Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,Matthew 14:4
It is an hard condition that the necessity of our calling casts upon us, in some cases, to run upon the pikes of displeasure Prophecies were no burdens, if they did not expose us to these dangers. We must connive at no evil; every sin unreproved becomes ours.
Reference.—XIV. 4-8.—W. Lefroy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 118.
No sign of a nation perishing is so sure as the corruption of woman—Messalina was more ominous than Nero, Herodias than Herod.
—Dr. John Ker.
To be nameless in worthy deeds, exceeds an infamous history. The Canaanitish woman lives more happily without a name than Herodias with one. And who had not rather have been the good thief than Pilate?'
—Sir Thomas Browne.
References.—XIV. 10.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 109. XIV. 10-12.—F. E. Paget, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 221.
They told Jesus. They did something before that. They took up the body of their master, the Baptist, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. They were two men. They had conveyed and expressed the doubt of their imprisoned master; they said to Jesus, 'Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another? This is our master's question, and we wish to take back a reply.' At the moment of the text their stern, austere, commanding master was dead, killed, beheaded by a cruel sword. When they took up the body and buried it they went and told Jesus; they who had once been the bearers of a doubt were now the bearers of a fact that did little to dissipate that doubt. They went from one master to another, and they went along the road of misery—a well-frequented path. They transferred their allegiance from the Baptist to the Saviour of the world, and they joined hands with Him, so to say, over the dead body of their master.
Is this the only text in the New Testament which represents the truth that men come to Jesus Christ in trouble? It is not, but I think it is the jewel; I believe there is no brighter diamond in all the cabinet of grace. They came to Jesus in trouble; they had a tale to tell, they had a story full of blood to relate to this unique Listener. There are certain people to whom we do go in trouble; we go to them by a kind of natural right of instinct; we are sure they will understand, we are specially sure that they will listen to us: and there is a listening that is sympathy, and there is a sympathy that is a resurrection. They went and told Jesus.
I. There must be something about the dear Jesus that drew everybody to Him who had a tale of sorrow to tell. Once a message was sent to Him to the effect that' he whom Thou lovest is sick'. Why did they not go to some other man? Why did not the suffering sisters call in some neighbourly helper? No matter what his name or what his vocation, he is a man, he is human and by so much he will sympathize: go, tell him. Why go a mile or two when your neighbour is next door? Your neighbour may be a thousand miles away. Always discriminate between proximity and identity in all its deepest significance as a sympathetic ministry. What a tribute to Jesus that He could listen to men's trouble! Let such listening be one of His credentials.
II. Go to tell Jesus about your successes. The disciples returned to Him and said, 'Master, even the devils were subject unto us through Thy name'. See the radiance of their faces, see how they misconstrue the kingdom of heaven, see in what an elementary atmosphere they live and move and have their being;. 'Lord, even the devils.' They thought He would applaud them, they thought He would stand up His full stature and say, 'I told you it would be so, you must believe Me ever after this; this is exactly what I prophesied, and I call upon you to bear witness accordingly '. That was not the Son of God. What did He do? He said, 'Rejoice not that the devils are subject unto you, but rejoice rather that your names are written in the book of life'; and their brows fell, their chief toy was taken from them, they were disappointed. We always report the wrong thing. We tell of numbers, statistics, and balance-sheets, and great successes, and wonderful funds a quarter of a million strong, and half a million, and a whole million; and Jesus says, 'Rejoice not in your million-fold funds, but rejoice rather that you have brought a blind soul into the light and a bound soul into liberty'.
III. They went and told Jesus about their zeal for His cause, they almost outran one another in the race; it was who was to be there first to tell Jesus all about it. About what? 'Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade him.' Jesus would be delighted, Jesus would say, 'My dear allies and brethren, how faithful you are, how strongly I am lieutenanted by such men as you! You forbad the man who was casting out devils in My name; I congratulate you, I will telegraph this over all the spaces of the universe.' Nothing of the kind; that was not the Son of God. He said, 'Forbid him not'; He went dead against the whole policy of the crude zealous, undisciplined disciples. They were always doing foolish things, they were often doing the wrong; thing, they were prone to set the pyramid on its apex. The same spirit prevails Today. Do not laugh at these centuries-old people, they are living now, all the men are living now.
