“Emmanuel Recognized” – Matthew 14:1-12

November 22nd, 2015

Matthew 14:1-12 (see also: Mk 6:14-29; Lk 9:7-9)

“Emmanuel Recognized”


Service Orientation:  This hard world of tares rejects Jesus and Truth.  Saving faith in Jesus will save you from this world and yourself.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. — John 16:33


Background Information:

  • The parable of the sower taught that only a part of gospel preaching will bear fruit. The parable of the wheat and tares pointed to the work of Satan as the kingdom’s enemy.  If my understanding of the stories of the mustard and yeast are correct, even more violent opposition was to be expected.  This is exactly what we find now.  At the end of chapter 13 we are told that the people of Jesus’ hometown were offended by him and therefore rejected him, and here in chapter 14 we are reminded that Jesus’ forerunner was likewise rejected even to the point of being killed.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 256)
  • Like the first incident, this one illustrates the gospel’s falling on hard and stony soil that God’s saving truth cannot penetrate. The first story deals with a town that rejected Christ; this one deals with an earthly king who opposes the divine King.  The first deals with the treatment of the Messiah Himself; this one deals with the treatment of the Messiah’s forerunner.  The first deals with rejection based on jealous resentment; this one deals with rejection based on fear.  Behind both rejections was the common selfish pride of the unbelieving human heart.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 416)
  • This true account is more incredible than the most bizarre soap opera. It is a story of infidelity, divorce, remarriage, incest, political intrigue, jealously, spite, revenge, lewdness, lust, cold-heartedness, cruelty, brutality, violence, ungodly remorse, and godly mourning.  But above all, it is the story of godless fear and the power of such fear to confuse, deceive, corrupt, destroy, and damn.  Nowhere in Scripture is the truth “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prv 29:25) more vividly illustrated than here.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 416)
  • (v. 2) Herod was a Sadducee; Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. But Herod’s guilty conscience reduced his skeptical creed to dust, and he trembled at the thought of God’s final judgment of him for this and for what had certainly been other evil actions.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 259)
  • (v. 2) If Herod was a Sadducee, this is a startling instance of the power of truth and fact to override our speculative creeds, tear them to pieces, and make us poor indeed. We shall know the value of our creed when the last pressure is put upon it.  It is one thing to have a creed over a foaming glass of wine and in the midst of a steaming feast when gaiety fills the house and loud rough laughter is the music of the moment, and another thing to have a creed that will go with us through every hour of the day, through every wilderness, up every steep and rocky place, that will clutch our hand in the dark and say, “You are all right; walk on, and I will take you into the morning.”  Herod’s, if he was a Sadducee, was a speculative creed, a thing that pleased the mere intellect for the time being, a piece of rationalism that seemed to fit the occasion.  (Joseph Parker, Servant of All, Studies in Matthew 8-16, 237)
  • (v. 2) From the words of Luke it may be inferred, that Herod did not of his own accord adopt this conjecture (that Jesus was John raised from the dead), but that it was suggested to him by a report which was current among the people. And, indeed, I have no doubt that the hatred which they bore to the tyrant, and their destination of so shocking a murder, gave rise, as is commonly the case, to those rumors.  It was a superstition deeply rooted, as we have formerly mentioned, in the minds of men, that the dead return to life in a different person.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 217)
  • (v. 3) It could be said that to the extent John was admired and honored, Herod was despised and feared. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 419)
  • (v. 3) Herod Antipas had married the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabataea, probably a political marriage arranged by Emperor Augustus to keep peace in the region. The marriage lasted for several years, until Antipas fell in love with Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I (not the better known half-brother, Herod Philip the tetrarch), another of Antipas’ half-brothers (by Mariamne II; Mk 6:17).  Herod Philip was a private citizen who lived in Rome. On a trip to Rome, Antipas stayed at the home of his half-brother and fell in love with Herodias.  They determined to marry, but Herodias demanded that Antipas divorce his wife of over fifteen years.  Some years later (A.D. 36), King Aretas IV attacked and conquered Antipas’ military forces, at least in part to seek revenge for repudiating his daughter.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 89)
  • (v. 3) Herod Antipas had a brother named Aristobulus, who was murdered by Herod the Great. Aristobulus had a daughter named Herodias, who is mentioned in verse 3.  (Guess who she was named after?)  Herodias married Herod Philip, Herod Antipas’ half-brother.  So, technically Herodias was Herod Antipas’ niece as well as his sister-in-law.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 383)
  • (v. 3) Because both Herod and Herodias were already married, their marriage to each other was doubly not lawful. The Holy Spirit refused to recognize her as Herod’s wife and directed Matthew to refer to her as the wife of his brother Philip, although she had been divorced from Philip for a number of years.  The new marriage not only was unlawful but incestuous, because Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, another half brother of Herod, making her Herod’s niece.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 419)
  • (v. 3) In A.D. 36 Aretas attacked and defeated Antipas to avenge Antipas’ treatment of Aretas’ daughter when Antipas fell in love with Herodias. (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 696)
  • (v. 3) Aretas bitterly resented what Herod Antipas had done to his daughter. He therefore waged war against him and “in the ensuing battle the entire army of Herod was destroyed.” (Josephus, Antiquities XVIII.114, 116)

(v. 3) We have already said that Herod’s action in this case was the beginning of his ruin–and so it was.  The result of his seduction of Herodias and his divorce of his own wife was that (very naturally) Aretas, the father of his wife, and the ruler of the Nabataeans, bitterly resented the insult perpetrated against his daughter.  He made war against Herod, and heavily defeated him. . . . Herod was in fact only rescued by calling in the power of the Romans to clear things up.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 113)

  • (v. 3) The years went by, and Caligula came to the Roman throne. The Philip who had been tetrarch of the Trachonitis and Ituraea died, and Caligula gave the province to another of the Herod family named Agrippa; and with the province he gave him the title of king.  The fact that Agrippa was called king moved Herodias to bitter envy.  Josephus says: ‘She was not able to conceal how miserable she was, by reason of the envy she had towards him’ (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:7:I).  The consequence of her envy was that she incited Herod to go to Rome and to ask Caligula that he too should be granted the title of king, for Herodias was determined to be a queen. . . . . Herod was very unwilling to take action; he was naturally lazy, and he also foresaw serious trouble.  But this persistent woman had her way.  Herod prepared to set out to Rome; but Agrippa sent messengers to forestall him with accusations that Herod was preparing treacherously to rebel against Rome.  The result was that Caligula believed Agrippa’s accusations, took Herod’s province from him, with all his money, and gave it to Agrippa, and banished Herod to far-off Gaul to languish there in exile until he died.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 113-114)
  • (v. 4) When Antipas married Herodias, the highly popular John the Baptist publicly condemned him for marrying his half-brother’s wife, who was also his half-niece (14:3-4; Mk 6:18; Lk 3:19). This would have been considered an incestuous affront to God’s law (Lv 18:16; 20:21).  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 89)
  • (v. 6) Do you like birthday parties? Who doesn’t?  Well, the Jews didn’t because only pagans celebrated birthdays.  There are only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible.  The first is Pharaoh’s birthday in Gn 40:20, and the second is right here.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 383)
  • (v. 6) Celebrating birthdays was a Hellenistic custom, not a Jewish one. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 284)

(v. 6) In the ancient world, birthday celebrations were entirely Gentile and pagan, and the Jews, with good reason, considered them shameful.  Roman nobles frequently held stag birthday parties in which gluttony, excessive drinking, erotic dancing, and sexual indulgence were common.  The phrase Herodes dies (Latin for “Herod’s birthday”) became an epithet for such orgiastic festivals.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 421)

  • (v. 6) More than like the dance that Salome does for Herod and his guests is a “dance of the seven veils”. Its modern day equivalent would be a striptease.
  • (v. 6) She would have been very young, in her early teens.  What is worse, it was highly improper for a girl of her class to dance in such a setting.  Women performed at all-male parties, but they were slave girls who were subject to the desires of the men who attended such banquets.  Matthew does not say that Salome’s dance was sensual in nature, but the debased moral standards of Herod’s court lead us to think it was.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 257)
  • (v. 8) Matthew said Salome was “instructed” (NIV- prompted) (probibazō) by Herodias to demand the head of John the Baptist in a dish. The word probibazō implies that Salome would not have thought of such a thing herself and that her reluctance had to be overcome.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 290)
  • (v. 8) And lest Herod change his mind after sobering up, Herodias told her daughter to ask for John’s head here on a platter “right away” (Mk 6:25). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 421)
  • (v. 9) It takes but little imagination to surmise what kind of guests a Herod would have invited to such a feast. See Mk 6:21.  Those, of course, to whom the gratification of sensual delights meant everything.  Cf. Est 1:3, 10; Dn 5:1, 4, 23.  Were they even sober as they watched Salome go through her rhythmic movements, dancing bewitchingly and seductively?  Her glamorous appearance and exotic movements pleased Herod to such an extent that he, losing all sense of propriety and dignity–if he ever had any!–and not suspecting that the words he was about to utter might have serious results, promised under oath to give Salome whatever she might ask, “even to the half of my kingdom” (Mk 6:23).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 589)
  • (v. 10) His oath should neither have been made nor kept. Decapitation (v. 10) though sanctioned by Greeks and Romans was contrary to Jewish law, which also forbade execution without trial.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 339)
  • (v. 10) The Gospel writers have been charged with fabrication on the ground that the prompt execution of John would have quenched the merriment. But hardened men are unlikely to let a little gore spoil their merriment.  While Alexander Jannaeus feasted with his concubines in a public place, he ordered eight hundred rebels to die by crucifixion, their wives and children being slaughtered before the eyes of the victims (Jos. Antiq. XIII, 380).  When Cicero’s head was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Antony, she spat on it and pierced its tongue with a pin in spite against the man who had opposed Antony.  Jerome says Herodias did the same thing to the head of John.  We do not know where Jerome got his information, and it may not be historical; but it would not have been out of character for a cruel and ruthless woman intent on aping the imperial court.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 339)

So died the last of the OT prophets.  The old age ends in violence, and the stage is set for the unfolding of the new covenant of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 258)

  • What we have here is an important transition, and the reason Matthew includes the account of John’s death becomes clear by the way the last verse of the account leads into verse 13. Verse 12 explains that after they had buried John, his disciples “went and told Jesus,” after which we read, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  After the death of John, the handwriting was on the wall, and Jesus responded by withdrawing from the crowds and beginning to teach privately those he was going to leave behind.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 256)
  • After Herod had John beheaded, he inquired about Jesus and “kept trying to see Him” (Lk 9:9). But Jesus made no effort to see Herod and would not allow Herod to see Him until it was His Father’s time.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 422)
  • The careful reader of Matthew might reflect on the contrast between this degenerate scene of Antipas’ lavish feast with its sordid and tragic outcome and the wholesome simplicity of the “feast” which will follow in vv. 13-21. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 553)


The question to be answered is . . . What is Matthew trying to tell us through the story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom?


Answer:  This world is hard soil and it hates Truth.  Thus it hates Jesus, the embodiment of Truth.  Only saving faith in Jesus will save you from this world and your connections with it.


The Word for the Day is . . . Faith


I-  John the Baptist is a model of saving faith in Jesus and good soil (AKA: Truth in a fallacious world).  (Mt 14:4; see also: Mt 13:1-23; Mk 4:1-25; Lk 8:4-18; 6:14-18)


John the Baptist was a living beatitude.  He was poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and pure in heart, and he mourned over the sins of God’s people.  He brought the message of peace and reconciliation with God for those who repent.  He hungered and thirsted for righteousness.  He was persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 396)


It is not great faith in God that is needed, but simply faith in a great God.


Could there be a sharper contrast between two men than between Herod and John?  Herod was sensual; John had disciplined his appetites and lived the ascetic life.  Herod was ambitious; John had renounced the world.  Herod was sly; John was straight and clear as light.  These two men make incarnate the moral choice.

In John we see true courage.  It is more than the bravery of nerves and muscle.  The man who has such natural hardihood that he “knows no fear” can know no real valor.  John was brave “for righteousness’ sake.”  John was brave in his loneliness; there were no bands playing for him in the fortress of Machaerus, and no one touched elbows with him on the march.  He was brave in the face of specific and powerful evil.  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 428)


The one who would have God’s power must lead a life of self-denial.  There are many things which are not sinful in the ordinary understanding of the word sin, but which hinder spirituality and rob men of power.  I do not believe that any man can lead a luxurious life, overindulge his natural appetites, indulge extensively in dainties, and enjoy the fullness of God’s power.  The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand.  “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal 5:17).  Paul wrote: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor 9:27; see ASV, Greek; note also Eph 5:18).  (R. A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, pp. 75-76)


You can’t threaten me with heaven.  — Georgia Pietrzak


Strength of will is needful for all noble life.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 265)


Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable:  but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue:  unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.  (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 123-4)


II-  Pleasure-driven Herod Antipas and Herodias are examples of damnable faith and bad soil (AKA: The epitome of the world, the flesh and the devil).  (Mt 14:5-10; see also: Prv 6:2-4, 16-19; 9:17-18; 23:31-33; Mt 13:1-23; Mk 4:1-25; 6:19-28; Lk 8:4-18; 1 Tm 5:6; 2 Tm 3:4; Ti 3:3; Heb 11:25; Jam 1:6-14; 4:3; 2 Pt 2:13)


Herod & Herodias knew of John’s power and prophetic voice.   But they chose to ignore it because they didn’t like it.


Herod was worldly.  He built palaces and was given to display.  In love of luxury he aped the Greek practice of celebrating birthdays with lavish feasts and with dancing shows after the meal (vs. 6).  To worldliness he added fleshliness; he coveted his brother’s wife and married her, with contempt for all the decencies; and when, flushed with wine, he was pleased by a dancing girl, he recklessly pledged her whatever she might wish.  To fleshliness he added cunning cruelty.  John might rouse the people to revolt, so he slew John secretly in the lonely fortress of Machaerus.  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 426-7)


He stands also as prototype of the worldling’s fate.  He was victimized by his evil associates and by his own pride.  When his vanity was pierced by John’s rebuke, Herodias and her daughter had their chance.  He was at odds with himself.  He was drawn this way by fear of the people, and that way by his ambition; another way by his acknowledgment of some authority in John, and still another way by his fleshly cravings.  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 427)


The problem with sensuality is that it fails to notice anything but the object of its lust.  (David Jeremiah, Captured by Grace, p. 53)


Herod had neither the character nor the courage nor the conviction to confess that he had made a mistake.  He had taken a reckless position, but was not going to climb down now.  Like many weak men, he preferred the easy way out.  His conscience, quickened by the boldness and bluntness of John, had troubled him for a long time.  Now he trampled it underfoot and seared it with a hot iron forever.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 291)


Herod was entangled by sinful pleasures.  He was vise-gripped by his vices.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 388)


In Mark’s account four times we read of Herod “hearing.”  Herod heard John’s message well enough.  In fact, the truth was enticing to him.  He must have contemplated submitting to it.  But as preacher Mark Connelly has noted, “in the end Herod loved his sinful pleasures more than God’s truth.”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 388)


What a study in contrasts:  John the bold, in prison; and Herod the powerful, subdued by his own sensuality and moral weakness–internal prisons that John never knew.  Herod became weak through a lifetime of weak decisions, culminating in this sorry spectacle.  His life was tragic and wasted.

Be careful about those small moral compromises that lead to bigger ones.  Herod found himself on a slippery slope and could not stop the slide.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 285)


She was a woman of loose morals and of infidelity.  She was a vindictive woman who nursed her wrath to keep it warm, and who was out for revenge, even when she was justly condemned.  And–perhaps worst of all–she was a woman who did not hesitate to use even her own daughter to achieve her own vindictive ends.  It would have been bad enough if she herself had sought ways of taking vengeance on the man of God who confronted her with her shame.  It was infinitely worse that she used her daughter for her evil purposes and made her as great a sinner as herself.  There is little to be said for a parent who stains a child with guilt in order to achieve some evil personal purpose.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 111)


Herod’s action was typical of a weak man.  He kept a foolish oath and broke a great law.  He had promised Salome to give her anything she might ask, little thinking what she would request.  He knew well that to grant her request, in order to keep his oath, was to break a far greater law; and yet he chose to do it because he was too weak to admit his error.  He was more frightened of a woman’s tantrums than of the moral law.  He was more frightened of the criticism, and perhaps the amusement, of his guests than of the voice of conscience.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 112-3)


“In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce.  With irresistible power, desire seizes mastery over the flesh.  All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled.  The flesh burns and is in flames.  It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire or ambition or vanity or desire for revenge or love of fame and power or greed for money or, finally, that strange desire for beauty of the world, of nature.  Joy in God is . . . extinguished in us and we seek all our joy in the creature.  At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil.  Satan does not fill us with hatred for God, but with forgetfulness of God . . .   The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and will of man in deepest darkness.  The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.”  (Dietrich Bonhoffer, Temptation) (Chuck Swindoll; The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, 566)


The dance was probably provocative, for we cannot expect that a daughter of Herodias would be much restrained by modesty.  The guests, who were doubtless already inflamed by drink, responded enthusiastically.  Herod, swept beyond the reach of caution, blurted out a pledge to give her anything she might like to ask for.  Moreover he confirmed the rash promise with a solemn oath.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 290)


Freud taught that every action could be accounted for by two basic instincts:  eros (the sexual or erotic instinct that causes someone to lust or covet someone or something else) and thanatos (the death instinct that causes someone to be aggressive, self-destructive, and at times cruel).  This fits Herod pretty well.  But the Bible’s analysis is that lust and death are fruits of sin.  Herod’s lust after Herodias and her daughter and his cruelty toward John are only symptoms of a heartless king, a sinner, a man who refused to hear the word of God, first from John and then also from Jesus (see Lk 23:7-16).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 384)


To go against the better judgment of your conscience repeatedly, as Herod did, is to poke holes in the vessel of your soul.  Sinning against one’s conscience is the first step in shipwrecking one’s faith, or, in Herod’s case, never having faith in the first place.  Sinning against his conscience kept him from Christ.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 387)


He was evidently a sensual, luxurious, feeble-willed, easily frightened, superstitious and cunning despot; and, as is always the case with such, he was driven farther in evil than he meant or wished.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 264)


If we put together these features in her character, her hot animal passions, her cool inflexible revenge, her cynical disregard of all decency, her deadness to natural affection for her child, her ferocity and her cunning, we have a hideous picture of corrupted womanhood.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 267)


Even drunk, he knew he had been tricked; but this pride would not let him do what was right.  Instead of admitting the foolish excess of his promise, the king allowed himself to be used to commit an enormous crime–all to save a reputation he did not have.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 421)


It was not uncommon to bring the head of one who had been slain to the person who ordered it, as a sure proof that the command had been obeyed.  It is reported that when the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Antony, that she spat on it, pulled its tongue out and drove her hairpin through it.  The early church Father Jerome believed that is what Herodias did with the head of John.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 422)


Herod rejected Christ, and Christ rejected Herod.  For fear of a woman, for fear of his reputation, for fear of his peers, for fear of his throne–and for lack of fear for God–he damned his soul forever.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 422)


If ever there was proof that sin brings its own punishment, that proof lies in the story of Herod.  It was an ill day when Herod first seduced Herodias.  From that act of infidelity came the murder of John, and in the end disaster, in which he lost all, except the woman who loved him and ruined him.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 114)


Herod’s conscience was alive and well, working within him, inwardly testifying along with the words of the prophet to the truth and the necessity of John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17).  However, though hearing, Herod would not hear.  And by refusing to accept the word of God that aligned perfectly with the word in his soul, he only seared his conscience each time he listened to John and severed his own head, we might say, when he complied with Salome’s wish.  Oh, he felt “sorry,” as verse 9 says (“exceedingly sorry,” Mk 6:26), about the choice he’d made regarding the life of John the Baptist and his ignorant oath.  But he felt the kind of sorrow that Judas did.  He was filled with remorse but not repentance.  There is a world of difference between the two.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 387)


The dance may have been very sensual, but the text does not say so.  The outrageous morals of the Herodians suggest it, as does the low status of dancing girls.  At any rate, Salome pleased Herod Antipas enough for him to put on the airs of a lavish and powerful emperor; petty ruler though he was, he imitated the grandiloquence of ancient Persian monarchs (Es 5:3, 6; 7:2)–the story also has certain parallels with a later oath made by the Roman emperor Gaius to Herod Agrippa (cf. Hoehner, Herod Antipas, 165-7)–and with drunken dignity made a fool of himself.  Salome, still young enough to ask her mother’s advice, became the means for accomplishing Herodias’ darkest desire–the death of the man whose offense had been telling the truth.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 338)


Convictions not followed out ossify the heart.  If he had sent for Christ, and told Him his fears, all might have been well.  But he let them pass, and, so far as we know, they never returned.  He did meet Jesus at last, when Pilate sent him the Prisoner, as a piece of politeness, and in what mood?–childish pleasure at the chance of seeing a miracle.  How did Jesus answer his torrent of frivolous questions?  ‘He answered him nothing.’  That sad silence speaks Christ’s knowledge that now even His words would be vain to create one ripple of interest, on the Dead Sea of Herod’s soul.  By frivolity, lust, and neglect he had killed the answer which perfect love could give him.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 265)


Just as John was fearful of nothing and no one except God, Herod feared almost everything and everyone but God.  He not only feared the multitude, but also feared John the Baptist, his wife, and his peers (v. 9).  He feared another attack by Aretas, and, as Josephus reported, he feared a rebellion by his own people–inspired by, and perhaps even led by, John the Baptist.  And Herod feared the emperor might replace him with someone more in favor with Rome.  That fear was well grounded, because some years after this, his jealous and scheming nephew, Agrippa (the brother of Herodias), convinced the emperor Caligula that Herod was planning a rebellion.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 420)


Herodias had an ancestor named Alexander Junius, who held a feast at which he had eight hundred rebels crucified before the assembled guests.  While the men were hanging on their crosses, their wives and children were slain in front of their eyes.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 422)


For each person, God chooses the best possible ways to reveal himself.  He uses his Word, various circumstances, our minds, or other people to get our attention.  God is persuasive and persistent but never forces himself on us.  To miss or resist God’s message, as did Herod, is a tragedy.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 282)


Herod, like every weak and suspicious and frightened tyrant, could think of no way of dealing with a possible rival other than killing him.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 109)


Salome must have been young, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age.  Whatever she may later have become, in this instance she is surely more sinned against than sinning.  There must have been in her an element of shamelessness.  Here was a royal princess who acted suggestive and immoral.  For a royal princess to dance in public at all was an amazing thing.  Herodias thought nothing of outraging modesty and demeaning her daughter, if only she could gain her revenge on a man who had justly rebuked her.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 111)


King Herod hears “the reports about Jesus” (v.1), and says to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead!” (V. 2).  He remembered his own wicked dealings with that holy man, and his heart failed within him.  His heart told him that he had despised his godly counsel, and committed a foul and abominable murder; and his heart told him that, though he had killed John, there would yet be a reckoning day.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 115)


And here we must attend to the words of Mark, Herodias lay in wait for him; which imply, that as Herod was not of himself sufficiently disposed to commit the murder, she either attempted to gain him over by indirect wiles, or labored to find some secret method of putting the holy man to death.  I am more disposed to adopt the former view, that she employed stratagems for influencing the mind of her husband, but did not succeed, so long as Herod was prevented by remorse of conscience from pronouncing sentence of death on the holy man.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 222-3)


Now the fear which is here mentioned, was not a dread arising from a mistaken opinion, as we dread those who have obtained some authority over us, though we reckon them to be unworthy of the honor.  But this fear was a voluntary respect; for Herod was convinced that he was a holy man and a faithful servant of God, and therefore did not dare to despise him.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 223)


Isn’t the best way to save face to keep the lower part shut?


III-  Only saving faith in Jesus will save you (as an alien and stranger in this world) from this world which has an allergy to truth.  (Mt 14:12; see also: Ps 116:15; Mt 5:10-12; Lk 6:26; 11:49; 21:12; Jn 1:4-12; 3:18-21; 15:20; 16:33; Acts 7:52; Rom 1:18-32; 2:8; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; Eph 6:12-18; 1 Thes 3:4; 2 Thes 2:9-13; 2 Tm 3:16; Heb 11:13; Jam 4:4; 1 Pt 2:11; 4:12-14; 1 Jn 1:6-8; 2:4, 15-17; 4:1-6)



veritas odium parit – Truth produces hatred


Let us learn that God’s children must not look for their reward in this world.

If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist.  Let us think for a moment what a remarkable man he was during his short career, and then think to what end he came.  Look at the one who was “a prophet of the Most High” (Lk 1:76), and greater than anyone born of women (Mt 11:11), imprisoned like a criminal!  See him cut off by a violent death before the age of 34; the “burning light” quenched, the faithful preacher murdered for doing his duty–and this to gratify the hatred of an adulterous woman, and at the command of a capricious tyrant!  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 116-7)


The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.  George Orwell


We humans have a fatal tendency to try to adjust the truth to fit our desires rather than adjusting our desires to fit the truth.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 32)


Augustine was right when he said that we love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us.  Maybe we can’t handle the truth.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 36)


Love to God will expel love to the world; love to the world will deaden the soul’s love to God.  “No man can serve two masters”:  it is impossible to love God and the world, to serve him and mammon.  Here is a most fertile cause of declension in Divine love; guard against it as you would fortify yourself against your greatest foe.  It is a vortex that has engulfed millions of souls; multitudes of professing Christians have been drawn into its eddy, and have gone down into its gulf.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 56)


For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality; and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline and virtue.  For the modern man, the cardinal problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.   (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)


Recall that John the Baptist was previously described as the prophet Elijah (Mt 11:14; cf. Mt 3:4 and 2 Kgs 1:8).  One of the parallels between these two prophets can be seen in their confrontation of the sins of ungodly leadership.  Just as Elijah confronted King Ahab in 1 Kgs 18, John confronted the sin of Herod.  There’s an application here for anyone who speaks the truth of God’s Word:  as long as you and I call sin for what it is in our culture, it will be costly.  However, regardless of the cost, speaking the truth is worth it.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 190)


The apostle John writes, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 Jn 2:16).  We fail to understand the force of this passage because of our tendency to relegate it all to sexual sin.  The “lust of the flesh” refers to the failure to discipline the natural human passions.  C. H. Dodd says that the “lust of the eyes” refers to “the tendency to be captivated by outward show.”  He defines the “pride of life” as “pretentious egoism.”  In each case the same thing is seen:  infatuation with natural human powers and abilities without any dependence upon God.  That is the flesh in operation, and the flesh is the deadly enemy of humility.

The strictest daily discipline is necessary to hold these passions in check.  The flesh must learn the painful lesson that it has no rights of its own.  It is the work of hidden service that will accomplish this self-abasement.  (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 130-1)


The great enemy of the Word of God is anything outside the Word of God…the word of Satan, the word of demons, the word of man.  And we are living in very dangerous seasons concocted by seducing spirits and hypocritical liars propagated by false teachers.  And here’s what makes them successful…look at 2 Tm 4:3-4.  “The time will come, and it does, it cycles through all of church history, when they will not endure sound doctrine.”  People don’t want to hear sound doctrine.  “Sound” means healthy, whole, wholesome.  They don’t want wholesome teaching.  They don’t want the sound, solid Word.  They just want to have their ears tickled.  That’s all they want.  They’re driven by the sensual, not the cognitive. They’re not interested in truth.  They’re not interested in theology.  All they want is ear-tickling sensations.  That’s what they want.  They refuse to hear the great truth that saves and the great truth that sanctifies.  And according to chapter 2 verse 16, they would rather hear worldly empty chatter that produces ungodliness and spreads like gangrene.  (John MacArthur, www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/80-180_5-Reasons-to-Preach-the-Word, 6)


Clearly, we are told, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (2 Cor 2:14 NKJV).  In other words, our flesh fights things that are not explainable.  (Ron M. Phillips, Awakened by the Spirit, 33)


“The truth must essentially be regarded as in conflict with the world; the world has never been so good, and will never become so good that the majority will desire truth.”  —Soren Kierkegaard  (Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe, 59)


He must have no trial, no public hearing, no forms of law or justice must add solemnity to his death; but he is tried, condemned, and executed, in a breath.  It was well for him he was so mortified to the world that death could be no surprise to him, though ever so sudden.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 199)


Not only is Jesus Messiah a prophet without honor in his hometown (13:57), but the prophet John the Baptist is dishonored with execution.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 510)


John, in his lonely dungeon, heard the tramp of soldiers’ feet.  He looked up and saw the executioner.  This was the end of his career, the place to which he had come by being faithful to his calling and his God.  With one flash of the ax, John was on the shore beyond death and he knew that his labors had not been in vain.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 291)


The prophet was sacrificed for a man’s passion.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 187)


I long ago decided that I would rather know the truth than be happy in ignorance.  If I cannot have both truth and happiness, give me truth.  We’ll have a long time to be happy in heaven.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 22)


Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:  “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying, ‘Amen’ to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”


“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  —  Karl Barth


Worship Point:  Worship Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).  He was willing to suffer and sacrifice much to save you.  (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8-10; 2 Cor 5:21)


If we set our desires on anything other than the true God, we will become like that thing.  Desire that is focused on the right object–the one true God–enables and grows a human being.  Desire set on the wrong thing corrupts and debases us.

If we worship money, in other words, we’ll become a greedy person.

If we worship sex, we’ll become a lustful person.

If we worship power, we’ll become a corrupt person.

If we worship accomplishment, we’ll become a restless, frantic person.

If we worship love and acceptance, we’ll become a slave to others.

If we worship external beauty, we’ll become shallow.

And worshiping anything other than the true God will make us something other than what he created us to be.  (Pete Wilson, Empty Promises, 158)


Gospel Application:  Jesus came into the world to not only pay the debt we owed, but also to live the life we were supposed to live.  And through the Holy Spirit He empowers us to overcome the world, and more and more live life that is truly life.  (Jn 8:32-36; 16:33; Rom 8:37; 1 Tm 6:19)


Are you, like Herod, entangled by some sin?  Maybe it’s a sinful relationship.  Maybe it’s a sinful thought life.  Maybe it’s a sinful indulgence, a hobby or a habit that you refuse to stop.  Maybe it’s one of those deadly vices that receives little attention today because they are no longer thought to be lethal–the sin of greed or sloth or gluttony.  Whatever it is, we know why we won’t get rid of it.  We allow it to take up residency in our lives because we like the temporal pleasure it provides.  And when we’re confronted, like Herod was, with Biblical truths that challenge us to forfeit our pleasure, our temptation is to come up with some middle ground where we feel like we’ve made some effort to follow Christ without really having to give up our favorite sin.  I know this from experience, and I assume you do too.  We try to negotiate the sin in our lives rather than eradicate it.  However, what happens, whether we are conscious of it or not, is that the web of self-deception encircles us until we are helpless (caught like a bug).  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when by our sinful pleasures we’re deceived!  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 388-9)


Spiritual Challenge:  Be alert and aware of the hard soil of the world and its unified pursuit of self-centered pleasure and its violent allergy to Truth.  Be prepared to endure persecution, suffering and rejection when you stand for Truth.


Have little to do with sense, if thou wouldst have much to do with faith.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 76)


The Church of our day is sadly lacking in that separation from the world.  The intense attachment and obedience to Christ, the fellowship with His suffering and conformity to His death, and the devotion to Christ on the throne seem almost forgotten.  Where is our confident expectation of the never-ceasing flow of living water from the throne of grace which gives the assurance that the fullness of the Spirit will not be withheld?  No wonder the mighty power of God is seldom known and felt in our churches!  (Andrew Murray, Receiving Power from God, 73)


The man who believes he was created to enjoy fleshly pleasures will devote himself to pleasure seeking; and if by a combination of favorable circumstances he manages to get a lot of fun out of life, his pleasures will all turn to ashes in his mouth at the last.  He will find out too late that God made him too noble to be satisfied with those tawdry pleasures he had devoted his life to here under the sun.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 94)


Unwise counselors may try to tell us we should fight the loss of feelings.  Yet gluttony for spiritual feelings opens a wide door to the other appetites, including greed, overeating, sexual lusts, the hunger for power, and other sins.  When feelings become the focus of our faith, religion becomes not a friend but an enemy, concealing the true state of our heart.  We wonder why we fall into sin so soon after a seemingly powerful encounter with God.  What we fail to realize is that our hearts were stolen by spiritual gluttony, not real reverence.  We have been misled into believing that these feelings are an indication of the temperature of our hearts and the commitment of our will.  They are not.

So God steps back.  He stubbornly denies us the spiritual feelings with which we’ve grown so familiar.  This is frequently accompanied by very dry periods, times when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling and our hearts feel like hot, dry sand.  God does this so He can irrigate our desert with the cold water of pure faith, so He can break our addiction to the sensual and call us to the truly spiritual, and so we can humbly say, without doubt or need for reinforcement, “O God, You are my God, and I will follow You all of my days.”  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 186-7)


Two great enemies obtained dominion over man when Adam sinned–the world and self.  Of the world Christ says, “The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him” (Jn 14:17).  Worldliness is the great hindrance that keeps believers from living a spiritual life.  Of self Christ said, “Let him deny himself” (Mk 8:34).  Self, in all its forms–self-will, self-pleasing, self-confidence–renders life in the power of the Spirit impossible.  (Andrew Murray, Receiving Power from God, 27)


A person that eats and drinks too much does not feel such effects from it as those do who live in notorious instances of gluttony and intemperance; but yet his course of indulgence, though it be not scandalous in the eyes of the world nor such as torments his own conscience, is a great and constant hindrance to his improvement in virtue; it gives him eyes that see not and ears that hear not; it creates a sensuality in the soul, increases the power of bodily passions, and makes him incapable of entering into the true spirit of religion.  (William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, 191-2)


The kingdom of God always appears upside down to the human perspective.  We think it’s strange to die in order to live, or to give in order to receive, or to serve in order to lead.  Solomon captures the perpetual enigma of our looking-glass values just as Jesus describes them in the Sermon on the Mount.  He insists we should embrace sorrow over laughter, rebukes over praise, the long way instead of the short, and today instead of yesterday.

The truth is that it’s not the kingdom of God that is upside down–it’s the world.  It’s not the Word of God that turns life inside out–it’s the world that has reversed all the equations that God designed for our lives.   (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 189)


Buddha said, “I am a teacher of truth.”

Mohammed said, “I am a seeker of truth.”

Mahout Ma Gandhi said, “I do not know the truth.”

Moses said, “I deliver the Truth.”

Jesus said, “I AM the truth.”

Jesus is the embodiment of truth.



Who is really the one that lost his head?   Herod or John the Baptist?


A good thing to remember is that you cant’ save face when you lose your head.







Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply