THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

Mark 6:14-29
Key Verse: 6:18 ."For John had been saying to Herod, `It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.'"

        In today's message the holy Word of God takes a moment to remind the reader of the event that led to martyrdom of John the Baptist. In the sight of Jesus, John was one of history's greatest men. John was great because he gave his life to help men find faith in 
Jesus through repentance. Some people say with their mouth: "I believe in Jesus Christ." but their actions show they only believe in sinning. To his dying breath John the Baptist taught that true belief in Jesus begins by being willing to repent according to the revealed 
word of God. This word of God we will look at today will take us to the cold, damp, rat-infested dungeons of king Herod where John the Baptist is being bound. It also takes us to the palace of Herod where men and women enjoy the fruitless, meaningless pleasures 
of sin and plot the murder of the righteous.

Part I.  It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife

Look at verse 14: "King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." There are a number of king Herods in the Bible. The one mentioned here was King Herod Antipas, who was appointed king of Galilee by the Roman government. It was under this Herod's rule Jesus sent his disciples out into the towns, roads and country lanes of Galilee two by two to drive out evil spirits  and to preach that people should repent. Through this two by two ministry Jesus' name became well known. As Jesus' name became more well known many rumors concerning who Jesus was began to circulate. Verse 15 reads: "Others said, `He is Elijah.'  And still others claimed, `He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.'  King Herod was convinced Jesus was John the Baptist.   Like tapes that reveal the Presidents most private conversation verse 16 reveals to us Herod was pacing the halls of his palace telling his closest aides: "John, the man I beheaded, has been raise from the dead." To those who repent the news of Jesus Christ brings tears of thankfulness. Jesus opens for them an everlasting gushing well of peace with God. Herod's self-condemning thoughts show those who don't repent become more mentally unstable and self- condemning. Like a movie that begins by going back in time, the gospel writer now takes us back in time when Herod first heard the preaching of John the Baptist. Mark 1 and Luke 3 give us a glimpse of the preaching style of John the Baptist. To taste the fiery preaching style of John the Baptist let us look at Luke 3:7-14.  John's preaching because it was empowered by the Holy Spirit even moved cynical tax collectors and hardened soldiers to repent. We can also imagine King Herod or a representative of King Herod also came to John asking 
what King Herod had to do to produce fruit in keeping with repentance." We are told in verse18 John would say to him: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 
Bible commentaries tell us Herod began this unlawful marriage with his brother Philip's wife when Herod went to visit Philip in Rome. At the time Philip was married to Herodias. Herodias wanted to be a queen by any means, at any cost. Being the wife of Philip she new her worldly ambition to become a queen would never happen. However when King Herod visited her home she found the way. Using her womanly attractive powers she caught the eye and lust of King Herod. Together they made a sinful pack. 
Both agreed to dump their husband or wife so they could marry one another. Since Herod was a king, he thought no one would ever dare question the legitimacy of his marriage to Herodias. God used John the Baptist to shatter his false confidence. John could say the 
truth of God to Herod because he feared God not Herod. Moreover he had a shepherd heart for Herod and Herodias. He wanted them to believe in Jesus and be saved. The only way John could help them was to help them repent. Therefore without compromise he 
told Herod: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 
John the Baptist reminds of Nathan the prophet who rebuked King David for his murder of Uriah and his adultery with his wife Bathsheba. David repented at Nathan's rebuke. Just because someone is a leader doesn't mean he doesn't sin or above rebuke. 
Being a good example is everything to being a good leader. When you think about Abraham Lincoln, what do you think about? I think about his leadership to keep America united and his Emancipation Proclamation to give freedom to all slaves throughout 
America. When you think of President Clinton what do you think of? Unfortunately off the top of my head I can't think of any positive legacy he left. My point is leaders can leave a positive or negative legacy. When they sin they must be open to rebuke and 
repentance if for anything so they can encourage others to follow their example of repentance.
For Herod to repent he would have to change his life. He would have to apologize to his brother Philip and send Herodis back to him. Instead he ordered John arrested, verses 17 tells us. He had him bound and placed in his dark, damp rat-infested prison. He 
thought such a wretched change in John's life would change John's message to him. John never altered his message. Day after day, week after week John's message remained the same: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
John's message infuriated Herdioas. He nagged and nagged Herod to kill John. Verse 20 shows why Herod didn't kill him. It reads: "because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was 
greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him."  According to this verse while John remained locked and bound in Herod's prison, Herod would go to him and listen to him. John was not only Herod's prisoner; he was also Herod's own personal 1to1 Bible teacher. Herod became like those who would show up for church or Bible study every now and then because they like to listen to the Bible message or Bible study. The question to answer is why was Herod greatly puzzled or why does anyone remain puzzled and uncommitted after coming to Bible study after Bible study. Was it because John preached in riddles or the Bible is written in a high level code? Not at all. Herod was left puzzled because he tried to study the Bible without trying to repent. Understanding is not what comes first in Bible study. Repentance and child-like acceptance of the revealed word of God comes first.  If Herod had repented, everything John taught would have 
been clear as crystal. One of the main purposes of Bible study is to use the power of God's word to change our life. I remember the first Bible testimony I wrote. Enclosed in the testimony was little or no mention of the word of God I had studied.  One word of 
God I did mention was written for the purpose of serving my own ideas. Missionary Jacob rebuked me for filling my testimony with my own ideas. He told me my testimony had to serve the word of God I studied, to use the power of God's word to change my 
life.  Everyone who comes to Bible study is a sinner. We can't change ourselves nor can anyone else change us. Only the power of God's word can change us. Through repenting and accepting the clear revealed word of God we begin to grow in Holy Image of God. 
As 1 Peter2: 2 teaches we grow up in our salvation. There is no problem too great, no sin too addicting and awful that cannot be completely overcome through repenting and accepting the powerful word of God.

Part II.   Herodias nursed a grudge against John.

        While Herod would visit John in prison for Bible study Herodias nursed a murderous grudge against John. Even though she was queen and lived in the lap luxury while John seemed to rot in prison, it was John who was content while she was miserable. 
What made her miserable? It was her grudge she nursed against John. Cain nursed a grudge against his brother Able. God counseled Cain in Gen3: 6-7: "Then the Lord said to Cain,  'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right,  will 
you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.'" For Herodias to do what is right first she must ask God to help her repent of her grudge against John. Nursing a grudge against 
somebody can lead us to become servants of the devil. This is exactly what Herodias became to Herod because of her grudge she nursed against John.   Verse 21 reads: "Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee." Herod at his core was a corrupt politician. To legitimize his kingship and win the fidelity of the people of influence and authority in his kingdom he invited all of them to his birthday. During the banquet Herod guzzled alcohol. He lost all his emotions. Part way through the banquet the king invited his stepdaughter Salome to dance for him and his guests.  Herodias had 
hired the best dancers in the land to give her daughter lessons. Salome made dancers like Brittany Spears look like an old lady. She also hired the best hair stylist and beauticians to make her into a woman who would take the breath out of any man who laid their eyes 
on her. Basically Herodis refined her daughter in all the areas of pleasing the flesh of men. She provided for her the same attributes she used to become queen by any means.After Salome's dance Herod and his guests were left salivating like hungry dogs. The 
king lost all his senses. He said to the girl in verses 22,23: "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." And he promised her with an oath, " Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." Who has ever heard a king promising some girl  with an oath up to half his kingdom?  Not even Hollywood could portray one of their fictional kings to do such an insane act. But this is exactly what Herod did because he did not live for God or for his people but for his flesh. He was like Esau who sold all his spiritual rights and blessings for a bowl of soup.Verse 24 tells us this young girl went to her mother and asked: "What shall I ask for?"  Without giving it even a moment to think about Herodias told her daughter: "The head of John the Baptist." How did the girl respond to such a grizzly request?  Verse 25 
tells us: "At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: `I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.'  In carrying out her mother's request she did not do it with sullenness. She hurried Herod like a girl hurries to share a malicious rumor. Right now she demands Herod to give her the head of John. To add insult to injury she added to her mother's request to place Johns head on a platter. Herodias had raised her daughter into twice the devil she was.  Here we see daughters grow up to be just like their mothers. If a mother's ambition is for the glittering wealth and power of this world, it is very like her daughter will also follow her example. If the 
mother fears God, is a woman of prayer and places her faith and hope in Jesus, then her daughter will more than likely follow her godly example.  Verse 26-29 read: "The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought 
back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb."  In one sense this martyrdom of John the Baptist is one of the darkest moments among the deeds of men. John the Baptist had been the conscience of Israel.  Every echelon of society looks to him for direction how to do what is right. His life was 
prophesied in Isaiah 100's of years before he lived. His birth was an answered prayer to Zechariah and Elizabeth who themselves gave their entire lives to follow all of God's commandments and regulations blamelessly. Then because of the request of a wicked spoiled little girl his life was snuffed out as quickly as a candle on a birthday cake. When Jesus heard of John the Baptist martyrdom, how did he respond?  "He told those around him in Matt. 11: 11 "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." Jesus Christ, the Son of God said John was the greatest person ever born of women. When we examine his life, we find his 