'Casting all your care upon Him'—why? 'For,' or because, 'He careth for you'. Not because He is great, majestic, infinite, incomprehensible; these are more or less empty words in such circumstances as my soul's need. But the Apostle says, 'Go to Him because He wants you to go, because He is waiting for you to go, take all your tears and leave them with Him, all your sorrow, for, because, He careth for you.' The shepherd that cares for the flock will abide with it all the night, though the wind be troubled by the howling of the wolf.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 40.
References.—XIV. 12.—Mark Guy Pearse, Jesus Christ and the People, p. 212. XIV. 12; XXVIII. 8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 269. XIV. 13-21.—W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 268. J. Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 74. XIV. 13-36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3046.
Christ had sought retirement by crossing the lake for two reasons, the murder of John, and the return of the Apostles from their mission. The need for rest is emphasized in St. Mark's Gospel.
There were crowds because of the approach of the Passover, and these crowds outran them round the head of the lake, so that when the boat neared the landing-place, they were all there, and the hope of retirement and privacy had gone. So our text is very emphatic as showing us a glimpse into our Lord's heart, in circumstances that would have annoyed most of us.
I. The Unwearied Toil and Endless Patience of the Master.—How valuable these and the like hints are of Christ's true humanity. His weariness in body, His longing for quiet and repose of mind, and how gladly He puts it aside without a word of reproach for intruding on His leisure, or a word of regret that it is so broken in upon.
II. The Penetrating Look.—He saw the multitude. Why was compassion the emotion? Possibly this refers primarily to their weary travel-stained appearance. The visible taken as a symbol. So, a crowd is ever a pathetic sight.
III. The Compassion of Christ.—If we could see a man as he is we should pity. Christ's eye beholds all our hidden evils and sorrows, and the result is pity, not aversion, not anger, not indifference.
The true human sympathy of Jesus. This sympathy was a spring of His action. Some of His miracles are drawn out by entreaty, and some are wrought by His unsought love—spontaneous. This pity is the revelation of God. This pity is eternal. This pity is extended to each of us.
IV. The Work to which Compassion Leads.—(1) The healing—His care for the body. (2) The teaching—His revelation of the greatness of His compassion. It comes before we ask, is brought near to each of us, but cannot be forced upon us. Take it, and we become of His flock, the Lamb which was slain and is alive for evermore.
References.—XIV. 14.—H. M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 94. XIV. 14-16.—J. Flanagan, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 291. XIV. 14-33.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2925. XIV. 15-21.—Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 217.
The All-sufficiency of Christ
The miracle was meant for a token of Christ's Messiahship, no doubt. But, also, it was the natural expression of His real loving care for men's bodily wants, and, in that aspect, is along with the others quite invaluable. Also it was meant as a symbol. He is the Bread for men's souls. And so regarded, the words of the text may carry lessons not unimportant in their bearing upon the great task of the Church to hold forth the Bread of life to the whole world. The Church has enough to feed the world.
I. The All-Sufficiency of Christ—He is the Bread of life, and is enough to satisfy the desires of every single soul. It addresses itself to the great primal wants universal, and deep as manhood, the sense of sin, the longing for deliverance, the gropings after God, the need of guidance, enlightenment, authority. This all-sufficiency of Christ is (1) shown in the very nature of the message; (2) attested by the experience of all Christians, for if one heart can so be satisfied, then the world must be; (3) confirmed by the history of His Church. There are many failures, but successes enough to show the divinity of the message. (4) The Gospel in its development is the natural root of all progress for society. 'They need not depart.' The relations between Christianity and moral, social progress are clear enough. The Gospel develops into all moral, social, political reforms and perfections and enters every sphere of human life. But the relations between the Church and these have been wrong on both sides. Christian men have tended to neglect them, and others have shoved Christianity on one side
II. Adequacy of our Resources.—They are sufficient if Christ's command be observed: (1) if all are occupied; (2) if each acts in the spirit of Scripture; (3) if we are conscious of our own inadequacy; (4) if we bring them to Christ.
