Mark 6:14-29 Death of John the Baptist

14 Herod the king heard about these things, because the name of Jesus had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and this is why miraculous powers are at work through him.” 15 Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the ancient prophets.” 16 But when Herod heard these rumors, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised to life.”

17 He said this because Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, 18 but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” 19 So Herodias had it in for John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. 20 This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.

21 Finally, the time was right. It was on one of Herod’s birthdays, when he had prepared a feast for his high-ranking officials and military officers and Galilee’s leading residents.22 Herod’s daughter Herodias[a] came in and danced, thrilling Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the young woman, “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”23 Then he swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give to you, even as much as half of my kingdom.”

24 She left the banquet hall and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”

“John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied.

25 Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” 26 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. 27 So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, 28 brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.

This is the word of God, for us, the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Healing Hands – Become Known

If there is anything people know about Jesus today, it is that he healed many people.  In the Bible belt many of us were raised with the amazing stories of Jesus healing those who suffered – like the story of Jesus healing the woman who had bled for 12 years, and Jesus raising Jairus’ 12 year-old daughter from the dead.  Jesus had (and still has) the miraculous power to bring healing into desperate places.  One of the reasons Jesus became known to the world as God was through stories about the power of his healing hands.

Last week, we talked about the apostles whose job it was to make Jesus known to everyone.  And do you remember what an apostle is?  It is a person who was sent out for a mission.  And we read last week in Mark 3 and 6 about how Jesus had chosen certain people to be apostles – first they were called to be with him, and then after a while Jesus gave the apostles his own healing power- he gave them the authority of God – and he sent them out in pairs to heal people, to cast out demons and to proclaim the news that people should change their hearts and their lives!  These apostles were sent out for the mission of God in the world.  They were sent to use their own healing hands on behalf of Jesus.

In today’s scripture, we hear that because of the work of the apostles, the name of Jesus had become well-known.

Let that sink in – partly because of the apostles work when Jesus sent them out in pairs the name of Jesus had become well-known.

His name had become so well-known that even Herod the king had heard of the miracles that he and his apostles performed.  Herod probably knew that they had been working against evil and that they had been calling on people to change their hearts and their lives.  And Herod probably knew about Jesus too because of Herod’s previous relationship with John the Baptist.

The story of Herod is a flashback to earlier days of Jesus’ ministry.  If you look back at the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ began with John the Baptist.  Mark quoted Isaiah when he said that John would be the messenger for Jesus – to go before Jesus – to prepare the way for Jesus – to make a straight path in the wilderness.

John the Baptist was the first person to help make Jesus known.  And if you think about it – he did it in the same basic way Jesus instructed the apostles.  He called on people to change their hearts and lives, and he baptized people.  But it is in today’s scripture that we hear about the end of John the Baptist’s life.  We have quite a cast of messed up characters in this scripture — we have Herod, Herodias the wife and mother, and the daughter, also called Herodias.  You probably recognize the name Herod – there were many men in this family who shared the name Herod.  And all of them are known for evil acts.  Herod the Great was the father of Herod Antipas – the one in today’s story.  Herod the Great was the Herod who had all the babies in Bethlehem murdered when he heard that a baby had been born who would become king of the Jews.

The Herod family tree is both complex and disturbing, and for those of you who are Bible scholars you may want to research Herod’s family tree – it is like a year’s worth of Jerry Springer episodes.  But, in this scripture, we read about how Herod Antipas had thrown himself a birthday party – and not just a simple dinner out with the family.  The scripture says it was a feast for nobles, high ranking officers and Galilee’s leading residents.  And during the feast, Herod’s daughter, Herodias’ – a young woman, comes in to dance.  And this dance was not a square dance or a waltz, but was described by one writer as a “licentious” dance which most father’s would quickly stop.  But our scripture says that Herod and the guests were “thrilled” by the dance.  Herod was so pleased with the dance, that he offered Herodias a reward.  “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you,” he told her.  The daughter (Herodias) asked her mother (also named Herodias) for advice on what to ask for, and the mother had revenge against John the Baptist in mind.

You see John the Baptist had confronted Herod with the truth – the truth about his marriage to Herodias.  John had confronted Herod with the truth that his marriage was against Jewish law as well as a moral outrage.  Herod had broken up his brother Phillip’s marriage to Herodias, so that he could marry her.  And Herodias, the mother, had been plotting her revenge against John the Baptist’s words of truth which were spoken against her marriage.  Because John the Baptist had spoken the truth to power, she wanted him dead!

And so —- she encouraged her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head – on a platter.  And Herod does it.

And the mind-boggling thing about the whole story is that the scripture says, “Herod respected John.  He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him.  [And our scripture says that] John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.”  Even though John spoke the truth – Herod respected John.  He regarded him as a righteous person and a holy person.  And yet Herod executed John and had his head presented on a platter.

Why?  Why in the world?  How does Herod go from respecting this righteous and holy man to offering up his head on a platter?  What led Herod to murder someone he saw as a holy and righteous man?  What led Herodias to ask for the head of John the Baptist?

Well, maybe Herod was so desperate for approval that he would do anything.  Maybe it was pride or envy.  Maybe it was a craving for power.  We definitely see the burning desire for revenge in Herodias – the craving for control and power over her situation.  Maybe it was about envy and jealousy.  Maybe it was as simple as peer pressure.  And we would certainly say that the presence of evil was in this situation.

In the Bible, we mainly learn how to live rightly from the example of Jesus and the disciples, but we can also learn from the bad guys and bad girls in the Bible.  We can find great examples of what not to do.  And in this scripture, we can remind ourselves that we all fall into the sinful behaviors of pride, envy, jealousy, the desire for revenge and power.  We are constantly being influenced by peer pressure.  It is part of the sinful part of our natures.  Sometimes it just feels like evil gets the best of us.  I don’t know about you, but I hate that feeling when pride and envy and jealousy rise up in me.  It’s almost a physical feeling within.  And it’s a horrible feeling.  Instead of going there, I want to live a life of peace and joy and love.

One of the main messages that John the Baptist shared with people was that they should repent – they should change their hearts and lives because the kingdom of God was at hand.  Jesus spoke the same message.  The apostles were sent out to speak the same message.  And so, I have to believe this is an important message, and that this action of changing our hearts and lives is wrapped up in the healing nature of Jesus’s ministry.

I think it is when we admit to ourselves and God that we need to change that healing begins to take place in our lives.  I think that when we use God’s power to turn away from pride, envy, jealousy, and the desire for power and control that that is one way the power of Jesus heals us, and we are freed to live the way God created us to live.  The healing hands of Jesus are not only about the healing of our physical bodies.  When we turn to Christ for forgiveness and for help to resist evil and our own sinful nature, we are healed in the very nature of who we are and how we behave.  It is when we turn toward living a God-centered life instead of a self-centered life that we can live in the joy of the Lord.

AND It is when we change our hearts and lives that Jesus becomes well-known by us, and Jesus becomes well-known to others through us.

Today, I invite you to change your heart and to change your life.  This process of turning away from ourselves and turning toward God is a daily process accomplished only through the presence of the healing nature of Christ.

But there was something else that John the Baptist did in the wilderness – he called on people to be baptized.  God has given us this holy way to turn toward God.  Baptism is an ancient way of making a promise to God that we are seeking to change and follow God.  When people wanted to change their hearts and lives, the outward act of commitment was in baptism.  So, as a way of committing ourselves to God this day, I invite you to remember the covenant that many of you made at your baptisms and confirmations.  Would you turn to page 50 in the hymnal as we reaffirm those vows of commitment to follow Jesus.

(Click below to remember your baptism, and be thankful!)