violent death is what consummated him to be honored as the greatest person born of women. First he was great because he lived and died for mission. By the hour of his death he had completely achieved his mission. In John 3:30 John the Baptist said of Jesus: "He must become greater; I must become less. When John was martyred we find Jesus was becoming greater while John was becoming less. Looking back at Mark 6:14 we find Jesus' name had become well known after the death of John the Baptist. Many men while carrying out their mission taste what it means to be great. Then they relax and indulge in greed and lust. In the end instead of ending their lives in greatness they end it in shame and regret.  John from his birth to his death lived a life of single minded, unyielding devotion to his mission. Nothing short of cutting off his head could prevent him from living for his mission.
Secondly John was great because he was faithful even to the point of death. When we think of John's martyrdom we think of Jesus' words to the church of Smyrna found in Revelation 2:10: "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." John was arrested, bound and placed in prison to torture him and cause him to compromise his message. Nevertheless, to the very end of his life his message to king Herod remained the same: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." King Herod and queen 
Herodias would compromise manipulate and kill at the drop of a hat to hold onto their perishable crowns. In the end not a crown but death and eternal punishment is what they achieved. John in contrast, even with the executioner sword drawn back to cut his head 
remained faithful to the word of God. Because he was faithful to the end we know a crown of eternal life is now what he will wear in the kingdom of God. Some people place their work first, or family or ego or worldly ambitions. Their excuse for not being faithful 
to God's word is always the same.  They say "The Bible won't put bread on my table, seeking first God's kingdom won't pay the mortgage." On the other hand there are people who at any cost will be faithful to the word of God. Once Shepherdess Mahmia before 
one summer conference matter of factedly told her employer: "If you refuse to allow me to go to my church's summer Bible conference I'll have to quit."  She quit her job to go to the conference. That was a few years ago and she still hasn't gone a day without food. 
Still she has a place to live. More important she was faithful to God's word even at the cost of her job.  Everything we do in this life, no matter how important it may rank among the people of this world, it all pales to being faithful to God's word and faithful to 
Jesus our Savior. Let me read you a brief portion of Missionary Roni Bowers' testimony. She was the young missionary woman who along with her adopted child Charity was shot and killed while flying in a missionary plane in Peru. The part of her testimony I'll share 
is the emotions she struggled with after the death of her new born baby."I couldn't understand all the emotions, the deep depression I was feeling.  What kind of a Christian was I?  After months of struggles, I realized I was putting the baby I 
wanted before my relationship with God.  I finally realized what I was doing and begged God to forgive me.  More than anything, I wanted my relationship with Him back .  God has not taken away the desire for a baby, but He has helped me put my 
priorities in order.

Now I choose to trust God fully.  He is in control; He knows what is best.  He doesn't owe me anything, rather I owe Him everything.  When we as believers get to heaven, we won't have to ask, "why?"  It will be worth it all. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."   This young missionary woman lost two babies and her own life in the mission field. It seems this woman lost everything for Jesus. But by her own confession it will be worth it all, because her real treasures are found with her Lord in heaven."  From the martyrdom of John the Baptist we learn being faithful to Jesus our Lord even to the point of death is our doorway into glory. 
 

- by sh. David Brogi