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Observe here, 1. How strange it was the Herod should not hear of the fame of Jesus till now; all the country and adjoining regions had rung of his fame, only Herod's court hears nothing. Miserable is that greatness which keeps princes from the knowledge of Jesus Christ. How plain is it from hence that our Saviour came not to court? He once sent indeed a message to that fox (Herod) whose den he would not approach; teaching us by his example, not to affect, but to avoid, outward pomp and glory. The courts to thrive in.
Observe, 2. The misconstruction of Herod, when he heard of our Saviour's fame: this, says he, is John the Baptist, whom I beheaded. His conscience told him he had offered an unjust violence to an innocent man; and now he is afraid that he is come again to be revenged on him for his head. A wicked man needs no worse tormentor than his own mind. O the terrors and tortures of a guilty conscience! How great are the anxieties of guilt, and the fears of divine displeasure, than which nothing is more stinging and perpetually tormenting.
Observe here, 1. The person that put the holy baptist to death: It was Herod, it was Herod the king, it was Herod that invited John to preach at court, and heard him gladly.
1. It was Herod Antipas, son to that Herod, who sought Christ's life, chap. 11. cruelty runs in the blood, Herod the murderer of John, who was the forerunner of Christ, descended from that Herod who would have murdered Christ himself.
2. It was Herod the king. Sad! that princes who should always be nursing fathers to, should at any time be the bloody butchers of, the prophets of God.
3. It was Herod that heard John gladly; John took the ear and the heart of Herod, and Herod binds the hands and feet of John. O how inconstant is a carnal heart to good resolutions; the word has oft-time an awakening influence, where it doth not leave an abiding impression upon the minds of men.
Observe, 2. The cause of the baptist's death; it was for telling a king of his crime. Herod cut off that head whose tongue was so bold as to tell him of his faults. The persecutions which the prophets of God fall under, is usually for telling great men of their sins: men in power are impatient of reproof, and imagine their authority gives them a license to transgress.
Observe, 3. The plain-dealing of the baptist, in reproving Herod for his crime, which, in one act, was adultery, incest, and violence.
Adultery, that he took another's wife; incest, that he took his brother's wife; violence, that he took her in spite of her husband.
Therefore John does not mince the matter, and say, it is not the crown and sceptre of Herod that could daunt the faithful messenger of God. There ought to meet in God's ministers, both courage and impartiality.
Courage, in fearing no faces; impartiality in sparing no sins. For none are so great, but they are under the authority and command of the law of God.
Several observables are here to be taken notice of.
1. The time of this execrable murder: it was upon eastern kings to celebrate their birth-days: Pharaoh's birth-day was kept, Genesis 40:20. Herod's here; both with blood; yet these personal stains do not make the practice unlawful. When we solemnize our birth-day with thankfulness to our Creator and Preserver, for life and being, for protection and preservation to that moment, and commend ourselves to the care of his good providence for the remainder of our days, this is an act of piety and religion. But Herod's birth-day was kept with revelling and feasting, with music and dancing: not that dancing which is itself, is a set, regular, harmonious motion of the body, can be unlawful, and more than walking or running: circumstances may make it sinful.
But from this, although disorderly banquet on Herod's birth-day, we learn, that great men's feasts and frolics are too often, a season of much sin.
Observe, 2. The instigator and promoter of the Holy Baptist's death, Herodias and her daughter: that good man falls a sacrifice to the fury and malice, to the pride and scorn, of a lustful woman, for being a rub in the way of her licentious adultery. Resolute sinners, who are mad upon their lusts, run furiously upon their gainsayers, though they be the prophets of God themselves, and resolve to bear down all opposition they meet with in the gratification of their unlawful desires.
Observe, 3. With what reluctance Herod consented to this villainy: The king was sorry: wicked men oft-times sin with a troubled and disturbed conscience: they have a mighty struggle with themselves before they commit their sins: but at last their lusts get the mastery over their consciences. So did Herod's here; for:
4. Not withstanding his sorrow. He commands the fact: He sent and beheaded John in the sorrow. And a three-fold cord tied him to this performance.
1. The conscience of his oath. See his hypocrisy: he made conscience of a rash oath, who made no scruple of real murder.
2. Respect to his reputation, Them that sat with him heard his promise, and will be witness of his levity, if he do not perform. Insisting upon punctilio of honour has hazarded the loss of millions of souls.
3. A loathness to discontent Herodias and her daughter. O vain and foolish hypocrite, who dreaded the displeasure of a wanton mistress, before the offending of God and conscience!
Observe, 5. These wicked women not only require the Baptist to be beheaded, but that his head be brought in a charger to them. What a dish is here to be served up at a prince's table on his birth-day! A dead man's head swimming in blood! How prodigiously insatiably is cruelty and revenge! Herodias did not think herself safe till John was dead; she could not think him dead till his head was off; she could not believe his head was off till she had it in her hand.
Revenge never thinks it has made sure enough. O how cruel is a wicked heart, that could take pleasure in a spectacle of so much horror! How was that holy head tossed by impure and filthy hands! That true and faithful tongue, those pure eyes, those mortified cheeks are now insultingly handled by an incestuous harlot, and made a scorn to the drunken eyes of Herod's guest.
From the whole, learn, 1. That neither the holiest of prophets, nor the best of men, are more secure from violence, than from natural death. He that was sanctified in the womb, conceived and born with so much miracle, lived with so much reverence and observation, is now at midnight obscurely murdered in a close prison.
Learn, 2. That it is as true a martyrdom to suffer for duty, as for faith: he dies as tryly a martyr that dies for doing his duty, as he that dies for professing the faith, and bearing witness to the truth.
The disciples of John hearing that their holy master was thus basely and barbarously murdered, took up his dead body and buried it.
Whence we learn, that the faithful servants of God are not ashamed of the suffering of the saints, but will testify their respect unto them both living and dead.
Observe farther, our blessed Saviour, upon the notice of John's death, flies unto the desert for the preservation of his own life. Jesus knew that his hour was not yet come, and therefore he keeps out of Herod's way. It is no cowardice to fly from persecutors, when Christ our captain both practices it himself, and directs us to it, saying, When they persecute you in one city, flee, &c.
Observe here, with what condolency and tender sympathy the compassionate Jesus exercised acts of mercy and compassion towards the miserable and distressed.
He was moved with compassion; that is, touched with an inward sense and feeling of their sorrow;
And he healed their sick. Those that came to Christ for healing, found three advantages of cure, above the power and performance of any earthly physician; to wit, certainty, bounty, and ease.
Certainty, in that all comers were infallibly cured; bounty, in that they were freely cured, without charge; and ease, in that they were cured without pain.
Note here, 1. The disciples pity towards the multitude that had been long attending upon Christ's ministry in the desert; they presuming the people hungry, having fasted all the day, requested our Saviour to dismiss them, that they may procure some bodily refreshment.
Learn hence, that it well becomes the ministers of Christ to respect the bodily necessities, as well as to regard the spiritual wants of their people. As the bodily father must take care of the soul of his child, so must the spiritual Father have respect to the bodily necessities of his children.
Observe, 2. The motion which the disciples make on behalf of the multitude, Send them away that they may buy victuals. Here was a strong charity, but a weak faith. A strong charity in that they desire the people's relief: but a weak faith, in that they suppose that they could not be otherwise relieved, but by sending them away to buy victuals; forgetting that Christ, who had healed the multitude miraculously, could as easily feed them miraculously, if he pleased: all things being equally easy to omnipotency.
Observe here, 1. Our Saviour's strange answer to the disciples motion: They need not depart, says Christ. Need not! Why? the people must either feed or famish. Victuals they must have, and this being a desert place, there was none to be had. Surely then there was need enough.
