Summary: We have a choice-be like John or be like Herod. Will we be weak like Herod, easy tempted and easily manipulated, or we will be strong in our moral convictions like John?
How many of you have ever watched a horror movie or read a horror story? It’s not always a pleasant experience, is it? As strange as it might seem, there are actually some horror stories in the Bible, and one of the most famous of its horror stories is the story of the death of John the Baptist.
John condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias because it went against the Law of Moses. Herodias was the wife of Herod’s brother Philip, and she divorced Philip in order to marry Herod. Herodias was also Herod’s niece (She was the daughter of Herod’s half-brother Aristobulus). She wanted the intrigue of palace politics and a man whom she could not have lawfully. John’s condemnation upset Herodias so much that she looked for an opportunity to have him killed, and that opportunity came at Herod’s birthday party.
Herodias hated John so much that murder was in her heart. There is an old saying that someone who tries to get even by making others suffer for their sins is interfering in God’s business. Revenge is all-consuming and all hatefulness. Revenge is in the business of hurting others. Revenge is the destructive force in life. Herodias had all of these characteristics and one more-coldness. She was an example of another old saying-revenge is a dish that is best served cold.
Herodias’ daughter Salome was not an innocent bystander. On the contrary, she had an active part in the plan. Salome’s dance, which some modern commentators labelled as pornographic in nature, pleased her step-father so much that he made a promise he would later regret. When he promised her anything she wanted, he thought she would ask for material goods, but she didn’t. She fell under the influence of her mother and asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Herod should have relied on the following advice, which is the same advice we need to rely on when we face temptation:
1. Recognize temptation for what it really is and what it can do to us.
2. Run away from temptation’s seduction and turn to God. Do not walk.
3. Rely on the power of God through the Holy Sprit’s power to give us strength as we ask for his moral courage.
Herod allowed John to speak the truth and protected him, even though John’s words puzzled him (according to some ancient manuscripts). Herod listened to John because John told him the truth, even though it hurt. Herod was surrounded by “yes men” who would tell him anything he wanted to hear, and he got tired of it. Herod wanted to hear the truth.
John spoke the truth about Herod and his wife, but he also spoke the larger truth about repentance in our lives and the even larger truth that he shared as he always pointed to Jesus. The same certainty rings true to us today as we also clear the way and get ourselves out of the way so that others can encounter Jesus.
Herod beheaded John and did not give him a formal trial. This was in violation the Law of Moses. Herod did this because he wanted to save face and not look like a fool in front of his guests. Many of the sins we commit today are done in order to save face. How many lies have we told because we are more concerned with looking good in front of others than we are with pleasing God?
Herod’s story was one of impulse, pride and stubbornness, and the story of our lives is similar. Herod gave his word to his stepdaughter Salome in front of his friends, so he had no choice but to agree to her demands. To do otherwise would have led to a loss of power. Politics overruled principle. Herod was infected with guilt both physically and psychologically. Guilt does that to everyone. Herod had greater concern for his pride and reputation than for truth and integrity. Believers and unbelievers alike can easily allow peer pressure and public opinion to turn them away from doing what they know in their hearts is right.
Herod ordered the execution of John the Baptist even though he wanted to spare his life. He made a foolish promise to his stepdaughter. When Herod heard about Jesus’ work, his guilty conscience made him wonder if John the Baptist rose from the dead. His conscience bothered him. He could not forget the evil he did by having John beheaded.
Herod is an example that speaks to leadership. People in positions of power are subjected to pressures that threaten their security or cause greed, the desire for prestige or the influence of ambitious advisors to take control of their lives and their careers. As a result the desire to serve truth and the common good can fade. The results can be damaging. Even great leaders who are devoted to the welfare of the people they serve find themselves in conflict with human greed.