Series: Matthew: We Need a King

Why the Guilty Conscience?

September 25, 2022 | Jeff Crotts

Passage: Matthew 14:1-12


Matthew 14:1-12 – “Why the guilty conscience”


Intro: Jesus’ ministry now “progressive polarization.”


  • Crowds polarizing from Jesus and His message.
    • Matthew 13 ends w/Jesus rejected from hometown locals.
      • Rejecting Him personally.
      • Rationalized, “No more special than anyone else.”
        • Too familiar.
        • Blasé.


  • Too human, Not enough divine.


[TRANS] Chapter 14 is a record of Herod Antipas.


[KEY] Rejecting Jesus, believing He is John the [Baptizer] reincarnated!


  • From home, Jesus’ too human.
  • From Rome, Jesus’ too divine.


[Point] Too familiar to see Jesus’ divinity. Too distant to see Jesus’ humanity. Both wrong!


  • “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” - “Distance with no Grace Breeds Guilt”
    • Too divine, too convicting!
    • Holiness strikes the conscience.


  • Holiness exposes sin on the level of the conscience.


[KEY] Herod’s conscience, re-awakened by Jesus’ reputation in Galilee!


  • Jesus’ third sweep through Galilee, preaching with the 12.
    • Powerful reputation panics Herod.
    • “The Ghost of Christmas past!”
      • Haunting the murdering John the Baptizer!
      • God’s final prophet!


  • Verses 1-12 unpack why Herod polarizes from Jesus!
    • Illustrates why people in general polarize from Jesus.
      • In a single word it is “guilt.”
      • Jesus and message strike guilt in heart.


  • John the Baptist became the object of Herod’s guilt.
    • Believed he could snuff out his guilt.
    • Just end John the Baptist.


[KEY] A conscience is impartial.


  • No respecter of persons, spanning humanity.
  • Jews and Gentiles.


ESV  Romans 2:11-16 For God shows no partiality.

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.

15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

 (Rom 2:11-16 ESV)


[Point] Herod makes John synonymous with his Guilty Conscience!


[KEY] This narrative is dramatic, reads like a classic tragedy.


  • George University says a Classic Tragedy is a series of unfortunate events:


Happy times, A problem, Problem worsens, Characters unable to prevent problem, Catastrophic grave ending.


  • All elements present.


  • Literary perspective is not on John but Herod.
    • John’s circumstances are sad, but Herod’s are sadder.
    • Unsuccessful quieting his conscience, using wrong means to do so.


  • How the world fails at dealing with guilt.


[Packer] “Satan’s strategy is to corrupt, desensitize, and if possible, kill our consciences.”  



Prop: Herod’s four flashbacks answers, “Why the guilt?”


  1. Herod seized and bound John (vv. 1-4)


Verses 1-2 establishes “Herod the tetrarch” riddled with guilt.


  • Jesus’ miracle ministry had Herod thinking John the Baptizer, 2.0!
    • Resurrected, with “miraculous powers…at work in him!” (v. 2).
      • Guilt confused Herod’s thinking.
        • Nowhere to go but his imagination.
        • Haunted in his own soul.


ESV  Proverbs 28:1 The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Pro 28:1 ESV)


[Question] “Who is Herod?”


  • Understanding Herod, relates to his Guilt Level.
    • Herod’s decisions tied to who he was.
      • Antipas, one of several Herod’s.
      • Father, “Herod the Great”
        • From Esau’s line a Moabite.
        • Outside covenant of Israel.


  • Non-Jewish, still affected by Torah!


  • Herod’s were proxy power for Rome, in Israel.
    • Herod the Great, King of Judea.
      • Wise men’s prediction of Messiah.
      • Slaughtered infant boys in Bethlehem region.


  • Ten wives, several children as Herod’s.


  • Herod the Great’s death opened door for Joseph and Mary to return from Egypt to Jerusalem.
    • Revamped political scene, Israel divided into four quadrants.
      • Four sons, Herod’s.
      • Galilee under Herod Antipas.


[KEY] Verse 3 paints clear picture of Herod Antipas’ heart.


ESV  Matthew 14:3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, (Mat 14:3 ESV)


  • Source of Herod’s guilt begins with his illegitimate marriage.


  • Soap-opera sin begins with Antipas’ preying in lust for his niece!


  • Herodias, daughter to Herod the Great’s half-brother, Aristobulus!
    • Herodias already married within her family.
      • Philip was her uncle.
      • Antipas’ brother, also her uncle.


  • Herod’s incest compounded with adultery.
    • Marrying second uncle.
    • Stealing his brother’s wife.


  • Public, public rebuke!
    • God’s voice (John) calls this out.
    • Lev. 18; 20:21.


ESV  Leviticus 18:16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness. (Lev 18:16 ESV)


ESV  Leviticus 20:21 If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless. (Lev 20:21 ESV)


[Question] “What does Antipas do?”


  • Seized him, bound him, and put him in prison.
    • Best option to shut John up.
      • John’s voice on the outside was an echo chamber on the inside.
        • Getting John off the streets.
        • What to expect from a hostile culture.


