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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:What happens to God's prophets?
Text:Mark 6:14-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-12-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 129:1-4
Psalm 130:1-4 (after the law)
Psalm 131:1-3
Hymn 64:1-4
Psalm 82:1,2 (after the offertory)
Augment Hymn 28 or Hymn 6

Reading:  1 Kings 21
Text:  Mark 6:14-29
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

 

The story of a king with jello legs and a wife with an iron fist is nothing new in the Bible.  We read a few moments ago from 1 Kings 21 and there we encountered Ahab and Jezebel.  Ahab was an Israelite, but he had married outside the church, taking a Sidonian wife.  At Jezebel’s urging, Ahab built a temple for Baal in Samaria, built an Asherah pole, and supported 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah.  Jezebel was a wicked woman and to this day her name is synonymous with sin incarnate.  No one with any sense would name their daughter Jezebel. 

 

If idolatry and hatred for the true God were not enough, in chapter 21 of 1 Kings, Jezebel adds false witness, theft, and murder to her resume.  Ahab cannot and does not want to stand up to her and it costs an innocent man, his life.  But then the prophet of God comes along.  The LORD sends Elijah to the palace in Samaria to confront this great wickedness, to lay down the law.

 

This story reverberates into the New Testament where we find another king and his wife, Herod and Herodias.  Again, we find great wickedness.  And again, we find a prophet from God sent to confront the evil.  However, unlike with Elijah, this prophet has to pay a steeper price for his courage.  Often Elijah was a hunted man – the words of Psalm 129 which we sang at the beginning, those could be his words.  But he escaped with his life, and was taken up by God directly into heaven.  Not so with the prophet in our passage.  He ends up losing his head. 

 

Mark places this story here partly to remind us that when the Lord Jesus sends out his disciples with a prophetic task, they have to realize that there are forces out there which hate them.  Again, in the words of Psalm 129, there are those who hate Zion, who hate the church of God, who hate its prophets and want nothing more than for those prophets to be silenced.  In our text, we see what inevitably happens to the prophets of God.  That’s our theme as I preach to you God’s Word. 

 

As we look at our text, I want to begin with verse 17.  This is where the story really begins.  We’ll begin with verse 17 and we’ll go through to verse 29 and then we’re going to come back and deal with verses 14 to 16.  Again, verse 17 is really where the first events in this story take place, so we’ll deal with that first.

 

Herod is mentioned here and we need to be clear on who he is.  You may remember that there was a Herod who tried to put Jesus to death when he was a toddler.  When the magi came from Persia, they told Herod that they were seeking the king of the Jews.  Herod believed Jesus to be a threat and had all the boys of Bethlehem two years old and under put to death.  Jesus and his family narrowly escaped by going to Egypt.  That Herod was Herod the Great.  He was the father of the Herod mentioned in Mark 6.  The Herod in Mark 6 is sometimes called Herod Antipas, to distinguish him from his father, Herod the Great.

 

The other thing we need to remember about Herod is that he was not Jewish.  The Herodian family was actually from Idumea, which made them Edomites, descendants of Esau.  The Jews were descended from Jacob, but the Edomites, including Herod, were descended from Esau.  Throughout the Old Testament, there has always been enmity and hatred between the Edomites and the people of God.  You can see that, for instance, in Psalm 137 and passages in the prophets like Malachi 1, where God says, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated...”

 

Now even though Herod was not Jewish, he was still the king or more properly the ruler of the Jews in Galilee.  The political power of the Herodian family was achieved during the time between the Old and New Testament, the intertestamentary period.  Through alliances with the Greeks and Romans, the Herodians were able to position themselves as rulers in Palestine. 

 

In verse 17, we discover that his Herod Antipas had sent out orders for the arrest and imprisonment of John the Baptist.  The reason follows – an ancient soap opera.  A year or two before John’s death, Herod Antipas was on a journey to Rome.  Along the way, he stopped in to visit his brother Philip who lived along the coast of Palestine.  Herod had left his wife at home.  As he visited with his brother, he ended up in bed with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  They made an agreement to get married.  She would divorce Philip and he would divorce his wife (we don’t know what her name was).  Herod continued his trip to Rome and while he was gone, his wife heard about the whole affair and she moved out and went back to her father, a Nabatean king.  Later on, her father would wage war against Herod because of this mess.  So, when he got back from Rome, the way was open for Herodias to get married to Herod.

 

What Herod did was wrong and John the Baptist let him know in no uncertain terms.  He told him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  When he said this, he was referring back to the book of Leviticus.  In Leviticus 18:16, the LORD said that it was not lawful for a man to have a sexual relationship with his brother’s wife – implying that it was also wrong for a man to steal his brother’s wife and marry her.  The reason?  It would dishonour your brother. 

 

Now someone might say, “Well, that was in Leviticus and that applied only to the Israelites and Herod wasn’t an Israelite, so John was out of line.”  There are a couple of things we need to consider there.  Do we really want to say that the moral laws about incest in the Old Testament only applied to the people of Israel?  Do we really want to say that those laws have no bearing on people who are not Jewish or that they have no bearing on us today?  I think we instinctively realize or should realize that those moral laws are expanding on the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”   And while some of their cultural details may be only for Israel, the general principles still apply to everybody, Jewish or not.  It was wrong in Herod’s day for any man to steal his brother’s wife and it remains wrong today for everybody. 

 

And even if those laws only apply to the Jews, Herod still claimed to be their king.  It would be an outrage for the king of the Jews to think himself above the law of the Jews, that law that had been given by God.  If he was truly the King of the Jews, then he should also live by the law of the Jews and uphold it, not only with his judgments, but also with his lifestyle. 

 

So, John was right on the money when he came as a prophet, just like Elijah, and laid down the law for Herod.  But just like Elijah stirred up hatred in Jezebel, so also John stirred up the hatred of Herodias.  She had it in for him and wanted to kill him.  For some, the preaching of the law brings them to their knees saying, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”  For Ahab, when Elijah laid down the law, he became broken and tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted.  God took notice and showed him mercy.  But when Herodias hears John preaching the law and its demands, she responds with the desire to do violence to the messenger, to shut him up any way she possibly can.  She doesn’t want to hear about what she’s done wrong, she doesn’t want to hear that this relationship is wrong, that her divorce was wrong. 

 

But despite her hatred for John, she wasn’t able to do anything to him.  Because even though she hated him, Herod still had mixed feelings about him.  Herod was afraid of John.  He believed that crossing a holy and righteous man was a bad idea, perhaps there was some superstition in that, maybe it was because of what Herod knew from the Old Testament – we don’t know one way or another.  Whatever the case may be, Herod heard John.  Now that’s an important detail.  Even though he had John put in chains and in prison, Herod still heard John.  Either he went to prison to listen to him, or John was brought to him.  And what he heard didn’t clear anything up, didn’t produce any fruit of repentance.  Herod was messed up and confused:  on the one hand, John had a point and he was a clear and effective preacher, as is evident from elsewhere in the New Testament.  But on the other hand, he had Herodias and the pull of his lust.  This left Herod in a quandary and he was quite content to sit in that quandary.  We sang Psalm 131 a few moments ago and in that Psalm we have a picture of quietness, peace, and contentment – the very opposite of what was going on in Herod’s life. 

 

However, eventually events conspired to bring a resolution.  Herod threw a birthday party for himself and for a number of military and public officials.  The Herodian family had a reputation for debauched, drunken, pagan parties.  And this one was no exception.  Somehow the daughter of Herodias became involved with the party.  Traditionally, the name of the daughter of Herodias is Salome.  For some reason or other, Salome, probably a teenager of marriageable age, comes and dances.  Given the context and the reaction that follows, this was probably not innocent, but something perverse. 

 

Salome pleases Herod and brings him to make a thoughtless offer.  He says that she can ask for whatever she wants. Then he strengthens it with an oath offering something that he can’t even give:  half of the kingdom.  Because he was only a ruler or a tetrarch, and not really a king, he couldn’t give half of the kingdom if he wanted to.  Only Caesar could do that.  The offer is made nonetheless:  you can have whatever you want.  Just name it. 

 

Seeing an opportunity, Salome goes out to Herodias her mother and seeks her advice.  The answer is instantaneous:  “The head of John the Baptist.”  From here on there’s this rapid-fire story.  Everything takes place in a spin.  The girl rushes back in and makes the request for John’s head, and she adds that she wants it on a platter.  Why on a platter?  Why not in a box?  Or something else?  Why a platter?  Think about it for a second.  This is a feast, a birthday party.  There are a lot of platters full of food and drink.  They look beautiful.  The dishes at a feast are there to delight and impress the guests and this dish would be very delightful, very visually pleasing for Herodias, and she assumes that it will be the same for Herod.

 

Because of his mixed feelings about John, Herod is upset with this request.  But he doesn’t think that maybe he could say to Salome, “I promised you a gift, not a crime.”  Or he could have said that he promised her something and not her mother.  But his head was probably clouded with alcohol and he felt the pressure of all the guests looking on.  The fear of man got the better of him and Herod saved his face, but lost his soul.  The enmity between Jacob and Esau continued.  It would not be the last time that a ruler gives in to others so that an innocent man loses his life. 

 

It also wouldn’t be the last time that a man’s disciples come and take his body and give it a proper burial.  In the last verse, we read about John’s followers coming and doing the right thing for his body, returning it to the earth in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead. 

 

Now why does Mark include this whole story about John?  More importantly, what is God saying to us?  This is all about what happens to God’s prophets and it speaks to us on three levels.  On the one hand, all Christians are prophets of Christ, called to confess His name.  We can expect that the normal reaction is going to be antagonistic.  Many people don’t want to hear us speak about sin, the root problem of all human beings.  Most people don’t want to hear us speak about God’s law and its demands.  The average person doesn’t want to hear about the curse on sin and sinners, about God’s justice and wrath.  In fact, if you dare to speak about these things, you can expect people to become hostile, angry and perhaps even violent.  And people don’t want to hear us speak about the gospel as found in Scripture.  Many don’t want a gospel that says that by ourselves we’re hopeless, helpless, and hell-bound.  Many don’t want to hear that Christ has to do it all for us, that the only thing we can contribute to our salvation is our sin.  Many want their ears tickled, they want a feel-good-about-yourself gospel instead of the offensive gospel of the cross found in the Bible.  So, you should expect suffering and antagonism if you’re a faithful prophet for Christ.   That’s the first level on which this passage speaks.

 

The second has to do with what we do with God’s prophets, specifically the messengers he appoints as ministers of the gospel.  How do we react when we hear the prophetic proclamation of God’s Word?  This is a question that’s been posed before by Mark’s gospel, for instance in the Parable of the Sower.  What kind of soil are you?  Consider Herod’s response and that of Herodias.  As the Word was sowed by John, did it meet with a positive response?  Or did it find stony ground, or perhaps ground that took it for a short while but was choked by lust?  And what about us?  What do we do with Christ’s prophets and the word they bring?’

 

The third level brings us to verses 14 to 16.  This has to do with Christ and his prophetic work, his prophetic office.  You’ll notice in these verses that there is confusion about who Christ is.  This is the central theme of the gospel of Mark:  who is Jesus?  And by this time, his identity is getting some definition.  He has been preaching and teaching, doing miraculous things.  It’s becoming clear that Jesus is a prophet.  But could he be Elijah?  Could it be that Elijah has come back down from heaven?  Or could he be Jeremiah or one of the other prophets?  Herod’s answer here in Mark is unambiguous:  he thinks that John has come back to haunt him. 

 

But if you think about it, that’s sort of odd.  After all, Jesus and John were about the same age.  How could John have come back from the dead in Jesus when Jesus was already known and active in his ministry before John’s death?  When Herod says this, he probably doesn’t literally mean that John has come back from the dead.  Most likely this is just a vivid way of saying that there’s continuity in the prophetic style and activity of Jesus and John.  They’re in the same line.  This is sort of like Elijah’s spirit being transferred to Elisha.  Herod sees the spirit of John in Christ Jesus.

 

For Herod, he was right in one sense.  He was right that both John and Jesus were fundamentally prophets, both sent from God, both working in very similar ways.  But he missed everything else.  When John preached, he preached the law – he exposed human sin and failure.  But he also preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And he also said that there was one coming after him, someone greater, someone who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  That someone greater had not only a prophetic message of judgment, but also a prophetic message of grace.  He would be the forgiveness of sins, he would be the one to send the Holy Spirit.  He would bring the gospel.  But Herod misses all this about Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t invite Jesus into his presence to preach – his house has had enough of prophets!  Jesus’ prophetic ministry only frightened him, it didn’t appeal to him. 

 

Later on, Jesus and Herod would meet face to face.  When they finally met, Herod hoped that Jesus would do some miracle.  He asked the Lord many questions, but Jesus gave no answer.  Herod and his soldiers then mocked him, made him into a joke, and played dress up with him -- humiliating him.   The stage is being set here in Mark 6 for yet another confrontation between Jacob and Esau.  This son of Esau who did horrible, wicked things in Israel, who rejected God’s promise just as his ancient father did, he would have to bear his own judgment. 

 

Loved ones, you see the issue here for us today, don’t you?  What do you make of Christ, the prophet?  Who is he to you?  Where do you fall in, with Jacob or with Esau?  To be the true Israel, spiritual sons of Jacob, we need to see Jesus as our only Lord, the one who prophetically proclaims God’s law to us, both as a way to expose our sin and to guide our thankfulness.  We need to see him as our only Saviour, the one who prophetically proclaims the gospel to us.  Through Christ, we’re right with God.  Through Christ, we’re adopted as God’s children and heirs.  Through Christ, we have the promise of glorification and life eternal in God’s presence.    

 

You know, there is a tragedy in our text.  The tragedy is not the death of John the Baptist.  The tragedy is in what happens with Herod.  Herod sinned and his sin was exposed by the preaching of John the Prophet.  Jesus the Prophet comes preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and yet Herod remains distant, under the curse of sin, he remains under God’s wrath.  There is forgiveness for every sin in Jesus Christ.  There is no sin too great that it cannot be forgiven through the blood of the Lamb of God.  Herod could have been forgiven, not only for his adultery and incest, for stealing his brother’s wife, for his divorce, but he could have been forgiven for everything, for every sin he’d ever done through Jesus.  The tragedy is that he remains in his sin, refusing to heed the prophetic preaching of John, and then later the prophetic preaching of Christ.  He’s no Ahab.  There’s no sackcloth and ashes with Herod.  He has no sorrow over his sin, no repentance whatsoever, no faith.  That’s a tragedy. 

 

However, it was a tragedy that fit in the plan for our salvation.  God turned the opposition and antagonism of Herod for our benefit, using it to crush the head of the serpent.  You see how that happens right?  Herod’s heart gets hardened, he will not deliver Jesus from Pilate or from the Jews.  Instead, he will humiliate him and send him on his way to the cross, to suffer and die.  But unlike John, Jesus’ head will not end up on a platter at some feast.  Instead, this Prophet will triumph over sin and death.  His death is the death of death.  Now the real tragedy would be if any of us were to hear the prophetic preaching of Christ and just let it go in one ear and out the other.  The real tragedy would be for us to be offered all these riches and yet to turn up our noses at it, to go back like a dog to its vomit, casually back to living in sin, status quo, never finding the true joy offered by Christ.  How truly tragic that would be!      

 

Loved ones, brothers and sisters, see your Saviour again, hear his gospel, and embrace it in faith, resting and trusting in Christ alone.  Be convinced that there is no sin or weakness too great.  Know that, looking to Christ, all is forgiven and you are received in grace.  Trust his promises for you again today and rejoice in the Lord always.    

 

Let us pray:

 

Father,


We thank you for the faithful Prophet, for Jesus Christ our Saviour.  We thank you for his faithful ministry on earth, both then and now.  We thank you for his obedient life, his suffering, his death, his resurrection.  He is truly our life and our hope.  Lord God, we confess our deep need for him and for the message he brings us.  We pray that we would continue to hear that message faithfully preached through your messengers today.  When we hear it, help us to accept it in faith.  Make us like that little child of Psalm 131 and give us rest for our souls.  Father, we pray that you would also help all of us to be faithful prophets of our Lord Jesus.  Give us opportunties to do that.  Please help us when we encounter antagonism and hostility for the sake of the gospel.  Help us to remain firm, faithful, and friendly.  We pray that in all this you would strengthen us with your Holy Spirit.  And please hear our prayer in the name of Christ, AMEN.        




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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