May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship
of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 6:14 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. 21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb. (NASB)
King Herod. For the mildly literate Christian the title and name conjure up images of murder, violence, and wickedness, even though there were several men who bore the title and the name, King Herod (Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and Herod Archileus). They were all bad kings. They engaged in bloody and tyrannical activities; from slaughtering baby boys in Bethlehem, to taking his brother’s wife, lusting after his own step daughter, to condemning Jesus to death they were all “Herod” in their own way.
In this morning’s Gospel we are given a glimpse of another side of one of the Herods, Herod Antipas. One the one hand, Herod Antipas didn’t like what John the Baptist said to him about taking his brother’s wife and the call to repent. Herodias, the woman in question was even less pleased. The text says, 19 “Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.” Admittedly her dislike took the matter to a whole new level, but no one likes being called to repent, especially when it comes to particular and public sins. These days we’d rather declassify certain lifestyles as sin, than call them by their rightful name and call family members and neighbors to repent.
While Herodias wanted John the Baptist for speaking the law, verse 20 tells us that “Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.”
First note that Herod had John arrested and put in prison for John’s own protection against Herodias. Second note that Herod was afraid of John because John was a man sent from God and to act against a man sent from God is to act against God. Herod was an unofficial king, but still king like and he understood the principle. Most congregations don’t understand the principle. Third, while Herod didn’t understand the Gospel side of John’s preaching, the text says Herod was perplexed, Herod found John entertaining. He enjoyed listening to John carry on about this and that.
Jesus would stand before this same Herod on the night in which He was betrayed. This same Herod the Bible says (Luke 23:8) “was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him.”
In regard to both men, Herod wanted to be entertained. He enjoyed listening to John the Baptist carry on. It was amusing to him. And he had heard all kinds of amazing things about Jesus and he wanted Jesus to put on show for him as well. He’s a man who just wants to have fun.
That by the way is something the 21st century American church goer shares with Herod. The 21st century church goers is perplexed by the theology and morality of the Bible and orthodox Christianity, but like Herod, they just want to be entertained. They want the show and the amusement.
That’s all Herod wanted. He just wanted to have fun. Then came the infamous birthday party. King Herod had a little too much to drink, was overcome with lust for his step-daughter, and made a deal. Dance and he would give his step daughter anything she asked for, up to half his kingdom.
For mom that opened a back door to John the Baptist. This was Herodias’s opportunity for revenge. She instructed her daughter to ask for John’s head and Herod wasn’t man enough to admit that his promise was a foolish and unjust thing to give. So he did as the girl asked. He had John executed immediately and had John’s head brought to Herodias and her daughter on a platter.
The text tells us that Herod was “exceedingly sorry” for what he did. The Greek word is perilupoj. It shows up only five times in Scripture. It is used here once, twice to refer to how “exceedingly sad” the rich young man was when he found out that he would have to sell his riches and give the money to the poor before he could follow Jesus, and twice to describe the deep sorrow Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prepared to suffer His Father’s judgment for the sins of the world. Jesus said, “My soul is exceedingly sad, even unto death.”
Herod was very sorry for the deal he had made, but was afraid of what people might think of him if he reneged. But being sad over one’s actions is not repentance. Repentance is an act of faith in Christ Jesus.
It’s rather easy for us to judge Herod isn’t it? We look at what Herod did here and when Jesus stood before him and think what a cowardly self serving evil man. He was afraid of John the Baptist because John looked and spoke and acted like a prophet of old. He was unyielding and filled with boldness. The same can not be said of Herod.
Herod was faced with a choice. He could continue to protect the man sent by God or he could yield to the expectations of his party goers and seek their approval. It came down to a simple choice between saving face before the ruling class of Jerusalem and yielding to that is which was good and right in God’s sight.
That’s the same choice all Christians face each and every day. Believe and do what God’s Word teaches us to believe and do or follow the devil, the world, and our own sinful self. We all struggle with loyalty to God or loyalty to the world; loyalty to God’s Word or loyalty to your own feelings? And we all fail.
Again, when we do it usually doesn’t involve beheading someone, but the underlying problem is the same. We are too often perplexed by the Word of God. We’d rather be entertained that properly educated and worship accordingly. And we are too often a slave to emotions.
But remember the story of the deadly birthday party was included in the Gospel as the back story to what the Gospel of St. Mark initially reported regarding Herod, namely (14-16) “King Herod heard of it [heard about Jesus and His disciples were going from village to village preaching, healing, and casting out demons], “for His [Jesus’s name] name had become well known; and people were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.’ But others were saying, ‘He is Elijah.’ And others were saying, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has risen!’”
Remember that question the appears throughout the Gospel of Mark? “Who is this?” Herod obviously gets it wrong. In his guilt and superstition he does not see Jesus as the promised Messiah. He does not see Jesus as the One who forgives his sins. He hears of Jesus’s miracles and message of repentance, which is the same message John and his disciples preached.
When Herod hears of Jesus Herod sees a man who is like all other men and like him. He sees a Jesus as a threat, as a reincarnation of the prophet he murdered. Herod’s god and the prophets of said god were vindictive and vengeful beings, like Herod and like Herodias. So when Herod hears about Jesus’s message and miracles he believes and is consumed by the idea that John has come back to take revenge. “When Herod heard of it, he kept saying, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has risen!’”
Herod, like most people only sees and fears the law and its punishment. Herod is driven to despair and fear. He didn’t understand John the Baptist or Jesus. He heard the thunder of the law, but he did not understand the call to faith, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins. He did not hear the preaching of a baptism for the remission of sins. He was perplexed by these things, as so many are today. He just wanted to have fun and escape the realities and eternal consequences of his sinful lifestyle.
John on the other hand was willing to be put into prison and eventually executed for the sake of calling Herod to repentance. John was trying to save a man who acted as his mortal enemy.
As the prophet of God and forerunner to Christ, John the Baptizer knew he was not called to be successful – at least as the world defines and measures. He understood that the true Christian Faith is not one of entertainment and the praises of men.
The ministry of John the Baptist reminds us that the fundamental task of the church is to call sin, sin and call sinners to true faith and a life of repentance. That message offends nearly everyone. But John the Baptist stuck to that message.
That is exactly what being a New Testament evangelical (Lutheran) is all about. We are to be a humble people who call sin by its proper name and who believe, speak, and live in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All that we preach, confess, and practice in the Lutheran Church and here at Immanuel is for the sake of calling sinners to trust in Christ for the remission and to live in the full knowledge and love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:4-8 “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself . . . In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus. Amen.