Summary: Have you ever asked God "Why?" I'm sure that was the question on the lips of John's disciples following the news of his execution.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. He was the product of a good family, he had been raised worshipping God, he had followed God’s calling, had done God’s work and had preached God’s message and this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.
In a million years he would never have predicted this, after all wasn’t God supposed to protect him? People had flocked from all over the country to hear him and to respond to his message, surely they would rise up and demand his release, or not. At first it seemed that he had been imprisoned to serve as an example to others. There was a lesson there: Don’t mess with Herod. And he thought that after the crowds spoke he would be released with a slap on the wrist and be told to behave.
But his time in prison stretched on and on. And then one day his nemesis came to visit, the king himself. And in the small prison cell they talked, and talked and talked. They spoke about the past and they spoke about the future. They swapped ideas and ideals and even if they didn’t always agree it seemed as if they had formed a bond. The king told him that there were those who wished him harm but that he was under the King’s protection so it would be all right.
And then one night when things were quiet they came for him in his cell, they told him they were there on the orders of the king. Perhaps he was to be released at last; he could almost taste the sweet air of freedom. And as they led him out of the dark prison he knew his day had come and then, they killed him and desecrated his body. It wasn’t enough that they had murdered him; they cut off his head and placed it on a silver platter to display to the King and his drunken cronies.
And that should have been the end, but the king couldn’t stop thinking about the man he executed and when he heard about this new preacher he was sure that it was the ghost of John coming back to finish what he had started.
It is a very appropriate story for the day before Halloween. It starts with the fear of a ghost it has an evil person and includes a flashback to a beheading. It is the conclusion of John the Baptist’s ministry on earth. The story is out of sync with the time line of the gospel story, it actually belongs at the beginning of Jesus ministry, shortly after he had been baptised. Because it was there we read in Mark 1:14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.
So this story is a flashback for Herod. The name of Jesus is starting to spread and the question is being asked “who is this man?” It is interesting that Jesus had returned to his hometown of Nazareth and had met limited success there, people who had seen Jesus as a little boy in the local carpenter shop were having problems grasping that he wasn’t actually the son of Joseph but was the son of God. And Jesus seemed to understand that, saying in Mark 6:4 Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
But outside of Nazareth people were abuzz with the stories of Jesus. His preaching and his miracles. The stories he told and the people he healed. And finally the news reached all the way to the palace of Herod and we don’t know if it was guilt or superstition or a combination of both but Herod’s response is found in Mark 6:16 When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.” And then we read the account of what happened.
Two weeks ago I spoke about the ministry of John the Baptist and how his message was one of repentance, he was calling people to change their behaviour and he didn’t limit himself to the common folks. You might say “he called them as he saw them.” And in this particular case what he saw was problems with King Herod. Now understand that Herod wasn’t really a king, he was a figure head for the Roman government in Palestine. And this wasn’t the Herod that we are familiar with from the Christmas story; this is that Herod’s son. And apparently while on a business trip to Rome Herod had seduced his Sister in law and she had left her husband, Herod’s brother Philip and had moved back to Palestine with Herod. And John the Baptist saw this as problematic. For a couple of reasons, the main one was that it was wrong under Mosiac law for a man to marry his sister in law. And so John publically denounced Herod and his new bride Herodias, if you are wondering about her name she was also the daughter of Herod’s half-brother, not only making her his sister in law but also his niece. That’s not a family tree it’s a wreath.