Sermon from 11th Jul 2021 (Pentecost 7)

Mark 6:14-29 (EHV) 

14 King Herod heard about the authority Jesus gave his disciples to perform miracles, because Jesus’ name had become well known. Herod was saying, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead! That is why these powers are at work in him.”

15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

16 When Herod heard this, he said, “This is John, the man I beheaded. He was raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent men to arrest John. He had him bound in prison because Herod had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. 18 Indeed, John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

19 Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to put him to death, but she could not, 20 because Herod feared John. He knew that John was a righteous and holy man, so he kept him safe. When Herod listened to John, he was perplexed in many ways, yet he gladly kept listening to him.

21 An opportune day came when it was Herod’s birthday. He gave a banquet for his nobles, the military officers, and the prominent men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” 23 With an oath he promised her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”

Herodias said, “The head of John the Baptizer.”

25 The girl hurried right back to the king and made her request: “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter right now.”

26 The king was very sad. But because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 The king sent an executioner at once and ordered him to bring John’s head. He went, beheaded John in prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

29 When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may truly fear, love, and trust you above all things. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What on earth are we to gain from hearing about the gruesome death of John the Baptist?

It seems to suggest bad people will often get away with their unjust behaviour and that faith in God won’t always save us from trouble!

But I wonder if we can use this sordid event to learn something about how much fears and desires can control our thoughts, words, and actions.

You see, fears will often result in self-protective behaviours, even to the point of sacrificing relationships, reputations, positions, or even life. On the other hand, fear’s counterpart, desires, will often seek to gain advantages for oneself by using other people to get what one wants.

But before we look more closely at the fears and desires of this Herod, it may be helpful to know which Herod we’re talking about here since there are a number of Herods mentioned in the New Testament.

For starters, when Jesus was born, the man in power over Judea was Herod the Great. He had a reputation for being a master of deception, murder, and political intrigue. He also had ten wives.

His title of ‘greatness’ wasn’t because of these things, but because he was responsible for a large and impressive building program, including the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. He died a few years after Jesus was born, so he’s not the Herod referred to today.

However, after his death, the area he once ruled was split into four areas, known as Tetrarchs, and ruled by four of his sons. Two of his children are mentioned in today’s text, but they were born of different mothers. Herod Antipas (the Herod mentioned in our text) was the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, while Herod Philip was tetrarch of other areas.

Another of Herod the Great’s children, Aristobulus, had a daughter named Herodias. Therefore, Herodias was a step-niece to both Herod and Philip. She first married her uncle Philip, but then abandoned that marriage for her other step-uncle, Herod Antipas. Herodias had a daughter named Salome, but we’re not sure if she’s the daughter mentioned in today’s text, or whether her daughter’s father is Herod or Philip.

At some stage, the Herod of our story met John the Baptist, who pointed out that according to Jewish law (cf. Lev 18:16; 20:21), a man must not marry, or have sexual relations with, his brother’s wife, because it dishonours his brother.

Now, you’d think this Herod would simply get rid of John the Baptist, but it helps to understand that fear (and its counterpart, desire) controls a person, making them do all types of things which defy logic or reason.

In this case, despite what John the Baptist said about Herod and his wife Herodias, Herod wouldn’t kill John the Baptist because he feared him (v20). He feared him because he knew John to be a righteous and holy man. In this case, Herod’s fear actually saved John the Baptist…at least for a while.

On the other hand, Herodias’s fear was expressed in different ways. She didn’t like what John the Baptist said, so she sought to get rid of him and his accusing voice. Again, fear was controlling her actions, but in a way which would seek revenge on John the Baptist and get rid of him for good.

Now, as you heard in the text, Herod gave a great banquet in honour of his own birthday and invited many important leaders of the community to celebrate. During this festive meal, Herodias’s daughter danced.

Since this dance delighted him and the gathered guests, he offered her a reward for her dance, even up to half his kingdom.

But the young dancer, not knowing what to ask for, asks her mother. In this case, her mother, seeing her chance, convinces her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head – on a platter!

Herod, when he hears of her request is frightened. And remember; fear controls him and his relationship with John the Baptist, but now another fear enters the equation.

You see, on the one hand, he fears John the Baptist because he knows him to be righteous and holy. On the other hand, he fears what people will think of him if he says no, knowing he had promised to give this young girl up to half of his own kingdom.

The fear of God or the fear of man. Which would win?

Like so many of us, the fear of man won. The fear of man won because this fear matched his desire to make people (including his wife) happy. Where Herod’s fear of God had once kept John the Baptist alive, now Herod’s fear of man will cost him his life.

But how does this relate to us?

