Summary: How does suffering affect our ability to minister? As Jesus is overcome with grief how is it that He ended up with compassion, not bitterness?
Back in 2006 my wife and I were presented with an opportunity—go to Kenya and minister to folks who have been unreached by other organizations. On one hand it was an obvious opportunity and a way to serve God by spreading the gospel. On the other hand I was scared to death. We were going to a place we had never been, meeting people we only knew over email and telephone. We would be in a different world doing things we had never done.
Turns out I should have been even more frightened than I was given what it was like and what happened afterwards—but that’s another story. My point is that we felt the Lord prompting us to go, but without all the answers we were going way outside of our comfort zone and into harm’s way.
Now, not everyone is going to be called to the bush in Africa, but as a disciple of Jesus you are called to something—as a part of becoming like the character of Jesus and being used in His grand plan to bring salvation to the world. And in the training program we have been enrolled in, there are often moments when we are stretched to the point of breaking and we wonder “what have gotten myself into?”
The disciples of Jesus were no different. And today as we look at Chapter 14 we see two of those situations, where Jesus purposefully puts his men into situations where they are helpless—but follows through with a show of His incredible power. It is humbling and encouraging at the same time. In this chapter we see them overcome, overwhelmed, then in over their heads!
We begin, with a point of personal tragedy for Jesus Himself.
1 – 12
We’ve seen the attitude of rejection towards Jesus from the religious leaders (they thought he was a rebel), Jesus’ family (they thought he was crazy), and the attitude of the people Jesus grew up with (they thought he was just an ordinary kid—nothing special). Jesus even had to speak in parables because of the general unbelief of the people. Now we see the rejection He faced by the government of Israel.
The man described here is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great (who had the babies of Bethlehem killed). He was one of four rulers over Palestine (tetrarch). The Herodian family was its own TV reality show, novella and soap opera of lies, deceit, murder, incest, cruelty, and immorality.
At the time of His rejection in Nazareth, Herod thought that Jesus was John reincarnated, so he gives us a flash back to the events that surrounded John’s death. Like Joseph’s brothers, Herod can’t seem to escape reminders of his sin.
Why had John been arrested—because he had condemned Herod for marrying Herodias, his great niece. She had been married for Philip, another half uncle. She divorced him to marry Herod, thus committing adultery and incest at the same time—two, two, two sins in one!
It was really Herodias who wanted John dead. Herod was afraid of John, Herodias was not. Birthday parties were a Greek custom, not Jewish. Mark tells us that a lot of civil leaders were present. Josephus tells us that the daughter’s name was Salome, the product of the marriage between Herodias and Philip. The dance was likely very sensual and was performed before a bunch of drunk men. Herod was perhaps expecting a demand for jewels or something—not the head of John the Baptist. But like checkmate in a game of chess, Herodias had coached Salome, a girl in her mid teens, what to ask for. Delivering the head of an executed prisoner was not unusual—but was for Jews. However, John was not given a trial, so was executed in a manner that was illegal under the Law.
That didn’t matter to Herod, who was more interested in impressing worldly leaders than being true to his own fears or to the Law. I would have said “true to his own values”, but I don’t think Herod had any except how to stay in power and grab more.
Later on, Herod’s own son, Agrippa, had him exiled in AD 39.
The miracle feast that takes place next, the only one recorded in all four gospels, is in stark contrast to Herod’s horribly immoral party.
Luke (Luke 9:10) tells us that Jesus went to Bethsaida, just outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. He wanted to be alone to mourn for John. There are lots of ways Jesus could have responded. He could have gotten angry and either publically denounced Herod as John had done, or even done something to him (He certainly had the power and authority). But that wasn’t Jesus’ mission. When it came time, Jesus would come up against those that rejected Him. As for Herod, when Jesus came before him after his arrest (Luke 23:9) he wouldn’t even talk to him.