References.—XIV. 16.—H. C. Shuttleworth, The Church of the People, p. 40. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 311. Archdeacon Colley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 253. P. McAdam Muir, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 369. J. Marshall Lang, Sermon, 1887, 'They Need not Depart,' p. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3046. XIV. 17, 18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 453. XIV. 19.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 273. XIV. 19, 20.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew—IX.-XVII. p. 282; see also Sermons Preached in Manchester, p. 354. XIV. 19-21.—J. Martineau, Hours of Thought on Sacred Things, p. 164.
But the fact that there were twelve baskets full of fragments, after five thousand had been fed, did display the resources of the Saviour, whose we are and whom we serve; and displayed them for our comfort and encouragement. As we look at those well-filled baskets of fragments, we perceive them to be a reminder of the truth that giving does not impoverish God, nor withholding enrich Him. And that, surely, is a reflection worth meditating upon. God has given us much, in manifold ways: yet His resources are not exhausted. Indeed, they are scarcely touched; for there are twelve baskets full of fragments left—more to be bestowed than has been received. What a word of cheer for the life that lies before us!
I. The thought here expressed is true in regard to the material things of life. The resources of Nature have been amazingly displayed and developed in the past. 'As for the earth, out of it cometh bread; and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires; and it hath dust of gold.' Ana men have delved in and cultivated the earth these many years, so that the world's myriad inhabitants have been fed and enriched. But we may be assured that what is to come out of the earth is immeasurably more than has hitherto been extracted.
Sometimes philosophers and savants would scare us by gloomy prophecies of the exhaustion of those supplies upon which we depend for our very existence day by day. The earth is to be so impoverished that it will not yield its increase, and men of science will have to extract solid means of subsistence out of thin air. Our coal and iron strong-rooms are being steadily depleted of their wealth. The limits of the gold and silver output are within sight. And then what shall we do? We may be satisfied that He who so arranged matters that there were twelve baskets full of fragments after the five thousand had been fed with a handful of barley loaves and fishes will not fail the men who trust in Him now.
There are twelve baskets of fragments remaining.
II. But this fact of superabundant blessing is true in regard to spiritual things. The Almighty has infinite resources, and we may confidently anticipate greater spiritual victories, wider religious conquests, more enduring Gospel triumphs, in the future than any the Church has known, even in the palmiest of the days which lie in the sunny and azure past. 'What hath God wrought!' exclaimed England's greatest evangelist, echoing Balaam's shout. And truly God had wrought much. It is said that at Bennecour, in France, there are steep, stony slopes which formerly only produced paving-stones; but now those slopes grow all varieties of fruits—apricots, cherries, black currants, green peas, asparagus. The soil has been scientifically treated, with almost incredibly successful results. So was it, spiritually, in the days of Wesley and his itinerants. They treated the hard, rocky human soil of Britain religiously and evangelically; and the glorious result has become historic. But how much has happened since! After all that God had wrought, there were twelve baskets full of fragments remaining. In Him all fullness dwells, and He has proved that He possesses inexhaustible treasures of power and truth.
III. And, lastly, this consoling thought of the abounding sufficiency of Divine resources is true in regard to personal needs.
