Scripture: Mark 6:14–29
Jesus and his followers are compelled to speak the truth about sin and the need for repentance regardless of the consequences.
It’s almost Thanksgiving and the Christmas countdown begins. That means lots of good food and often lots of parties. There are school parties, work parties, friends parties, family parties, community parties. Who likes going to parties? Who would rather be home with just a few people?
Have you heard “it’s not a party until something is broken”? That’s definitely not something you want to hear when you are the host or hostess. Today’s passage in Mark 6 includes a party that got way out of hand. The Jewish people typically only celebrated the feasts that God prescribed. But Herod, the ruler of a quarter of Israel, was following the Roman tradition of a birthday party, and he used it as an excuse to impress people with his wealth and power. Things went from bad to worse ending with a dead body. You know that’s a really terrible ending for any party!
This morning in the Crown & Cross series from the Gospel of Mark we are continuing in Mark chapter 6.
Mark shows Jesus as a man of decisive action with a clear message and mission, and the reader is called to actively response to the message.
Mark divides Jesus’ life into two parts: his identity as Messiah and King over all things in chapters 1-8a (the crown) and then we see His purpose in suffering and dying on the cross in chapters 8b-16.
Last week we saw Jesus call the twelve disciples and send them out in twos to carry His message of the Gospel and His ministry to people. In verse 30, they disciples return to tell Jesus what happened, but sandwiched in between is this narrative about the death of John the Baptist, the proclaimer of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.
Jesus and all of His followers, including John, are compelled to speak the truth about sin and the need for repentance as they share the good news of the Gospel, regardless of the consequences. In this passage, Mark also provides some foreshadowing and comparisons to Jesus and his mission at the cross.
READ Mark 6:14-29
Herod Heard & Feared
King Herod heard about Jesus and His miracles and His message of the Kingdom. His name was spreading. And the twelve disciples going out certainly expanded the spread of the Gospel message.
Mark calls him King Herod, but the other Gospels refer to him as Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch. His father Herod the Great was the king from Matthew 2 who heard from the wise men about the new King born in Bethlehem. Herod feared losing his position and had all the baby boys two and under murdered. This is his son, also called Herod – as a title. His father set him and his brothers as rulers over a quarter of Israel. Tetra means four parts.
There were several theories about Jesus and his miraculous powers to heal, cast out demons and even raise the dead. Some people were saying Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Other said He is Elijah. Others said he is a prophet like the old days.
Herod superstitiously decided he must be John, whom I beheaded, raised from the dead. It didn’t really make sense because John introduced his followers to Jesus and even baptized him. But Herod may have been feeling guilty and was afraid that John was back to haunt him. He may also have recognized that this message of another king and a coming kingdom was not silenced even by John’s death.
Back in Mark 1:14, after John baptized Jesus, it says “now John was arrested” then Jesus began proclaiming the Gospel. Now Mark fills in the rest of the story about John’s arrest.
vv. 17-19 Herod had John arrested and imprisoned for the sake of his wife.
Earlier, Herod was visiting his half-brother, Philip, and desired Philip’s wife for himself. He divorced his own wife, Herodias divorced Philip, and married Herod Antipas. It appears to be lust on Herod’s part, but Herodias may have just wanted to move up the political and societal ladder.
John, unafraid of the consequences, told Herod his marriage to his brother’s wife was sinful according to the Law in Leviticus 18:16. John’s message, like Jesus’ was to repent because the Kingdom of God was at hand.
Like the courageous prophets before him, John understood that the proclamation of God’s word included moral responsibility. He did not read the polls before speaking and acting; he protected no special interest groups. The Gospel message was not changed based on the wealth or influence of the audience. He spoke the truth in love. The message of repentance was necessary for someone to humbly accept God’s gift of salvation. John’s courage came at the great cost of his freedom and eventual death.
Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to see him put to death. She didn’t want to be told by anyone how to live her life. And perhaps as a queen, thought she was above the law. Herod feared John, knowing he was righteous and holy and kept him safe. He didn’t let his treacherous wife kill John but he did put him in prison to silence his call to repent of sin.
This godless couple reminds us of Ahab and Jezebel, who were also called to repent by the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 21. Jezebel made it her mission in life to see Elijah destroyed, but God prevailed and both were killed.
v. 20b Herod apparently continued to listen to John’s message and was greatly perplexed yet heard him gladly. Do you know people like that? They want to hear more about God and His love but they don’t want to hear anything about their sin and guilt.
Herod Partied & Promised
One day, Herod threw a big party for his birthday. He was in power only because the invading Romans allow him to rule. And in keeping with Roman traditions, he celebrated his own birth inviting his nobles, military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. So he had the nobility the government officials of the Jews, the Roman army officers, and the upper crust – wealthy men from the surrounding area. These were men he wanted to impress and influence. In following with a pagan banquet, there would have been lots of rich food, lots of wine, and wild entertainment. Think of Roman orgies with gluttony and worse.
Imagine allowing your young daughter to come dance in front of a bunch of drunk men? It’s implied by the passage that her dancing was erotic as it entertained and please her father and his guests. One commentary said It was culturally unthinkable for a princess to appear as a dancing girl in front of a male audience. Queen Vashti refused to dance before King Ahasuerus and his friends in Esther 1.
Herod bragged for all to hear, “Ask me for whatever you wish and I will give to you.” He repeats, maybe drunk and forgot? Now with a vow a promise – “whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”
As a puppet king, he really had no control over his territory. It was not really his to give. But it was culturally expected that a successful entertainer would be given an extravagant gift to flaunt the giver’s wealth.
This boast again echoes Esther 5 and 7, when King Ahasuerus was please with Esther and promised her anything she asked even to the half of my kingdom. This appears to be a hyperbole – an exaggerated figure of speech.
The girl, named Salome in other passages, went out to ask her mother what she should ask for. And Herodias seized her opportunity to get back at John replying “the head of John the Baptist.” Just what any girl would love to have!
The girl rushed back in and immediately said “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” There was no thank you or polite manners. She sounds like the rich overly spoiled Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who demanded “Daddy I want an Oompa Loompa!” And Salome gruesomely ordered the head served up on a platter as though it was part of the feast! This daughter was as sick as her mother.
Herod Agonized & Complied
The king was exceedingly sorry. He had been protecting John even though he was in prison. He recognized that this was a man of God. A righteous and holy man.
But because of his oath, his promise in front of all these influential men, he could not go back on his word. He didn’t even try to argue with the girl or talk her out of it.
Immediately he sent an executioner to kill John.
John the baptist was killed for calling out sin and remaining faithful to the Gospel message. That’s what disciples are called to do.
When it came down to it, Herod feared people and what they thought of him more than he feared God.
Romans 14:10 “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;”
Are you more worried about what your friends, coworkers or family say about you than about what God calls you to do? Remember, they won’t be standing there with you on the judgment day. It will be just you and God. And He will look to see if your name is written in the Book of Life. It lists every person who has repented and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Those whose names are not listed will be judged for every sin they committed and every wrong word they said.
We need to be more concerned with what God says and thinks about us instead of what other people say and thinks.
Later when Jesus was being tried in front of Pilate, he was sent to Herod who it says greatly wanted to see him and maybe see some miracle done by him. Jesus would not perform for Herod and the weak ruler had Jesus beaten before returning him to Pilate. His conscience had been seared beyond repentance even when standing face to face with the Son of God.
Disciples Heard & Buried
When John’s disciples heard about this they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. They wanted to honor the holy prophet and man of God but properly burying him.
Comparisons to Jesus
Mark spends more time than other Gospel’s on the death of John the Baptist. It shows the potential cost of discipleship and highlights similarities in Jesus’ own death later. Both include a secular ruler unwilling to execute John/Jesus. Both give in the pressures of the people and their own reputation. Both included people scheming to have the man silenced. Both were buried in a tomb afterwards by their disciples.
Spiritual life cannot be nurtured on thrills alone; any more than faith, in the true sense, can be created by signs.
King Herod’s degenerate birthday feast stands in stark contrast to Jesus compassionately feeding 5000 in the next passage. Jesus is a king worth following – worthy of all honor and praise.
What are you willing to sacrifice?
John was willing to risk social, religious, and political fallout by sharing the Gospel.
He was imprisoned and even lost his life. John knew that this world was not his final destination. He looked forward to eternal life through Jesus Christ.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, what are you willing sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel?
Friendships, popularity, a promotion or a bonus at work that required unethical behavior.
What is the cost of your obedience to Jesus Christ?
Does pride keep you from doing the right thing?
Are you worried about your reputation and what others think about you more than you are concerned about obeying God?
Over and over Scripture says the humble person will draw closer to God. Pride gets in the way of us seeing our own sin and our need for forgiveness and a Savior. Don’t let pride keep you from God or from doing the right thing.
Do you fear man or fear God?
Jesus and his followers are compelled to speak the truth about sin and the need for repentance regardless of the consequences. We are called to speak the truth in love. We don’t condemn people or judge their sins. And remember Peter said be ready to give an answer for the hope but with gentleness and respect.