Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.”
Isaiah 54: 17
“Child of God, will you, for a moment, reflect on the overruling power of God…Why should you, oh, believer, be afraid…you are, as a child of God, under divine protection; so who is he (or she) who shall harm you while you are a follower of that which is good?”
Today’s Study Text:
“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.’”
Matthew 14: 1, 2
“Stalked by a Guilty Conscience”
“Conscience and reputation are two things. Conscience is due to yourself, reputation to your neighbor.”
Augustine of Hippo
How would I define the word “conscience”?
Have I ever felt the pangs of what I would call a “guilty conscience”?
How did I feel when plagued by a feeling of guilt?
“When a man (or woman) is content with the testimony of his (or her) own conscience, he (she) does not care to shine with the light of another’s praise.”
Bernard of Clairvaux
“To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure, their very minds and consciences are corrupted.”
Titus 1: 15
I appreciate the way the disciple Matthew lays out for us the scenery that encompassed the world of Jesus on one particular day in His life and ministry. By beginning Matthew 14 with the words, “at that time,” we are enlightened to the fact that at the same time multiple activities, which permeate Matthew 14, were taking place, there were other situations that reared their heads, and in this case, I must say, “their ugly heads!”
All we need to see is the word, “Herod,” at the beginning of Matthew 14, and we get an idea that a dark cloud overshadowed Jesus’ world. As had happened from the very moment Jesus was born, the person “Herod,” conveyed a serious threat to the life of Jesus.
If we recall, Matthew relates in Matthew 2: 1-2, that “when Jesus was born” in the “days of Herod the king,” after the wise men came from the east to Jerusalem inquiring where they could find Jesus, we note that Matthew makes an interesting observation, for he writes, “when Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2: 3, K.J.V.).
It would do us well, historically, to lift the covering and we will see that the Herod referred to in Matthew 2 was an Edomite who was made king of Judea by Augustus and Antonius, chief rulers of the Roman state. He was extremely cruel, as evidenced by his order for the mass murder of all the innocent children under the age of two. Matthew leaves us a record of this atrocity in Matthew 2: 16. “Thus Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.” Not only was Herod vicious, but he was obviously an individual who didn’t take threats to his power kindly.
Now just a mere thirty years or so later, Herod the Great, as the ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth was called, was off the throne, and his son, Herod Antipas, or the “tetrarch,” which means “ruler over the fourth part of the kingdom” was in charge. As Matthew makes clear, this “acorn” didn’t fall far from the big, old oak tree for in the son, we see replicated the worst qualities of the father – treachery and murder, as well as an individual who was easily threatened by any potential hazard that could dislodge his place of power.
Matthew writes that under this vast historical canopy of attacks on the life of Jesus, from his birth to the current day when Herod Antipas got wind of a new leader in the land, evil threatened Jesus’ life continually. And every miraculous event which occurred, served only to unnerve this ruler so much more for the actions of Jesus harkened of another—the late, great prophet – John the Baptist. This was when a note of fear began to be played in Herod’s heart, for his life and eventually his entire history, would be closely linked to the “voice crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord.’” For Herod, the voice from the grave with news of the miraculous accompanying it, was too much to bear. And so Matthew explains to us, that in this environment, where there was a threatened ruler, with a guilty conscience, Jesus experienced a day, when from what everyone observed from the outside, things were not what Jesus knew they were like on the inside.
I don’t know about you, but to me personally, this is a phenomenal point which in my own life has been quite easy to skip right over. For whether it has been behavior I knew to be in direct conflict with my heavenly Father’s Will because I desired to follow the beckoning call of power or money or some other earthly effect which loomed so large before my eyes that it completely obscured the reality of heaven’s truth, we can all find ourselves in the position of Herod. Oh, maybe not as evil or vicious as he was, but in our own little ways, when a threat to all we hold and have occurs in “our world,” followed by the “guilt” which is released from a conscience denied, it can cause us to, like Herod – both of them – when we hear of another’s greatness or think we may be knocked off the “throne” we have aspired to, cause us to go to untold lengths to hold onto what we have, even if it means suppressing the heavenly voice of conscience. For a moment I want to go back to the statement shared above from Bernard of Clairvaux who stated that when we are content with our own conscience when we aren’t plagued by guilt, we don’t find it necessary to constantly have the affirming praise of those around us. This point is critical as we absorb what happened to Jesus in the span of one day. For no matter whether He was receiving the adulation of a multitude or being lauded as the next great “ruler” to break the Roman power that filled Judea, Jesus kept His balance for He never forgot that the ultimate “doing” and “performing” of His work was “doing” the will of His Father. But for an individual like Herod, who had the flames of insecurity fanned by a guilty conscience, any individual or entity that challenged his grasp on power could not be tolerated. It would be too much for him to bear the censure of the people when all his fragile ego demanded was their praise.
Thus, it was in this hotbed of insecurity and guilt that Jesus came to teach about servant leadership. Is it any wonder people didn’t understand His message? Is it any wonder we don’t often understand His message even today!
“The conscience is like a sharp square peg in our hearts. If we are confronted by a questionable situation, that square begins to turn, and its corners cut into our hearts, warning us with an inward sensation against doing whatever confronts us. If the conscience is ignored time after time, the corners of the square are gradually worn down, and it virtually becomes a circle. When that circle turns within our hearts, there is no inner sensation of warning and we are left without a conscience.” (241)
Illustrations from Biblical Preaching
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes; guide me in the path of Your commandments, for my delight is in them.”
Psalm 119: 33, 35
“Jesus, my Teacher, guide me along Your way, and help me to piece together the jigsaw of life in Your kingdom. When I make decisions, lead me to the heart of the matter, and when I face conflict, do not let my own panic drown out the still, small voice of Your wisdom.”
Dorothy Valcàrcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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