Really Bad Things Can Happen to God’s Favorite People (Mark 6:14-29)

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Really Bad Things Happen to God’s Favorite People

The foreshadowing of the cross of Christ

with the death of John the Baptist–Mark 6:14 to 29

GALILEE, 90210


Today, you’ve tuned in to GALILEE, 90210.  The passage we open to, as we return to our verse-by-verse study of Mark, is a soap opera.  It is raw, uncensored, and filled with infidelity, betrayal, anger, incest, murder, divorce, political intrigue, jealously, spite, revenge, lewdness, lust, cold-heartedness, cruelty, brutality, violence, ungodly remorse and godly mourning.

Today isn’t a boring Bible study, but a fifteen-verse narrative that is alive with intrigue, suspense, horror, sorrow and incredible hope.  Incredibly bad things can happen to God’s favorite people.  Those who seek to follow Christ can become (by no fault of their own) embroiled in secular soap operas–even be murdered on a whim.  Don’t think you’ll avoid difficulty, persecution, suffering, or even death for honoring Christ and standing up for His Word.

John the Baptist lost his head because he spoke the truth to some incredibly sinful and secular people in the first century.  So tune into Mark 6:14 to 29, and follow along in your outline, as we witness how the godly John the Baptist actually died.  The only passage in the gospel of Mark that does not focus on the life and ministry of Christ, yet points to Christ in many ways.

Do you remember just how great John the Baptist was as a man?  John the preacher, John the desert dweller, John the dynamic dunker–before he was even born, God’s angel declared in Luke 1:15, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord . . . and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.”  And imagine Jesus Christ saying this about you in Matthew 11:11, “Among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”

John is the one whom God chose to prepare the population for the coming of God in the flesh–Jesus Christ, the God man.  John was passionate about his mission as the forerunner.  And yet he was so genuinely humble, he said of Christ in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

He was so incredibly bold, he said to the religious rulers in Matthew 3:7, “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”  That’s courageous talk.

He lived in the desert, wore rough clothes, ate locusts and honey, and preached Matthew 3, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Yet despite his somber message, Nazarite vow and ascetic life-style, he was amazingly popular and respected by the people.  Matthew 3:5, “Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan.”  Some estimate a million came, thousands repented and thousands were immersed in the Jordan River as an external sign of their inward desire to live according to God’s Word.

All throughout the ministry of John the Baptist, who not only baptized Christ as He began His public ministry, he also declared of Christ.  John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”    Then as Christ began His ministry, John’s would wind down as the crowds sought out Christ, being drawn to Christ’s teaching of God’s Word, proving His deity through miracles, and shocking everyone with His gracious and merciful compassion.

But John never stopped pointing everyone to Christ and calling all people, rich and poor, to repent of their sins, until one day that commitment got him into trouble.  John the Baptist was arrested and put in jail for a year by Herod.  Who is Herod?  This is where our story morphs into a soap opera drama more debauched than anything they throw at us today.  The Herod of Mark 6 is the son of Herod the Great.

You all remember his dad, Herod the Great, who was king over all of Israel for Rome before Christ was born.  The Romans set up petty kings throughout their kingdom to keep the peace and excise taxes.  As a result, petty rulers could live really well off their borrowed power and stolen money from taxes.  However, job security was very low, since betrayal or uprising were constant threats.

Herod the Great built the Great Temple in Jerusalem to keep the Jews happy, yet he’s the one who ordered the slaying of all the male babies of Bethlehem after the birth of Christ, in order to kill the Messiah.  He was the one who had the entire Sanhedrin put to death for daring to challenge his authority.  He was ruthless and debauched.  He actually killed one of his wives and two of his sons because he believed they were scheming to kill him and steal his throne.

Big daddy Herod the Great was an Idumean, and because he was not only a Gentile, a descendant of Esau, and a man who married a Samaritan, he was especially despised by the Jews.  But Daddy, Herod the Great, King over all of Israel for Rome had ten total wives, and more sons.  Two of his wives had sons who were both named Herod, and they both play a key role in today’s soap.  Now see if you can follow this.

