Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ matthew-14.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Matthew 14:1. At that time.—Season (R.V.). In our idiom we should bring out the idea by giving a somewhat different turn to the expression, viz., about that time (Morison). Herod.—Antipas, son of Herod the Great by Malthace. Under his father’s will he succeeded to the government of Galilee and Peræa, with the title of tetrarch, as ruler of a fourth part of the Roman province of Syria (Plumptre).
Matthew 14:2. He is risen from the dead.—The policy of the tetrarch connected him with the Sadducean priestly party rather than with the more popular and rigid Pharisees, and a comparison of Matthew 16:6, with Mark 8:15, at least suggests the identity of the “leaven of Herod” with that of the Sadducees. The superstitious terror of a conscience stained with guilt is stronger than his scepticism as a Sadducee (Plumptre). Therefore, etc.—(See R.V.). In consequence of having risen from the dead he is thought to be possessed of larger powers (Carr).
Matthew 14:3. In prison.—At Machærus, in Peræa, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, near the southern frontier of the tetrarchy. Here Antipas had a palace and a prison under one roof, as was common in the East (cf. Nehemiah 3:25). It was the ordinary arrangement in feudal castles. At Machærus, now M’khaur, remains of buildings are still visible. These are probably the rains of the Baptist’s prison. Herod was living in this border fortress in order to prosecute the war with his offended father-in-law, Aretas. He was completely vanquished—a disaster popularly ascribed to his treatment of John the Baptist (Carr). Herodias.—Daughter of Aristobulus, son of Herod the Great.
Matthew 14:4. It is not lawful.—Josephus adds that besides this motive for imprisoning John, Herod was also afraid lest John should excite a popular tumult (Ant., XVIII. Matthew 14:2). But this apprehension must have originated in the Baptist’s denunciations of his adultery (Lange). Her first marriage was with her full uncle, and her second, if marriage it can be called, when her husband and Herod’s wife were both living, was with her step-uncle, and thus triply unlawful (Maclaren).
Matthew 14:6. The daughter of Herodias.—Salome. Danced.—The kind of dancing is obviously that which disgraces the East to the present day. Nothing but shamelessness or inveterate malice, or both combined, could have driven a princess of royal blood to practise such a profession before the assembled magnates and the Roman officers of the court of Herod (Reynolds).
Matthew 14:8. Being before instructed.—Better, being prompted or instigated. The word does not imply that the girl had been instructed before she danced what to ask for, and St. Mark distinctly states (Mark 6:24) that she went out from the banquet hall to ask her mother what use she was to make of the tetrarch’s promise. The mother’s absence shows that the supper was one for men only, and that it was among them, flushed as they were with wine, that the daughter had appeared in reckless disregard of all maiden modesty (Plumptre). A charger.—A wooden platter or trencher.
Matthew 14:9. The king.—The tetrarch is freely called king, inasmuch as he was a sovereign within his territory (Morison). Oath’s sake.—The sake of his oaths (R.V.). It would appear that Herod had repeated his oath; perhaps, in the exuberance of his enthusiasm, he had repeated it (ibid.).
Matthew 14:11. His head was brought.—If Herod had been at Tiberias, his usual residence, the messengers would have required two days to execute their commission. Following the opinion of Maldonatus, Grotius, and others, Meyer holds that the feast had taken place in Machærus itself. According to Hug and Wieseler, it was celebrated at Julias or Livias, another place of residence of Antipas, situate not far from Machærus, in the mountains on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. This view seems to us to have most in its favour (Lange). If the festivity was held in the palace at Tiberias, then, not improbably, John had been removed to that place, as Herod might wish to have him under his own eye (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 14:1-12
The approach of danger.—This passage is like an episode. The name of the Saviour is mentioned only at its beginning and end. All the rest of the story is an account of the way in which Herod, the tetrarch, was led to put John the Baptist to death; of what there was, on the one hand, to deter him from committing so great a crime; and what there was, on the other, to bring it about. The consideration of these points will probably show us why we have them related, viz. because of the light they throw on the position of the Saviour at this particular time.
I. What there was to deter.—There was, first, the general opinion of the “multitude” of that day respecting the Baptist. They all “counted him a prophet” indeed (Matthew 14:5). It was a serious thing to lay hands on any one who was even believed to stand in such a highly exceptional place. Prophets had not been at all plentiful for many years now in the land. To touch this “prophet,” therefore, now at last vouchsafed, was a very serious thing, if there was any degree of truth in the common belief. Even, indeed, if there were none at all in it, such a step was one which involved no slight measure of risk. The family of the Herods had found it well worth while, from a worldly point of view, to profess respect for the religious opinions, and even prejudices, of the Jews; witness the temple itself in the condition of glory to which Herod the Great had brought it in direct pursuance of a policy of that kind. To kill John the Baptist, therefore, in the circumstances named, would be to reverse that policy in a most dangerous and ostentatious degree. It would be to outrage the belief of the “multitudes” instead of respecting it, and that in a most scandalous way. Well, therefore, might one whose family position had not always been independent of popular feeling (cf. the probable reference of Luke 19:14), hesitate on this account before determining to put John the Baptist to death. Also, next, there was much in Herod’s own opinion of that eminent servant of God to make him hesitate before doing so. Evidently he had some idea himself that John was truly a prophet. Elsewhere, indeed, (Mark 6:20) we are told expressly that he knew “that he was a righteous man and a holy, and kept him safe.” As also that “when he heard him, he did many things (so some ancient authorities), and heard him gladly.” Even here, also, where nothing is said expressly to quite the same effect, there are several indications, hardly less strong, of the same impression within him. It is clear, e.g. that he thought John the Baptist a kind of man in connection with whom the performance of miracles to almost any extent—not excluding even the greatest of all, that of being raised again from the dead—might not unreasonably be expected (Matthew 14:2). Most awful, therefore, even to his mind, must have been the actual step of ordering such a man’s death—the death of one who might be expected, afterwards, to be brought back again from the dead! Be his words what they might be in other respects (Matthew 14:4), it was no light thing to put an end to them by taking his life!
II. What brought it about.—Herod’s own love of sensual indulgence was the first thing to do this. Already the strength of this evil influence had leaped over several hindrances in its way. Already it had led him to no small measure of crime. He had put away one who belonged to him of right; he had taken one who belonged to another, and that other his “brother”; he had done this notwithstanding the plain remonstrances of a man whom he looked upon (see above) as a prophet (Matthew 14:4); and lastly, because that man had still continued to disapprove of his conduct, he had taken him away from his work and confined him in prison, and even thought of his death (Matthew 14:5). In this way, therefore, he had placed himself on the incline which sloped down to that murder; and had begun that in his heart which, if it went on, would end in that crime (cf. James 1:15; 1 John 3:15). The bitter enmity of Herod’s partner in evil was the next thing which helped to bring this crying consummation about. This is one of the evils—the great evils—of partnership in trangression. It seldom happens that both partners are equally advanced in obduracy and perverseness. It happens still more seldom that the less advanced of the two holds the other one back. How should this be indeed when they are both on that “slope” of which we have spoken? Does not that slope itself, rather, give all its advantage to that which is already, so to speak, the naturally heavier will of the two? And must it not be, therefore, that, in the end, they both come to the foot, whatever reluctance on the part of one of them there may be for a time? It was so in this case, because of yet another cause of which we are told. Shall we say there came that which tripped up Herod as he was trying to steady himself on that “slope”? If we did, it would not be an inapt description of what finally led to his fall. The “daughter of Herodias” came in and so “danced” as to make “the king” dance in thought, as it were, and “promise with an oath to give her whatsoever she should ask.” She, “put forward” by her mother—apparently beforehand—asked for the head of the Baptist. He, sorely “grieved,” and still most unwilling to do so, felt constrained to give way. He feared his “oath”; he feared them that “sat” by; he feared, in short, to do right; and so became distinguished ever afterwards as the “Herod” who put John the Baptist to death.
This was the man who had now heard of the miracles of Jesus. What was to be expected, that being the case? That the two would soon be brought into contact, if things went on as before. That this would lead necessarily, Herod being such as he was, to their being brought into conflict. And that this, finally, would expose the Saviour to a danger not known by Him previously, even to that of which, probably some time after, we read in Luke 13:31. From this time, therefore, we must look on the Saviour as not so free as He had been; and as moving about with yet another thundercloud over His head. Here He is in the country and under the notice of the murderer of the Baptist—of another Ahab, as it were, sitting to rule with another Jezebel by his side. The position adds to the pathos as well as to the solemnity of all that He bore for our sakes.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 14:1-12. The martyrdom of John.—It takes a long time for news of Christ to reach the ears of Herod. Peasants hear of Him before princes whose thick palace walls and crowds of courtiers shut out truth. Note the alarm of the conscience-stricken king. In his terror he makes confidants of his slaves, overleaping the barriers of position in his need of some ears to pour his fears into. He was right in believing that he had not finished with John, and in expecting to meet him again with mightier power to accuse and condemn. “If ’twere done when ’tis done,” says Macbeth; but it is not done. There is a resurrection of deeds as well as of bodies. We may best gather up the lessons of the narrative by taking the actors in the tragedy.
I. We have in Herod the depths of evil possible to a weak character. The singular double which he, Herodias, and John present to Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah, has often been noticed. In both cases a weak king is drawn opposite ways by the stronger-willed temptress at his side, and by the stern ascetic from the desert. How John had found his way into “kings’ houses” we do not know; but, as he carried thither his undaunted boldness of plain-spoken preaching of morality and repentance, it was inevitable that he should find his way from the palace to the dungeon.
1. In this wicked world weak men will always be wicked men; for it is less trouble to consent than to resist, and there are more siren voices to whisper “Come” than prophets to thunder “It is not lawful.” Strength of will is needful for all noble life.
2. We may learn from this man, also, how far we may go on the road of obedience to God’s will, and yet leave it at last. What became of all his eager listening, of his partial obedience (Mark 6:20), of his care to keep John safe from Herodias’ malice? All vanished like early dew. What became of his conscience-stricken alarms on hearing of Christ? Did they lead to any deep convictions? They faded away and left him harder than before. Convictions not followed out ossify the heart. If he had sent for Christ, and told Him his fears all might have been well.
3. He shows us, too, the intimate connection of all sins. The common root of every sin is selfishness, and the shapes which it takes are protean and interchangeable. Sensual crimes and cruelty are closely akin. Sins are gregarious, and a solitary sin is more seldom seen than a single swallow.
4. Herod is an illustration, too, of a conscience fantastically sensitive, while it is dead to real crimes. He has no twinges for his sin with Herodias, and no effective ones at killing John, but he thinks it would be wrong to break his oath. The two things often go together; and many a brigand in Calabria, who would cut a throat without hesitation, would not miss mass or rob without a little image of the Virgin in his hat.
II. The next actors in the tragedy are Herodias and her daughter.—Her portrait is drawn in a few strokes, but they are enough. In strength of will and unscrupulous carelessness of human life she is the sister of Jezebel, and curiously like Shakespeare’s awful creation, Lady Macbeth; but she adds a strain of sensuous passion to their vices, which heightens the horror. Many a shameless woman would have shrunk from sullying a daughter’s childhood by sending her to play the part of a shameless dancing-girl before a crew of half-tipsy revellers, and from teaching her young lips to ask for murder. But Herodias sticks at nothing, and is as insensible to the duty of a mother as to that of a wife. We have a hideous picture of corrupted womanhood. The criminality of the daughter largely depends upon her age, of which we have no knowledge. Probably she was old enough to be her mother’s fellow-conspirator, rather than her tool, and had learned only too well her lessons of impurity and cruelty. She inherited and was taught evil; that was her misfortune. She made it her own; that was her crime.
III. There is something dramatically appropriate in the silent death of the lonely forerunner.—The faint noise of revelry may have reached his ears, as he brooded there, and wondered if the coming King would never come for his enlargement. The King has come and set His servant free, sending him to prepare His way before Him, in the dim regions beyond. A world where Herod sits in the festal chamber, and John lies headless in the dungeon, needs some one to set it right.
IV. It needed some courage for John’s disciples to come to that gloomy, blood-stained fortress, and bear away the headless trunk which scornful cruelty had flung out to rot unburied. When reverent love and sorrow had done their task what was the little flock without a shepherd to do? They show by their action that their master had profited from his last message to Jesus. At once they turn to Him, and, no doubt, the bulk of them were absorbed in the body of His followers. The best thing any of us can do is to “go and tell Jesus” our loneliness, and let it bind us more closely to him.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 14:1-2. Miseries of a guilty conscience.—I. Conscience is no respecter of persons.
II. A guilty conscience possesses a retentive memory.
III. Is exposed not only to real, but to imaginary woes.
IV. Will torment a man in spite of all his intellectual theories and all the articles of his religious creed.—Homilist.
Matthew 14:3-5. John the Baptist’s death.—
1. Faithful ministers will not spare to tell even kings their sins.
2. It is no new thing that kings and great men take it evil to be reproved of their sins and are ready to persecute faithful preachers.
3. The Lord can make any means serve to keep His servant’s life so long as He pleaseth, as here He maketh the fear of the people a means of John’s safety for a time.
4. Wicked men do not abstain from any sin but for worldly reasons; they do nothing for regard to God. Herod “feared the multitude.”—David Dickson.
Matthew 14:3. The influence of women on kings.—A princess of the house of Bourbon, on being asked why the reigns of queens were, in general, more prosperous than the reigns of kings, replied, “Because, under kings, women govern; under queens, men.”
Matthew 14:6-11. Herod’s sacrifice of John the Baptist.—
1. When a man hath a mind to an evil work, a time shall be found fit for the doing of it.
2. A time of carnal feasting is a time for plotting and practising against God’s servants.
3. A foolish and graceless heart is easily taken with a small delight, as Herod is marvellously pleased with a damsel’s dancing.
4. A foolish delight is able to ensnare a man for practising a wicked work, as Herod’s vain delight engageth him in a rash general promise and oath, and so he is engaged in the murder of the Lord’s servant.
5. Such as the parents are, such is the education of their children.
6. The malice of the wicked against reprovers of their sin is deadly. John Baptist’s head must pass for his reproof of incest.
7. Malicious persons will prefer the satisfaction of their malice to anything else. Herodias had rather have John’s head than half a kingdom.
8. A graceless soul may have a wrestling with his lusts ere he commit a sin, and may be sorrowful for carnal reasons to do some wicked deed, as Herod here is loth to kill John
9. A natural conscience is not able to resist a temptation, though it may restrain a man for a time, for Herod, though he be sorry, yet he yieldeth.
10. A sinner ensnared is holden by bands which he might lawfully break, as Herod here by a rash oath.
11. That which indeed is a man’s shame will appear unto a foolish sinner to be his credit; and when credit appears, it will more prevail with the wicked than either conscience or carnal fear. Herod here for their sakes that sat with him at meat doth yield that John shall lose his head.
12. God’s dearest servants may be taken away by a light occasion, after that the Lord hath ended His work by them, as here John dieth at the desire of a wanton lass.
13. The bodies of the saints may be abused after death at the pleasure of the persecutors, as John’s head here is made a spectacle to his foes.—David Dickson.
Matthew 14:6. Herod’s ballroom.—
1. Before the ball.—The news of Christ’s miracles had reached Herod. He was startled. Who is this Jesus? John risen from the dead? Why these fears? John had reproved Herod, and Herod imprisoned John for eighteen months. The guilt of an unlawful marriage was on his conscience. He rushes into gaiety to drown his troubles. The pleasures of the feast and the ballroom “minister to a mind diseased.” Men fly to the ball, the theatre, the card-table, the tavern, not simply for pleasure’s sake, and to “taste life’s glad moments,” but to drown care, to smother conscience, to laugh away the impressions of the last sermon, to soothe an uneasy mind, to relieve the burden, or to pluck out the sting of conscious guilt! O slaughter-houses of souls! O shambles, reeking with blood!
II. During the ball.—A gay scene. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are there. All that can minister to these are there. Herod is there, stupefying conscience. The fair daughter is there, in all the splendour of gay wantonness. The vile mother is there, lascivious and revengeful. Courtiers are there in pomp and glitter. Music and mirth are there. The dance and the song. But some are absent: John is not there; his disciples are not there. Jesus is not there, nor His disciples. They were present at the marriage festival at Cana; but this ball-room is not for them. It is not the place for a follower, either of Jesus or of John. The beauty of “this world” is one thing, and the beauty of the “world to come” another. These scenes of vanity are instructive; they present the world in its most fascinating aspects.… These balls are the most seductive specimens of pure worldliness that can be found. Surely the god of this world knows how to enchant both eye and ear. Here the natural man is at home. It is a place where God is not; where the cross is not; where such things as sin and holiness must not be named. It is a ball where the knee is not bent except in the waltz; where music in the praise of Jesus is not heard; where the book of God and the name of God would be out of place; where you might speak of Jupiter, Venus, Apollo, but not of Jesus.… It was during that ball that the murder of John was plotted and consummated (“Lust hard by hate,” Milton); that a drunken, lustful king, urged on by two women, perpetrated that foul deed.… Such are the masquerades of time.… Such was the coarse worldliness of old days; but is the refined worldliness of modern times less fatal to the soul?… “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?”
III. After the ball.—Of the chief actors in this ball-room murder nothing more is said. They pass to the judgment seat. They have sent John before them to receive his reward.… His lips are silenced, and his disciples bury the body; then they go and tell Jesus. Jesus hears of the murder and is silent!… This is the day of endurance and patient suffering. The day of recompense is coming.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Murderous though beautiful.—Beautiful, innocent-looking creatures are sometimes deadly in their influence The Lucilia hominivorax is rather more than the third of an inch in length; the head is large, downy, and of a golden yellow. The thorax is dark blue and very brilliant, with gay reflections of purple. The wings are transparent, yet prettily tinged; their margins as well as the feet are black. This innocent-looking insect is very beautiful, yet it is an assassin. M. Coquerel has informed us that it sometimes occasions the death of those wretched convicts who have been transported to the distant penitentiary of Cayenne. When this fly gets into the mouth or nostrils it lays its eggs there, and when they are changed into larvæ, the death of the victim generally follows. The larvæ are lodged in the interior of the nasal orifices and the frontal sinuses, and their mouths are armed with two very sharp mandibles. They have been known to reach the ball of the eye, and to gangrene the eyelids. They enter the mouth, corrode and devour the gums and the entrance of the throat, so as to transform those parts into a mass of putrid flesh, a heap of corruption. What an emblem are these of the pleasures which, in an unsuspicious form, are apt to fasten themselves upon man—beautiful in appearance, yet ruinous in result!—Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.
Remarkable days of high festival are accompanied with great danger of falling into sin.—Bengel.
Dancing.—A sedate and devout Christian leaves dancing to goats, calves, and children, and orders his steps according to the word of God, and not the directions of the dancing-master.—Hedinger.
Matthew 14:9. Herod an example of an alleged necessity of sinning.—There is a world of sad meaning in the little word that qualifies the intimation of Herod’s grief. “The king was exceeding sorry; yet—” (Mark 6:26). “He was sorry; nevertheless——.” The full half of all the sins of men on earth are committed in this very way, with a feeling of sorrow and an excuse of necessity. But yet even this most trimming waverer—“but yet”—may demand a hearing. He has his reasons—“For his oath’s sake,” etc. And they are strong enough reasons; an oath in heaven and a pledge on earth—the entanglement of a double obligation, on which God above and man below may equally insist. Are the reasons valid? Such a question we need scarcely ask or answer. But are they alleged honestly, and in good faith? This is a more interesting inquiry, and in dealing with, it we must distinguish between excuses of weakness and apologies for wilfulness.
I. Is it a case of weakness?—Is it in all sincerity that you pitifully urge the plea—You have gone too far to draw back? You would fain do so; but yet——. Certainly you are entitled to sympathy. It may be proper, however, to ask you, in all tenderness, two questions deeply affecting your responsibility:—
1. How came you into such a position?—You are pledged before God; there is your oath. Now, this may mean that you really have involved yourselves so deeply as to admit of a question of conscience or scruple of religion being raised when you attempt to draw back. The far more probable supposition is that what you mistake for a sacred pledging of yourselves in the sight of God, is really nothing more than your being committed in your own opinion. You have formed a resolution more or less deliberately, and it is a mortification of your self-esteem to find that you must alter your course. And then, you are pledged, not only in your own mind, but in the judgment or opinion of men. Have you learned that wickedness makes a tool of wickedness? That tutors in sin invariably become tyrants? Truly you are to be pitied. But the question must be pressed upon you: How came you into a position so embarassing?
(1) That you may apprehend and feel your guilt. There is a risk of your being fondled in the cradle of a spurious sentimental sympathy, when it would be far better for you to be startled, were it even as by the alarum of judgment and the trump of doom.
(2) That you may not despair of recovery. The listless impression of utter helplessness that creeps into the soul when folly or excess has contrived to cast its lethargic spell over you, is like the stupor that steals upon the senses of the benumbed traveller as, weary and wayworn, amid the northern ice, he yields to the seduction of an insidious slumber. It is real kindness to break, however painfully, that sleep of death.
2. What really hinders your escape from your present embarrassment?—Assuming still that yours is a case of weakness rather than wilfulness, we ask you to consider the real value and force of your excuses. To what do they amount? Your vow, your oath—what is that but a feeling of false pride? The opinion or expectation of your fellow-men—what is that but a feeling of false shame? Even at the last hour, might not Herod have frankly owned a fault in himself, and fearlessly disowned the fellowship of those “who sat at meat with him”? Had he summoned up courage enough to abandon his false pride and his false shame, that night, so dark and bloody, might have been to him, ere it closed, the dawn of a bright and blessed day.
II. But the partition between weakness and wilfulness is very slight and tender.—The growth of this wilful spirit may be traced:
1. In your more deliberate justifying of yourselves.
2. In your more daring defiance of God.
We close with two brief remarks.
1. How unsatisfying, at the best, are these pleas!
2. And how unsubstantial!—R. S. Candlish, D.D.
Herod’s oath.—There are two things required in an oath:
1. That it be lawfully taken.
2. That it be lawfully observed and kept. Herod offended against both these. For:
1. He sinned against the first because he took an oath in a vain and foolish thing, without any necessity.
2. He sinned against the second, for he was not content to swear foolishly, but, which was worse, he did wickedly perform and grant what was wickedly desired.—Richard Ward.
Matthew 14:12. A solitary death; a great sorrow.—
I. Our text tells of a death.—It was a sudden and violent death. It was a solitary death. No congenial spirit was with the departing to cheer him with a thought of hope or with a breath of prayer. The life itself went out in inactivity. It might seem, man might call it, a failure. Its latest days were its least brilliant.
II. His disciples came and took up the body and buried it.—They who might not minister to the life shall minister to the death. No jealousy, no tyranny, survives death; so now the disciples are free to come and take the body.
III. Unhappy that sorrow which cannot tell itself to Jesus.—There are such sorrows. The burning fever of passion, whether in the form of baffled lust, or dissatisfied ambition, or self-defeated speculation, will not, scarcely can, go, quite as it is, to tell Jesus. And yet if it would, it would not be cast out. Little do we know, the best of us, of the largeness of that heart.—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
1. The faithful must not be ashamed at the suffering of the saints, but testify their respect to the living and to the dead.
