Summary: A story of betrayal, wickedness and great faith. How Herodias used her daughter, Salome, to trick her husband, Herod, into beheading John the Baptist.
You might recall a few years ago when the U.S. was part of a coalition to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Not all Americans were in favor of that war and I recall seeing some protestors on the news. They interviewed one angry young man and asked him why he opposed the war. His answer was one that I haven’t been able to forget. He said, “Nothing’s worth dying for!”
I disagree. We’re going to see in this message that there ARE things worth dying for. Over the last few months, we’ve been shocked by the brutality of ISIS as they have released videos of captured British and American citizens just before they were beheaded. ISIS is trying to use shock tactics to scare us and to enlist other radical Muslims.
But you must understand that this kind of barbaric brutality has been a part of the Roman Empire and the Middle East for centuries. The Romans executed criminals and slaves by crucifixion, but they executed their own citizens in what they considered a more merciful punishment by beheading them. Tradition tells us the Apostle Paul was beheaded in Rome. In Acts 12 we read that Herod Agrippa killed the Apostle James with the sword, which referred to beheading. In our passage today, we’re going to read about the drama of the day John the Baptist lost his head for the sake of truth.
This message is going to be a little different, because I’m going to read a portion of the scripture, then I want to introduce the characters and tell you the full story of the drama. Besides the Bible, there are numerous histories that tell us about the characters and the events. Primarily, the Jewish historian Josephus writes about it. In addition, we have additional historical information from the Church Father Jerome and Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio.
Mark 6:14-20. “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’ But when Herod heard this, he said, ‘John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’ For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.”
With that background, let’s first examine:
I. THE CHARACTERS
This story has been the subject of hundreds of works of art. In one particular painting we see John the Baptist pointing his bony finger at Herod on the throne. Herod can’t make eye contact. The two women are Herodias and her daughter. Let’s learn a little more about each of these characters.
A. I introduce to you Herod Antipas, an arrogant ruler
The name “Herod” was almost like a family name; it meant “heroic” but there weren’t any heroes in the bunch. It can be confusing because no less than eight Roman rulers used the name Herod. This was Herod Antipater, whose nickname was Antipas. He was one of the sons of the ruler who is often called Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the ruler when the wise men came asking, “Where is the one born King of the Jews.” Herod was a great builder, but he had a great capacity of hatred and violence as well. He attempted to kill the Messiah by ordering that all the male toddlers in Bethlehem be slaughtered.
Herod the Great was paranoid and jealous. He ordered the death of several of his wives and sons. The Jewish rabbis had an inside joke that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than to be Herod’s son. Herod the Great was plotting to murder his son Antipas, when he himself died. So Antipas was named the ruler of four small areas so he was called a Tetrarch. But he always wanted to be called a king. To be more like a king, Antipas married an older Arabian princess, the daughter of King Aretas IV. He married her for the royal connection.
B. I introduce to you Herodias, a wicked woman
Herodias was the Jezebel of the New Testament. Jezebel wanted the head of the prophet Elijah, but she wasn’t successful. Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great. She visited Rome and met her uncle, Philip, the half-brother of Antipas. Philip wasn’t in politics; he was a wealthy Roman businessman. Herodias seduced her much-older uncle Philip and they were married.