Summary: This passage in Mark is one of great tragedy. It has been suggested there were actually two deaths revealed - the death of John the Baptist and the death of Herod's conscience.
A Tragic Death
Mark 6: 14-29
Our text today deals with the horrific and tragic death of John the Baptist. Mark discussed the character of John and the tragic reason for his untimely death. The text actually deals with John’s death in retrospect, sometime after it had happened.
John’s untimely death is not the only tragedy revealed in the text. In fact, several commentaries present the fact that John’s wasn’t the only death that day – Herod’s conscience also died that day. Herod was confronted with an abundance of truth, and this appears to be the moment when his conscience was seared, never again being sensitive to the Spirit of God.
While this text reveals a tragic event in time, it also reveals valuable lessons for everyone today. We will discuss the devastating effects of sin and the tragedy of neglecting the Lord. I hope our hearts are fixed on the Lord, with a committed desire to serve Him. As we discuss the lessons in the text, I want to consider: A Tragic Death.
I. The Incarceration of John (17-20) – These verses deal with the arrest and imprisonment of John. Though them we discover:
A. The Reason (17-18) – For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.  For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. While we don’t have a lot of detail about John’s life and ministry, we do have enough to know he was very bold in his preaching and committed to the ways of God. Herod had taken his brother’s wife and married her. According to historical accounts, Herod and his wife had visited Philip and Herodias in Rome. While there an adulterous relationship began, leading to Herod and Herodias leaving their spouses for each other. Being the man he was, John challenged Herod regarding his adultery, proclaiming it was unlawful for him to have Herodias. This angered Herod and he cast John in prison.
Unfortunately this attitude and resentment toward biblical preaching has remained since Jesus’ time. He was accused, arrested, and crucified because of His preaching and proclamation of His deity. Paul was imprisoned and beheaded for preaching the Gospel. The world resents biblical preaching because it confronts sin, revealing our depravity and need for salvation.
B. The Restraint (19) – Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not. While Mark typically moves at a quicker pace than the other gospels, revealing less detail, he does offer a bit more insight to John’s tragic death. While Herod was not pleased with John’s boldness and condemnation, he had not yet given the order to have him executed. Matthew and Luke reveal that he feared an uprising of the Jews due to the popularity of John among them. We will discover that although Herod was angry with John, he held an undeniable interest in him. It appears that although Herod refused to admit his sin, he knew John had spoken truth. Herodias wanted John dead, but at this moment he was secure in Herod’s jail.
We continue to see this attitude revealed today as well. Many are angered when biblical preaching addresses their particular sin, and yet they know they have heard truth. Outwardly they hate the message and the messenger, but deep within, their hearts are convicted by the truth they have heard.
C. The Respect (20) – For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. Mark revealed the true feelings Herod had toward John. He would never have allowed his feelings to be known publicly, but Herod had a great deal of respect for John. He knew John as a holy and just man. He had watched his life and knew John practiced what he preached. Herod listened attentively when John spoke, keenly interested in his words of truth. Herod would not admit it, but the truth John shared had brought conviction. While he refused to submit to the Lord’s will, it is apparent that Herod was interested in the preaching of the wilderness preacher.
Many are like Herod today in this regard. They would never admit it, but they know God’s Word is true. Some even enjoy hearing the Word preached. Like Herod they are not yet ready to abandon their life of sin, but they are intrigued by the Word.
II. The Execution of John (21-29) – Mark also revealed the events surrounding the execution and untimely death of John. Notice:
A. The Celebration (21-22a) – And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;  And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him. During a celebration held for Herod’s birthday, Herodias hatched a devious plan to kill John the Baptist. In order to fully understand the depravity involved, we need to know a bit about the family of Herod. Herodias was actually the daughter of his half-brother, Aristobolus. So, Philip and Herod both were actually married to their niece. At his birthday celebration, Herodias sent her young daughter in to perform a sensual and suggestive dance to arouse the men gathered there, knowing this would please Herod and those gathered with him. We will discover this was all done for a specific purpose, but it also reveals the utter lack of morality and decency expected within a family unit.