We can all say, 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us'; and not only helped us, but helped us bountifully. For God 'giveth liberally'; our 'cup runneth over'; it is not half-filled, or even brimming full; it is more than full. We could, most of us, live on less than we have. Our necessities have all been met, and undeserved luxuries have been bestowed upon us. Notwithstanding which, there are twelve baskets full of fragments remaining. Let fear and all its trembling Kith and kin be evicted from heart and mind. Looking back, some of us may well wonder how our manifold necessities have been supplied through many and many a year. God's protection has been vouchsafed. Life is full of risks; we are in peril with every breath we draw. The prick of a pin, the scratch of a thorn, a breath of air, a speck of dust—all these may be more potent than sword-thrust or cannon-shot for our destruction. Verily we live with the sword of Damocles suspended ever over our heads. And it is only by the good providence of God that the fragile hair by which it has been suspended all these years has not been severed. What then? Are God's resources for our preservation and protection exhausted? Surely not. We may step out bravely, 'leaning upon the top of our staff,' which is the tested promise, 'He careth for you'. He who provided in the years gone by has twelve baskets of fragments still available.
—Herbert Windross, The Life Victorious, p. 3.
References.—XIV. 22, 23.—Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 228. XIV. 22-33.—J. Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 87. A. B. Davidson, Waiting Upon God, p. 231. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 282. XIV. 22-36.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 298. XIV. 23.—Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 195. XIV. 24.—T. L. Cuyler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. 1896, p. 286. XIV. 24, 25.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 272. XIV. 24-27—J. H. Newman, Christ Upon the Waters, p. 3. XIV. 25.—J. H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 393. XIV. 26.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 957.
He Said, Come
First we must lay down this as a certain truth: Peter made a brave attempt and partly failed in it, but the having made it, though with partial failure, is to his eternal honour.
I. Notice that all the Twelve were in darkness and storm, and this by no act or deed of their own, but by their Lord's command, and by His overruling Providence.
But of these Twelve one, by his own act and deed, desired to be nearer to His Lord, and to be more like Him. All in a certain sense were then like Him, all in the storm; but yet with a difference too. He, alone and undefended; they, protected by the ships. He, standing by His own power on the waves; they, borne up by the vessel. Peter desires, alone of them all, to be more like Him still. He will leave the rest, so he may be nearer to his Lord. He will have none of the shelter of the ships, so he may have the upholding of His Master.
'Peter said unto Him, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee upon the water.' Will that Lord, Who knoweth all things, call the offer rash, presumptuous, boastful? Will He command the Apostle to remain where he was placed, and not to court unnecessary dangers, and leave the safeguard that he had? Not so; 'He saith unto him, Come'.
II. But with Peter's leaving the ship his difficulties commenced. Then first he began to understand how boisterous was the wind, and how unruly the sea; then first he comprehended his own weakness. And because he there stopped, therefore he began to fail. He should have gone on, and leant more and more upon the strength of that arm on which he had begun to lean. And yet, even then, he was the true and loving servant. He cried out, it is true: but to Whom? Not to his companions, but to the Giver of all help. He did not seek to get back to the boat, he pressed forward all the more to his Lord.
Remember Peter's prayer. There cannot well be a shorter, for it contains only three words,'Lord, save me'. There cannot be a more effective one, for on the instant it brought Omnipotence to his aid.
'And immediately.' One naturally pauses there, for it was not immediately that the Lord heard the prayers even of His truest followers. The nobleman of Galilee, and the Syrophenician woman lead the band of those who have to ask again and again before they have been heard. And yet how the comfort they had besought was delayed, while a prayer of three words finds it immediately! yes, and that although it were confessedly a prayer of weak faith. But there was a reason for this, a reason set forth fourteen hundred years before in the Jewish law. All the sacrifices offered to the Lord were to be without spot or blemish. But there was one exception. A free-will offering needed not to be so; why was this? Doubtless to show the infinite value in God's eyes of a sacrifice which is not made of necessity, but only because of the willing heart of the giver. And so of St. Peter's free-will offering now. Because it was a free-will offering, because not for the sake of any worldly benefit, as the centurion and the Syrophenician woman, but only for the sake of being with the Lord, he made it; therefore, was there an immediate answer to his prayer.
III. And it was with no stern rebuke that Jesus rebuked the weakness of His disciple. 'He caught him by the hand, and said, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?' We know what wonders one glance of that loving eye has wrought; we see what strength one touch of that loving hand can give. So to be upheld by it, so to lean on it, that is the privilege of those who go out into the storm; who leave the ship's company to go to the Lord of the ship; who would walk upon the water to go to Jesus.
—J. M. Neale, Occasional Sermons, p. 144.
References.—XIV. 28.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 305. XIV. 28-31.—N. Adams, Christ a Friend, p. 143. XIV. 28-33.—J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 113. XIV. 29.—C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 226.
The sincere Protestant accepts the new revelation; he piously abandons what God has taught him to recognize as error, and he gathers strength by his fidelity. The insincere Protestant, forgetting the meaning of the names under which he was enlisted in the war against falsehood, closes his eyes and clings to his formulas. Therefore, like St. Peter failing through want of faith, he finds the ground turn to water under his feet. His mortal eye grows dull. His tongue learns to equivocate.
Reference.—XIV. 30.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 154.
'I have been reading the New Testament,' says Eckermann in his Journal for 1831, 'and thinking of a picture which Goethe showed me lately, where Christ is walking on the water, and Peter coming towards him, on the waves, begins to sink, in a moment of faintheartedness.' "This," said Goethe, "is one of the most beautiful legends, and one which I love better than any. It expresses the noble doctrine that man, through faith and hearty courage, will come off victor in the most difficult enterprises, while he may be ruined by the least paroxysm of doubt."'
References.—XIV. 31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 246; vol. xxxi. No. 1856; vol. xxxvi. No. 2173; vol. li. No. 2925.
I. Here is the adequate cause for the miracles narrated in the Gospels. Christ, the Son of God, must manifest His Divine character, and He manifested it chiefly in three ways:—
1. By His holy doctrine, in which He taught all men to love God, Who is Truth, Righteousness, Purity, and Charity, and to love one another as brothers.
2. By His absolutely holy and stainless life.
3. By His power over the material universe around Him, ending in His resurrection from the dead. Had He not shown this power, there would have been something lacking.
II. Consider the fact that miracles are not attributed in the Bible to all great teachers.
John the Baptist, who was the greatest representative of the Prophets, wrought no miracles. But in Christ we see one Whose shoe latchet John was not worthy to bear. Had Christ wrought no miracles His opponents would have made that a reason for disbelieving Him when He said, 'I and the Father are One'. They would have asked how it was that He Who bade all men honour the Son as they honour the Father, showed no sign that He was possessed of power over nature greater than that of other men.
III. Note that the miracles attributed to Christ are all worthy of Christ, they are works of mercy and beneficence. They are works which show that hunger and thirst, disease and death are things temporal, which are in God's good time to pass away.
The miracles were an essential feature in the great work of our Incarnate Lord, in bringing about the chief event in the world's history. They are established by historical testimony of the most trustworthy kind. They accord with reason. Without them we should have been less able to accept the testimony of Christ about Himself. The record of them fills our hearts and minds with faith, hope, and love, for how can we do less than believe in, trust and love that Lord of Whom it is said, 'They brought unto Him all that were diseased, and besought Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment, and as many as touched were made perfectly whole'.
—Canon Charles Bodington, The Twelve Gates of the Holy City, p. 155.
Illustration.—We say that all portents are contrary to nature, but they are not so. For how is that contrary to nature which happens by the will of God, since the will of so mighty a Creator is certainly the nature of each created thing? A portent, therefore, happens not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know as nature.
—St. Augustine, City of God, book xxi. chap. viii.
—Canon Charles Bodington, The Twelve Gates of the Holy City, p. 157.
References.—XIV. 36.—W. J. Knox-Little, The Journey of Life, p. 177. XV. 1-13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2487. XV. 1-20.—J. Morgan Gibbon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 184. XV. 2.—J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 28. XV. 8.—T. G. Selby, The Strenuous Gospel, p. 296. XV. 9.—W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, pp. 212, 224, 235. XV. 10-31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2597. XV. 11.—T. G. Selby, The Cross and the Dice-Box, p. 241.
And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.
For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.
Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.
And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger.
And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.
And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
He said, Bring them hither to me.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.
And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased;
And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.