2. When pastors are cut off men must resort to the Chief Shepherd so much the more.—David Dickson.
I. They went and told.—
1. Human sorrow must speak.
2. Will speak to the tried friend.
3. Will make an effort to find him—they went.
II. They told Jesus.—
1. He waited to be told.
2. Was willing to be told.
3. Encouraged them to tell. Go and tell Jesus your doubts, fears, sins, sorrows.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 14:13. He departed thence.—Matthew traces the withdrawal from Capernaum to the eastern side of the lake to the news of John Baptist’s martyrdom. Luke tells us that Herod desired to see Jesus, and the resolve to avoid the tetrarch would be increased by the sad tidings. Mark adds a second motive for the passage, in the wish to secure a period of quiet for the Apostles who had just returned from their missionary tour (Maclaren). A desert place apart.—See Luke 9:10. Probably near Bethsaida-Julias, on the north-east shore of the lake. “In the dominions of Philip Jesus found a safe retreat, where His followers might recover their tone of mind, and prepare for going forth anew” (Lange). Out of the cities.—Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, etc.
Matthew 14:15. Evening.—The Hebrews reckoned two evenings, viz. the first from the ninth hour, or about three o’clock, until sunset; the other from sunset onward (Robinson). The reference in the text is to the early evening. The time is now past.—The fitting time for the multitudes to disperse, if they are to pay due attention to their bodily wants, has already gone by (Morison).
Matthew 14:19. Brake.—The Jewish loaves were broad and thin, like cakes; hence, we never read of cutting, but always of breaking bread (Holden).
Matthew 14:20. Twelve baskets.—The word used here and in the parallel places of the other three Gospels, and rendered “basket” is different from that employed in the account of the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:37; Mark 8:8). The former word (κόφινος) is the basket used by the Jews in travelling, to hold their food. The latter word (σπύρις) denotes a large basket capable of holding a man’s body. It is the word used in describing the escape of St. Paul (Acts 9:25). The constant observance of this distinction, which would probably have been lost in the transmission of the narrative to a narrative at third or fourth and, seems to mark the impression produced on the minds of eye-witnesses and the formation of the text from immediate testimony (Mansel).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus in the desert.—Partly because of the danger implied in the previous verses (note “heard” in Matthew 14:13), and partly perhaps for the reasons implied in Mark 6:31 and John 6:4, our Saviour seems now to be desirous of absolute retirement. Hence His “withdrawing,” His wishing to be “apart,” His departure to the “desert,” perhaps, also, His going by sea. This desire of His, however, was very far from being gratified at the time. Instead of retirement, on the contrary, when He reaches the place of His destination, and “comes forth” from His boat (so some), He finds a vast and thronging multitude awaiting His coming—persons who had come thither “on foot” (Matthew 14:13), apparently with much exertion (Mark 6:33), from all the neighbouring “cities.” It was a singular and, so far, an entire disappointment. He had fled from the “cities,” only to find that the “cities” had already come to the “desert.” This lends all the greater significance to the story of “compassion” which follows, and more especially to those two features of it in which it stands out from anything told us before: the extreme need, viz., which it describes on the one hand, and the abundant supply of which it tells us on the other.
I. The extreme need.—One peculiarity of this need was to be found in the fact that it was of singularly wide application. In previous “multitudes” we read of many whole, and some only that were “sick.” Here we read of a kind of need from which none present were exempt. Also the need in question was of a most serious kind. It was nothing less than the need of that which was necessary to all—of the “staff of life”—of daily bread—of that which the strongest as well as the weakest require—of that without which the very strongest soon find all their strength gone. Further yet, the need in question was of a most aggravated description. It was a need which had come on the multitudes late in the day (Matthew 14:15), apparently, as we have seen, after unusual bodily exertions; certainly in a place where there was nothing (naturally) to meet it; and with no places within reach—even if within reach before nightfall—except certain “villages,” or small collections of inhabitants who were hardly likely, on that very account, to have a sufficient extra supply on hand for multitudes such as these. And even if they had, it would be a very hard case for such famishing multitudes to have to go far at that hour for such a “scramble” for food! Lastly, the need was, for all this, of a most undeniable kind. If there was small hope of food at a distance, humanly speaking there was none at all on the spot. The search now made on this point—or that had been made previously—proved this to the hilt. Not impossibly it was this very fact which had previously led the disciples to suggest sending the starving people away to the villages, as being the only alternative in such circumstances, of which they could think. Certainly now, when they report the result of their inquiry to the Saviour, it has the most desperate look. “We have here but five loaves and two fishes”—two “small fishes” (John 6:9)—in other words, perhaps, considering the probable size of these “loaves,” and the famishing condition of the multitudes, about sufficient for one! It was almost less than having nothing at all! It undoubtedly was so in regard to its effect on the feeling of need. Only that between all these and starvation!
II. The abundant supply.—This is brought before us with great vividness in various ways. It is so first by the unmistakable publicity of the transaction. “Make the men sit down.” They do so, the whole five thousand, “by companies” (Matthew 14:21)—“upon the green grass” (Mark 6:39)—the green grass natural at that time of the year (John 6:4). “Bring the five loaves and the two fishes hither to Me.” This was done in its turn; and with this was done, also, all that was done in preparing. You see these multitudes. You see this scanty supply. You see all except that which the Saviour Himself is going to do. Equally vivid, in the next place, is the simplicity of the transaction. The food is taken and blessed, and then broken and given out. So it passes from Him to the hands of the disciples. From the hands of the disciples it passes in turn to those of the multitudes as they recline on the grass. In those two things you see the whole that is to be seen by the eye. There the supply begins. So it passes. Thither it goes. Nothing whatever mingles with it from the outside. Hence, therefore, in the last place, most striking of all, is the completeness of the result. Notwithstanding the scantness of the original supply, notwithstanding the perfect simplicity of the method itself, it turns out that there is, in the end, what is sufficient for all. “They did all eat and were filled” (Matthew 14:20). No one desired more. Not only so, but, as though to show in this instance that the same power which had done all this could also have done as much more if so wished, there was more than sufficient for all; more than sufficient by a good deal; more to end with, in fact, and that by far, than there had been at first. One lad had easily carried all there was to begin. The twelve disciples, at the end, had gathered together of that which remained one large basket-full each. Evidently there was no limit here but the criminal limit of waste!
In the story thus considered we may find yet further:—
1. A rebuke to some.—Let none of us dare to think anything “too hard for the Lord;” or take upon us to advise Him with respect to His doings (Matthew 14:15). In all other matters, as well as in this, that is true of Him which we read in John 6:6.
2. Instruction to more.—What blessing for us is like that of being the channel of blessing to others? What disciple can give to others unless he first take for himself? And whither else shall he go for what he would give except to the “fulness” of Christ?
3. Promise of mercy to all.—The sixth chapter of St. John seems to show us that it was a very “mixed multitude” that was fed in this way (see John 6:26; John 6:41; John 6:60; John 6:66). For all that, in the time of their need there was more than sufficient for all. No questions were asked. No other fitness demanded. Only let them take the place of the needy. Only let them accept the provision made for the hungry. Everything else was supplied (cf. Philippians 4:19).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 14:13-21. The teachings of the miracle.—I. Its most obvious inference is one which it yields in common with several of the Nature-miracles presenting, as they all do, the Lordship over nature and providence which belongs to Jesus as Head of the spiritual kingdom. The followers of Christ are here taught that when engaged in the work of the kingdom they are to have no anxiety about the supply of their bodily wants. He Himself makes precisely this application of the incident on a subsequent occasion, when the disciples supposed one of His sayings to reflect on their insufficient supply of food (Mark 8:14-19).
II. A less obvious inference, but one which invites explanation, is its symbolic bearing on the spiritual provision of the kingdom and the mode of its distribution to mankind. The event took place at a time when the disciples had made their first trial of preaching the word of the kingdom. They were anxious about the result. In the most instructive and comforting way this feeding of the multitude showed, and was meant to show, how the Living Word, Christ, in the preached word, the gospel, becomes the Bread of Life to a perishing world. We cannot be wrong in so interpreting an event from which the Lord Himself drew His discourse on the Heavenly Bread. The significant points in the action of that day were:—
1. The provision accepted from the disciples.—The Lord could have made bread out of stones, or grass, out of anything or nothing. But He chose with a Divine significance to ask from the Twelve what they had. With that He began. In this work, miraculous though it was, the servants had a part assigned them. They had to prepare the means, to do their part, to do their best. We are to do our best, humanly speaking, for His cause. He asks us to do more for Him than we can in order to show us how easy it is when we rest it on Himself.
