At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
3 For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
6 But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. 7 Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.
8 So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”
9 And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. 10 So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. 11 And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
13 When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”
18 He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. 20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. 21 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
34 When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, 36 and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.
In the chapter we spent the last three weeks in, Jesus was unleashing condemnation upon Israel for her unbelief and rejection of Him, and doing so through parables. In our passage this week, the stakes are raised even higher. The opposition to Jesus ministry, a ministry in which John the Baptizer played a part, has now become violent and deadly. In our passage today we see clearly the difference between two kingdoms.
The Feast of the Cannibal King (1-12)
Matthew breaks from telling the story of Jesus’ ministry to take us to Herod’s court. Word about Jesus has finally reached Herod, who rules a portion of Israel at the pleasure of the Romans. And this king is worried. He believes John the Baptizer is risen from the dead.
Now, it should stand out to us, that here is this awful, wicked man. A man descended from other men with the same name who have done monstrous evil, and when he hears about Jesus, he begins to think about resurrection. He doesn’t assume that it is someone like John (which was, of course, the reality of the situation). No, he assumes that John is risen from the dead, because Herod was terrified of John.
And why was Herod terrified of John? Because John had preached against his sin. Herod had married his brother’s wife, Herodias, which was forbidden by the law. And a furious Herod wanted to kill him. But Herod knew how popular John was so he only imprisoned him.
But on his birthday, Herodias’s daughter danced for Herod and he was so delighted by this he offered her anything, binding himself by an oath. And Herodias, even more furious at John and more cunning than Herod, demanded the head of John. More than anything in the entire tetrarchy of Herod, she wanted John dead.
Like Pilate, who reluctantly ordered Jesus killed, Herod is in a bind. He is forced to kill John. And his head was brought back to the king’s birthday party on a platter.
Here we have a cannibal feast of a demon king. This is what feasts at the table of demons are like. They consume God’s people. They destroy. Herod’s feast is an anti-eucharist. Just as his grandfather slaughtered innocent babies, this Herod feasts on righteous John. Here we see the inverse of the Lord’s table. Your body broken for me. Your blood shed for me.
The Feast of the Good Shepherd (13-21)
Jesus hears of what Herod has done, and gets out of dodge. It is not safe to be in the cities anymore. But the crowds keep coming to Him anyway. And seeing them, Jesus has compassion. Remember, these are people who have demonstrated they will not believe even after He does miracle upon miracle for them, but it doesn’t matter. Jesus sees their miserable condition and has mercy on them. It was starting to get dark, and the disciples want to send them home, because there is no food and shelter where they are. But Jesus tells the disciples to feed them. It is interesting, of course, that he tells them to feed the multitudes, because, after He ascends to rule at His Father’s right hand, their mission will be to feed His sheep. But right now, they are unable. All they can find is five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus has them bring the food to Him, then he tells the people to sit down in the green pasture, and looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves to give to the disciples to distribute. Everyone has their fill and the five loaves become twelve baskets of fragments. That Matthew takes the time to tell us it is exactly twelve baskets sure seems as though the Holy Spirit is making the point that Jesus has provided enough food for all of Israel to eat.
And Matthew goes on to show us that there were five thousand men, and probably at least as many women and children. Five thousand men, too is an interesting number, as that was the average size of a Roman legion. Here you can imagine a king, feeding His army of Himself, there in the desolate wilderness. It you hated Jesus, Jesus having an entire legion at His command that he could miraculously keep fed had to be a terrifying prospect. Here we have a feast like the eucharist. A king feeding his loyal troops of himself. My body broken for you. My blood shed for you.
After Passover Comes An Exodus (22-36)
Jesus sends His disciples ahead of Him to the other side of the sea, and having fed His people sends them home. And, now alone, He goes to the mountain to pray. The disciples, many seasoned commercial fishermen who spent their entire life on this sea are trapped in a storm. By the time Jesus gets to them it is just before dawn (the fourth watch of the night). And there Jesus is walking across the waves. They are terrified and think it is a ghost. If any of us were in a terrible storm and saw someone walking across the water, we might think the same thing. But Jesus calls out to them. “Have courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Peter responds to Jesus call. He asks Jesus to command Him to come out if it is really Him. So Jesus does. And Peter, in faith, steps out into the water and begins to walk across it. This is amazing. We can maybe understand that Jesus could miraculously walk across the water, but Peter is not Jesus. And even though he doesn’t make it very far, the fact that he even did at all should awe us.
Nevertheless, fear overtakes Peter and he begins to sink. And Jesus catches him, rebuking Peter’s doubt. This will not be the last time that Peter doubts, but there will come a time where Peter’s faith will be strong and He will do the works of Jesus without doubt. That Peter walked on water for a brief moment is a foreshadowing of the great works the apostles will do in Jesus’s name.
As soon as Jesus gets in the boat, the storm ceases. Unlike the other storm Jesus calms, this time He does it without saying a word. And this disciples worship Him. They know that He is not merely a man. He is not merely a prophet. He is not asking God to do these things. He is God doing these things.
And when they reach the land of Gennesaret, the multitudes there show up as well, and again He has compassion and heals them just by allowing them to touch the hem of His garment.
What do these things mean for us? The two feasts have quite a bit of meaning. As I mentioned before, Herod’s feast is the antithesis, the opposite of the Lord’s Supper. It is a table of demons. There Herod says, “your life for mine. Your body broken for me. Your blood shed for me.” Herod’s kingdom is like all the kingdom’s that do not bow the knee to Jesus Christ. They are kingdoms that consume. Kingdoms that eat away at everything. Kingdoms that where the weakest and smallest and chewed up and spit out by the strongest and biggest. Kingdoms where life is miserable for all except for those at the very top. Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like the way our country operates? Maybe it was not this way when you grew up, but does it sound like us now? Where the people at the very top rob poor, working people? Where the weakest and tiniest are destroyed so their moms can have good lives and the economy can keep women in the workforce? What is abortion if not a feast just like Herod’s? Your body broken for me. Your blood shed for me.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is another table to feast at. We can instead feast at the table of the Shepherd King. Where the Good Shepherd calms the storm to lead us by still waters, where the Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures. Where He breaks His own body for us. Where He pours out His own blood for us to have life. A table in which we eat to go and do likewise. A table in which we are trained to say “my life for yours.” Imagine an entire nation made up of people who feast at this table instead. Imagine how good a place like that is.
And that is what Jesus has laid before us to do. To bring the people of our town out from the table of demons to feast at the Good Shepherd’s table. To learn what it means to show mercy and not sacrifice. That is what Christ is calling you to do.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.