The Beheading of John the Baptist
O Lord, You granted Your prophets strength to resist the temptations of the devil and courage to proclaim repentance. Give us pure hearts and minds to follow Your Son faithfully even into suffering and death.
We prefer our Bible stories to be pristine. We enjoy stories that are good for food… pleasant to the eyes… desired to make us wise. (Genesis 3:6) We favor music and song that lifts us up. We wish to feel good about ourselves after spending an hour in church. That doesn’t always happen. Nor should it. A diet consisting only of sweets is not good for you. Nor is it good for you spiritually if we hear nothing of the consequences of transgression.
The story of the beheading of John the Baptist reminds us that the way of sin always leads to destruction. Offense casts a web for which we cannot easily escape. John’s death speaks about the reality in which we live, a broken and fallen world – outside of Eden.
Herod the Great, who murdered the boys from Bethlehem, had ten wives and many children. His second son, Antipas, governed Galilee for more than forty years. Remember him. He is the one who not only executed John the Baptist (Matt 14:1; Luke 3:19), he played a crucial role in Jesus' death (Luke 13 & 23).
(If loving you is wrong) I don’t want to be right! Antipas married the daughter of the King of Arabia, but later lived with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. The New Testament gives the reason why Herodias sought John's head. She had married Prince Philip — who lived as a private citizen at Rome, by whom she had a daughter, Salome.
Herodias was married to Philip. Antipas took her to be his wife. Yes! He married his sister-in-law! The wife of his brother Philip. For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. (v.17)
She acted against the law of man and of God in leaving him to marry Antipas. John rebuked Antipas for this adulterous union, and Herodias took vengeance. John called Antipas out. “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias held a grudge against John, and wanted to kill him. But she could not. Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man. Antipas protected him. When Antipas heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. John was a just man, and a holy man, a complete good man. Herod knew this. What was lacking in his own character he saw in John and this frightened him. John was a man from God, a man of God, a man for God. Antipas wanted to please his guests. He wanted to please his wife. And he was afraid of this desert preacher. So he locked him up. He shut him down. He attempted to silence him. But John’s words still haunted him.
Choose, but choose wisely. An opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his crew, the officers and the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. He solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” Her reply was expected, “The head of John the baptizer.” Deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.
Weak and wicked Herod, like his father before him, was more afraid of looking bad in front of his dinner guests than he was of God and His wrath. Driven by lust and pride and in the false name of honor, as though he were a man of his word, he unjustly and illegally executed John to please the daughter of a harlot who was not his wife.1
Do we give a “false witness” when we, for example, compromise clear Biblical principles in order to fit in at work, or at school? What price will we pay to acquire acceptance and approval? So, what about you? Do your sins rise up against you? Of what are you afraid? Do you crave the praise of men? Do you fear the voice of God? Repent! And claim that forgiveness which was won for you by Jesus Christ. This forgiveness has a name. It’s called Absolution.
[Absolution] “Is neither a response to a suitably worthy confession, nor the acceptance of a reasonable apology. To absolve means not only to loosen, to free, to acquit; it also means to dispose of, to complete, and to finish. When God pardons, He does not say He understands your weakness or makes allowances for your errors; rather He disposes of, He finishes with, the whole of your dead life and raises you up with a new one. He does not so much deal with your failures as does He drop them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. He forgets your sins in the darkness of the tomb. He remembers your iniquities no more in the forgetfulness of Jesus’ death. He finds you in the desert of death, not in the garden of improvement. And in the power of Jesus’ resurrection, He puts you on His shoulders, rejoicing, and brings you home.”2
Artwork © Ed Riojas, Higher Things
1. Taken from an 8.29.2002 sermon by Pr. David Peterson, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, IN, which also gave structure to this manuscript.
2. Robert Farrar Capon, Parables of Grace, p. 39