Summary: A willingness to speak the truth, even if that truth is not popular, is a great virtue.
One of my favorite stories is The Emperor's New Clothes. It is the tale about an Emperor who was swindled by a supposed tailor. The man claims to sew a new, special suit for the Emperor. It is special because only those who are wise will see the clothes, while those who are foolish will find them invisible. Not wanting to be labeled a fool, the Emperor pretends he can see the suit, pretends to put it on, and then proceeds to walk around the castle in his underwear. Not wanting to be considered fools, all his advisors and servants pretend to be able to see the clothes as well and comment on how beautiful they are. As the Emperor leads a parade through the city, his loyal subjects "ah" and "oh" over clothing they cannot see. Everyone is lying, because they are afraid to tell the truth. If they admit they see the Emperor in his underwear, they will certainly be ridiculed by all their neighbors. But, finally, one young boy exposes the deception. He blurts out that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes and his words encourage others to speak the truth as well.
Oh, sometimes it seems much easier, much safer, to tell people what we think they want to hear, but a willingness to speak the truth, even if that truth is not popular, is a great virtue. Friends, today we look at a story of a man who was not afraid to tell the truth, a man who was willing to pay the price for speaking what he knew was the truth. As we continue our journey through the gospel of Matthew, we come to Chapter 14:1-12. Here we find the story of John the Baptist's execution. Now, on the surface this passage of Scripture may not seem very appropriate for the Advent Season, but I think we will find it has a very important message for every time of year. Let's pray that the Lord would help us to hear that today.
This is the story of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist. So far, in Matthew's gospel, he has told us about Jesus, a Man who is saying and doing incredible things. His teaching has folks in awe and He has been doing things like healing those who are sick, casting out demons, and commanding weather patterns. He has certainly caught the attention of the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, who now see Him as a threat to their privileged position. And He has also caught the attention of a politician. Matthew 14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus,... The king whom the wisemen visited and who then slaughtered all the infants around Bethlehem was known as Herod the Great. This Herod is his son, Herod Antipas. He had been appointed by Caesar Augustus as a tetrarch, or governor, in Palestine. For almost thirty years he has ruled over two regions, Perea and Galilee. The first is the place where John the Baptist conducted his ministry, and the second is where Jesus' ministry was taking place. When he hears about this Jesus, he expresses a startling conclusion. 14:2 ...and he said to his attendants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him." Those words are rooted in superstition and a very guilty conscience. At this time John is dead, because Herod had him killed. Matthew then tells us what had happened, probably a few months earlier.
Matthew 14:3,4 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." There is a scandal in the palace. Herodias had been the wife of Herod Philip, a half brother of Herod Antipas. Incidentally, she was also Antipas' niece, being the daughter of another half brother, Aristobulus. Herod Antipas apparently had an affair with her, divorced his first wife, and then married Herodias. He sinned against his brother, against his wife, and most importantly against God. This was too much for John, a righteous man and a godly prophet. Verse 4 could be translated, "John had been continually saying to Herod, 'What you are doing is wrong!'" and Herod didn't like it. He threw John in prison and Verse 5 says he would have killed him had he not been afraid of the political consequences. John was a popular figure and Herod didn't want to see his poll numbers go down. But then at his birthday party, 14:6,7 On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. The girl's name was Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Philip, and she was probably about thirteen years old. Reading between the lines we can assume a couple of things. First, her dance was no doubt "R-rated" and if not, "X-rated." Secondly, Herod probably had too much to drink. He has promised this girl whatever she wants. Salome consults with Herodias, and 14:8 Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." It appears Herodias didn't like John any more than Herod did - maybe even less. 14:9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted... He is a very weak man who doesn't want to renege on his vow and be embarrassed in front of his friends. 14:10,11 ...and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. According to Jerome, the 4th Century Bible scholar, Herodias then spat on the head and stuck a pin through the tongue. 14:12 John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. Jesus hears about Herod and now, back in the start of the chapter, Matthew says Herod is now hearing about Jesus, and he is terrified.