But, 2. Christ's command was more strange than his assertion: Give ye them to eat. Alas, poor disciples! They had nothing for themselves to eat, how then should they give the multitude to eat? When Christ requires of us what of ourselves we are unable to perform, it is to shew us our impotency and weakness, and to provoke us to look to him that worketh all our works in us and for us.
Note here, what a poor and slender provision the Lord of the whole earth has for his household and family; five loaves, and those barley; two fishes, and they small: teaching us, that these bodies of ours must be fed, but not pampered. Our belly must not be our master, much less our God. We read but twice that Christ made any entertainments, and both times his guests were fed with loaves nad fishes, plain fare and homely diet. The end of food is to sustain nature, we stifle it with gluttonous variety: meat was ordained for the belly, the belly for the body, the body for the soul, and the soul for God.
Observe farther, as the quality of the victuals was plain and coarse, so the quantity of it was small and little: five loaves and two fishes. Well might the disciples say, What are these among so many? The eye of sense and reason sees an impossibility of those effects which faith can easily apprehend, and divine power more easily produce.
Observe, 1. How the master of the feast marshals his guests, he commands them all to sit down: none of them reply, "sit down, but to what? Here are the mouths, but where is the meat? We can soon be set, but whence shall we be served?" Nothing of this; but they obey and expect.
O how easy is it to trust to God, and rely upon Providence, when there is corn in the barn, and bread in the cupboard! But when our stores are all empty, and nothing before us, then to depend upon an invisible bounty, is a true and noble act of faith.
Observe, 2. The actions performed by our blessed Saviour, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples and they to the multitude.
1. He blessed. Teaching us by his example, in all our wants to look up to heaven for a supply, to wait upon God for his blessing, and not to sit down to our food as a beast to his forage.
2. He brake the loaves. He could have multiplied them whole, why would he rather do it in the breaking? Perhaps to teach us, that we are to expect his blessing in the distribution, rather than in the reservation of what he gives us.
Scattering is the way to increasing: not grain hoarded up in the granary, but scattered in the furrows of the field, yields increase. Liberality is the way to riches, and penuriousness the road to poverty.
3. Christ gave the bread thus broken to his disciples that they might distribute it to the multitude. But why did not our Lord distribute it with his own hand, but by the hands of his disciples? Doubtless to win respect to his disciples from the people.
The same course doth our Lord take in spiritual distributions. He that could feed the world by his immediate hand, chooses rather by the hands of his ministers to divide the bread of life to all hearers.
They did all eat, not a crumb or a bit, but to satiety and fullness: They did eat and were filled, yet twelve baskets remained; more was left than was at first set on. So many bellies, and yet so many baskets filled. The miracle was doubled by an act of boundless omnipotency. It is hard to say, which was the greater miracle, the miraculous eating, or the miraculous leaving. If we consider that they ate, we may justly wonder that they left any thing.
Observe farther, these fragments, though of barley bread and fish bones must not be lost; but by our Saviour's command, gathered up. The liberal housekeeper of the world will not allow the loss of his orts. O how fearful then will the account of those be, who have large and plentiful estates to answer for as lost, being spent upon their lusts in riot and excess!
Jesus constrained them; that is, he commanded them to go away before him. No doubt but they were very loth to leave him, and to go without him; both out of the love which they have to him and themselves.
Such as have once tasted the sweetness of Christ, are hardly drawn away from him: however, as desirous, as the disciples were to stay with Christ, yet at his word of command they depart from him.
Where Christ has a will to command, his diciples and followers must have a will to obey.
Observe here, 1. Christ dismisses the multitude, and then retires to pray; teaching us, by his example, when we have to do with God, to dismiss the multitude of our affairs and employments, of our cares and thoughts. O how unseemly it is to have our tongues talking to God, and our thoughts taken up with the world!
Observe, 2. The place Christ retires to for prayer, a solitary mountain; not so much for his own need, for he could be alone, when he was in company, but to teach us, that when we address ourselves to God in duty, O how good is it to get upon a mountain, to get our hearts above the world, above worldly employments and worldly cogitations!
Observe, 3. The occasion of Christ's prayer: he had sent the disciples to sea, he forsaw the storm arising, and now he gets into a mountain to pray for them, that their faith might not fail them when their troubles were upon them.
Learn hence, that it is the singular comfort of the church of God, that in all her difficulties and distresses Christ is interceding for her; when she is on the sea conflicting with the waves, Christ is upon the mountain praying for her preservation.
Note here, the great danger the disciples were in, and the great difficulties they had to encounter with; they were in the midst of the sea, they were tossed with the waves, the wind was contrary, and Christ was absent.
The wisdom of God often suffers his church to be tossed upon the waves of affliction and persecution, but it shall not be swallowed by them: often is this ark of the church upon the waters; seldom off them; but never drowned.
Christ having seen the distress of his disciples on the shore, he hastens to them on the sea. It was not a stormy and tempestuous sea that could separate betwixt him and them: he that waded through a sea of blood, and through a sea of wrath, to save his people, will walk upon a sea of water to succour and relieve them.
But observe, the time when Christ came to help them, not till the fourth watch, a little before the morning. They had been many hours upon the waters, conflicting with the waves, with their fears and danger. God oft-times lengthens out the troubles of his children before he delivers them; but when they are come to an extremity, that is the season of his succours. As God suffers his church to be brought into extremities before he helps her, so he will help her in extremity. In the fourth watch Jesus came, &c.
See how the disciples take their deliverer to be a destroyer: their fears were highest when their deliverer and deliverance were nearest. God may be coming with salvation and deliverance for his church, when she for the present cannot discern him.
Observe, when the disciples were in the saddest condition, how one word from Christ revives them; it is a sufficient support in all our afflictions to hear Christ's voice speaking to us, and to enjoy his favourable presence with us.
Say but, O Saviour, It is I; and then let evils do their worst: that one word, It is I, is enough to lay all storms, and to calm all tempests.
Observe here, 1. The mixture of Peter's faith and distrust: it was faith that said, Master; it was distrust that said, If it be thou: It was faith that said, Bid me come to thee: it was faith that enables him to step down on the watery pavement: it was faith that said, Lord save me: but it was distrust that made him sink.
O the imperfect composition of faith and fear in the best of saints here on earth! Sincerity of grace is found with the saints here on earth; perfection of grace with the saints in heaven. Here the saints look forth, fair as the moon, which has some spots in her greatest beauties; hereafter they shall be clear as the sun, whose face is all bright and glorious.
Observe, 2. That whilst Peter believes, the sea is as firm as brass under him; when he begins to fear, then he begins to sink. Two hands upheld Peter; the hand of Christ's power, and the hand of his own faith. The hand of Christ's power laid hold on Peter, and the hand of Peter's faith laid hold on the power of Christ. If we let go our hold on Christ, we sink: if he lets go his hold on us, we drown. Now Peter answered his name Cephas, and he sunk like a stone.
Observe here, 1. The mercy of Christ is no sooner sought, but found: immediately Jesus put forth his hand and caught him. O with what speed, and with what assurance, should we flee to that sovereign bounty, from whence never any suitor was sent away empty.
Observe, 2. Though Christ gave Peter his hand, yet with this hand he gave him a check; O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Though Christ likes believing, yet he dislikes doubting. A person may be truly believing, who nevertheless is sometimes doubting, but his doubting eclipses the beauty of his believing.
Observe, 1. Our Saviour's unwearied diligence in going about to do good: he no sooner landeth, but he goeth to Gennesaret, and healeth their sick.
Observe, 2. The people's charity to their sick neighbours, in sending abroad to let all the country know that Christ the great physician was come amongst them.
Observe, 3. Where lay the healing virtue: not in their finger, but in their faith; or rather in Christ whom their faith apprehended.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 14". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
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