Our Mark 6 Herod, son of Herod the Great, is named Herod the Tetrarch–literally ruler of a fourth part, or more commonly he’s called Herod Antipas.  He was a ruler, not over all of Israel like his dad, Mr. the Great, but our Antipas was the ruler over Galilee and Perea for Rome.  A different son of Herod the Great, by a different wife, was Herod Philip, who ruled for Rome over northern provinces.  He is the step-brother of our Herod Antipas from Mark 6.  Remember those two sons of Herod the Great–Herod Philip and our Herod Antipas from Mark 6 to really understand this sick tale.

Much like his father, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas was evil, debauched, shameless, henpecked, lustful, and given to every kind of sinful excess.  He was the direct opposite of John the Baptist.  It could be said, to the extent John the Baptist was admired and honored, Herod was despised and feared–they were opposites.  On everyone’s justice scale, John the Baptist should have lived, and Herod Antipas should have died.  But that’s not what happens.

Mark tells us back in chapter 1:14 that Herod Antipas arrests John the Baptist.  Then as our story unfolds, about a year later, Herod Antipas actually murders John the Baptist described for us here in Mark 6.  The bad guy wins–at least it appears that way on earth.  Herod Antipas kills “not arisen anyone greater” John the Baptist.

Now in case you forgot, our Lord Jesus has been ministering up a storm.  Since the end of Mark 4, Jesus has been proving He is God by manifesting His divine authority over a storm, then over an army of demons, over horrible disease–even over death itself.  Everyone is talking about Jesus–His popularity has skyrocketed.  As a result, opinion over Christ has become extremely polarized.

With all this buzz, there are those who hate him so much they want to kill Him, like the Pharisees, and there are those who harshly reject Him, like his hometown Nazareth, and there are those who’ll give their lives for Christ, like His disciples.  His disciples are now out and about, preaching the good news while casting out demons and healing the sick.  As a result, everyone in Israel is talking about Jesus Christ.  In the midst of all this, Herod Antipas hears the reaction of his Galilean subjects to Christ, and it causes him to panic.

#1  Herod’s fearful Reflection about the Lord Jesus

Verse 14 to 16, “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!’”

Herod hears of the fame of Jesus–what happens?  Herod’s guilty conscience kicks into gear.  Herod murdered John.  Herod knew John was a prophet of God, and that John was innocent of any crime worthy of death–yet he ordered his execution anyway.  And the guilt of that is eating him alive–he’s haunted by it.

Now in his 32nd year of ruling over Galilee for Rome, in the midst of Jesus’ public ministry, from his palace in Tiberias on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Herod hears about Jesus cleansing lepers, raising children from the dead, hushing storms and casting out demon armies–and his reaction is biting fear.  Can you see Herod in his palace?  Matthew tells us Antipas is dialoging with his servants about what people are saying about Jesus.

Verse 14 reveals they are all talking about the implications of “the miraculous powers” of Jesus.  No one denies His power, but they are all discussing what those powers mean–see verse 15.

GROUP ONE were convinced Jesus was John the Baptist restored to life.  Scripture nowhere ascribes any miracles to John, but some felt if he was risen from the dead, now he could do them.

GROUP TWO thought Jesus was Elijah, since Malachi the prophet told us of Elijah’s return, as the Messiah’s forerunner.  Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord”–that’s John the Baptist.

GROUP THREE played it safe, and in a general way were convinced that Jesus was one of the great Old Testament prophets.

Guilt drove Herod Antipas to embrace group one, that miraculous Jesus was in fact John the Baptist risen from the dead.  Again, verse 16, “But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!”  Like a madman, Herod repeated this phrase over and over, using an emphatic “I”–the man I killed is raised.  The same John I myself murdered is come to life–the man I slew is alive.

The thought of it was driving Antipas mad.  Luke even tells us, out of morbid curiosity Herod kept trying to see Jesus after this.  He couldn’t clear his disturbed mind of a flashback–a ghastly picture of a head dripping with blood on a platter in a banquet hall.

Now you don’t have to be a murderer to be overwhelmed by guilt.  I know there are a few here who’re being eaten alive by guilt.  Guilt is a horrible motivator–it drives people crazy.  For some it makes them sick or depressed, for a few it makes them angry and still others run away or hide in some manner.  But the good news is–guilt can move you to seek forgiveness for your sins. Guilt can help you realize you’ll never be forgiven unless someone pays the price for your sins.  Someone had to die in your place and take the punishment you deserved for your sinfulness–Jesus did that.

God sent His perfect Son to die for His children, accepting the punishment you deserve for your guilty sins.  Only through Christ can you be forgiven.  And in Christ you’ll be completely forgiven forever.  Acts 13:38, “Let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him [Christ] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”  If your heart is crying out for forgiveness, then cry out for Christ.

The Gospel writer Mark realizes that Herod’s guilty declaration, “The man ‘I’ killed is risen,” from verse 16 has to be explained.  How did this murder take place?  Point #2 is the flashback, giving us John’s destiny, Herod’s psychosis, and a sinfully sick story.

#2 Herod’s faulty Reasoning about John the Baptist

Read Mark 6:17, “For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested.”  STOP–Herod ordered the arrest of John the Baptist, imprisoning him in one of the Herod family fortresses, called Machaerus, in the region of Perea, on the northeast of the Dead Sea.  It was a fortress, palace and prison all in one.  So there, far below the palace and living quarters was a famous and much dreaded dungeon.  And it was there where John the Baptist, God’s chosen forerunner of the Son of God, was bound in chains, hanging on a hook, for over a year.  Some of those hooks for holding prisoners up can still be seen today in the remains.

Why did Herod Antipas command to have John arrested?  A resentful scheming wife–read the rest of verse 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.”

It’s at this point, Mark introduces us to the femme fatale, the black widow, the gorgeous evil temptress named Herodias.  Her name may mean “paradise”, but she was a living perdition.  Next to Jezebel in the Old Testament, no woman was more wicked, scheming, evil, politically ambitious and notorious than Herodias.  Who is she, and why does she have it out for John the Baptist?

Remember those two particular sons of Herod the Great, our Herod Antipas and his step-brother Herod Philip?  Now don’t panic–stay tuned and catch the details.  For a moment, add a third son of Herod the Great, Aristobulus.  He had a daughter named Herodius, and she was given to her uncle, Herod Philip of verse 17, in marriage to be his wife.  With Philip, Herodias had a daughter which they named Salome.

Now is when this real life saga gets super sinful.  Philip was disinherited by his father, Herod the Great, and lived with Herodias his wife in Rome, as a private citizen, a normal guy.  Then, while visiting his brother, our Herod Antipas became enamored with Herodias–the wife of Philip his brother.  Antipas was completely infatuated with Herodias, and they became illicit lovers.  And Herodias, being a scheming and politically ambitious woman, agreed to marry her husband’s brother–another one of her uncles, again, our Herod Antipas, on one condition . . . that he divorce his current wife, a Nabatean princess, daughter of the Nabatean king Aretas the 4th, whose kingdom was located around modern day Petra.

Upon learning about the treacherous intentions of her husband Herod Antipas, his wife of many years, this Nabatean princess named Phasaelis fled back to her father, who later with his army attacked and decidedly defeated Herod Antipas in battle.  Why did this happen?  Verse 17, because he had married Herodias–our Herod Antipas was seduced by Herodias and married her.  Get this–Antipas dumped his wife and married his brother’s wife, his own sister-in-law, and at the same time by doing so, also married his own niece.

Herodias was a schemer, and she must have been a looker. So the evil plan was carried out.  She deserted or divorced Philip, left Rome where she was merely the wife of an ex-ruler, and now became the wife of Herod Antipas–but she desired to be the wife of a ruler, not merely of Galilee and Perea, but all of Israel.  We know this is true, because later Antipas and Herodias went to Rome and asked Caesar himself to make them king over the entire region.  Caesar not only refused, but banished them forever, considering him treacherous.  Not only did Herod Antipas fight and lose a military engagement because of his marriage to Herodias–he also later lost his crown.

But why did Herod arrest and bind John the Baptist?  Verse 18, “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”  There was good reason for this rebuke.  This marriage was incestuous, according to Leviticus 20:21, “If there is a man who takes his brother’s wife, it is abhorrent.”  And in this case, it was also adulterous, Romans 7:3, “If while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress.”

The text tells us John kept on exposing this immoral marriage.  This marriage was a crime against Antipas’s brother, as well as his own ex-wife.  Whether face-to-face, or through his preaching, he wouldn’t let it go.  This was a common hazard of a prophet and some preachers.  Prophets are called to pour salt in the wound, then rub it in, adding generous helpings of paper cuts with lemon juice.  Godly men tend to be straight shooters–they spell it out.

