Beloved of the Lord! I hope this finds you all healthy, well and grateful! As we consider the good gifts of God and all His manifold graces, let us not lose sight of the giver. The Lord isn’t less interested in your pleasure than your piety, but in your comprehending that He is both!
He is Godliness (1 timothy 3:16) and at His side are pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11). May you know this truth with every breath you take!
Filling up the edges
As John languished in the dungeons of Machaerus, a totally unexpected and fascinating relationship developed between Herod and him. Mark 6:19-20 describe it:
And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
When the gorgeously robed tetrarch met the hair-coated prophet, there was a confrontation. John held nothing back. As a result, though the king held every advantage, he “feared John.” Why? Because goodness is awful. Or put another way, goodness is terrifying to evil. Someone has said, “The truth will make you free, but first it will make you miserable.” King Herod stood at the outside fringes of this reality in uncomfortable fear.
This has been the initial experience of many who have come to Christ. Confronted with righteousness, perhaps through the witness of the Word or a friend, they saw something of their sin and glimpsed the righteousness offered by Christ. At once they were repelled. Then, drawn by that righteousness, they entered a gracious discomfort that eventually brought them to Christ.
While Herod feared, he was also being drawn to Christ. “He was greatly perplexed,” says verse 20b, “and yet he heard him gladly.” What pleasure could there be for Herod in this? Why would bologna like the meat grinder? Perhaps John was a breath of fresh air amidst the social climbing and scheming intrigues of the palace court. John cared not at all about court etiquette or whether Herod or anyone else liked him. He was an original, his own (and God’s) man. Herod could not say that about himself.
Herod may have liked listening to John because he felt that listening would somehow atone for his condition. Similarly, some today think they are good Christians because they listen to the truth and even give assent to it. Very likely John’s preaching elevated Herod’s aspiration to better living. Perhaps he made some attempts at self-reformation, did a good deed, pardoned someone, played with his kids, or gave to a beggar. But he was “a double-minded man” (grossly evil, but with some good impulses) and thus “unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Whatever the case, he returned again and again to “take it on the chin” from John. In fact, even though he often wanted to kill John (Matthew 14:5), he also protected him from the murderous intents of Herodias. Herod’s conscience was being stirred by this man of God. We might even say that his conscience was coming alive. Unfortunately, this was not to be for long.
Stag birthday parties were common to the Herodians,5 and Herodias knew what to expect: a drinking crowd that would become increasingly sensual and nasty as the evening progressed, and increasingly demanding of “male entertainments.” From what we can tell, the evening was well along and the crowd was sufficiently under the influence when she made her move, using her teenage daughter Salome.6 “For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests” (v. 22). Normally this dance would have been by the hetarai, the professional court dancers and prostitutes, but Herodias put forth her daughter. Her sensuous, voluptuous dance, unheard of among women of rank, was outrageous. Young Salome pleased Herod and his guests. This was a treat indeed.
Pleased, the tipsy tetrarch shouted, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you” (v. 22). Then he promised her with an oath, consciously aping the style of the king to Queen Esther (Esther 5:3): “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:23). You can imagine the cheers from the men: “All right, Herod. Yeah!” They began to wager on what she would ask. A pair of matched stallions? A pearled dress from Rome? The trap was perfectly sprung.
And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist . . .”
Then Salome added her own gruesome idea: “. . . on a platter” (vv. 24, 25). Like mother, like daughter! Suddenly Herod was sober, and the room was silent. This is what Salome wanted? That scheming Herodias!
“And the king was exceedingly sorry” (v. 26). He was in genuine grief. This word was used only one other time in the New Testament, to describe Jesus’ pain in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:34). For a moment at least Herod’s conscience was mightily torn! On the one hand, John was a good man and had done Herod much good; Herodias had deceived him. But then again, what would his friends think? These tribunes would carry news of his reneging back to Rome, and the whole Imperial Court would laugh. He could not have that. There was only one choice.
What a tragedy! Herod’s conscience had begun to live, and he stifled it because of what he feared others would think. Realizing what was at stake, this seems incredible. But there are many today who are doing just the same thing. How many people’s consciences have been awakened to eternal things and their own sinful plight, and yet they have buried it all because of what they feared their friends or family or fiancé or spouse or fellow-students would think. Some spend their entire lives basing their decisions on what other people think. There are politicians who for twenty years have not made one decision according to conscience, but rather according to what they think the people want. There are business people who spend their entire day reckoning their decisions with a visualized corporate ladder before them. There are students who sell their souls to escape ridicule. More people than we realize have lost eternity because they feared what others think. Is the opinion of others keeping you from following your own best instincts and the witness of the Holy Spirit? If so, do not be fooled.
Around the Web
Check out your Elder Covey, remembering some of His illustrious service to God’s Kingdom.
Fixing my eyes on Christ HEBREWS 12:3
Grant, Almighty God,
since you have appeared in the person of your only begotten Son and have revealed in him your glory made visible; and, since you show us the same Christ through the window of the gospel: Grant that I, fixing my eyes on him, may not go astray, nor be led here and there after evil lies, the misleadings of Satan, and the allurements of this world. Instead, may I continue firm in the obedience of faith and persevere in it through the whole course of my life, until I am at last transformed into the image of your eternal glory, which now in part shines in me, through the same Christ our Lord.
Wednesday, March 27, 7-9PM at Tami Gamble’s home.
GOOD FRIDAY SERVICE
Friday, April 19, 7pm at the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell