Matthew 14:1–12: Seeking a Good Conscience

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At the beginning of Matthew 14, we learn about the tragic end to the story of John the Baptist. Here, we find out that John has already been murdered by the wicked ruler, Herod Antipas. Strikingly, though, we see in this passage the firm limits of Herod’s power in his struggle against his conscience. Whereas John the Baptist spoke faithfully and clearly from the Word of God against Herod’s sins, Herod is haunted by his crime. This story underscores a dire need in every generation, namely, to get and keep a good conscience. (William Perkins, “A Discourse of Conscience,” in The Works of William Perkins, ed. J. Stephen Yuille, ed. Joel R. Beeke and Derek W. H. Thomas (1596; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 86–94.)

Discussion Questions

1. What had Herod heard about Jesus? What did Herod think concerning the reports about Jesus? Why was Herod’s conscience so troubled? What kind of troubles can a guilty conscience cause in our souls? Why do you think that our consciences can be so painful? How does our conscience relate to God’s own judgments? Where has your conscience struggled with past or present sin? How have you dealt with your conscience?

2. How many sins had Herod committed in taking Herodias to be his wife? What did John the Baptist risk by speaking out against this unlawful relationship? Why is speaking the truth important for the sake of keeping a good conscience before God? What are the blessings of keeping a good conscience? Where have you struggled to speak the truth when it was risky? How did you feel if you declared God’s Word? How did you feel if you shrunk back from the truth?

3. How does Herod compound his crimes with Herodias through the offer he makes to Herodias’s daughter? What do you make of John’s conflicted “sorry” feelings to behead John (v. 9)? What might this tell us about the confused souls of the wicked? What do oaths require of us? Should we carry through with oaths where we promise some kind of evil? Where have you rashly promised to do something that you knew was wrong? What did you do about it?

4. Why did the disciples of John the Baptist report their master’s death to Jesus? How does the preparatory mission of John the Baptist help to explain why he suffered a bloody death in advance of Jesus? What does the Bible say about the blood of Jesus in relation to the conscience (Heb. 9:13–14)? How does the bloody death of Jesus help to purify our consciences? How have you trusted in Christ’s atoning death to soothe your own conscience?