Summary: Have you ever done a bad thing and had someone just blurt it out, right in your face and in front of other people? How did you feel? Did you want to say or do something to that person to shut them up, maybe embarrass or silence them in order to blunt the
As we begin today, I want us to keep two questions in our minds: 1) what are you willing to lose your head over? 2) What are you willing to take someone else’s head over?
Any time the Bible mentions something more than once, we automatically know that it is significant. When we read through this story of the beheading of John the Baptist, it is important to note that Mark and Luke both give accounts of this event as well.
Mark 6:14-29, gives us a great amount of detail about the circumstances surrounding the night when John the Baptist was beheaded; even more so than the account we have here in Matthew 14:1-12. Luke, on the other hand, only gives a passing mention of it in his Gospel (Luke 9:7-9), but in so doing, he focuses on the residual fear Herod is experiencing as a result of his execution of John.
One more thing to take note of here: both of the other accounts place this story chronologically when Jesus is ministering in Galilee and soon after the disciples return from their first “mission”. I mention this now in passing since the chronology of the Gospels was something we discussed last time. This fits in exactly as we discussed.
Our passage today begins with speculation about who Jesus is. People were saying, “He is Elijah,” or “He is a prophet of old,” even, “He is John the Baptist raised from the dead.” This latter is the one that the guilty conscience of Herod made him believe. Funny how a guilty conscience can torment a person.
It never occurred to most people that Jesus might be unique and totally different than anything or anyone they had known or heard of. Many people today want to try and fit Jesus into a construct (hypothesis or paradigm) they are familiar and comfortable with. “He was a good and moral man.” “He was a good teacher.” “He was the wisest and most caring man who ever lived.”
While people may be comfortable with those explanations of who Jesus was (is), they are really only kidding themselves. He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord – those are the only choices there are when you really read the Gospels.
Another point in this, however, is an amazing positive that should make us think. When people considered Jesus, even though they may have done so only in passing until they were able to fit Him into a box in their mind, was that He made them think of someone great. Who do we make people think of? Do we remind them of anyone noble, anyone gracious, anyone gallant? Do people think of us and say, “He/She reminds me of Jesus”?
Let’s go on.
When we read this story, there are several questions that come to mind. Some are important, some perhaps not so important. But the key question I believe is this: Why is this event mentioned in three of the four Gospels and why is there so much detail about it in two of them?
A second question we will need to answer once we answer the first, or perhaps as an aid in answering the first question, is this: What is the practical application of this story?
As I read through this description of the actions and the words of the key players, and even the thinking of a couple of them, I cannot help but wonder about the significance of this much detail. Obviously, whatever is included in the biblical accounts of things are important elements for us to see and understand. I think there is a great deal exposed here that we need to take a close and personal look at.
Secondly, whenever the words of someone are quoted in the Bible, those words carry significance because they have been included and we need to identify what that significance is. Words quoted are words to be remembered.
Thirdly, whenever the motivations of the heart of any of the characters in these little dramas are brought into focus for us, we can rightly assume that we are to examine our own hearts and motivations. It is the motivations of our heart that God examines; for it is from these that our actions proceed.
When I was preparing this week for our time together today, I wasn’t sure how to approach presenting this section of the Scriptures. It is a story that many of us are familiar with. It is a story that does not directly involve Jesus or His teachings, and it is a story that seems incongruous within the context of what we have been studying in recent weeks.
I wondered why that was. I wondered why this story, why this account of these events, and why at this time. Is there a change taking place? Are things going to be different from this point forward and this story serves as a break in the current flow as well as an indicator of what is to follow? And what does the death of John the Baptist have to do with any of that anyway?