The Gospel of Matthew tells you when it is shifting to a new section of teaching. There are six sections in Matthew marked by five breaks in the text. The break is marked with words like what you read in Matthew 13:53, “When Jesus had finished these parables.” We have called our last series, “The Teachings of Jesus” which covered Matthew 11-13. But now we are going to see a shift in the tone of this gospel. Chapters 14-19 show the rejection of Jesus. Jesus is going to start talking about his rejection and death. Jesus is going to teach the people that his rejection is coming. We are going to read the people rejecting the teachings he proclaimed. But we are also going to see the great power of Jesus in these chapters which will show that rejecting Jesus is categorically wrong and a complete mistake. Matthew is going to show us why we should not dismiss Jesus but must accept him as the Christ, the Son of God. Further, understanding the rejection of Jesus is going to help us understand our mission and the response we will receive from the world in trying to live out our faith.
No Honor At Home (13:53-58)
Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and begins teaching in the synagogue. The people are astonished by Jesus’ teaching and by his miracles. They are asking each other, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” Now we might think that this is a legitimate question. We might think they are amazed into wondering who Jesus is because of what he is able to do and how he is able to teach. But the rest of what they are saying in verses 55-56 show that this is not the case. The problem is that they know this Jesus. They start saying that this is the carpenter’s son. Isn’t his mother Mary? Aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t Jesus’ sisters also with us? But look at how this ends in verse 56. “Where then did this man get all these things?” We know Jesus. We know that he is the son of a carpenter. We know that his mother is Mary. We know Jesus’ brothers. We know Jesus’ sisters. They are skeptics because of their familiarity with Jesus and his family.
It is important to note that this account shows us that the first 30 years of Jesus’ life were not noteworthy. Jesus was not performing miracles before his ministry began. Otherwise they would not be surprised by what Jesus is doing now. In the same way, he was not speaking with authority earlier because they would not be surprised by Jesus doing such now. Jesus’ life for his first 30 years were so average that no one expected this from him. No one was like, “I knew he was the Son of God when he was three years old.” Verse 57 tells us that the people of Nazareth are completely offended by Jesus. They are not offended because Jesus is saying offensive things. They are stumbling over what Jesus is doing and saying, rather than believing him, because they know him. Jesus is ordinary. His family is ordinary. His job was ordinary. How can Jesus be a miracle worker now? How can Jesus be a great teacher now? Because Jesus did not fit into their expectations, they rejected him.
Now I want us to think about this. Jesus is performing miracles but they are rejecting him anyway. They refuse to believe in him. They choose to not see him as the Christ, the Son of God because of familiarity. Jesus is a nobody to them. He is ordinary and average. So they dismiss him. Jesus states this to be the case in verse 57. “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” (Matthew 13:57 NLT)
Then notice verse 58. The town misses out on what Jesus could have done for their lives because they refused to believe him. Because they do not see him as the Son of God, they completely miss out on the healing and salvation that he was offering to them. People could have brought the sick, the lame, and the demon-possessed to him and been healed. But Jesus did not do many miracles because they stumbled over his ordinary, humble start. Jesus did not receive the honor and reception he should have received. Now this rejection problem is illustrated in the next paragraph which is found in chapter 14.
Rejection Illustrated (14:1-12)
Matthew 14 is going to tell us about the fate of John the Baptizer. We saw him earlier in the gospel acting as a forerunner for Jesus, preparing the people for his coming. We further saw John doubting Jesus because he had been imprisoned under Herod. We are now going to be told what happened to John. The first two verses tell us that when Herod heard about Jesus, he thought that John had been risen from the dead and that is why he was able to do miracles. Herod thought John had risen from the dead. Why is John dead? The text continues by telling us what happened.
Herod had arrested John and kept him in prison. Why would Herod arrest John? Why would Herod care what John is doing? Verses 3-4 of Matthew 14 tell us that John was arrested because John had been telling Herod that it was not lawful for him to be married to Herodias. Herodias had left Herod’s half-brother, Philip, and married Herod. So we have an unlawful divorce leading to an unlawful remarriage. Marriage is supposed to be for life and you are not permitted to divorce for any reason except sexual immorality. John kept telling Herod it was not lawful for him to be married to her. In fact, it is worth noting that she is still called Philip’s wife even though at this time she is married to Herod. This is why Herod wants to put John to death (14:5). But he did not kill him because he feared the crowds. The people regarded John to be a prophet.
