Beheading the Baptist, Mark 6:14-29

Make right now count because glory is coming next

Today we come to the story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom.  The last and the greatest of all the prophet finally comes to an end.  We read about it here as a flashback. So Mark is “catching us up” on what has already happened.  

The death of the Baptist makes us ask:  Was his ministry a failure? Did God abandon him while he was alone in that prison?  How could this great man of God have ended this way? John himself may have wrestled with these thoughts.  While in prison he dispatched two of his followers to Jesus to ask this question: “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” (Mt. 11:3).  It doesn’t sound like the John we heard earlier who said: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29-30).  

John did not fail, nor did God fail John.  In martyrdom, John joined the ranks of the greats throughout history.  He did not shrink back from death I’m sure, but, stretched his neck out far.  To die for Christ is to live for Christ. To lose your life for Christ means you will gain it.  John met the same suffering Jesus would, thus becoming the Lord’s companion in suffering the same fate.  John participated in what the Apostle Paul would refer to later as “the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings, becoming like Jesus in death.  Tertullian, the early church father, famously wrote, “The blood of the saints is the seed of the church”.

Who is Jesus Christ?   

Why did the Holy Spirit include this in the Gospels?  It gives completion to the account of John’s whole life.  The Gospel began with John the Baptist, it only seems proper that we have an answer to What ever happened to John?  

CONFUSION (14-16)

The crowd is very confused.  Everyone has an opinion about Jesus.  Remember that Jesus has dispatched His 12 Apostles, so now 13 people are proclaiming the message of repentance and doing miracles.  Israel is under siege! More people are witnessing miracles and hearing preaching. Everyone is talking about Jesus. Everyone has an opinion about Jesus.  What everyone thought of Him was a regular talking point. To His disciples in Matthew 16:13 He asked “Who do the people say that I am?” They said, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some OT prophet.”  Notice they always think its a resurrected prophet, not a new prophet. That’s a messianic expectation: that Elijah would come back before the Messiah comes.

So there’s confusion.  But it’s not just on the streets.  Jesus is the talk of palaces too. Mark tells us that Herod had an opinion of Jesus:  He was John the Baptist back from the dead!

HEROD’s FLASHBACK (17-29)

Herod doesn’t believe this because he has carefully researched who Jesus is.  His conclusion is driven by his guilty conscience! So Mark is going to explain why Herod has a guilty conscience, and, in doing so Mark is going to give us a flashback.  

This is not Herod the Great, who was ruling when Jesus was born.  This is his son, Herod Antipas, aka, Herod the Tetrarch. Herod Antipas stole the wife of his brother Philip.  Her name is Herodius: one of the most wicked and vile women in the Bible, a true daughter of Jezebel.  

The marriage of the ruler of the Jews is illegal according to Jewish law.  And John the Baptist was pointing that out. And neither Herod nor Herodius wanted to hear it.  Herod arrested John and wanted to kill him, but, he was afraid of the crowds. Herodius, however, was not.  Unable to persuade her husband to kill John, she bides her time until she has an opportunity to force his hand.  She is not a wife who has her husband’s back, but, goes behind his back.  

The time came for Herod’s birthday and in famous pagan fashion he throws a party for himself.   Birthday parties were not sanitary and PG rated. Among the drunkenness was rampant immorality, including the most immoral forms of dancing.  This dancing is what Herod’s step-daughter was good at. And Herod, drunk, loved it. He loved it so much he offered to give her whatever she wanted – up to half his kingdom.  In doing so, Herod made what can only be described as a stupid vow. Herod’s ranks with the likes of Jephthah and King Darius in making foolish vows.  

The girl has a chance for power, wealth, anything she wants.  Herod, her step-father, the king, is in her hands. What does she do?  She goes to her mother! Who probably set her up for this whole occasion in the first place.  Mental note: be careful who you get advice from. Herodius’ has her chance! Finally it has come!  She can steal her daughter’s opportunity for her own revenge. Her answer? Tell your step-father you want the head of John the Baptist right now.  What?! Talk about squandering an opportunity for the girl! She gets her genie in a bottle moment and she blows it to satisfy her mother’s revenge!  

How different then King Solomon in the OT.  When he became king God came to him in a dream and gave him a genie in the bottle moment:  “Ask for anything and I’ll give it to you.” Solomon asked for wisdom. God loved it. He said, “You didnt’ ask for success over your enemies, revenge ., or wealth.  You asked for wisdom. THerefore I’ll give you wisdom, wealth, power and honor – more than you asked for.

Herodius got revenge.  And that’s all she got.  Until she faced God.

And so, John the Baptists life comes to a violent end.  The Apostle Paul’s words are fitting here. Facing his own death he said, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure.”  Paul’s death, like John the Baptist’s was like a drink offering. A drink offering was the final act of OT sacrifices where the drink would be poured out on the animal before it was lit on fire.  It completed the offering and made a pleasing aroma to the LORD. The life lived faithfully for God is a pleasing sacrifice. The martyrdom of such a person is completion to that life – faithful to the end…faithful to the point of death.  How pleasing an aroma to the LORD. What do you think awaits that person on the other side? Nothing less than incomparable glory.

LESSONS:

  1. Don’t depend on the crowd to understand Jesus.  Wow were they confused.  Look at how they just jump to conclusions.  No one investigates. Herod just assumes its John the Baptist back from the dead.  If he sincerely wanted to know, he would have easily found out that Jesus was John’s cousin and so Jesus couldn’t be a resurrected John.

    I remember a conversation with a guy a long time ago.  We were talking about Jesus and he was throwing a lot at me trying to shoot down what I was saying about Jesus as the Son of God and Savior.  He told me that while in a cab in Dallas a Muslim cab driver told him that the word “son” in the Bible, in Hebrew, didn’t refer to s-o-n but sun S-U-N, like the sun in the sky shining on us.  So, because of a cabby in Dallas this guy thinks Jesus is the “sun” of God. First of all, of course a Muslim would try to explain away the Son/Father relationship, they vehemently deny that God has a Son.   Lesson? Don’t get your theology from cabbies. Don’t get your views of Christ from the crowd. Get your views from those who were direct eye-witnesses of Jesus: the Apostles. That means read the Bible, it’s their writings.

    You can afford to be wrong about stocks.  You can afford to be wrong about buying a car that turns out to be a lemon.  You can afford to be wrong about liking the career path you choose. You can afford to be wrong about that employee that doesn’t work out.  What you cannot afford is to be wrong about who Jesus is. The cost of Hell is too high. Don’t get Him wrong. He’s not just a good man. He’s not just a good teacher, a light, an avatar.  He’s not the Buddha. He’s not a spirit guide. He wasn’t a symbol of self-sacrifice for a great cause. He wasn’t a political rebel. If these are your views you are on the cusp of Hell. Jesus is God’s Son and He is the only one who can save you from going over that cliff into an eternal Hell.
  2. Do what you know is right, and don’t do what you know is wrong.  Herod knew that imprisoning John and killing him was wrong.  Like Pilate later would go against his own conscience and kill Jesus, Herod did so with John. 
  3. Wives, be a godly influence upon your husbands.
  4. Husbands,.  Herod failed as a husband by listening to his wife’s evil schemes.  He joined Adam, who listened to Eve and sinned; Abraham, who listened to Sara and abandoned God’s promise; Samson, who listened to wicked Delilah; King Saul, who listened to his many pagan wives and committed idolatry.  God made the woman for the man, to bless him, to help him in serving God. The relationship inherently creates tremendous influence. The wife can use her influence for good or evil. Herod should have done what he knew was right, and ignored his Herodius. He should have joined Job, who rebuked his wife when she tried to persuade him to curse God and die. 
  5. Living well for Christ doesn’t always end well for us.  John did not live to a ripe old age, surrounded by devoted family and disciples.  He died alone, unjustly imprisoned, while his enemies succeeded in assassinating him.  Remember they would murder Jesus too later on. Faithfulness to God in Satan’s world will get you killed.
  6. Make right now count, because glory is coming next.   Romans 8:18, suffering now doesn’t compare with glory that will be revealed.  Heb 11, they refused release to gain a better resurrection. Revelation 20, those beheaded by Antichrist will be resurrected to rule over the earth with Jesus in His kingdom.
  7. Be humble when rebuked.  Herodius despised John because he spoke against her marriage to Herod.  Like all enemies of the truth, she wanted to silence any voice that spoke against her evil and murder was not off the table.  What might have happened had she humbly considered what John said? She may have been saved. Pride goes before a fall. Those who hate the truth will be judged by it. 
  8. God may take everything away from you to lead you to Jesus.  John was gone.  The only one left was Jesus – the one John spoke about.  There were many who remained devoted to John but had not gone over to Jesus.  John could not save them. Only Jesus. Now John was taken from them. What are you devoted to that keeps you from going to Jesus?  

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