  • John in a desert fortress called: Palace of Machaerus.
    • High ridge by Dead Sea.
    • Desert, Trans Jordan.
    • Dungeon, part of superstructure.
      • Surrounded by thick walls.
      • Flanked by towers 160 cubits high.


  • Magnificent palace with dungeon below.


  • Herod and John, housed as opposites.


John the last prophet, forerunner of Christ, strong, confrontational, set apart under the Nazarite vow, never tasting fermented drink, a desert recluse, ascetic, long hair from no razor, voice crying out in the wilderness, humble, Christ-promoting while self-demoting!


Herod lived for power, self-promotion, was passive, pride-full, worldly, and sensual.


[KEY] Matthew calls Herodias, “Philip’s wife” (v. 3) to prove marriage illegitimate.


[Appl] Without Christ, what do you do with a guilty conscience?


Cannot stop its piercing sting, you lock up the mouthpiece.

Imprison Scripture.

Rule John a criminal and discredit His witness.       



  1. Herod succumbed to popular opinion (v. 5)


[KEY] Herod’s guilty heart was in conflict.


  • Did not know what to do with John.


ESV  Matthew 14:5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. (Mat 14:5 ESV)


  • Playing mind games with himself.
    • Did not know what to do with John.
      • “If I kill John, then I’ll lose the popular opinion poll.”
      • Jews already hated the Herod’s.
        • What populous thought did not matter.
        • Annoyed or an Irrational fear.


  • Antipas under no threat or revolt.


  • He could not care less.


[KEY] Mark’s Gospel brings in another angle.


ESV  Mark 6:20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. (Mar 6:20 ESV)


  • Herod respected John because of his “righteous and holy” integrity.
    • Unique in his eyes.
      • Herod wanted to kill John to quiet guilt.
      • Herod liked John.
        • Enjoyed his preaching (cf. Mk. 6:20 “…greatly perplexed…heard him gladly”).
        • John’s other sermons!


  • Herod was religious.
    • John preaching from jail to his disciples.
      • Who visited John while he was in prison (cf. Matt. 11:2).
      • Preached to inmates?


  • Herod respected John’s directness!


[Illus] American historian, Thomas Kidd, tells Benjamin Franklin called himself a “thorough deist.” Raised in Puritan thought, in Congregationalist church in Boston, questioned the deity of Christ, but praised the God’s governance in the building of our Nation.




He kept in steady contact with his sister Jane Mecom of Boston, an evangelical Christian and his closest sibling. He established a business relationship and longstanding friendship with George Whitefield, a celebrated evangelist during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. The preacher grilled him occasionally about the state of his soul, yet Franklin admired Whitefield and even fleetingly proposed that they start a colony together in the Ohio territory, one that would model the best principles of Christianity.


[Illus] Franklin sought out Whitfield’s broad preaching in that amassed massive crowds.

Asked if he believed the message, he said, “No, but Whitfield certainly does!” Noble and honest answer but is the example of what does not account for true heart change. Where many stand today with Christ.


  • “Herod feared John, feared the people, but was he more afraid of Herodias!”


ESV  Mark 6:19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, (Mar 6:19 ESV)


  • Guilt made him indecisive.
    • John’s fears controlled him.
      • He rationalized not killing by his John’s prophet status as cover.
      • Was vulnerable to cave.


[TRANS] Pathology of Antipas’ heart plays out in rest of story.  



  1. Herod sorrowed over the commitment he made (vv. 6-9)


Verse 6 is catalyst for things worsening.


  • Stage set to dictate, tragic outcome.
    • Herod’s birthday party-banquet thrown for high society to come.


  • Three groups:
    • Herodians who were political supporters.
    • Jewish dignitaries who were religious leaders.
    • Chilarchs (Commander of 1,000’s), military brass.


  • Make-up the Power Brokers for Rome.
    • Represent Herod’s power and smaller kingdom.
    • Setting super-awkward, seeking distraction.


  • Herod’s ego at apex high, drunk with power.


[TRANS] In walks Herodias’ daughter.


  • Assume to be Philip’s.
    • Teen-ager.
    • Name, “Salome.”


  • Antipas’ adopted daughter represents degradation of Antipas’ sin.
    • Adultery, using teen-aged girl, likely dancing inappropriate.
    • Herod presumably drunk, quotes Scripture! Esther 5:3.


[Context] Persian King, Ahasuerus in power, Esther (Jew in exile) approached his throne (after 3-day fast) seeking mercy to spare exiled Jews.


ESV  Esther 5:3 And the king said to her, "What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom." (Est 5:3 ESV)


ESV  Mark 6:23 And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." (Mar 6:23 ESV)


[Point] With ego high, integrity was low.


  • Herodias “Prompted” her girl in what to ask for.


“Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter” (v. 8).


  • Salome could have anything.
    • Herodias only wanted only one thing.
    • John, killed and shamed!


[Illus] Herodias driven by power. Later historical example:


After Agrippa I became king (c. 40 C.E.) Herodias persuaded her husband to go to Rome to request a royal crown for himself from Caligula. As a result of Agrippa's slanders, however, Antipas was exiled to Lugdunum (Lyons?) in Gaul and his fortune given to Agrippa, brother of Herodias. Although the emperor permitted Herodias to return to her home, she chose to accompany her husband into exile.


  • Herodias, like Antipas assumed killing John would kill John’s voice.
    • Word of God sounding in their hearts.
    • “Make it stop!”
      • Snuffing John.
      • Shaming his influence!


  • Herodias felt the need to trap Antipas into following through with her plan.


[Illus] John was simply the Messenger.


In secular business, the bearer of bad news is always saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger!” but this is what people often do. Ignoring the message, they take their anger out on the messenger.


[Illus] History of the Bible’s prophets.


Jezebel killed the prophets in Elijah’s day, (1 Kings 18:13).


ESV  1 Kings 18:13 Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid a hundred men of the LORD's prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water? (1Ki 18:13 ESV)


Isaiah was said to be sawn in half, Saul tried to spear David, Stephen martyred, Paul executed, John exiled.


Verse 9 summarizes Herod’s passive state saying, “And the king was sorry [grief]…” This was worldly grief fueled by peer pressure. “…because of his oaths and his guests…” (v. 9).


[Note] Herod made a whimsical commitment moored in pride. Reneging makes him a laughingstock.


[Spurgeon] A crocodile is said to shed tears over those it snaps in two…He may have felt a dying struggle of conscience…for…reverence for John; yet the grief could not have been very deep, for he had already willed to kill John. The king feared that his courtiers and comrades at the drinking bout would think him weak, and…jeer at him for being too religious to touch a prophet.



  1. Herod sacrificed John because of a hardened heart (vv. 10-12)


[Note] Verse 10, “Why the guilt?” Herod’s passivity took over and so he beheaded him.


[Note] Verse 11 is the eerie exchange of John’s head brought to the girl and the girl bringing it to her mother.


  • A meaningless, empty measure, soaked in ritual of guilt.
    • Pitiful and to what end?
      • What did this girl ask for?
        • Her mother’s approval!
        • Immediate transfer over to her mother.


  • “Now will you love me?”


  • Underwhelming plan with an Underwhelming result.
    • John’s head, now haunting trophy-reminder of their sin.
    • Like Judas Iscariot plagued by blood-money, 30 pieces of silver.


ESV  Matthew 27:3-6 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,

4 saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself."

5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money." (Mat 27:3-6 ESV)


[TRANS] Scan back up to verse 2.


  • Antipas as plagued by killing this innocent man of God.
    • Jesus came remind him of what he did.
    • Tried to cover sin with blood.


  • Contrast John’s head, with John’s body.


“…[John’s] disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (v. 12).


  • Honored John’s life.
  • Commended his sacrificial death to Jesus.



[Conclusion] “What did Herod do with his Guilt?”


  • Fast forward a few months.
    • Christ standing trial before Pilate.
      • Pilate finding nothing against Jesus.
      • Sends him to Herod Antipas.


ESV  Luke 23:8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.

9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer

10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him.

11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. (Luk 23:8-11 ESV)


[Question] “Why was Herod ‘very glad’ to see Jesus?”


  • Morbid confirmation that Jesus was not John.
    • Jesus, now reduced to a sideshow for tricks.
    • Someone Antipas could mock!
    • Instead of DREAD!


  • You could say Herod: Scoffed! And was Now: Seared!



[Appl] Dealing with a guilty conscience, goes one of two ways. You Harden or Soften.


  • Herod was face to face with Jesus.


  • The One and Only Person to cure, remove, fix, reconcile everything that was ever wrong with his life.


  • ALL GUILT GONE in an Instant!


  • Jesus would have forgiven adultery, stealing brother’s wife, defaming child, and millions of other sins right there.


  • If only willing to ask for HIM for it.



  • Herod’s sin required blood.
    • Not John’s, Jesus’.
    • Not John’s death, Jesus’ death.


[POINT] Within hours of their encounter, Jesus would absorb the full penalty for the guilt of every sin every believer would ever commit!


  • All who believe, make the great exchange of their guilt-penalty, for the gift of saving grace!
    • Only one place to go with guilt. Jesus.


  • “Have you seized, succumbed, and sorrowed over unrelenting guilt?”


  • “Are you sad for undealt with sin?” (cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-10).
    • Jesus comes not to haunt but forgive sin.


  • Just ask him for forgiveness today!


  • Death for sin was required and paid for by Jesus on the Cross.


Modes of Retreat


Intro: There is a reason Christ would retreat from people. I do not think people fault him for getting away, but I think we should pay attention to the redemptive nature of retreat. We have been talking about people polarizing away from Jesus, from his message, which is people moving away from Christ’s accountability but now Jesus himself is moving away from the crowds. What are some of the benefits for retreat?  


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