Yesterday, we continued our series through Mark’s gospel. I preached from Mark 6:14-29. In this text we see Herod’s fear of Jesus and the detailed description of Herod’s depraved party where the greatest prophet, John the Baptist, lost his life. What can we learn from the death of John the Baptist that may help us in our modern culture?
Herod’s Fear of Jesus
Jesus’ popularity had multiplied greatly. As He visited each town, people would be healed, demonic spirits would be dominated by His authority, and His preaching would be heard. Jesus was so overwhelmed at one point by the growing crowds that He told the disciples to prepare a boat for Him to stand in so that it would provide distance from the overwhelming crowds as he distanced Himself from the shore and preached on a floating pulpit.
Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, was the tetrarch over Galilee. He was given this position when Herod the Great died and split his kingdom between his sons. Herod heard of Jesus’ power. He had healed sick people, calmed raging storms, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Herod felt threatened by the growing popularity of Jesus. So, he wanted to know who Jesus was.
Apparently he asked for the identity of Jesus, and they provided him with the different theories. Some were saying that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Others were saying that Jesus was Elijah the prophet who had returned. Another theory floating around was that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. When Herod heard of the different theories, he spoke up and said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” The worst nightmare of Herod had come true, so he thought.
The High Cost of Following Jesus
At this point, Mark looks back at the death of John the Baptist and explains to his readers exactly how this horrible event unfolded. To begin, we must consider the identity of Herod and Herodias. Herod, as one of the sons of Herod the Great, had taken a wife of another king out of a strictly political move. Herod’s brother, Philip, had married Herodias. Herodias was actually the daughter of one of Philip’s half brothers, so Herodias really was married to her uncle. At some point, Herod and Herodias decided that they would get together, and planned to divorce their spouses and come together as husband and wife. Their plan failed at some point and caused political unrest and war. However, they did marry and the depraved sinful relationship of incest, adultery, and an unlawful marriage spread across the land.
John the Baptist was a Jesus follower, but he followed Jesus as the blazing forerunner prophet who was sent to make way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist was not interested in becoming the latest hipster preacher, he dressed in camel’s skin and ate wild honey and locusts. Not only that, he was not preaching in the city. He was a country preacher out by the Jordan River. People started hearing of John the Baptizer and his bold preaching, and hundreds and perhaps thousands made their way to him. As they listened to him preach and boldly commanding people to repent, he would call out Herod in the process. Perhaps as an illustration of the need to repent, but he would call out to Herod and say, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
This sparked a controversy that offended Herodias. She wanted the Baptist dead. Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, but for some strange reason, he feared the prophet and refused to have him put to death. He could sense his holiness and righteousness, so he refused to have him killed. This didn’t settle things with Herodias. She was constantly looking for her move.
On Herod’s birthday, as he was throwing a big party with special guests, this wicked woman could see her great opportunity. She waited until the right time, and when the dancers would be sent in to please the intoxicated depraved men, rather than sending in the prostitutes, Herodias sent in her own daughter. She danced and pleased Herod in the filth of debased sin, and then Herod said, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” She consulted her mother, and Herodias immediately responded with “the head of John the Baptist.” Immediately with haste Herodias’ daughter went back to Herod and said, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
Herod knew he had been caught! He had to keep his word. So, he sent the executioner to the prison and took the head of the prophet and placed it on a platter and delivered it to the girl. The girl then gave it to her mother as a trophy. What can we learn from this story?
- There is a high price to following Jesus. All throughout history, it has been a normal thing for people to be killed for following Jesus. Although we have recently celebrated our nation’s freedom on July 4th, the fact is, the church in America has experienced an abnormal reprieve from the persecution that has been historically poured out upon the church of Jesus Christ. When the followers of John came to get his headless body for burial, they got the message. What happened to their leader might happen to them. Before there was ISIS, there was a Herodias. Jesus followers have been losing their heads for many years.
- As we read about John the Baptist, we’re reminded of how much we need a powerful prophetic voice to thunder once again. John the Baptist was a breath of fresh air during a time of sinful living, false religion, and legalism. We desperately need that type of preaching in our present hour. The problem with preaching today is that nobody wants to kill the prophets. The pulpit is where the fire should be – unfortunately – today’s pulpit is cold and decorated with other things like flowers, but no fire.
- As we live in an increasingly hostile world, we must tell the truth about sin as John the Baptist did – with a commitment to the truth and an unwillingness to compromise. However, we must likewise be prepared to suffer for telling the truth. To follow Jesus is to walk in the footsteps of the cross. Is the church of Christ in America prepared for persecution?