The Fateful Promise: Matthew 14:1-12

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As we move through Matthew’s gospel looking at events that focus on Jesus, we come to an event where Jesus is more of a footnote in an event where the focus is completely different. In this event, Matthew records for us what happened to John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ forerunner in ministry. At this point of Jesus’ story, John the Baptist had been dead for a while, but Matthew breaks from Jesus’ story briefly to describe what happened to bring about John’s death.

While you probably know this story if you have spent any time in the gospels, let’s read it together and discover some things we can learn from what happened. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

At that time Herod, the ruler of Galilee, heard the reports about Jesus. So he said to his servants, “Jesus is John the Baptist, who has risen from the dead. That is why he can work these miracles.”

Sometime before this, Herod had arrested John, tied him up, and put him into prison. Herod did this because of Herodias, who had been the wife of Philip, Herod’s brother. John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to be married to Herodias.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they believed John was a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for Herod and his guests, and she pleased him. So he promised with an oath to give her anything she wanted. Herodias told her daughter what to ask for, so she said to Herod, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” Although King Herod was very sad, he had made a promise, and his dinner guests had heard him. So Herod ordered that what she asked for be done. 10 He sent soldiers to the prison to cut off John’s head. 11 And they brought it on a platter and gave it to the girl, and she took it to her mother. 12 John’s followers came and got his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

In this somewhat disturbing passage, we learn how John the Baptist died. While John had likely been locked up for many months before His death, the impression I get when reading this event is that Herod did not want John’s death. Instead, He simply wanted John’s silence.

However, in this event, as I move through the characters present, we can discover some powerful themes that hold true today.

When looking at John and his interaction with Herod, we learn in verse 5 that “Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they believed John was a prophet”. From the verses prior to this, we learned that John openly challenged Herod on his marriage to his brother’s wife. From this section of the passage, we see the big themes that sinful people are intimidated by someone who speaks truth. We also see the theme that sinful people hate those who speak out against them and/or their actions.

At least one of the other gospels that include this event indicate that Herod wasn’t directly intimidated or hostile towards John, but was pressured and prompted by Herodias, his wife, because she hated John for speaking out against their marriage. Herodias had divorced herself from Herod’s brother, and Herod had divorced his first wife so the two of them could get married, and John challenged the validity of this arrangement.

The question remains whether this was a wise move on John’s part or not. In the big picture, John’s ministry led into Jesus’ ministry, and while many people understood this, John still kept followers even after pointing people towards Jesus. From the big picture, John could have been led to do this as a way of removing himself from the picture and emphasizing to his followers that they should follow Jesus.

However, unless God’s Holy Spirit is telling you to challenge someone in this way, this is not a wise move. While you might feel justified in your actions, calling someone out publicly for their sins or actions will only bring you hate and hostility in return. By calling out someone for the bad in their life, you only polarize people, and, more importantly, you likely misrepresent God’s love in the process.

While God is opposed to sin in any and every way possible, when we look at Jesus, we see a picture that separates the sin from the sinner, and through Jesus, we see a God who loved sinners and who called them out of sin. Jesus helped first then challenged second whenever He met a sinner who was hurting and needed help. I believe all of God’s people are called to model God’s love through Jesus’ example in this way!

Moving to the second portion of the event, when we look at Herod’s interaction with his niece, or adopted daughter depending on how you want to frame this, we can learn that we should be careful what we promise. Our promises may ultimately trap us in ways we didn’t wish or expect.

I don’t think Herod would have made such an open-ended promise if he knew beforehand what Herodias’ daughter was going to ask for. Because he had made a public oath, and because the request was well within the confines of the oath, Herod trapped himself into doing something he really didn’t want to do with this promise.

However, as a side-note, it is interesting that Herod believes Jesus to be a resurrected John the Baptist before he believes that Jesus is someone else entirely. This tells us that Herod believed the God of the Jews was powerful and that He could resurrect people, and that Herod believed John was worth resurrecting.

However, probably the most challenging theme I see in this passage is with Herodias herself. This theme challenges us with a simple phrase: Be patient. If you want something bad enough, an opportunity will likely arise when you can have it, even if it isn’t within God’s will, and even if everything about it will harm you in the long run.

This theme is challenging, because it places our desires and God’s desires for us as competing. God is not going to force His desires onto us. Instead, God is going to let us make the decision for ourselves, even if He knows that our desires will ultimately hurt us in the long run.

I don’t think God will protect us from every stupid decision we make that is outside of His will. Instead, I believe that more often than not, God will let us learn the results of our actions firsthand and face the natural consequences of our decisions. The challenge for all of God’s people is to lay our desires aside, and ask God to give us His desires for our lives. While God won’t always ask us to do things that make sense from our perspective, God is interested in filling up His Kingdom with as many people as possible. God works from the perspective of eternity, and He wants as many people as possible redeemed from this sinful world.

