When the Truth Invites Hostility
Passage: Matthew 13:52– 14:12
Last Sunday, we finished Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus compared the kingdom to treasure hidden in a field. The value of Jesus’ kingdom surpasses all other treasures. Our joy in the kingdom leads to great sacrifice for the kingdom. Also, from the riches of understanding the kingdom, Jesus’ disciples help others see God’s plan to save. From the old and the new, we can teach others how God redeems through Jesus.
But this is not how everybody receives the kingdom. Some harden hearts. Some refuse to see the treasure that Jesus is. Some continue to oppose his kingdom. That’s what we encounter today. Jesus will face opposition from fellow Jews in his hometown. John the Baptist will face opposition from people in high places. In both stories, though, we’re reminded of an important lesson: treasuring the truth of the kingdom will invite hostility. Let’s read God’s word together, starting in verse 53...
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. 1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that’s why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him [to Herod], “It’s not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
Jesus Opposed by His Hometown
Treasuring the truth of the kingdom will invite hostility. Jesus warned his disciples about this earlier in chapter 10. But now we see it play out in the life of Jesus and John. These two stories build on the rising opposition against Jesus and those who belong to his kingdom. Eventually, it will reach the height of crucifying the Lord himself. But the hatred is already building, even among those who grew up with Jesus.
In the first scene, we find Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth. Luke 2:40 tells us that’s where Jesus “grew up and became strong and filled with wisdom.” Matthew tells us that Jesus would teach in their synagogue, such that he’d leave the people astonished, verse 54 says. That’s a shorter way of repeating what was said earlier after the Sermon on the Mount. 7:28, “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
The amazement isn’t due to Jesus’ rhetorical flourish, but to his commanding grasp of the Scriptures. Most scribes built their teaching on the so-called experts of their day. Jesus is his own authority—“You’ve heard that is was said, but I say to you…” What authority! Do you ever feel this way when reading Jesus’ teachings? Does he leave you astonished? How many times have I said, “I would’ve never seen that in the Scriptures were it not for Jesus!”
Amazement is a good thing. What’s not good is trading that amazement for skepticism of Jesus. Listen to the questions in 54: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary and are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Now, in one sense, questions like this remind us of Jesus’ true humanity. Some in church history have tried to deny Jesus’ humanity. That was an early heresy called Docetism, the idea that Jesus’ body was but mere semblance. But listen to those who grew up with him. There wasn’t a doubt in their minds that he was human.
What they have trouble grasping is the source of his authority and power—how is he as truly man able to teach this way, heal this way. But what seems initially like mere curiosity turns into a deeper skepticism that becomes evident in verse 57: “they took offense at him.” The verb here is where we get our word, scandal. They were scandalized by Jesus. Which reminds us of Isaiah’s prophecy—Isaiah 28:16 God lays in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.
The same word appeared in 11:6. Jesus told John the Baptist, “Blessed is the one who is not offended [scandalized] by me.” Thankfully, we find John the Baptist staying the course. But not these people. Jesus’ own hometown rejects him.
Jesus experiences the same opposition that Jeremiah once faced. Jeremiah was from the town of Anathoth (Jer 1:1); and it was the people of Anathoth who hated Jeremiah’s message (Jer 11:21; 12:6). Like Jeremiah, Jesus says, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” The disciples need to know that Jesus’ rejection comes as no surprise. This is how Israel treated the prophets.
Now, we might ask, “What offends them so much?” Well, Luke 4 gives a great example. It’s a great example because it shows Jesus teaching in Nazareth. Jesus reads from Isaiah 61—all is good. He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.” They marvel. They even speak well of Jesus, Luke tells us…until he addresses their pride.
Luke 4:25-29, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah…and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” Then Luke tells us that when they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. They rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”
For them, Israel was first. Israel was entitled to God’s blessing. Israel was better than those Gentiles. But Jesus says, “Not so fast.” God turned to the Gentiles when Israel rejected his saving purpose, and he’ll do it again. You’re not better or more deserving of God’s mercy. The gospel says that in your sins, you’re just like them. You need God’s salvation as much as the Gentiles. That’s why Jesus came to save us all. Our heritage can’t save us. Our works can’t save us. Only Jesus’ cross can save us.
They didn’t want to hear that. The truth that Jesus teaches isn’t fitting their preconceived ideas about the kingdom. Jesus doesn’t fit their mold of what a Jewish messiah ought to be. So, they find his words offensive—enough to run him off a cliff!
It’s no wonder that verse 58 adds, “he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” It’s not that he lacked the power—Mark 6:5 says he did heal a few sick people there. This also doesn’t mean that Jesus never healed where faith isn’t enough—Matthew records several healings by Jesus that mention nothing about the faith of the individual. Rather, Jesus’ miracles revealed the power and presence of the kingdom. But he’s not giving the kingdom to those who reject the King. He withholds the blessings of his kingdom from those who harden themselves against him.
