The Story of Herod
"The Story of Herod" Mark 6:14-29
Last Sunday we looked closely at Jesus’s instructions for His disciples in Matthew 10 as He was sending them out as apostles. They were to be His ambassadors, carrying His same message that He and John the Baptist had been proclaiming- that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Jesus gave them a special anointing, empowering them to do the same miracles that He had been doing. He had warned them to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. He warned them of persecution, saying that they would be like sheep among wolves. But He encouraged them not to fear men- they were to only fear God. Jesus ended His instructions reminding them of the reward that was to come, not only for them, but for all who received them and their Kingdom message.
This morning we’re going to turn to the book of Mark, and learn from the life of a man who chose not to receive the Kingdom message of Jesus. Mark’s going to give us this little background side story before He goes on to tell us about the apostles returning from their mission trip and the events that followed. Mark chapter 6- and the passage we will focus on starts in verse 14. If you look at the verses proceeding verse 14 you’ll see that Mark records some of the details of Jesus’s instructions to His disciples before they went out- though not in quite as much detail as what we saw in Matthew 10- but you see in verses 12-13 that Mark says “They went out and preached that men should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.” And then in verse 14 Mark wants the reader to realize the impact that the sent-out disciples were having in the region. Let’s go ahead and read the passage from verse 14 up through verse 20. (Mark 6:14-20)
Remember Mark started telling this story because the apostles were out doing Jesus’s work and the news of it was spreading throughout the land, reaching all the way up to the ruler of the land- King Herod. So, King Herod, along with many others, was hearing about the name of Jesus. I love the fact that it was the disciples out doing the work, and yet the attention wasn’t drawn to the disciples’ names, rather the attention was drawn to where it should have been drawn- to the name of Jesus. The people weren’t necessarily seeing Jesus Himself, face to face in person, rather they were hearing of this man named Jesus through the word of the apostles proclaiming His Kingdom and doing works in His authority. And as a result, many formed their own opinions of who this Jesus man actually was- some saying He was John the Baptist resurrected, others Elijah. The great prophet Elijah had worked miracles, and was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, perhaps he had returned to earth as a messenger and miracle worker from God. Others assumed the Jesus that the apostles spoke of was another prophet, like the ones that had been sent to Israel some 400-800 years earlier.
In verse 16 we see that Herod’s personal opinion was that he agreed with those that said Jesus must be John the Baptist risen from the dead. What’s interesting is that John the Baptist didn’t ever perform miracles, (John 10:41) but perhaps because of his boldness, his authority, his unique set-apart-ness, the Kingdom message he proclaimed, and the unjust way in which he died- all these factors added up to him being a highly respected, special instrument of God, that some could imagine coming back to life and then performing miracles. But in Herod’s case, perhaps it was His guilty conscience that was the biggest factor in leading him to believe that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected.
I want to give you just a little more background on this King Herod. According to historical records, He was the son of Herod the Great, the one who was ruling when Jesus was born, who at that time commanded the slaughter of baby boys 2 and younger in Bethlehem. This Herod the Great had 5 different wives, and through one of those wives he bore a son who got married and then had a daughter named Herodias. Through another wife he bore a son named Herod Philip, who then married Herod the Great’s granddaughter Herodias, and together they had the daughter mentioned in this passage. And through yet another wife, Herod the Great bore a son named Herod Antipas, which is the Herod that we are reading of in this passage. So this Herod, Herod Antipas, visited His half-brother Herod Philip and seduced His wife Herodias, who was actually Herod Antipas’ niece in addition to being his sister-in-law. He then told his current wife who was the daughter of a prince in Petra in Arabia, he told her that he wanted a divorce. That current wife left him, returning to Petra, and so Herodias, taking her daughter, stole away with Herod Antipas- committing adultery as well as incest.
Now just a side note, the bible doesn’t contain all that information that I just mentioned, but there are other secular, historical documents that give us more of the background story behind many of the accounts recorded in the bible. Works from the Roman historian Tacticus, letters written by Roman governor Pliny the Younger, and writings from the Jewish historian Josephus, give us some of the history behind what was going on particularly during the first century, during the time of and time surrounding Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. What a beautiful gift God has given us in not only giving us the bible, but also giving us other records and supporting documents- other sources that confirm the accuracy and truth of what we are reading in scripture. Ok, back to our passage-
Somewhere along the way, Herod and John the Baptist had a conversation about Herod’s incestuous adultery with Herodias. Verse 18 says that John confronted Him and said it wasn’t lawful for Him to have his brother’s wife. Well Herod knew John was right, and respected him as a messenger of God; Herodias however was furious over being called out in the sin that she shared in with Herod. In verse 19 we see Herodias wanted John dead, but in verse 20 we see that Herod kept John “safe” preventing Herodias from having Him killed. And by “safe”, Mark really means Herod had John locked up in a prison cell thus keeping him off the streets and thus protecting him from assassination, and at the same time allowing easy access for he himself to enjoy listening to John’s perplexing teaching.
I wonder if perhaps Herod was attempting to soothe his shame of the guilt of adultery and incest by listening to John- perhaps he even thought himself a better man by respecting and listening to John. Some of us at times perhaps think ourselves to be good Christians because we agree to some degree the truth being proclaimed through a sermon message or biblical passage. But we are only harming ourselves if we are unwilling to apply the message to our lives. Being entertained by truth is not a substitute for applying truth. As one commentator put it, “It is useless to admire John if you keep Herodias.” Herod had an opportunity to listen to John’s words. He was given the chance to repent of his wrongdoing and receive the Kingdom message of Jesus into his life. He had the opportunity to do the right thing. But instead, he just let his ears be tickled. Let’s keep reading, verse 21. (Mark 6:21-29)
More than likely this was a big drunken party, a time for Herod to show off his wealth and power, and entertain all the other prestigious men of power within the region. There was food and wine galore, perhaps other forms of entertainment through music and/or dance. This was a time for Herod to look great, powerful, wealthy, and in control. And when Herodias’s daughter came and danced, it highly entertained Herod and the other drunken guests. And in his pride, perhaps even in his lust, he attempted to show off his authority and rashly said he would give her whatever she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. His proposal probably frightened her as she looked back into the gawking eyes of Herod and the other officials. Half the kingdom? With what strings attached, what would that mean for her, was she too to become the wife of Herod, was that what he was insinuating? So, she went to ask her mother Herodias what she should do. Now during this time, in this culture, the men and women would have been separate from each other at such an event. So, the young girl left the room and went to her mother, Herodias, and told her what Herod had said in front of all the party attenders. I imagine that Herodias immediately felt envy, jealousy, and anger, but then realized that this could be the very opportunity for revenge on John the Baptist for the guilt and shame he had caused her AND at the same time she could get back at Herod for his questionable motives behind his proposition to her daughter.
When the daughter returned to Herod and announced her wish, once more Herod had the opportunity to do the right thing. He had the opportunity to refuse this absurd request and to talk with John in repentance, seeking John’s counsel for how to make right the wrongs he had committed. After all, he really liked John anyway. But instead, he chose to just save face. He didn’t want to appear weak, he didn’t want to make Herodias more angered, he didn’t want his dinner guests to see that he felt convicted inside his heart. Although he was sorry, he repressed his sorrow and conviction, and granted the wish for John to be executed.
I’m sure in the days that followed, Herod gradually became less sorry, less convicted. I imagine he eased his guilty conscience by blaming Herodias for John’s death. He probably dealt with the guilt just as he had dealt with it previously in his life- stuffing it, ignoring it, distracting himself by listening to good teaching. But then one day, (as we circle back to verse 14) Herod heard about the works and teaching being presented by those who claimed the power and authority of a man named Jesus.
And all of a sudden, rising back to the top, to the very forefront of his mind is this flood of guilt, remorse, conviction, and now fear- that John was still alive! Notice his words in verse 16 “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” Yes, it was me. Herodias cornered me into doing it, Herodias’ daughter brought out the lust in me, my guests at the table forced my hand- I have comforted myself with these thoughts up until now, but right now in this moment I know the truth, John knows the truth, and God knows the truth- I am left with this guilt- it is I who did it and none other!
And as the conviction newly washed over him, I can see his face plagued with fear of what this ghost of John might come to do to him in revenge for his murder. Here was yet another time in which he could have listened to his throbbing conscience, and could have repented, making right his wrongs and applied the truth of the kingdom to his life. Unfortunately, Herod continued to resist the stirring in his heart. He allowed the voices of his wife, family, friends, and colleagues to speak louder than the nudging inside his heart and mind. He chose to continue in just being entertained rather than changed.
Herod did end up having the opportunity to meet Jesus face to face. He encountered Him less than just a few years later. Luke records this encounter, let’s look at it together in the book of Luke chapter 23. Jesus was on trial for crucifixion before Pilate and in verse 7, speaking of Pilate it says… Luke 23:7-12 After dulling his conscience for so long, it looks like Herod has finally given in completely to his character flaw of being merely entertained by God’s Kingdom message and messengers. Verse 8 tells us Herod had been wanting to see Jesus- why- so that he could make things right and atone for his adultery, incest, and lust, and murder of John the Baptist? No, those convictions seemingly have worn off- rather Herod sought Jesus in order to witness some miraculous sign- “Jesus- entertain me with a magic trick!” But instead, all Herod witnessed was silence from Jesus. And in frustration, he and his men resorted to creating their own entertainment by dressing Jesus up and mocking Him. And yet again, as verse 12 tells us, it appears that Herod desired to please his peers more than he desired to do the right thing. Instead of this being an opportunity to form a right relationship with Jesus and the creator God, instead Herod used it as an opportunity to win over Pilate into a favorable relationship with him.
History tells us that Herod’s sins caught up with him just a few years down the road. He lost his power and he lost trust from peers and family in the midst of being accused of conspiracies. His wealth and rule were taken over by Agrippa- a brother of Herodias, and Agrippa exiled Herod all the way over to a region that we now know as France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He died that same year in which he was exiled.
I beg you, learn from the story of Herod. I imagine that many of us, over the course of our lifetime, have our conscience pricked and our hearts convicted- nudged by the Holy Spirit- when we are confronted with our sin and with God’s Kingdom message. During these moments we each have the opportunity to respond. We can respond in obedience, and make life changes, or we can repress those convictions. When we respond in obedience, it makes it easier to respond in obedience the next time we are enlightened by God’s truth. And likewise, when we respond by repressing conviction- in allowing ourselves to be just entertained by truth or in allowing ourselves to be distracted by the impressions we make on our peers- when we repress conviction in those ways it makes it even easier to repress conviction the next time we encounter God’s truth. I fear that in not listening to Jesus’s voice, we can gradually lose the power of hearing Him, becoming numb, all the way up to the point in which He no longer speaks, and only offers us silence. And the very things that we think we are holding onto by ignoring His voice, are the very things that will one day be taken away from us anyway.
Learn from the story of Herod. Don’t allow your encounter with Jesus to be merely entertaining. Don’t allow your experience at church to be one that just offers entertainment, a tickling of the ears. Don’t let your attendance at church serve as a means to soothe or make up for any guilt and sin in your life. Don’t leave here unchanged! Don’t allow the thoughts and opinions of others to repress the conviction in your heart. You will lose whatever it is that you are holding onto in your attempt to avoid Jesus’s conviction. Deal with the issues that Jesus is addressing. Choose to make changes, choose to make right any past sin. Listen to and apply His truth, and let His kingdom message transform you.