29 August 2016

Matthew 14:1-12

"At that time Herod the ruler heard about Jesus; and he said to his servants, 'This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him." (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 11


Sex, religion and politics are a potent mix. Today's passage has all three swirling around Jesus, John the Baptist and Herod Antipas. And not surprisingly it ends badly.

When Herod the Great died in 4BC, Judea was divided between his sons Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Philip. Herod Antipas wanted the Jewish people to recognise him as their true king. He hoped that rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem would help him to achieve this ambition. But he had broken the law by marrying his brother's wife, Herodias, and John the Baptist rebuked him for it.

It wasn't just that John knew Herod was behaving immorally. He was also showing the people a different way. By offering baptism for the forgiveness of sins, John was providing an alternative to the temple. Moreover, his message about Jesus (Matthew 3:11-12) directs the people to someone very different from Herod. John's popularity saves him for a time but eventually Herodias, the woman at the centre of the scandal, seizes an opportunity and John is beheaded.

This is the background for what Herod said about Jesus. Many people thought Jesus was one of the great prophets of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), such as Elijah or Jeremiah, but Herod had a different theory. He said Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead with miraculous powers. Jesus must have been doing extraordinary things for Herod to resort to such an explanation.

Herod feared John's influence and his popularity, but Jesus was even more of a threat since he was able to perform remarkable miracles and he was the one John preached about. How far will Herod go to protect his position?

To Ponder

  • Have you ever been confronted with a difficult truth about yourself or your behaviour? What did you learn from this experience?
  • John the Baptist challenged Herod Antipas. What do you think is the right relationship between faith and politics?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Ainger

Caroline Ainger is a Methodist minister based in Liverpool. She has a passion for creative worship, social justice issues and international development.