Matthew 14 tells of Herod’s gruesome birthday party and Jesus’ desire to get away from it all. It starts with Herod:
On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. (Matthew 14:6-11.)
Herod’s birthday party’s final course was the platter carrying John the Baptist’s head.
John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matthew 14:12-13.)
Jesus and John were cousins whose ministry intersected, and Jesus apparently wanted some time alone to process the news of John’s death, perhaps to grieve and pray. His plans were thwarted from the start.
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:13-16.)
Compare the way Jesus treats his guests with Herod’s actions at his party. For Herod in his palace it was all about him, his desires and his reputation. For Jesus it’s all about those who came to be with him, following him to that remote place.
And then it came time to set the table.
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:17-21.)
Herod chose to murder John and serve his head on a platter. Jesus chose to heal the sick and serve them bread and fish to nourish them in that remote place.
Worldly and Heavenly Kingdoms
Matthew is a careful writer who – with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit – purposefully placed these two accounts side by side in his record of Jesus’ life. It’s a striking comparison of the ways of worldly kingdoms and the way of Jesus’ kingdom.
- Who does the king serve: himself (Herod) or his subjects (Jesus).
- What is important to the king: his reputation (Herod) or the needs of the people (Jesus).
- What is the business of the kingdom: debauchery (Herod) or deliverance (Jesus).
This informs your own life and the decisions you make in it. Where is your focus, who do you care for and show compassion for, what is your daily business?
You could be like Herod, offering up heads on silver platters. It might be sacrificing your conscience because friends or a job demand it, it might be choosing to avoid helping someone because you are more concerned with your reputation, it might be giving in to a temptation rather than resisting because (like Herod enthralled with his step-daughter’s dance) it’s easier to go with the flow than to put a stop to it.
Yet you have the Spirit of Christ in you, the Spirit of One who knows what you are going through.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15.)
You might think this doesn’t help you with your own temptations much, except the reassurance that Jesus empathizes with you. But look at this verse in context:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16.)
The fact Jesus never gave into the same temptations everyone faces does not merely mean he is able to empathize with you. It enables you to “hold firmly to the faith” and to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” where you will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
This is what Jesus has done for you, and because of it you are able to live according to the compassionate and caring ways of his kingdom rather than the self-centered and egotistic ways of the world.
Matthew has placed the choice clearly before you. Which kingdom would you choose?