We can learn a couple of things from this first account with Jesus. For starters, how do you respond to Jesus when he doesn’t fit your mold? All of us have assumptions we bring to the table. Those assumptions come from a combination of upbringing, historical tradition, cultural experience, sinful preferences, religious convictions. Then we meet Jesus; and often what happens is that we end up trying to force Jesus into a mold shaped by those underlying assumptions. Only, he’s immovable. You must be conformed to his mold, his image, his truth. At that point, what do you do?
On days when you want to be recognized, when you want to be served for once, when you want that pedestal—how do you respond when Jesus says, “The last will be first,” and “the greatest among you must become slave of all.” When all you want is for things to go as you planned, for people to do things the way you want them done, for time to bend in your favor—how do you respond when Jesus says, “Father, not my will but yours be done” or “Do not be anxious.” When you want political control, how do you respond when Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” When you’re rich with the world’s possessions, how do Jesus’ words land: “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven”?
Do you take offense Jesus? It’s not that you need more evidence. These people had all the evidence needed. They grew up with Jesus. They saw him. They heard him firsthand. They didn’t need more evidence; they needed a new heart. They needed a new outlook, a new mold shaped by God’s word. That’s what we need too. Have you humbled yourself before this King and yielded to his lordship? Or are you scandalized by him? 1 Corinthians 1:23 says that Christ crucified is a stumbling block [a scandal] to Jews and folly to Gentiles. But to those who are called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for salvation. Stay amazed at Jesus. Even when his teaching cuts against the way you’re used to thinking, humble yourself and follow him.
The other takeaway is to notice how the kingdom may alienate you from even your closest friends and family. This account illustrates Jesus’ words from 10:36. “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Some of you may never have to experience your own family righting you off for following Jesus. But a lot of you will. Perhaps some of you have already lost close family and friends—whether that’s due to you now sharing completely different values, or due to their outright hatred of the Christian faith. If that’s you, you’re in good company with Jesus.
Treasuring the kingdom may cost us some of the dearest relationships we’ve experienced. Will you still choose to stay with Jesus? Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This all goes back to that treasure hidden in a field. What is the kingdom worth to you? Is it this precious—more precious than earthly family? Pray that God would so root your joy in the kingdom, that when such choices come, you’ll stick with Jesus. Pray that God would help you navigate the difficulties that come with close friends and family who are outside of Christ. And may the Lord be honored by our faithfulness, perhaps even drawing them to faith in Christ alongside us.
John Opposed by Herod’s Court
The next story is like the first: John the Baptist also speaks the truth of the kingdom and that invites hostility. But this time it’s from rulers in high places. Verse 1 mentions Herod the tetrarch. He’s different from the Herod of 2:1. That was Herod the Great. This is Herod Antipas, the same Herod that Jesus will face before his cross.
Herod hears these reports about Jesus and draws a strange conclusion: “This is John the Baptist,” he says. “He has been raised from the dead; that’s why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” Herod once showed some interest in John. Mark 6:20 tells us that Herod knew John to be a righteous and holy man. It also says Herod was perplexed by John’s teaching but heard him gladly. Likely, then, he knew a theology of resurrection; and he seems a bit worried if John was in fact back from the dead.
He hadn’t done right. That’s why verse 3 explains the backstory to Herod’s remarks; and it’s here that we finally learn why John was put in prison. Matthew first mentioned this in 4:12. That’s when Jesus learned that John was arrested. Then later in 11:2, we learn that John was in prison. Why was that?
Well, here’s our answer: “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’s not lawful for you to have her.” If you research Herod’s family tree, it’s a mess. But basically, both Herod and Herodias divorced their spouses to have each other. John calls them on it. It doesn’t square with God’s word on marriage.
Politically speaking, that doesn’t look so great when you’re a ruler of the Jews. Mark says that Herodias held a grudge against John for it. So, they attempt to silence John by locking him up. Verse 5 says that at some point Herod even “wanted to put John to death,” but “he feared the people, because they held John to be a prophet.” So, he likes John’s preaching until it interferes with his reputation. Yet he’s also not willing to kill John because he fears the people. Ah, we see what Herod’s about—himself! He doesn’t value the kingdom of heaven; he values his own reputation.
That shows up again in verse 6: “But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias…” This girl is between 14 and 18 years old, by the way. We’re talking grievous things with this bunch. She “danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.”
Friends, this is where the fear of man gets you. The desire to look good before others, the desire to save face, to protect your reputation no matter what—that will lead you to oppose God’s kingdom. It will lead you to suppress God’s truth and cancel the messengers of his kingdom. Isn’t it sad that Herod knew John to be a holy man, Herod heard John saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John held out to him the treasure of the kingdom. Yet what Herod wanted more was his own glory.
