Beheading of John the Baptist

(Matthew 14:1-12)

At the beginning of this chapter we see the circumstances that led to the beheading of John the Baptist. There are a few interesting point and lessons to be learned from this event, both historically and spiritually. The beheading of John the Baptist unfolded in the following manner.

First we see that John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod because John the Baptist had told Herod that it was unlawful for him to take his brother Phillip’s wife, Herodias, as his own. Basically John the Baptist told Herod he was committing adultery. Herod was angry and wanted to put John the Baptist to death, but he feared the people who held John the Baptist to be a prophet.

A feast was held for Herod on his birthday, and as an aside this is the only time in the New Testament that we see a birthday being celebrated. Evidently the idea of hold a birthday celebration goes back quite a long time. At this birthday feast the daughter of Herodias danced before Herod and all of his guests and this pleased Herod greatly. Now perhaps Herod had had too much to drink or was emotionally overcome by the event, but he then did what can only be described as a foolish thing.

Herod was so pleased or perhaps entranced by this dance that he offered the girl anything she wanted, even to the value of half of his kingdom. Indeed he swore an oath to the girl to give her whatever she wanted, and there were many witnesses to his oath. This was a rash statement made under the influence of emotion. He was certainly not thinking straight when making this statement.

Now Herodias, the mother of the girl, also bore a grudge against John the Baptist, because he too would have accused her of adultery. Seeing the opportunity she prompted her daughter to ask for the beheading of John the Baptist and to be given his head on a platter. Herod was sorrowful and realised the rashness of his oath and his statements. But he could not or would not back down and lose face in front of the guests and so ordered it to be done.

The lesson for us here in Herod’s example is that we must watch what we say. We should never make rash statements nor make any important decisions in the heat of emotion or the passion of the moment. We have been instructed to let our yes be yes and our no be no, (James 5:12) but we must first think through the consequences of our words. The tongue is a fire and no human being can control it as James also wrote. (James 3) We are fortunate that the Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to do the work of transformation in our lives to bring us into the likeness of God. No human being has the power to control the tongue. But through the working of the Holy Spirit over time, this may be achieved.

Finally we must take the advice of James once again when he said, “Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) Listen carefully to what is being said and then think it over before saying anything or making a decision. If the statement makes you angry or touches any emotion at all, do not make a decision while under the influence of emotion. You must stop and weigh things in the light and strength of reason, not emotion, and then you have a chance of making the right choice or saying the right words. Above all else, if it is an important decision, put it in the hands of the Lord with prayer to guide you. And wait for him to do so.

Who was John the Baptist?

(Matthew 11:7-15)

Jesus described John the Baptist saying, “…among those born of women there has risen no-one greater than John the Baptist.” (Vs. 11) This is high praise indeed coming from the Son of God, especially when we consider what John must have appeared like to the common man.

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and not in the towns or cities. He wore rough clothes made of camel hair and he ate nothing but locusts and wild honey and drank only water. A sparse and rather unusual diet indeed. Had he lived today he would have been called an eccentric, or possibly a nutter given what his appearance looked like and his way of life. And yet Jesus said of this rather rough and wild looking man that there was no-one greater than he amongst all of mankind.

In spite of his obvious eccentricities John the Baptist had a message that he preached and that message was from God. He taught the people about the ways of repentance and to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. And the people went out into the wilderness to hear what he had to say and to be baptised for repentance in the Jordan. The people recognised that the power of God was with John and so they went out of their way to go to him and hear the words of God. Even the Pharisees came to him to hear and be baptised, and John showed up their hypocrisy as Jesus later did too.

The message of John the Baptist about repentance is as important today as it was then. All who come to God must be repentant as this is the very first step of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Repentance from sins is one of the six key foundation teachings of the New Covenant as defined in Hebrews 6:1-2. It is by repenting that we are made ready to receive the truth of the New Covenant and to accept Jesus. Jesus said of John that, “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.'” (Vs. 10) The words John spoke to the people about repentance and baptism were to prepare them for the coming of Jesus and the ministry that was to follow.

Jesus also asked the people why they went out into the wilderness. Was it just to see the sights? That is, did they go to see, “A reed shaken by the wind?” (Vs. 7) No, they went to see and hear the words of John the Baptist. Now as mentioned already, he must have looked a rather odd person, and so the insight we can gain from that is that the word of God can come from anyone or anywhere. When Jesus said in verse 8, “Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses,” what he was showing here is that it is not necessary to wear fancy suits and to dress to the nines to get or to receive the word of God. In fact those who “dress to impress” are not doing so for the Lord but for man or for vanity.