God’s ultimate goal is to save you, to save me, and to save as many people from this world as possible! God does not want anyone to perish. Instead, Jesus came to die for humanity and for all who are willing to accept God’s gift of salvation!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, continue seeking God first and intentionally place His will and His purpose above your own. While we might not always understand why God prompts us to act in certain ways or do certain things, trust that God knows what He is doing and that His perspective will lead the most people possible into eternity.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. For a relationship with God to be personal, you must be spending time with God in prayer and study, and this must be personal and not dependant on someone else. God doesn’t want anyone standing between you and Him. He wants a personal relationship with you because He loves you with all His heart!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or get tricked out of following where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 25: While we usually look at Jesus’ life and one of the events in His ministry, Matthew’s gospel takes a brief detour to tell us about the fate of someone else in the first century, and Matthew details how this significant individual was killed.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

An Angel’s Ominous Greeting: Luke 1:26-38

Focus Passage: Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Read Luke 1:26-38 in context and/or in other translations on!

Tucked away in Jesus’ birth story, specifically in the angel’s visit to Mary, we find an interesting deviation from what normally happens when angel’s visit. While the message the angel brought to Mary was very unique, what I find fascinating is how the angel opens the conversation with Mary – because it is different from most of the other angel visits.

Usually what happens when an angel visits is that the person is probably shocked and the first words from the angel’s mouth are something like “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid”. While the angel does say this to Mary, this part of the message is left for after the initial greeting. In Mary’s case, the angel begins by saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v. 28)

What the angel says is among the highest compliments you can give someone. Receiving the message directly from an angel that says you are “highly favored” and that “the Lord is with you” is both incredibly encouraging, while also being a little overwhelming. Mary’s response is likely the response we would have to these words. Luke tells us how she responded: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (v. 29)

Mary is a little worried because she knows this sort of greeting only comes before a big challenge. Perhaps because the angel sees concern and hesitation in Mary, he decides to then follow up by saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” (v. 30)

What really stands out in how Luke includes this order of events is that unlike most people, it would seem like Mary was only afraid after hearing the angel’s greeting. Perhaps the angel appeared a split second before beginning to talk, but when we look at how Luke describes this (and he likely interviewed Mary personally to get this event in detail), we don’t see any fear from Mary about the angel’s presence – only concern over what the angel’s message was.

Mary stands out as a role model for us because in this passage, while she was a little concerned with how the angel opened the conversation, she was willing to hear the message God had for her.

God has a message for each one of us. While we likely won’t get a personal visit from an angel to share the message in detail, God does offer to share it through the Holy Spirit. All we must do is be open and willing to listen for it when it comes.

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Trapping Jesus with a Compliment: Matthew 22:15-22

Focus Passage: Matthew 22:15-22 (NCV)

15 Then the Pharisees left that place and made plans to trap Jesus in saying something wrong. 16 They sent some of their own followers and some people from the group called Herodians. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are an honest man and that you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what other people think about you, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But knowing that these leaders were trying to trick him, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” So the men showed him a coin. 20 Then Jesus asked, “Whose image and name are on the coin?”

21 The men answered, “Caesar’s.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

22 When the men heard what Jesus said, they were amazed and left him and went away.

Read Matthew 22:15-22 in context and/or in other translations on!

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the leaders of a number of different segments of society try to trick and trap Jesus. Most notable among these groups were the Pharisees. Perhaps this is because the Pharisees were the strongest or the largest of these groups, but whatever the reason, the Pharisees seemed to be the most opposed to Jesus and His ministry.

One of the tricks the Pharisees brought stands out in my mind as being truly exceptional. Of all the tricks and traps that were ever brought to Jesus, this one stands out as extra significant, and incredibly insightful. Matthew tells us this was carefully thought out. “Then the Pharisees left that place and made plans to trap Jesus in saying something wrong.” (v. 15)

For this trap, they team up with a group of people that they really dislike, but instead of focusing in on the actual question they ask, I find how they set the question up as being very fascinating.

Before asking the question, they set the stage by giving Jesus a compliment. In the last part of verse 16, the Pharisees start by saying, “Teacher, we know that you are an honest man and that you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what other people think about you, because you pay no attention to who they are.” This setup almost certainly tips Jesus off to the Pharisees insincerity. While Jesus probably already could tell this even before they begin talking, how these people set the stage for their question reveals their insincerity.

The insincerity comes from their first three descriptive phrases. First they address Jesus as “Teacher”, which is correct, but they have not really aligned themselves with what He taught. Next, they call Jesus “an Honest Man”, and while they knew this to be true from what they had seen, they were seeking out a way to make Jesus appear dishonest. Their ultimate question was designed to make Jesus appear dishonest to either God or to the government.

Lastly, these leaders describe Jesus as One who teaches “the truth about God’s way”. While this is also technically correct, nothing in the lives of these Pharisees says they believed this about Him. If they really believed Jesus spoke the truth about God’s way, they would obey and act upon what He taught. If they believed Jesus, they wouldn’t be bringing Him a trap.

This brings us to the idea that we should be cautious when anyone tries to compliment us in a way that is insincere or counter to their beliefs. We can learn from how these Pharisees open their challenge to Jesus that a trap is coming, and understanding how these leaders set up their question helps us be aware of traps that may come our way.

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Flashback Episode — Loving Each Other: John 13:31-38

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On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, immediately following Judas Iscariot leaving to get the soldiers and mob to arrest Jesus, we read in John’s gospel that Jesus wanted to teach something new to the remaining disciples. Now that the final pieces were in motion leading to the cross, Jesus begins sharing more openly and plainly with the disciples now that they only have hours left together.

Let’s read our passage for this episode and discover the first thing Jesus wanted to teach these disciples. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 13, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 31, John tells us that:

31 When he [Judas Iscariot] was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

In this short passage, Jesus both challenges Peter and He gives a new command to these disciples. Both of these sections in our passage are worth focusing in on, so in the time we have together let’s start with Jesus’ “new command” and see how far we can get.

I’ve heard it said that this new command is not really all that new. Loving God and loving our neighbor basically summarize both this command as well as all the other commandments in the Old Testament. With this line of thinking, Jesus doesn’t really say that this is a new command, but that He is reminding and reemphasizing a familiar command that was already given. It’s possible that the original Greek language supports this interpretation, however I don’t know this for certain since Greek is not one of my language specialties.

However, while this reminder and reemphasis angle on Jesus’ command makes sense on one level, what if this really was meant to be a new command? What if Jesus wanted to elevate the standard that His disciples would model?

In the original summary of all the commands, Jesus taught that loving God and loving our neighbor were the two commands that all the other commandments can be categorized into. Every other commandment could be grouped as either being an example of loving God, loving our neighbor, or some combination of both. But what if there was a group that was missing, or a group that would be easy to exclude?

When looking at how Jesus described loving God and our neighbor, we have a religious expert ask for clarification regarding how to define the idea of neighbor. From this question, Jesus shared the well known parable of the Good Samaritan, which concluded with the least likeable character being the most helpful – and the one who modeled loving a neighbor the best. From the Good Samaritan parable, we learn that loving our neighbor not only covers the neighborly commands of the Ten Commandments, but also that it covers helping strangers who are in need.

But what about those we know but we don’t really like or get along with? What about those people who seem to get under our skin and those people who know how to push all of our buttons?

In my own mind, it is in many ways easier to love and help a total stranger who is in need than to help someone I know who repeatedly keeps messing up or abusing the system. It is also easier to help a stranger than someone who I don’t agree with.

Jesus’ eleven remaining disciples were about as diverse as you could imagine. While no Samaritans were included, we have fishermen, a tax collector, and a zealot – who was someone intent on overthrowing the Roman government. In the broader group of followers, there were former prostitutes, Samaritans, and even some political and religious leaders. Jesus’ followers included people from any and every section of society.

In the command Jesus gives to His disciples, I see Him challenging His followers to love others simply because they are part of the human family. While loving our neighbor is a part of this, this also means loving those who are clearly acting, living, and believing differently than we do. This challenge is a challenge to love others because Jesus loved us, and not because of who the other person is or could be. We love others because Jesus loved us, and because God lives in our heart.

However, as I read our passage, I find it a little humorous that Peter seems to completely miss Jesus’ new command. Giving Peter the benefit of a doubt, the best we could give Peter is that he agrees but pushes this new command to the sidelines.

Peter, like many of the other disciples, is troubled by Jesus telling them that they cannot go with Him. Peter correctly assumes that Jesus could be referring to death, but Peter believes that He is devoted enough to stay by Jesus’ side to the very end.

However, while Jesus is present in Peter’s life, this is true. A little later this very night, when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus, Peter is the first to jump to Jesus’ defense. However, after Jesus was arrested, Peter begins to doubt and the doubt leads to denial. Peter wants to learn and know what happens to Jesus, but he also wants to maintain a level of anonymity while being nearby.

When we look at the story of the cross and how it breaks Peter’s life, we discover that we all share similarities with Peter. We all are willing to do a lot more than what ultimately happens, but when Jesus enters our lives, as we see Jesus do through the Holy Spirit after His resurrection, a Jesus-filled-Peter becomes an unstoppable force for God’s kingdom.

In our own lives, we are forgiven like Jesus forgave Peter, and we are called to love each other because Jesus has loved us. Jesus loved us not because of who we were or what we would become, but because of who God is. In our own lives, God has called us to love others because it is who we are when He is in our lives, and not because those we love will do anything differently. This is probably the greatest and most challenge command in the entire Bible – and God modeled it perfectly through Jesus!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to always seek God first and to intentionally love others like He loved us. We see God’s love for us through Jesus coming and dying on the cross in our place. He has called us to love others because He first loved us.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself and discover who God is and what He is like through the pages of the Bible. God wants a personal relationship with you and the best foundation to have for a strong relationship with God is a strong prayer and study life. Don’t let your relationship with God be filtered through or dependant on someone else’s relationship with God!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 25: Discover a new command Jesus gave, and how it is likely the most difficult command to apply in our Christian lives.

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