I’m certain liberal Antipas, and particularly Herodias were deeply offended and wondered how John could be so narrow-minded.  Of course Herodias knew very well that when John rebuked her husband, the Tetrarch, he was also by implication denouncing her.  So to satisfy her, Herod had John arrested, bound in chains, and placed in a very desolate and dreaded dungeon, which existed below the Machaerus fortress, which had high walls and 240 foot towers, yet also housed a lovely palace and large courtyard fit for a king.

And now Mark exposes Herodias’s personal feelings in verse 19, and Herod’s political thinking in verse 20.  “Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so.”  Grudge means in English Herodias had it in for John, but feel the Greek word grudge–literally grudge here is holding it in.  The verb tense tells us Herodias is continually burning inside–there’s an internal fire of resentment smoldering inside of her, looking for the right opportunity to burn John to death.

And in verse 19 the phrase “could not do so” means she repeatedly tried to kill John, but found no window of opportunity.  No one politically motivated ever wants their sin exposed–so this gross insult will be punished at the first opportunity she gets.  She was not satisfied with John’s imprisonment.  She craved nothing less than John’s assassination.  But Herod’s reaction to John’s imprisonment is different.  Like Herodias, the gospel of Matthew tells us that Herod wanted to put John to death, Matthew 14:5, “Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet.”

But Mark exposes more of Herod’s motives in verse 20 of Mark 6, “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.”  Herod was afraid of the crowd.  The gospel of Matthew tells us that Herod was afraid of the political fallout if he killed John.  Don’t forget, Herod rules Galilee and Perea for Rome–if the people of his region rise up against him, or stop paying taxes or complain to Caesar, it could mean the end of Herod’s reign.

The reign of these petty kings was balanced on a whim and a whisper.  Any significant turn in popular displeasure or any political reversal would immediately cause Rome to dethrone these pathetic puppets.  So Herod and men like him were paranoid–they killed people to prevent potential problems, and built fortresses for protection.  It could’ve been Herod’s defeat at the hands of his ex-wife’s father, the Nabatean king, that precipitated his banishment to Gaul, France–Herod Antipas did last 42 years through the entire life of our Lord Jesus.

So Herod was afraid of killing John for political reasons, and verse 20 implies five more motives why Herod kept John alive–can you see them?  Read again verse 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.”  Hendrickson says,

ONE–Herod’s Desire to keep peace with Herodias

It was for her sake he put John in chains and shut him up in a deep dungeon.  She wanted John dead, Herod feared that move, so the next best thing was to stop the confrontation of sin by locking him away.

TWO–Herod’s Awe in the presence of John

Herod knew John was not merely “innocent” of any crime, but an outstandingly excellent man, being “righteous,” an object of God’s approval, and “holy,” that is, a man of upright conduct, set apart to God and for God’s service.

THREE–Herod’s Gladness whenever he listened to John

There is a strong possibility Herod loved listening to John because John was in sharp contrast to the flatterers usually found in the company of rulers; here was a man who dared to speak his mind?  It might have even been John’s eloquence that Herod Antipas enjoyed.

FOUR–Herod’s Sense of guilt kept John alive

Herod knew that he had sinned by putting away his own wife, the Nabatean princess, and by stealing his brother’s wife Herodias and marrying her.  And Herod knew it was wrong to imprison John, his accuser.  But killing him was a line Herod wasn’t willing to cross–yet.  Herod knew he was repressing the voice of his conscience.

FIVE–Herod’s Perplexity kept John alive

Verse 20 says Herod was “greatly perplexed,” “terribly disturbed.”  In the same way, David was perplexed and troubled at committing murder and adultery.  David eventually confessed and repented, but Herod did not, which is what gave Herodias the opportunity she’d been burning for.

#3  Herod’s failed Response, leading to the death of John

Verse 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.  Herod’s birthday was strategic for Herodias, meaning it was literally “opportune” or “well-timed”, because it was her golden opportunity to settle her score with John.  According to Mark, three kinds of guests were invited:

1 The lords, literally the great ones, were those who held political office

2 The “military tribunes”, were those who usually commanded a thousand men or more

3 The “chief men of Galilee”, were the socially prominent friends of Herod who didn’t hold any civil or military position

The “feast” served on this birthday celebration was a particular kind of “banquet.”  They had an order to them–there would be lots of food, continual drinking, the dismissal of female guests, then seductive entertainment and at times prostitutes involved.  You all know me, so you know I enjoy social gatherings.  But this passage is a reminder to think carefully about parties–they can be dangerous affairs.

It was at a party that Ahasuerus, having tried to debase his wife, Vashti decided to divorce her, in Esther.

It was at a party that Belshazzar’s doom was read to him in Daniel.

Many a person has lost his soul at a party when drinks are flowing, jokes are flying, passions are inflamed, morals are lowered and restraints are removed.

And so it is at this party, where a godly man will be murdered over a dance and a foolish vow.  Verse 22, “And when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.”  There is a funny truth here–by all historical accounts, this was certainly the first conflict that Baptists had with dancing.  This event is so notorious, even the historian Josephus is aware of it, and he’s the one who tells us the daughter of Herodias is named Salome.

The end of this banquet is called the comissatio, a phrase that describes an excessively licentious drunken party just for men.  Any dancing toward the end of the banquet, for the male-only crowd, was reserved for prostitutes or professional entertainers of low moral character.  It is definitely out of character for Salome to do this seductive and lascivious dancing.

There’s no question that Herodias is behind this entire affair.  It is totally out of character for a mother to have her daughter do this, but not out of character for a scorned woman.  She’s so hateful she involves her daughter.  Obviously attractive and surprisingly skilled, both intoxicated king and guests were enchanted and gratified with Salome’s dance.

So following the tradition of eastern kings, Herod awards her a blank check to prove his generosity, having no idea he’s falling into a trap.  Verse 22, “The king said to the girl [he commands, the only command in these verses], ‘Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.”  She apparently hesitates–possibly she’s shocked.  There is indication she probably did not know what her mother had in mind.

So Herod confirms his rash promise with an oath, proudly boasting of his royal grandeur, probably resulting in a cheer from his guests—“Alright, Herod!”  But unknowingly, Herod is sealing the fate of John the Baptist.  Verse 23, “And he swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.’”  Since Herod is a vassal of Rome, he has no kingdom to give away–but it really sounds good, doesn’t it?  All His guests would understand this is a promise exposing his generous mood–pure braggadocio.

She must have excused herself to go find her mother, who is with all the women who were dismissed earlier–verse 24, “And she went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’”  The middle voice tells us Salome is asking for herself–what shall I ask for, for myself, indicating again, she probably didn’t know the plot.  But immediately the black widow, the New Testament Jezebel, without a moment’s hesitation said, “The head of John the Baptist.”  Every detail of this plot unfolds just as Herodias planned it–it really does seem as if she knew exactly what would happen.

So Salome doesn’t walk back to the banquet room, she literally speeds back–she runs.  Whether she is fearful of her mother, or excited Mom gets her way, or glad that John who has caused her mother unending torment is finally going to die–we don’t know.  But not only does she hurry, she asks for an immediate execution.  Verse 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.’”  Salome blurts out, “Give me right now, on a platter, the head of John the Baptist.”  Matthew tells us she wants it “right here”, and Mark tells us she wants it “right now”.  If you’re going to keep your oath, then right here and now the murder must be committed–why?

For Herodias, there must be no chance for John to escape–no chance for the king to escape his oath and avoid the snare in which he has entangled himself.  Here you either see the morals of Salome–the shameless, seductive dancer, since there is no hesitation, no grief, no pause, no fear over asking for the immediate death of a man.  Or you’re seeing the absolute fear of a mother who might kill her if she fails in this resentful errand.

How does Herod react?  There must have been a stunned silence–a long collecting of thoughts through the stupor of drunkenness.  Then verse 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.”  Herod Antipas was very sorry–a strong term Mark uses again to describe Jesus in the garden in 14:34, “And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.’”

Herod is deeply distressed—1) he admired John and was uneasy about killing him; 2) he knew the population considered John a prophet, and would not react well to Herod killing him; 3) and at that moment, Herod realized his wife had trapped him into killing John.  And at this critical juncture, Herod could have said to Salome . . .

1) I promised you a gift, not to commit a crime, or

2) I promised you, not your mother, a gift–or best of all, he could say

3) God’s law tells me to confess a foolish oath, not obey it in Leviticus 5:4 to 6

But Herod’s pride, his dread of losing face before all his cronies, kept him from saying what Joseph said to Potiphar’s lustful wife, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” in Genesis 39:9.  False pride, a seared conscience, and drunken lust won the day over all other considerations.

One commentator says, “In his gluttonous, lustful stupor the king had been easily taken in by his scheming wife and her seductive daughter.  He had lost all dignity, all sensibility, and what little desire for the right that he may have had.  Wanting to appear the magnanimous benefactor before his guests he had boxed himself in and was now completely vulnerable to his conniving wife.” (MacArthur, 421)

Verse 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.”  Herod ordered his executioner to bring back John’s head.  Since the prison in which John was jailed was part of the palace, the executioner did not have far to go–just down five to six levels.

Verse 28, “And brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.”  It was not uncommon to bring the head of one who had been slain to the person who ordered it, as a sure proof that the command had been obeyed.  What was moments ago a drunken night of gaiety now turns to a somber hour of gore—disgusting . . . a decapitated head on a plate.  In mockery, the head on a plate is a presentation for cannibals.

This is where sin always takes you.  A night out to party often ends up in a vomit-filled bathroom.  An evening filled with lust ends up with a guilty heart full of fear.  The world calls it a party, but it’s a rip-off.  The executioner beheaded John, and as requested, delivered John’s head on a plate to Salome, who then handed it over to her mother.  “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

It was lust that brought about adultery and multiple divorces with the Herodias event.  It was lust that brought about the murder of John the Baptist with the Salome dance.  And it was the consequences of this lust that increased the displeasure of the Jews with Herod over John’s murder, the consequences of lust that motivated the wrath of Areta, Herod’s first father-in-law who defeated and destroyed Herod’s army.  And it was the lust for power that motivated Herod and Herodias to appeal to Caesar to be elevated to the rank of king over all of Israel, resulting in Caesar banishing them forever to the edge of the Roman Empire in France.

Maybe today the full force of God’s loving plea will hit home.  Second Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  First Corinthians 6:18, “Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”  Flee means run in terror.  Lusts are your strong emotions, your passionate ambitions, your wants, and desires outside God’s Word.

Run from resentments, bitterness, and any unforgiveness.  Guard your heart, stay away from those people or events that stir up your emotions to where it seems impossible to put them under the Spirit’s control.  Run in terror from anything that competes with your first love–Jesus Christ.  Today the Spirit is pressing some of you to dependently flee.  And you can be encouraged by and sorrow with . . .

#4  The Faithful’s Reaction to the death of John

Verse 29, “When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.”  From Matthew 11:2 we learn these men had been allowed to visit their teacher in prison.  Therefore, it’s not surprising they were allowed to give an honorable burial for John’s decapitated body.  Many of John’s disciples became followers of Christ–others continued in his teachings, and later came to Christ in Acts 18 and 19.

The gospel of Matthew says when Jesus heard of John’s death, He withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place by Himself.  Our Lord deeply loved His cousin, John the Baptist.  Jesus sought out a lonely place, not out of fear, but out of sorrow over John’s death, and the weight of what is coming.  John was the first martyr to die for Christ, and it seems certain Jesus took this opportunity to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead for them—His cross and their eventual martyrdom.  Christ Himself would be the next to die, and each of the twelve would die martyrs, except John who was boiled in oil twice.

There is so much we can learn from these dramatic verses . . .

The importance of never violating your conscience

To admit your sin through confession and repentance

To flee strong desires and emotional attachments outside of Christ

To not be enamored with the world’s so-called freedoms

To never forget you live for Christ, even at parties

That Christians should never attend certain parties where drunkenness and licentiousness are likely

Avoid making foolish oaths and empty promises–let your yes be yes

The fear of man is a snare–fear God and keep His commandments

That seductive dancing should be kept exclusively in marriage

That ambition outside of Christ, and not for God’s glory is selfish

To stand for truth, what is right, and what is biblical is costly

To beware of a desire for vengeance, an unwillingness to repent, and a refusal to forgive–they are deadly

And turn to Christ alone for forgiveness–God became a man to die in our place for our sins, rise from the dead, and give us new life now and eternal life forever.  Turn from your sin to depend on Christ alone.  Only one life soon past–only what’s done for Christ will last.  Even a man who loves God and serves Him as a prophet–the greatest man who ever lived, can be horribly murdered as a result of the most sinful and secular motives.  Why?

In this life God promised 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Philippians 1:29, “To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”  Discipleship is costly–following Christ will cost you.  But what you have received from Christ is beyond any price.  Christian friends, this world is not your home–heaven is.  Then live for what is coming–do not live for what is now.  Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”  Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.