Fancy clothes, fine jewellery and so on do not impress God and neither should we be. God is concerned only with the condition of our heart and our faith in his son Jesus Christ. Just because a minister dresses well does not guarantee that his teachings will be any better than one who does not. Ultimately we must look past the man and listen to the words, for this is what God does and what we must do too.

Finally we see that Jesus said in verse 13, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John…” In this statement Jesus is defining the end of a period of time. He said, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” and thus he showed that the end of the Old Covenant period ended with John. From that point on when Jesus began his ministry we saw the coming of the new age of the New Covenant period. And it came violently and with violence, for the New Covenant did not come into force until the violent death of Jesus Christ when he was sacrificed for our sins and raised for our justification.

John the Baptist Seeks Proof that Jesus is the Christ

(Matthew 11:1-6)

By this time John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod and was at the point of being executed. However, even John needed to know whether or not Jesus was the saviour to come. It is clear that Jesus had become well known for the many mighty works that he had done, and before him John was well known for his preaching to the people about a Christ who was to come. The word, Christ, means an anointed one.

The primary reason why John the Baptist arose was to bear testimony to the Christ who was to come and he needed to know for certain whether Jesus was the Christ or if there was another.

Now Jesus said that in the last days there would be many false prophets and false teachers who would claim to be the Christ. In Mark 13:5-6 he said, “And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” Now in the situation with John Jesus needed to provide proof of who he was and not simply tell John and his disciples that, “I am he” lest he be perceived to be one of these false ones.

So instead Jesus told John’s disciples to observe what he was doing. He said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offence at me.” (Verses 4-6) The proof he provided was not in his words but in his actions and deeds.

We see in other places when he talks of those who go about teaching and preaching that you will know them by their fruits. In Matthew 7:15-18 he said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” Using this analogy we see a good tree, or a good teacher, will not give bad fruit or bad teaching. But a bad tree or a false teacher can only bear bad fruit or evil teachings.

It is by what they do that you can assess whether the person and their teachings are good or not. What we saw when John’s disciples came to him was Jesus applying this same principle to himself. If they saw good being done and the good word being taught they could be confident that he was the Christ. But if they perceived his actions to be of evil intent then they should report back to John that he was not the Christ.

This shows great wisdom and insight by the Lord for he used his own test that he gave us to determine good teaching from evil on himself. Needless to say the disciples reported back to John what they had seen Jesus do and teach and John was fully convinced that Jesus was the Christ. We see elsewhere that in this knowledge of Jesus as the Christ, John said that Jesus would grow while John would fade as he had done what he was meant to do. His words were, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) And increase he did as he brought about the New Covenant by which all of mankind has the opportunity to be saved.

The Baptism of Jesus and John the Baptist’s Ministry

(Matthew Chapter 3)

Here we see the beginning of John the Baptists ministry. John came to do two things. He came to prepare the way for the Lord and to bear witness to Jesus as being the Christ. Was it necessary for him to do this? Probably not, but under the law a matter was considered true if two or more people witnessed it. And besides, it was prophesied that John would appear and do this work. He was the prophet that came in the spirit of Elijah as spoken of elsewhere.

Now we see John preach baptism as a sign for the repentance of sins, and this was very important. He introduced this process that was later carried forward into the New Covenant. John also made the point that it is not enough just to be baptised for repentance but you needed to be live a repentant life. He told the Jews that they could not simply rely on their genealogy to save them; they needed to “…bear fruit that befits repentance.” It is the same today. You cannot go through the motions and expect salvation; you need to live in accordance with the word.

Now the New Covenant did not exist in John’s time because it was not ratified and could not come into existence until after Jesus had died. The Old Covenant required the sacrifice of goats and bulls and the blood of these animals sufficed to do two things. Firstly they brought the covenant into existence & secondly they were the offering for sin. Jesus death was similar in that His blood brought the New Covenant into effect, but it was not an offering for sin but took away mans sin. To enter the New Covenant then we need to enter into Jesus’ death, which is done through baptism.

Now John also recognised Jesus was mightier than himself for he said when Jesus came for baptism that he (John) needed to be baptised by Christ. But we see in Jesus’ answer a very interesting response. Jesus said he needed to be baptised by John, “…for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Baptism is necessary to meet the requirements to fulfil all righteousness and without baptism this cannot be achieved. In Jesus’ case he did not need to be baptised, as John knew, but by being baptised Jesus provided an example for us all to follow. No person can say they do not need to be baptised because Jesus was not baptised. That is how important baptism is in the new covenant. Indeed baptism is the mechanism by which we enter the New Covenant through Christ Jesus. He said elsewhere that, “I am the door” and we need to enter by the door. We do that through being baptised into his death.

We also see that God the Father was pleased with Jesus and this process because God the Father gave his seal of approval saying from heaven, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”