In this case we might ask ourselves:

How does fear control our own words and actions?

How does the fear of man affect what we say and do?

For example:

  • When we’re afraid people will find out we’ve done something wrong, we’re tempted to lie and deceive.
  • When we’re afraid people might hurt us, we’re tempted to either avoid them or attack them and their reputation.
  • When we’re afraid we can’t keep people happy (which means they might not like us), we may feel the need to give in to their desires, even if this isn’t the best for them or compromises what we believe.
  • When we’re afraid of not getting our way, we might yell at people, threaten them, or attempt to manipulate them in order to get what we want.
  • When we’re afraid our own reputation is under threat, we might want to question or challenge the reputation of others.
  • When we’re afraid of conflict, we might go to great lengths in order at avoid any situation or person who might threaten our peace and comfort.

You see, we often become slaves to our fears. Our fears control us and make us do many things which are wrong and hurtful. Fears force us to make hasty decisions which we might later regret. Fears make us lie and cheat and accuse and avoid and even murder, especially when we understand Jesus defines hate for another person as a type of murder. Letting the fears of man win ironically doesn’t make us any more friends. Allowing our fears to win often means the sacrifice of our relationships, including our relationship with God.

Knowing how much fear can control our lives, Martin Luther teaches us in his explanation to the 1st Commandment that we’re to ‘fear, love and trust God above all things’.

He knows that when we fear the things of men more than we fear the things of God, it exposes our idols – the things or people we’re placing our trust in for our happiness, security, and fulfilment.

In this case, idols aren’t always made of gold or silver or wood, but our idols could be our beauty, our youth, our popularity, our reputation, our position, or even our loved ones. The trouble with idols is they always demand sacrifices to satisfy one’s own fears or desires.

In Herod’s case, he feared his wife, his daughter, and all the guests. The idol he was seeking to protect or satisfy could have been his popularity, his position, his reputation, or his acceptance in the community. The sacrifice for his fears to satisfy his idol was John the Baptist’s life.

In this case a godly person is sacrificed in order to pay for the idolatry of another. But in this way, this last sacrificial action of John the Baptist pointed to the greater sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for the sins and idolatrous actions of the whole world.

Even though Jesus isn’t mentioned much in today’s text, we need to remember this text sits within the wider context where he’s just sent out the Twelve apostles to preach repentance, heal the sick, and drive out demons.

The call to repentance is a call back to safety and peace before God through the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is a call to abandon the idols and fears which control us, and to receive a restored relationship with God; a relationship where you trust the sacrifice for your sin has already been made through Jesus’ death.

Jesus sent his apostles to heal people, but when you look at the ministry of Jesus, you see how often the healing of people is closely related to the forgiveness of sins. When fears control your actions and you do things which sin against God and against others, this can affect your body and your health.

Now, this doesn’t mean every disease, sickness or injury is a direct result or punishment for sin, but some undealt-with-sin and fears may affect your health. For example, undealt-with bitterness or fears can lead to upset stomachs, anxiousness, nervous dispositions, depression, or outbursts of anger which hurt you and the people around you.

On the other hand, when you truly believe your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, you can sometimes feel an affect in your body – a sense of warming, relief, freedom, unburdening, and healing. The forgiveness of sins heals crippled hearts and lives which were once trapped by fear. Through faith in Jesus, miracles to body and soul still happen today!

The forgiveness of sins can also drive out the demons of your past. Now this doesn’t deny the existence of real demons which can possess people (which needs to be dealt with carefully and prayerfully), but like Herod was haunted by the demons of his past, you can also be haunted by the regrets of your own past. Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins, even those sins you committed because you were afraid, can bring about forgiveness and peace for your own past.

You see, where idols demand sacrifices, the greatest sacrifice has already been paid. Jesus died in order to pay the death price for your sins. Jesus died to save you from the devil who seeks to separate you from God and enslave you with your fears. Jesus even died to save you from death and the fear of death.

Fears may control you and your thoughts, words, and actions, but the love of Jesus can calm your greatest fears which in turn leads you to respond differently when faced with fears, because you now respond with faith, hope, and love because you fear, love and trust in God alone.

As we’ve heard in our text today, bad things happen to people, even the greatest servants of God, but this doesn’t mean you have to fear them!

You see, through your trust in Jesus Christ, your fears no longer have to control you. When you fear, love and trust God above all things, no-one can harm you or snatch you away from the love of God given to you through Jesus Christ. You’ve been chosen and adopted as his children, and you’ve received redemption through Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Grace and peace is yours through faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t let fear control you, but through your faith in Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed for you and all your sins, may the love of Christ control you and all you do…

…so that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.