2. The blessing of the provision by Jesus.—Let us get our spiritual provision passed under the Master’s blessing hand. Let us neither give nor take what has not first gone round by the head of the table. Christ blesses all the real bread that is brought to Him.
3. The distribution of the food.—It was through the blessing the miracle was wrought, but it was in the breaking and parting of the bread that it was realised. So is it with the gospel. It is in the distribution of the word of life, in the breaking of it down, in the turning it over, in the sharing and the spreading of it, that the benefit is realised.—Prof. Laidlaw, D.D.
Matthew 14:15-21. Jesus and His bounty.—
I. The problem of the disciples.—They seemed to have forgotten:
1. That the people had followed their Master, not them.
2. That the Master knew as much, and more, of the multitude than they did.
3. That the Master was moved with compassion towards the people.
II. The solution of the Master.—J. O. Davies.
Matthew 14:16. An assurance and a command.—Our Lord’s answer is studiedly enigmatical, and meant to stimulate attention and anticipation. It consists of:—
I. An apparently incredible assurance.
II. An obviously impossible command.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Value of the Bible.—The Bible, so little in bulk, like the five barley loaves and the two fishes, what thousands upon thousands has it fed, and will it feed, in every age, in every land of Christendom, to the world’s end!—D. Brown, D.D.
Matthew 14:19-20. Tested and honoured.—
I. A test.
II. Obedience, having in it the element of faith.
III. Reward.—The miracle.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 14:20. The satisfying Christ.—
I. Christ’s gifts are for all.—As on the green grass there were men, women, and children; so all ages, conditions, diversities of character, rank, culture, and circumstance may find the satisfaction of their soul’s hunger in Him. The world spreads a table at which there is often satiety without satisfaction, and oftener hunger surviving after all vain attempts to make husks serve for bread. “It shall be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty.”
II. Christ’s feast satisfies, but never cloys. The world often cloys, but never satisfies.
III. Christ’s gift is inexhaustible.—After five thousand have fed, full more is over than appeared at first.—Ibid.
Matthew 14:22. Constrained His disciples.—Perhaps they, too, were carried away by the frenzy of the time, and would have joined the people in proclaiming Him King (John 6:15); or perhaps they were unwilling to leave Him behind among the people at a moment of such excitement (Laidlaw).
Matthew 14:23. The evening.—The later evening (see note on Matthew 14:15).
Matthew 14:24. Tossed.—Distressed (R.V.). The expression in the original is forcible, “tortured by the waves,” writhing in throes of agony, as it were. These sudden storms are very characteristic of the lake of Gennesaret (Carr). See Thomson’s “Land and Book,” chap. 25 p. 374.
Matthew 14:25. The fourth watch.—I.e. between three and six o’clock in the morning. At an earlier period both the Jews and the Greeks divided the night into three watches, each of four hours. From the time of Pompey, however, they adopted the Roman practice of reckoning four watches, each of three hours (Lange). Walking on the sea.—We should find here the hint of a precise element in redemption. The exact point of the act is not the suspension of natural law. The law of gravity is not suspended so much as superseded by the intervention of a higher law, viz., the liberation of a spiritual or glorified body from the bondage of earthly conditions (Laidlaw).
Matthew 14:26. It is a spirit, etc.—An apparition (R.V.). Their belief in the apparition of spectres is here presupposed. They seem to have regarded the apparition as an indication of coming evil (Lange).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 14:22-33
Jesus on the waters.—If the Saviour was bent on retirement before (Matthew 14:13), He seems more bent on it now, and in an even greater degree. Probably because of what we read in John 6:15, He resolves on sending the multitudes home (Matthew 14:22). Probably on account of the effect of the same on the minds of His disciples He “constrains” them to go too (Matthew 14:22). After which, it is said, that He “goes up into the mountain apart to pray, and when the even is come He is there alone” (Matthew 14:23)—in complete retirement at last! About that retirement itself nothing is told us, though much may be imagined. What is told us, and what we have now to consider, is what He was to His disciples after it was over; what He was to them collectively and as a body; what He was to them individually and in the person of their most representative member.
I. Collectively.—How great, e.g. at this time, was His sympathy with their troubles. These were then by no means of a trivial kind. Instead of being at rest in their homes at that natural time of rest, the night time, they were toiling on the sea (Matthew 14:24), in the face of a “contrary” wind. With all their toil, moreover, they were hardly making any progress to speak of. Already it was “the fourth watch of the night.” They were nearing the morning, in fact, but not the shore; and were hardly more, indeed, if any more, than half-way across (John 6:19). Just in this their despair it was that Jesus comes to see how they are doing—taking steps, indeed, wholly unheard of in order to do so—and “walking” upon the “sea” itself to “visit” His own. In other words, knowing everything about, and ready to do anything for, those who are in trouble through obedience to Him. How great, in the next place, His sympathy with their fears. These were natural enough in the circumstances detailed, on the part of the disciples. To see one walking upon the water at any time might make any men think that they had before them something superhuman indeed! To see one doing so in the darkness of night, and over that tempestuous sea, and to be doing so (apparently) from behind—thus accounting for the fact that “all” those rowers beheld it (Mark 6:50)—and to be doing so (apparently again) as though for the purpose of coming into that ship into which they afterwards so “willingly received Him” (John 6:21)—might well double their fears. What did it all mean? What could it be? Something unreal? Something awful—something non-earthly at best (Matthew 14:26). It is beautiful, therefore, to see next how the Saviour met their very natural fears; and how He showed thereby that He thinks of the troubles of His people not only as they are in themselves, but as they are in their eyes. First, He lets His disciples hear the sound of His voice. “Straightway Jesus spake unto them.” That of itself would be much. Then He uses His voice in the way of encouragement and reassurance. “Be of good cheer.” Then He tells them of that fact, which, of all facts in existence, would be most reassuring to them. It is not only My voice, “It is I” Myself. Therefore “be not afraid.”
II. Individually.—And in the person of Peter. In this we see exemplified, on the one hand, how graciously it pleases Him to meet the wishes of His people. This is the point which seems to come out first in what is told us here about Peter. The attempt which he made to walk on the water was not suggested to him by anyone else. Even the permission to make it was not granted to him until he had asked that it might be. “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.” So far below does he seem to have left now—so far below surely has he left now—his former unbelief and alarm. No longer is he afraid of the “apparition.” He is anxious to join it. No longer does it surprise him to see another walking upon the water. He would do so himself. All he waits for is the permission to try. The Saviour meets this, on the one hand, by giving him leave. He says to him “Come.” Also, and further, on the other hand, by giving him help. He enables him to start, at any rate. The Apostle finds, in consequence, that he can do what he wanted to do. He does walk on the waves. He does approach to—if he does not come close to (R.V. margin)—Jesus Himself. So far, therefore, his Master has enabled him to carry out his desire; and has met him most freely—met him most effectually—in that which he proposed. Also we see exemplified here, on the other hand, how graciously it pleases the Saviour at times to repair the errors of His people. Peter’s bold beginning, as we all know, was not followed up in like manner. Instead of continuing to look to Him, for example, who had given him permission to come, he began to look at “the wind”; at the evidences of its violence; at the proofs of its strength. Doing this, he inevitably—such is the infallible result of looking away from the only true Object of faith—began to lose the strength of his faith. Doing this, he, just as inevitably, found himself “beginning to sink.” And doing this, again, would doubtless have continued to sink until wholly overwhelmed by the waters had not the Saviour “immediately” and graciously responded to the little faith he had left; faith only enough, so it appears, to cry to Jesus for help (Matthew 14:30). How gracious the action of the Saviour in reply! First of all, “He stretches forth His hand” and saves His disciple both from destruction and fear. How gracious the word which ensues! Its gentle reproach! Its invincible help! Its unanswerable logic! “O! thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt?” What a way of bringing home to all that He was a Saviour indeed!
It is observable, in conclusion, that this seems to have been just the effect produced on all that were with Him. On a previous, somewhat similar, but not equally striking occasion, the effect produced had been that especially, if not solely, of wonder (Matthew 8:23-27). On this occasion the effect produced is that of “worship” as well (Matthew 14:33). Before, those present declared admiringly that they had never seen such a Man (Matthew 8:27)! Now, those present acknowledge devoutly that they are in the presence of God’s Son! “Truly” so; and, therefore, as at once befits such a conviction, humbly so, on their knees. “Verily,” so they said by this action, “Thou art a Saviour indeed!” And if to them, then to us as well who hear of their words. This, indeed, is one reason why this story, amongst so many others, has been thus reported to us, viz., that it may both be to us, in our way, and do for us, also, all it was, and all it did, for them at the first. So St. John declared of all he wrote in his account of the gospel (John 20:31). So may it be to us of all we read of this “Saviour indeed”!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 14:23. Jesus alone.—The first evening or afternoon had passed into the second evening or nightfall; twilight deepened into dark, dark into midnight; midnight passed, and the chill morning hours, and still He was there, alone, praying. We have here:—
I. Jesus our Example in prayer.—Not only praying with and for others, but actually a suppliant by Himself, and such a suppliant!
II. An example of solitary prayer.—He had no closet, but a “mountain apart.”
III. An example of continued prayer.—He had been so busy all day that the night must be drawn upon, and the whole night; He only ceased towards the dawn.
IV. An example of special prayer.—I.e. of a special season devoted to it beyond the common.—Prof. Laidlaw, D.D.
Christ’s seasons of special prayer.—Several instances are recorded, such as (Mark 1:0.) after the first Sabbath’s work in Capernaum, and again (Luke 6:12) just before the choosing of the Apostles, on which occasion He continued all night in prayer to God, and when it was day proceeded to the calling of the Twelve. So here He gave a night to prayer after the first mission of the Apostles and at what we may call the crisis of His Galilean ministry. Observe especially this last note of connection. John expressly records that Jesus departed that evening into the mountain alone, because He perceived that the people would come and take Him by force, to make Him a King. He probably passed, that night, through one of those inward experiences which, as recorded in other instances of Him, were followed by significant acts and words. He “perceived” the ease with which He could then have founded a great party in the Jewish nation, an outward and visible following far more powerful, to human appearance, than that which He did finally leave on earth. But the decision wrought out in that night’s prayer appeared the very next day. He went straight, when He had crossed to the other side, and preached in the synagogues of Capernaum, so John records it, such a sermon that almost all but the Twelve left Him, and many disciples went back and walked no more with Him. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth,” He said; “the flesh profiteth nothing.” And He had to found His kingdom, not on the glory of the flesh, which “falleth away,” but on the power of the Spirit in that word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.—Prof. Laidlaw, D.D.
Matthew 14:22-24. Christ and His disciples.—
1. We should be sure of an urgent calling before we undertake a hazardous voyage. Jesus “constrained” His disciples.
2. Christ will not have men diverted from their places and callings under pretence of waiting on Him, nor to expect to live by miraculous means, but to attend upon the ordinary blessing of each man’s vocation; therefore He sendeth the multitude away.
3. Christ, albeit the Son of God, yet because He had taken our nature and the office of Mediator, upon all occasions of retiring He prayeth and intercedeth with God for His people.
4. When the godly are in trouble and under trials, the Mediator is praying for their upholding. When the disciples go to sea, Christ goeth to the mount to pray.
5. Christ’s disciples must be in trouble and hazards when others are at ease.
6. Albeit men have Christ’s warrant for their voyage, yet are they not exempted from trouble and danger therein.
7. Men may have fair weather in the beginning of a work, and danger and trouble may be kept back, till they be so far engaged, as it is more safe for them to go forward than to return.—David Dickson.
Matthew 14:22-27. The walk upon the waters.—
I. The Saviour often sends His disciples into scenes of toil and trial.
II. While they are there He watches and prays for them.
III. When they have been enough tried, He will appear for their rescue, gladden them by His presence, and reward them with His blessing.—Baptist Magazine.
Matthew 14:25.The sea and the Saviour.—The Jews had a proverb to the effect that “God created seven seas in the land of Canaan, but one only—the Sea of Galilee—did He choose for Himself.” It is characteristic of most lakes, as it is of our English, Scotch, and Irish lakes, that the water is speedily disturbed by sudden gales which sweep down between the mountains. So is it with the Sea of Galilee. Fierce cold winds pass down the snowy ranges of Lebanon and Hermon, and rush through the ravines of the Peræan Hills with terrific force. There is also another reason why the Sea of Tiberias is frequently agitated to an unusual extent. The Jordan runs through the lake with a very strong and distinct current, and when this is opposed by a powerful south or south-east wind the sea is at once beaten into fury.
I. That period of the disciples’ anxiety suggests to us that we, too, are exposed to many difficulties and dangers.—Our life is a voyage. During our course we are all called to encounter storms.
II. But such storms of trial are designed by God to be disciplinary.—Many lessons are conveyed to the mind by seasons of anxiety. The disciples must have been impressed by their inability to steer their own barque or save their own lives. On one occasion the great Napoleon arranged to review his fleet off Boulogne. Seeing that a severe storm was impending, the admiral in command sent word to the Emperor, advising that the position of the ships should be altered. Napoleon demanded obedience to his first directions, and the vice-admiral obeyed. The storm burst in terrific violence. Several gun-sloops were wrecked, and over two hundred soldiers and sailors were obliged to battle with the angry sea for life, and few escaped. The Emperor at once ordered the boats out to rescue the drowning men, but he was told that no boat could live in such a sea. Then, in the strength of his determination, he ordered a company of grenadiers to man his boat, and springing into it, he exclaimed: “Follow me, my brave fellows! Push on! Push on!” In vain the poor soldiers struggled at the oars. “Push on!” cried Napoleon. “Do you not hear their cries! Oh, this sea! this sea! It rebels against our power, but it may be conquered!” Scarcely had the words escaped his lips when a mighty billow struck the boat, and sent it and its occupants with terrible force high up the shore, leaving them like a stranded waif. Thus was the proud monarch taught his impotence. Thus also is self-confident, self-important, self-conceited man often driven back by life’s storms, driven back upon the very first principles of a truly religious life—conscious weakness and necessary dependence.
III. Another thought during that night of anxiety must have been forced home upon the minds of the disciples, viz., the supremacy and saving power of Jesus.—When He discerned their spiritual fitness—their conscious helplessness and earnest yearning for His presence and aid—then He appeared. So He deals with us still. He often seems absent when we most need Him. But He is really close at hand, and cognisant of everything. A lifeboat, with its precious cargo, was pitching and rolling in a fearful storm, when the old captain cried aloud to all, “Hold on! hold on!” The response came, “Ay, ay!” But there was one little voice which, in the sadness of despair, exclaimed, “I can’t hold on!” Instantly the strong arm of the captain was thrown around that trembling child, and he was safe. So when Jesus sees and hears that, notwithstanding our utmost efforts, we feel we need Him, and crave His Divine help, He hastens to our relief. How many have been brought to Christ by sorrow!
IV. How those disciples must have prized the rest and quietude of the haven after that night of anxiety!
V. As Christ went to the relief of His distressed disciples, so we who profess to value the religion of Jesus should be willing to do all we can for our sons of the sea.—They are a noble race—our sailors. A ship was once in distress. Though the angry sea dashed and foamed with terrible fury, yet some noble sailors put off to rescue the ship’s crew. After prolonged effort and peculiar danger they succeeded in bringing the whole company safely to shore. A man of wealth, standing by the water’s side, as spectator of the men’s heroism, was moved by the way they risked their lives. Pulling out his purse he offered all the gold it contained to the coxswain and his men. The gift, however, was respectfully declined, the boatswain saying, “No, sir; we would save a man for nothing any day.”—J. H. Hitchens, D.D.
Matthew 14:26.—The disciples in the storm.—A little thing frightens us in a storm (M. Henry). Things oft go backward ere they come forward with us.—Trapp.
Matthew 14:28-32. Peter walks on the sea.—Learn:
I. It is not always good to have a literal and exact answer to our requests.—Translated into its real meaning, our prayer too often is that we may walk on some rough dangerous sea in whose rising waves we, for want of faith, or for want of faith enough, should be engulfed. Like Peter we say, “Bid us come there, where we want to be” or “where we may display our superior strength.” Sometimes the answer is “Come,” in order that we may know our weakness, and have our pride of wisdom brought low. Peter must have the offending Adam washed out of him, etc.
II. The miraculous power of faith.—So long as Peter looks only to Christ, so long as he gathers up all powers of heart and mind, and bends them on the Master, he walks on the rough sea as easily as on the green mountain slopes. ’Tis only when he begins to doubt, when his will wavers, and his thoughts tend now in this direction now in that, that he begins to sink.
III. The symbolic, prophetic significance.—Christ stands on the eternal mountain, watching and interceding, while the ship, His church, labours across the sea of time.—The Church.
Matthew 14:28-31. Peter: the trial, infirmity and triumph of his faith.—The incident recorded in this passage of Scripture not only illustrates generally the character of the Apostle Peter, but affords a particular example of his faith—its power, and its weakness, too—such as may be usefully studied.
I. That Peter’s faith in Jesus was at all events and upon the whole sincere, is manifest from these two circumstances in his behaviour.
1. In dependence upon Jesus he left the vessel.
2. When sinking he called upon Him for aid. And the very words of our Saviour’s reproof manifestly imply that it was so (Matthew 14:31). Peter is not charged with the sin of having no faith at all, though he is reproved for having little faith. Uneasy thoughts and anxious fears, however inconsistent they may be with the abundance and the strength of energetic faith, are not always or necessarily inconsistent with its genuine reality.
II. The faith of Peter, though sincere, was yet imperfect.—Let us mark the progress of his temporary distrust and doubting, that we may see exactly the nature of his sin. When Peter first recognised his Master’s presence, so forward was he to profess his faith, and to put his resolution to the test, even at the hazard of his life—so great was his anxiety to meet Jesus, and so implicit his confidence—that he was willing to trust himself with Him even on the yielding waves. Yet he did not venture without first inquiring what his Master would have him to do. His sin lay, not in the zealous profession which he made of his faith, nor in the prompt alacrity of his faithful obedience, but in the weakness and doubtfulness of that faith which he professed, and in which he obeyed. Such is the sin against which we have to guard.—R. S. Candlish, D.D.
Matthew 14:28. Peter’s fault.—Wherein lay the fault in Peter’s proposal? We answer:—
I. In self-confidence, self-preference.—“Bid me.” He would outdo and outdare all the rest with a mightier display of faith. Here, just as at the supper table, with his greater show of humility, “Thou shalt never wash my feet” (John 13:0), Peter rehearsed, so to speak, his great fall. He boasted a larger faith than all the rest, and fell to a lower and pitiable depth of fear; as in that sadder after-scene he boasted a greater faithfulness, and fell to the lowest depths of unfaithfulness short of final apostasy. The secret springs of the action in both cases, are discovered by comparison of the two. “Let him that thinketh he standeth,” etc.
II. In the impulsiveness which even in religious faith is allied to rashness, and therefore to weakness. Exaggerated faith is really, as appears in this instructive story, weak faith, little faith. It is a small faith boasting itself, stretching itself out and overdoing itself. On this occasion, however, “He said come.” To have repressed Peter’s suggestion might have checked that bold and loving disposition which the Master sought to train for deeds of renown. To be let try this thing, and suffer partial failure in it, was the way by which Peter’s real faith would be strengthened and his fault of carnal overboldness corrected. The Lord puts His answer in the form of a simple permission, “Come!”—Professor Laidlaw, D.D.
Matthew 14:30. The failure of Peter’s faith.—So long as the inner soul of Peter was purely and simply turned towards the Person of the Lord, he was capable of receiving within himself the fulness of Christ’s life and Spirit, so that what Christ could do he could do; but so soon as his capacity for receiving the Spirit was contracted by his giving place and weight to a foreign power, the result was … that the sea-walker fell back under the dominion of earthly elements.—Olshausen.
Matthew 14:28-29. Doing the impossible.—There is no real success in the work of Christ’s kingdom which is not to man’s judgment as impossible as to tread the waves. When Paul went to convert the nations of Greece and Rome to the faith of the crucified Nazarene, he went to walk on the waters. All reason was against the probability of his success. When Luther revived the gospel of free grace in face of the Roman hierarchy and the empire, he went to walk on the waters. Pope, emperor, princes, and churchmen were ready to swallow him up. There is not a true missionary abroad or true mission worker at home, but goes to seek results above nature, by methods that work beyond reason. If we would truly serve Jesus and His kingdom, walk on the waves we must; for we walk by faith, not by sight. Only let us gather from this story the condition, and take our motto from Isaiah rather than from Peter. Instead of choosing for oneself the path of duty and saying, “Lord, bid me come,” let us put ourselves and our service always into His hands, saying in answer to His question, “Who will go for us?” “Here am I; send me.”—Professor Laidlaw, D.D.
Matthew 14:31-32. Christ glorified.—Now the exercise is ended, the disciples’ weakness and Christ’s strength are manifested.
1. When the trial is at an end, the trouble is at an end. Christ and Peter come up into the ship and the wind ceaseth.
2. It is a blessed trouble which endeth in glorifying Christ and in the increase of knowledge.
3. New experience doth furnish deep impressions of Christ’s Divine power and Godhead.
4. Deliverance from imminent death speaketh more of God’s power to the humble person, than the greatest works do speak unto the secure; as the deliverance of the disciples from the raging sea maketh them more sensible of Christ’s Godhead than the miraculous feeding of five thousand with so few loaves in the wilderness.—David Dickson.
Matthew 14:34. The land of Gennesaret.—A plain two miles and a half in length and about one mile in breadth. Josephus speaks of its beauty (Wars, III. x. 8), and Dr. Robinson says, “Its fertility, indeed, can hardly be exceeded.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 14:34-36
Jesus on land.—From the fact that this land of Gennesaret is only mentioned here and in Mark 6:53-56, and from the parallel fact that the men who lived there do not seem to have recognised Christ at the first (Matthew 14:35), it has been thought by some that it lay outside the usual “beat” of the Saviour. If so, that may be why He chooses it now; being still anxious, it may be, not to come very much under the notice of Herod (see Matthew 14:1; Matthew 14:12). But even if so, we find that when He does come to this place He is the same here as elsewhere. Indeed, in some things, we here find unusual evidence of His usual mercy and power; as, for example, in the need dealt with, in the first place; the means employed, in the second; and the effect achieved in the third.
I. The need dealt with.—Many things seemed to draw unusual attention to this. The unusual fertility and abundance of the neighbourhood, of which the commentaries tell us so much, from Josephus and others, would do so, to begin. Where every corner and all the growth of that garden-like land seemed to be ministering to the abundance of its inhabitants, it was the more striking and the more pathetic to find many of them in need; and in that kind of need, also, which, lying within a man, no outward wealth can supply. What signifies it to a “sick” man that he has the choicest of foods within reach? The largest possible supply of them leaves his necessity where it was; if it does not even go further and make its utter helplessness so much the more grievous. Further, the unusual efforts made by the “men of that place” to bring their sick within reach of the Saviour, tell much the same tale. Once they discovered who their Visitor was, they allowed no rest to any who could help in bringing any sick ones to His feet. No part of “that region” was left unvisited by them. None that were known to be sick were allowed to remain where they were. A lively proof, indeed, of the depth of the sympathy felt for their case. A sympathy shown all the more, in the last instance, by the language employed when brought near. “They besought Him” for His help (Matthew 14:36). “They” did so—“they” all did so—alike the sick and the whole. The sick by their looks, if by nothing beyond. The whole by the extreme earnestness, by the tearfulness, of their words. “Do not let these, our utterly needy ones, be without help.”
II. The simplicity of the means.—So far as the patients and their friends were concerned, nothing more was required, in the first instance, than that they should be brought somehow into the presence of Jesus. Only let Him know, of them—only let Him notice them—nothing more was required. No external inducement. No evidence of worthiness. No appeal to vainglory. No offer of fee. All that was sought for was to move His compassion. All that was needed was to elicit His power. Nor was anything more required, in the second instance, than to be brought into contact with that. Any action of faith that sufficed to do that, sufficed to do all. Not merely the blessed person of the Saviour Himself—not merely any part of any of the garments by which that person was clothed—but even that “hem of His garment” which, as it were, was little more than an appendage thereto, if touched only in that spirit, sufficed to do all. So far as the sick themselves were concerned, all who “touched” the “border of His garment” did all that was needed. That touch of faith comprised the very outside of all that was asked at their hands.
III. The perfection of the result.—Two things especially are said here to impress this upon us. The first has to do with the universality of the result. There were no exceptional cases amongst the “many” cases brought for relief. No cases “discharged” only, as being less “amenable” than the rest. Doubtless, among so “many,” there were some of exceptional nature and depth. Some that would be brought, it is possible, with much less hope than the rest. Some who would say probably, and say so, moreover, not without some excuse for it, from their side of the matter, He can do nothing for me. Even such cases, however—from His side of the matter—were just the same as the rest. He did for the worst there as He did for the best. The second special feature has to do with the thoroughness of these cures. They were not partial cures only, or half cures, or unfinished recoveries, or mere mitigations of evil; or of mere relief only, and not of removal; or of anything in short, at all less, in my way, of utterly banishing the whole sickness in hand. “As many as touched were made perfectly whole” (διεσώθησαν), were thoroughly saved (Matthew 14:36). This was true of them all. They went away from the Saviour—all of them did—wholly delivered from whatever evil they had brought to His feet.
We may apply the truths thus brought before us with great comfort and force, to the greater needs of our souls. He who thus did so much and so freely for the bodies of men has Himself drawn our attention to the deeper importance of their souls (see Matthew 10:28). We cannot doubt, therefore, but that He will be at least as willing to help us in this respect too. We may even argue, and that most legitimately, seeing that it was His infinite compassion only that moved Him to give such perfect relief to these touching cases of bodily suffering, that He will be even more willing, if that be possible, to give help to the soul. The deeper the necessity, the stronger the claim to such a nature as His. Nor can we doubt, on the other hand, His being in this case also, as able to help. He “who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” has obtained thereby a sufficiency of redemptive power for the very utmost of our needs (2 Corinthians 5:21; see also Hebrews 7:25). And that, such a power also, as can be secured by us by the simple exercise of faith, provided only and of course that it be faith, and not a mere substitute only for that simplest and yet most precious of gifts.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 14:34-36. Miracles by wholesale.—
I. The forwardness and faith of the men of that place.—These were more noble than the Gergesenes, their neighbours, who were borderers upon the same lake. Those besought Christ to depart from them—they had no occasion for Him; these besought Him to help them, they had need of Him. Christ reckons it the greatest honour we can do Him to make use of Him. Here we are told:—
1. How the men of that place were brought to Christ.—They “had knowledge of Him.” If Christ were better known He would not be neglected as He is. The discerning of the day of our opportunities is a good step towards the improvement of it.
2. How they brought others to Christ.—By giving notice to their neighbours of Christ’s being come into those parts, (Matthew 14:35). There is in Christ enough for all, so there is nothing got by monopolising. Neighbourhood is an advantage of doing good which must be improved.
3. What their business was with Christ.—They “brought unto Him all that were diseased.”
4. How they made their application to Him (Matthew 14:36).—
(1) With great importunity.
(2) With great humility.
(3) With great assurance of the all-sufficiency of His power.
II. The fruit and success of their application to Christ.—
1. Christ’s cures are perfect cures.
2. There is abundance of healing virtue in Christ for all that apply to Him, be they never so many.
3. The healing virtue there is in Christ is put forth for the benefit of those that by a true and lively faith touch Him.—Matthew Henry.
Matthew 14:36. The great Healer.—“As many as touched,” etc. Our Lord’s miracles of healing had a twofold import; they were credentials of His Divine authority and also representations of the higher work He had come to do for the world. Physical disease is a type of moral disorder, and as Jesus dealt effectually with the one, so can He with the other.
I. Man’s moral condition may be represented as one of disease.—A state of disease is an abnormal state. This disease a very terrible one.
1. It is asold and as extensive as the race.
2. It affects the entire man.
(1) To this evil are to be referred the infirmities and deformities, the pains and sicknesses, that afflict the body and eventually bring it down to the grave. The physical evils from which many suffer are the direct fruit of their own wrong-doing. Infants suffer by reason of the solidarity of the race. Moral evil the root from which all physical evils spring.
(2) And the immaterial part of man is affected by this terrible malady as well—his intellectual and spiritual nature, his mind and his soul. The understanding is impaired and darkened (Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14). The judgment is deranged. The will perverse and obstinate. The affections turned from God, their true Object (Romans 8:7). The conscience so affected that a man may act conscientiously and yet do wrong (John 16:2; Acts 26:9). A loadstone near the needle may turn a ship out of its course. The memory has much greater affinity for what is evil than for what is good. And the imagination is ever deluding the soul. In addition to all this, man is insensible to his true condition. Sin “affects the very organ by which itself can be detected.”
3. It is a most virulent and contaminating disease.—Like physical disorders, it has its stages. The worst man living might become worse still. Every sinner gives out an influence which is calculated to call forth into evil deed the latent evil slumbering in the natures of those around him. It is useless for a man to say “I will keep my bad habits to myself; they shall affect no one else.” There is a force in a man’s evil example that must affect others, and that is calculated to draw out the depravity of their hearts in the same direction and make them like himself (Ecclesiastes 9:18; 1 Corinthians 15:33).
4. Left to run its course it must in every case terminate fatally.—Man insensible to his condition. But if fully alive to his state would be powerless to help himself. “Without strength.” Nor is there any tendency to reaction or convalescence (Jeremiah 13:23; James 1:15).
II. There is a fulness of healing virtue in Jesus Christ.—He is the only physician who can deal effectually with man’s case. The world’s specifics for the regeneration of society are good as far as they go, but not radical enough. E.g. Education, socialism, etc. But Jesus Christ is equal to the task of removing this disease in its most malignant forms (see Titus 2:14; Philippians 3:20-21, etc.).
III. The healing virtue which dwells in Jesus Christ is available for every sincere and earnest applicant.—The diseased ones spoken of in the text were “brought” to Jesus by others, but they themselves “touched” Him. This implies:—
1. That they were distressed about this diseased condition and anxious to be cured.—Though the great moral malady renders its subjects insensible to their true state, a gracious, Divine influence is exerted upon their minds for the purpose of discovering to them their depravity and sin, and of leading them to the great Healer. If not healed, the fault is your own. You have received light, but have not improved it—have not thought on your ways—“This is the condemnation, that light” etc.
“The deaf may hear the Saviour’s voice,
The fettered tongue its silence break;
But the deaf heart, the dumb by choice,
The laggard soul that will not wake,
The guilt that scorns to be forgiven,
These baffle e’en the spells of heaven.”
2. That they had faith, more or less strong, in Christ’s ability and willingness to heal them.—So we must not only cast away all expectation of being healed by any other, but must cherish the assurance that Christ is both able and willing to make us whole. Not that we must remain from Him until the assurance becomes strong. The all-important matter is to get to Christ and, I say, it is a sense of His ability and willingness to heal and save as well as a sense of need that brings the sinner to Him.
3. They were healed by a most simple method.—A “touch” opened the communication between the springs of healing virtue that dwelt in Christ and their poor diseased selves. They could not boast of what they had done. All the glory of this work of healing was Christ’s. So in salvation (Romans 4:16). Believe! Live by faith, and a complete cure shall be wrought in thee!—H. M. Booth.