lord comforts in that sweet scripture: Oh! thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted--in righteousness shalt thou be established; thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. Isaiah 54:11 , etc. And how often, amidst such frights as situations like the tossing of waves induce, is Jesus very near, as He was to his disciples, and we not conscious of it. Hagar, in the wilderness, could, and did say; Thou Lord seeth me. Genesis 16:13 . But you and I too often forget the certain truth. I pray the Reader to remark in the ease of Peter's faith, how strong that faith may be, and indeed is, when at the command of the Almighty Giver of it, the Lord calls it forth; but how slender, when the Lord suspends his powerful arm in the support of it. But do not, Reader, overlook the gentle words of Jesus, even in reproof. Oh thou of little faith! (said Jesus) wherefore didst thou doubt? The Lord did not say, Oh thou of no faith: for faith he had, through Jesus giving it to him; but his exercise of it was little. And let the Reader not fail to remark, the sequel of the whole: When they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Yes! so is it always when Jesus makes himself known unto his people. Fear not, I am with thee. Be not dismayed, I am thy God. Look at that precious scripture. Isaiah 43:1-2 . I entreat the Reader, not to overlook the conviction wrought on the minds of the mariners of the Godhead of Christ by this event. They worshipped Jesus, and confessed who he was. The Reader will recollect also, how frequently this conviction was wrought on the multitude which followed Christ; and yet how shortly after the sense of it wore off. Luke 4:22-29 ; Matthew 21:9 ; Mark 15:13-14 .
"And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. (35) And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; (36) And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole."
How delightful is it to behold Jesus, in those interesting moments, When fulfilling the Prophet's prediction of him. It was one mark of his divine character, to heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people. And here we behold the corresponding testimony Isaiah 35:4-6 ; Luke 4:17-18 . But what I beg the Reader more particularly to observe, in this account of Christ, is, how fully it manifested his character as the God-man Messiah. Think, Reader, I beseach you, what an endearing representation this is of Jesus, that by his living so many years in this world as we do, and combating with the same exercises as we combat with; how blessedly suited he was, having borne our sins, and carried our sorrows, to sooth the sorrows in others, which he bore himself. Oh! how suited also now in glory, to recollect in his own trials what he felt, and to feel for others. The Apostle makes this the very basis of all comfort. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted: he knoweth how to succour them that are tempted. Hebrews 2:18 .
Reader! let us gather a short lesson from the history of John the Baptist. To look at John, when falling a sacrifice at the instigation of a worthless woman, and to overlook the Lord in the appointment, is to consider second causes, and not the first; and very sure will it be, that we shall then make wrong conclusions. Here is a faithful servant of the Lord, borne down by oppression; and here is an incestuous woman triumphing in the godly man's death. But what follows? Aye, there's the grand concern. Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him. Woe to the wicked, it shall be ill with him. Oh, for grace, to eye the Lord's sovereignty in all: for this alone will give energy to the lively actings of faith, and keep the soul in peace.
But let me turn from the servant to contemplate the Master! Oh, for grace to eye Christ, in the several blessed views here given of him; in feeding and supporting his people, and healing all their diseases, Precious Lord Jesus! do thou manifest thyself to my poor soul under that endearing character, as, Jehovah Rophe, the Lord that healeth the people. And oh! for grace and faith in lively exercises upon his person, blood, and righteousness; that while Jesus is coming forth to bless, my soul through the Holy Ghost, may be going forth to meet him; and like the people in this Chapter, may my faith be so strong in the Lord, that I may be convinced even the hem of Christ's garment, touched by faith, will make me perfectly whole. Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Matthew 14". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany