Matthew 14 sees three important stories in the narrative of the life of Jesus. First, we see the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod and Herodias. Then, we see the feeding of the 5,000. The chapter wraps with the story of Jesus walking on the water.
The first story recounts the execution of John the Baptist. The story is told in retrospect. Matthew explains to the reader that Herod the Tetrarch (son of bad guy Herod the Great from earlier,) heard of Jesus and thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist resurrected. The reader, though, does not realize that John is dead. Therefore, Mathew fills in the gaps.
John is killed at the request of Herodias and her daughter. His disciples buried him and then informed Jesus. This incites the next event, the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus, on hearing of the death of John, withdraws to a secluded place. Matthew does not tell us why Jesus does this, but one can draw reasonable conclusions. Jesus has lost a kinsman, both in birth and in mission. John could not do what Jesus came to do, but he still understood better than anyone that Jesus was the Lamb of God.
People found out about Jesus’ time away. And they followed. Rather than being angry, though, Jesus instead responds with compassion and heals them. Then He feeds them before sending them away. Plenty of ink, elsewhere, has been spent on how the miracle of multiplying a small lunch to feed a large crowd teaches us more than just God’s power of the elements.
After dismissing the crowd, Jesus also sends the disciples away. The stated purpose is to allow Him time to pray, alone. As an aside, if we never take the time to be alone to speak to God, we are might consider that even Jesus, God Incarnate, did so. We are probably not more spiritually capable than He. Jesus, on concluding His prayer time, then walked across the water to catch up with the disciples. Jesus and His encouragement to Peter in the storm and on the waves are worth remembering.
For focus, let us look at two things in this passage. One, though, we need to borrow from John 6:15.In that verse, we see that Jesus perceived the crowd’s response to the feeding miracle. They intended to start a revolution and make Him king.
Couple that with what John the Baptist had done to get imprisoned in the first place. He preached, clearly and directly, about the sinful behavior of Herod and Herodias. The chapter, then, begins and ends with a look at preaching and politics. We see John preaching clearly, while Jesus avoids taking a throne less than His worth.
While on the one hand, I’d like to say that we learn from John the Baptist and Jesus here to stay out of politics, I don’t think that’s the message. Just because John gets executed for preaching about politics, we are not guaranteed to make it through preaching the truth, either.
However, when we preach that truth, it is not for the purpose of attaining earthly power. That is the lesson from Jesus here. His throne is eternal and all-encompassing. He needed no revolution, and we need no throne but His to serve.
So we preach the truth, we live the truth, we stand for the truth. Not for the sake of power to ourselves, but for the hope of repentance of those around us.
Nerds, unite! We have much to gather here. First, the historical situation with Herod and Herodias. This situation is confirmed in Josephus’ records, so we can connect it to a non-Biblical source. That helps with anchoring the timeline.
Second, we have the feeding of the 5,000. Remember the number is the men in the crowd, so there are likely more. Notice the simplicity of the child’s lunch—loaves and small fish. Fish that the disciples have probably caught their whole lives. And consider the twelve baskets of leftovers. One for every apostle? One for each tribe?
Third, the walking on the water. Read it several times, making sure to at least read it a few times without looking too much at Peter. Look at the rest. Then remember that Peter, at the very least, got closer to Jesus than the rest. Even in failure. Better to fail in trying to obey than to sit in the boat and stay safe.
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