Some of you may want to pursue a career in politics one day. Let this be a lesson for you. Teenagers, many of you will face the desire to be popular. Let this be a lesson for you. Let it be a lesson for all of us—the fear of others, the desire to save face, the desire to stay popular even when you know you’ve done wrong—it will set you against kingdom of heaven itself. That’s a dangerous place to be.
By contrast, John fears God. Did you notice the verb in verse 4? “Because John had been saying to him.” It wasn’t something that John said once, and then shut up because of a threat. He kept holding up the true King’s standard. Herod’s power doesn’t cause John to waiver in stating the truth. Yes, the Bible tells us to be subject to our governing authorities. It tells us to honor the emperor. But never are we to do these things at the expense of the truth. Jesus is Lord; our allegiance is to him first.
Why is this story here? I think one reason it’s here is to show us that John is a blessed man. Jesus told him, “Blessed is the one not offended by me.” John may not have understood everything about Jesus. But what he did know about Jesus, he embraced it and walked accordingly. In the end, he was blessed. The same is true for everyone not offended by Jesus. You may face great opposition—but the blessing will be yours. Even if it means death, Revelation 14:13 says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” Remember this when you face opposition for the sake of the kingdom. You are blessed.
Another reason it’s here is to illustrate how union with Christ will include union in his sufferings. Look back at verse 1 and notice again what Herod says: “Herod heard about the fame of Jesus, and said, ‘This is John.’” Herod missed Jesus’ identity. But is this also Matthew’s way of saying something more to us? Herod’s opposition to John is really an opposition to Jesus. I don’t think it’s an accident that both Jesus and John speak the truth. Both Jesus and John get arrested on dubious charges. Both come before Herod. Both are victims to unjust rulers protecting their reputation. Both are murdered. Both of their disciples come and bury their bodies.
There are major differences, of course. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus’ death atones for sin. Jesus rises from the dead three days later. But the similarities are meant for us to see an important connection between Jesus and those who follow Jesus. Ultimately, this account with John anticipates the mounting hatred for Jesus.
If you’re a Christian, have you embraced this reality—that treasuring the truth of the kingdom will invite hostility? Part of growing as Jesus’ disciple is preparing for the hostility. One way we can do that is by listening to what Jesus has been saying about the kingdom of heaven—it’s like a treasure hidden in a field. It’s like a pearl of great value. It’s worth giving everything to gain it.
Step one in preparing for the hostility is treasuring Jesus above all. Isn’t this what we observe also in the apostle Paul? In Acts 20:24 he says, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul knew that Jesus and faithfulness to him is more precious than life in this world.
John the Baptist shared the same heart. In John 3:29, he said that his joy was now complete in seeing Jesus increase and him decrease. For Paul, for John, for all true disciples, nothing compares to the worth of knowing Jesus and finding your joy in him.
We must also prepare by learning to fear God above man. Remember the reminders from 10:24-31. Three times Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not fear;” and one of them was, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” John the Baptist feared God more than what Herod could do to him. The only way you will find boldness to keep speaking/obeying is by rekindling your awe of God. I think John the Baptist was doing this long before he was arrested. In 3:11 John said, “[the one] coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” May the same awe be in us.
John also believed the kingdom of heaven was coming, and that is yet another truth to prepare us for suffering. In 3:2, John began his ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In another place, he knows that he’s fulfilling the role of Isaiah’s forerunner, who was to announce the coming of Yahweh (John 1:23). The rule of God would soon manifest itself on earth. The King was no longer just on his way, but he had arrived in the person of Jesus.
In 11:2, John needs reassurance of this. He also needs a few things clarified by Jesus. But in the end, he wasn’t tied to his earthly possessions. We shouldn’t be so naïve as to think that even the good gifts of this present life can’t consume us. Some can become so attached to this world, that when the path of obedience calls them to let go of their possessions, they can’t and they don’t stay faithful to Jesus. Like the parable of the third soil, the cares and riches of this life choke the word.
But John knew that a better kingdom was coming. He knew that the Messiah’s kingdom was at hand, near, almost here within the grand sweep of God’s plan. Herod’s kingdom wasn’t going to last forever. Soon, Herod would die, just like his dad died before him. But God’s kingdom would last forever.
Brothers and sisters, we have an even greater assurance than John had. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Not only is his kingdom coming; he has all authority in heaven and on earth already. Through death and resurrection, he secured the victory and defeated our greatest foes. Our citizenship is already in heaven, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
That’ll prepare you for the hostility! Treasuring Jesus, fearing God, hoping in the coming kingdom—things like this helped John stay faithful till the end. It’s truths like these that will also prepare us to face opposition. Treasuring the truth of the kingdom will invite hostility. But are you ready? Pray that God would make us ready. Pray that God would work these truths into our lives, such that we don’t give up when the opposition comes. Whether it’s our own family members or officials with great power, pray that God would find you and I faithful till the end. Obedience may cost us a great deal. But Jesus and his kingdom are worth every sacrifice.