The Book of Matthew

The Death of John the Baptist – Part Three


THEME: John’s Trust
In this week’s study we see a contrast in character.
Matthew 14:3-5
For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 


We have already learned about John’s strange appearance and his message of preparation for Jesus’ work from earlier references to John the Baptist in Matthew. Here we learn several things about John’s character.
1. John was a righteous man. Mark makes this point in his parallel account, explaining that “Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” (Mark 6:20). He means that although Herod was far from righteous himself, he recognized righteousness in John and tried to protect him. Matthew shortens Mark’s account and does not mention John’s righteousness explicitly. But he has Herod testify to the same thing indirectly by reporting his fear that John had been raised from the dead and now possessed miraculous powers (v. 2). He imagined that God had thus vindicated the character of his prophet.
2. John was an outspoken man. It is one thing to be righteous, it is another thing to be outspoken about it, especially when standing before the great and powerful of this world. John was both.
Charles Colson tells what he witnessed when he would bring visitors to meet Richard Nixon when Nixon was President of the United States and Colson was Special Legal Counsel to the President. Colson would gather the guests in a room outside the Oval Office, where they would be talking to each other about what they were going to tell the President when they were face to face. “It was always the same,” Colson wrote.
In the reception room they would rehearse their angry lines and reassure one another. “I’ll tell him what’s going on. He’s got to do something.”
When the aid came to escort us in, they’d set their jaws and march toward the door. But once it swung open, the aide announcing, “The president will see you,” it was as if they had suddenly sniffed some intoxicating fragrance. Most became almost self-conscious about even stepping on the plush blue carpet on which was sculpted the Great Seal of the United States. And Mr. Nixon’s voice and presence—like any president’s—filled the room.
Invariably, the lions of the waiting room became the lambs of the Oval Office.1
It is sad to report that none were more meek than the religious leaders. Of all people, they should have been the most outspoken. But they too wilted in the face of worldly power. Such is the awe of majesty that high office evokes. But John the Baptist did not cower before it. He spoke out boldly and continued to do so, repeatedly saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (v. 4).
3. John was a courageous man. John was also courageous, for he could not have failed to know the danger he was placing himself in by continuing to denounce Herod for his marriage. Kings do not like to be confronted. Even more dangerous was the hatred of Herodias that would have boiled behind the scenes. John knew people well enough to be aware of what was happening, but he continued to speak out and eventually died for his convictions.
John’s fate reminds of us of the kind of world we live in. It is a world that has rejected Jesus and will reject his best disciples too. The world does not want to be told that it is sinful, that it has broken the holy law of God, that it needs a Savior who is Jesus. But those who walk in the footsteps of John and of the other saints who have preceded us will be as bold as these men were. How are any persons to be saved if we do not speak the truth about sin and preach the gospel to them boldly?
1 Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn, Kingdom in Conflict (Grand Rapids: a joint publication of William Morrow and Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), p. 307.


Give three characteristics of John the Baptist. 
Why would Herod fear John for his righteousness?

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