But the rest of the account is given to us. The daughter of Herodias danced for everyone on Herod’s birthday. Herod was so pleased by her dancing and he promised to give her whatever she wanted. This indicates what kind of dance was going on to compel Herod to make this oath. The daughter of Herodias goes to her mother to find out what she should ask for. Her mother’s answer was to ask for John’s head on a platter. So that is exactly what happened. John was beheaded and his head was presented to Herodias’ daughter on a platter. Now please think about why this happened. John died because he was telling Herod that his marriage was unlawful. John lost his head because he kept proclaiming the truth about Herod’s unlawful marriage and Herodias’ unlawful divorce and remarriage. John was not killed out of a misunderstanding. John was killed because he was clearly understood. So the messenger was silenced. I want to spend the rest of our time considering four important messages that we see from the rejections of Jesus and John.
First, there are unlawful marriages. It is unfortunate that we have to spend time developing this point. But we need to make this point clear especially where we are in our culture today. The government approving a marriage does not make the marriage lawful to the Lord. Herod’s marriage was lawful to laws of that day. But John was telling them that their marriage was unlawful to God. Friends, it does not matter if our laws grant you a divorce. It does not mean your divorce was lawful to God. It does not matter if our laws grant your remarriage. It does not mean that your remarriage was lawful to God. It does not matter if our country redefine marriage. It does not mean that your marriage is lawful to God. Just because we say as a society as that a marriage, or a divorce, or a remarriage is allowed does not mean it is not sin before God. God’s marriage law is found in Genesis 2:24 and Jesus confirmed it in Matthew 19:3-6. Marriage is between one man and one woman for life. It does not matter what the government says, what society says, what other preachers say, what churches say, or anyone else. We must follow God’s law if we are to be the people of God.
Second, we must be willing to proclaim and hold on to the truth. John kept telling Herod that his marriage was sinful. This is the reason John was put in prison. I want us to put ourselves in John’s sandals for a moment. Would we say such things if it meant that we would be put in prison? Would we still say what the scriptures say about sexual immorality and marriage if it meant that we would be put into prison? Or would we stop talking about it if it meant we would spend our lives in jail?
Third, there is no honor in this life for being a disciple. There is a pattern put before us. John is the forerunner of Jesus. But now he is the forerunner in another way. John is arrested and killed. Jesus is going to be arrested and killed. The disciples of Jesus are also going to be arrested and killed. Jesus even said this in the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)
The prophets were arrested and killed. You are going to experience the same lack of honor. You are going to experience the same rejection. People will want you dead for speaking the truth. Will we be afraid to speak the truth because of this outcome? Will we be ashamed to tell people what God’s word says even though it will be rejected? Jesus said that the world is going to hate you because of him (cf. John 15:18; Luke 21:17; Mark 13:13; Matthew 10:22). Would we be willing to die for saying the word of God says? We need to continue to mentally prepare ourselves for such a reality. We have just entered this section about the rejection of Jesus where Jesus is going to keep telling his disciples that we must be willing to follow Jesus all the way. How easy it would have been for John to quit saying anything about Herod’s marriage! But he kept telling him and he lost his life because of it.
Finally, we have choice. We can either receive the message from the messenger and repent. Or we can reject the message, reject the messenger, and condemn ourselves. The people in Nazareth rejected Jesus because what they knew of Jesus did not match what they wanted or expected. So they missed out on how Jesus could have changed their lives. Herod rejected John because he did not like the message being told to him. So he missed out on the true life that could have been given to him.
It is easy to refuse to repent because we do not like the message. Here is the reason why this happens so often. Repentance means I did something wrong. Repentance means I am not sovereign over my life and I must submit my will to my Creator. We do not want that message. We want the message that we can do what we want. We want the message that I can do what I think is right.
But let me pry open the door for clarity. Just because I do not like the truth does not change the truth. Just because I do not like that the sun rises early in the morning does not change the truth that it does. Just because I do not like gravity does not change the truth of its existence. Just because I do not agree or understand a truth does not change the truth. The truth was that Herod was in an unlawful marriage. Killing John did not change that. Ignoring the truth did not change the truth. Not agreeing with the truth did not change the truth. The truth was that Jesus is the Son of God. Nazareth rejecting him because for 30 years he did not perform miracles did not change the truth. Not agreeing with Jesus did not change the truth that he is the Son of God. Your feelings about Jesus do not change the truth. You not honoring Jesus as Lord does not change the truth that he is Lord. You not agreeing with the teachings in God’s word does not change the truth that these are God’s word and we will be judged by them. Do not refuse God or his teachings because you do not like the message. The words are truth and your resistance is irrelevant to the truth. Our culture is coming into collision with these truths. But we must repent when we learn the truth, hold to the truth, and proclaim the truth even when there are undesirable consequences.