Sep 5 2014
Mark 6:14-29 John the Baptist rebukes the King
Throughout the Bible prophets collided with kings. Frequently the prophet brought God’s rebuke and the king responded by killing the prophet. It was this way for John the Baptist. He rebuked King Herod for having an unlawful relationship and found himself facing the executioner. But the king never forgot John’s words and the memory of the fearless prophet lived on in his mind and the common people’s hearts.
There is much for us to learn from John because in our day it is the church that holds a nation’s rulers accountable to scripture. And like the famous prophet the church must be fearless in its stand. So let’s take a closer look at the circumstances in which John rebuked the king and how his words continued to have effect long after his death.
♦ Herod was king of Judea. His brother Philip lived in Rome and was married to Herodias. But when Herod visited Rome he had an affair with Herodias. She decided to leave Philip and marry Herod. We don’t know much about the romance but since Herodias ran off with the king we can’t help but believe that she wanted a man with his sort of power. And of course being the king it was easy for Herod to keep Philip quiet. But John the Baptist would not be quiet. As the resident prophet in Judea he rebuked the king and would not let the issue go.
Herod was not amused and John was quickly arrested and thrown in prison. The king could have executed John on the spot but he wanted to please the people of Judea and many of them believed John was a prophet. And with time it seems that Herod began to think this too. In fact Herod was so captivated by the things John said that he summoned John on a regular basis to talk with him.
But for Herodias things were different. She did not take the prophet’s rebuke very well, and was continually on the lookout for a way to retaliate. The opportunity finally came at Herod’s birthday dinner. The king and his high ranking officials were wining and dining, and when it seemed that they had drunk enough and the atmosphere was just right Herodias sent her daughter Salome in to dance for all assembled there. It is a bit odd that a mother would send her daughter to dance before a room of drunken men, but it seems she had already anticipated the king’s reaction.
When Herod saw how pleased all the officials were with Salome’s dance he decided to impress them a little more. So he called the girl and said “Ask me for anything you want, and I will give it to you.” And he promised it with an oath. This was a king flaunting his power and authority. He was showing his officials that he could give anybody anything.
Salome was taken by surprise, so she went and consulted Herodias about what she should request, and Herodias said she should ask for the head of John the Baptist to be brought in on a platter.
Now if you think of it, this is a really weird request. For Herodias to want John’s head above all the great things she could have asked for shows just how bitter and twisted she was. It was as if John’s rebuke had taken over her entire world.
When Salome finally made the request before dinner party it hit Herod like a bomb shell. He had protected John all this time and now he had been cornered by his own words. What was he to do? Either he could protect his image as a king who kept his word or he could protect the prophet of God. Unfortunately he chose to protect his image as king and John executed. As requested his head was brought into the dinner function on a regular meat platter. This was Herodias’ distasteful attempt to mock the prophet that stood for the truth.
Herod never forgot this. Later when he heard that a man was performing miracles all over Galilee he was worried and said “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” The king was guilt ridden – the prophet and his words would not go away.
So how can we benefit from this story? In it are three main characters – Herod, Herodias and John. We can learn something from each.
Herod put his career above everything. He lived to please Roman officials and people of rank. Today many politicians and high profile business executives are just like him. But when our career is our idol we make immoral decisions – we stand on whoever we need to, to be on top. Only the man that lives for God and not himself is free of opinions. And in the end Herod’s actions did not benefit him. His life was destroyed by guilt. And many today are like him; when people put their careers above what is right they only live to regret it. There is a lesson in this for all of us.
Herodias must be described as a bitter manipulator. Bitter because she chose to hit back rather than forget. And a manipulator because she used her husband and daughter to get what she wanted.
Can you imagine the atmosphere in Herod’s home after this disaster of an evening? Herodias had tricked him in front of his officials. Would he ever trust her again? This is not the stuff that good relationships are made of. And we can only wonder what Salome later thought of her mother when she realized that she was used.
Would the death of John have satisfied Herodias? I don’t think so. Bitterness lives on in the unforgiving even after they have vented their frustration. I expect that she just got increasingly bitter as the years wore on.
I don’t think any of us want to be like Herodias. Instead the Bible calls us to be quick to forgive, to never retaliate, and to even love our enemies. It also calls us to be people of integrity, to never manipulate or deceive. Satan is a bitter manipulator and we do not want to take after him. But fortunately the story still leaves us with a positive example.
John was a selfless and fearless follower of God. He did not chase a career like Herod; he did whatever God told him even if it cost him. On one occasion when people informed John that Jesus was gaining more followers he said “He must become greater, I must become less.” And John had many opportunities to nurse a grudge as Herodias did, but not once did it show. Though Herod imprisoned him, he continued to preach to Herod in such a way that the king only wanted to hear more. John was bound by chains but free within. Herod was free to walk a palace but a prisoner within.
But what I like most about John is his courage. He spoke the truth to king and commoner. At a time when religious leaders were trying to appease Herod, John rebuked him. And this is a big lesson to the church today. Too often the church has flirted with the state to get something from it. But the great men and women of scripture did not do this. They were willing to give their lives for the message of God’s kingdom.
Let me be clear – if you are a believer you are the church, and you are called to speak up for what is right wherever you live. Not everyone can have access to their president, but everyone can have a voice whether it is in the social media, through newspaper articles, among friends in a bar, in the office at work, on the sports field, or through acting and the creative arts. Let’s not be silent, let’s stand up for what is biblical. Let’s be as fearless as John was.
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