How Do I Please God With My Life?
By Persevering in the Face of Difficulty
John the Baptist: Part 3
***In the beginning of the sermon my IPad was very slow in booting up, and at the end it died very suddenly. So I skipped some of the notes at the end. Just some insider baseball to explain why this sermon was a little more extemporaneous than normal.
Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”
The book Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as roundups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. By the end of the war they had killed over 83,000 Jews. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives.
How is it that ordinary, working class men go from being ordinary citizens of a nation to ferocious killers of unarmed men, women, and children? They were not closely tied to the Third Reich, Nazism. These actions are one small step followed by another, and then another.
I Can Please God by Telling the Truth (vv. 1-5)
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.
After Herod the Great died (Matthew 2:19 ff.) his empire was divided among his sons. So “Herod the tetrarch” was the son of Herod the Great, was named Antipas, and he ruled for about thirty-two years over the area that Jesus and John the Baptist were preaching and ministering.
“Herod the tetrarch” is hearing about the fame of Jesus. After Jesus raised a man from the dead the people began to say “. . . A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” (Luke 7:16-17).
So he goes back to an event that happened earlier – The death of John the Baptist. He superstitiously believes that John has been raised from the dead; that is why this person performing the miracles has power.
In verse five we see that Herod the tetrarch was concerned about the people and what they thought of him. He didn’t want any riots or uprisings, so he was careful in what he did with John. So even though he wanted to kill him, he just kept him imprisoned. Matthew 4:12 helps to get a time line that it was about a year since John’s imprisonment.
Wanting to keep the people happy and calm, it seems that Herod brought in John the Baptist in order to endorse his marriage. Here’s where things get sticky – Herod the Great had three sons that the empire was divided amongst; Antipas, Archelaus, Philip. Antipas (the Herod mentioned in Matthew 14) took Philip’s wife (Herodias) as his own wife – and he wanted John to endorse that marriage, so that it would potentially be ok with the people (since John was very popular). “For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. . .” and they already have a child together.
Levitical law required the marriage of a deceased and childless brother’s wife, but here the brother was still living and they had a daughter.
Instead of endorsing the marriage, John kept on saying, again and again ““It is not lawful for you to have her.” Luke 3:19-20 tells us that not only did John go after Herod because of his marriage, but also many other things as well, “But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”
Mark 6:18-20 adds some details, “For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.”
From the Greek verb usage we can tell that John kept on saying that what Herod was doing was wrong, and preached against “all the evil things that Herod had done.” Yet “he heard him gladly.” All the verbs here are in the imperfect tense, describing actions continued or repeated from time to time. John was faithful to not water the sin down, and to keep sharing how it was wrong.
So if we take the Gospel accounts together, Herod was originally angry with John and had him imprisoned with the intention of killing him. But because he feared the crowds, he just kept him in prison.
Then over time as John would appear before him and preach against him, Herod begins to respect and fear him as a prophet, even listening gladly to what John had to say, even protecting John from Herodias. Herodias, on the other hand, as John preached again and again, held a grudge and become increasing angry and was waiting for an opportunity to kill him.
Everyone has a conscience. It is our internal warning system that something is right or wrong. When we violate our conscience we feel shame or guilt, and when we do what we feel is right, we feel satisfaction or relief. Like a altimeter in an aircraft that tells you how far you are off the ground. If you get too low, an alarm goes off.
But that altimeter could be calibrated incorrectly and you could fly right into a mountain with no warning. What calibrates our internal warning system in the Bible. We can also not listen to our conscience, essentially turning off the warning system, by ignoring, and over time you no longer hear the warning alarm.
I Can Please God By Completing My Calling (vv. 6-12)
6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
Matthew 4:11-12 is the description of the end of Jesus’ temptation which was around 40 days. His temptation immediately followed Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. 12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.” So now after being in prison for around a year, we reach the last day of John’s life.
“the daughter of Herodias danced” Salome is the daughter’s name and she is around 12 years-of-age. Herodias’ daughter (by her previous marriage to Philip), danced before the crowd and Herod at his birthday celebration. Typically, dancing girls could be hired for such an occasion, but they were “of ill repute.” Here, instead of prostitutes dancing around it is Herod’s step-daughter.
What gives this a sense of horror is that a mother has sent in her child, probably mostly naked into a room of drunken men who would then watch her dance. Her dancing pleased Herod (again horrible), and he made a rash vow to Salome.
Mark 6:22-23 gives us a little more detail, “And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”
The girl goes and consults with her mother Herodias and they plan the execution of John with the proof to be presented to them on a platter. If Herodias had bet that by sending in Salome the king would react this way, makes it even more diabolical. Even coaching her daughter to ask for the murdered head of a righteous man.
“And the king was sorry” this is the first time in the text that Herod the tetrarch is referred to as king, almost to emphasize that he could, as king, do whatever he wished. He immediately “was sorry” that he had offered the vow because he was trying to protect John the Baptist from Herodias. He probably realizes that he has been played by Herodias.
Herod once again feared what people would say. Weak men fear of being thought of as weak, so he doesn’t do what is right. Herod had no moral problem about his incestial and adulterous relationship with Herodias, nor did he had a moral issue about killing John, nor did he had a moral problem with his 12-year-old step-daughter dancing around, probably nude in a room full of men – here he does not want to break his word. Suddenly, he feels he needs to do what is right.
So Herod upon hearing John’s preaching was aware that his conscience was directing him – he knew John to be righteous, and holy and “he kept him safe.” He gladly heard what John was saying. His conscience was being pricked. We are told that “he felt sorry” for his actions, but it is the same kind of sorry that Judas felt. He was filled with remorse but was not repentant. Instead of severing his relationship with Herodias, he severed John’s head from his body.
Worldly sorry is to feel bad because of an action or decision you have made. Repentance, is to change in your mind how you feel about a particular action. 2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” There are many today who seek to drown out the sorrow in our hearts, to ignore it, mask it, or to be even busier so we don’t feel anything – but that is the spiritual warning system that guides us to a right relationship with God.
“So repentance begins with an intellectual recognition and confession of sin, but it does not end there. There is also a “change of heart”—an emotional component in which the genuine believer mourns over having sinned against the God whom he loves. That is why in the classic psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
“People who have worldly sorrow are often defensive about their sin and attempt to justify it or explain it away; whereas godly sorrow causes you to own your sin and make no excuses. You know you are experiencing worldly sorrow when you are grieving for yourself—for the embarrassment you’re suffering and the pain you’re feeling—rather than mourning over the grief you have brought to the Holy Spirit for dishonoring the grace of Christ and belittling the glory of God.”
“To murder a man you know to be good and righteous and to show no remorse – we call such people psychopaths. But Herod was no psychopath. He was just an ordinary guy who made one small foolish step after another – a small step toward a woman who was not his wife, another step behind his brother’s back, a momentary moment of lust at a birthday party, and the next thing you know there’s John’s head staring at you, served on a royal platter.”
In that culture people, especially at celebrations like a royal birthday, the meal would have lasted late into the night. So, more than likely, John would have been in his cell, asleep in his bunk, when the soldiers came in and hastily beheaded him. There were still some that were considered “John’s disciples” even though John had pointed them to Christ who came a collected his body.
In John 3:29-30 there is a discussion about how John’s ministry related to Jesus’ ministry, and John the Baptist responds, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” John completed his task of being the forerunner of the Messiah, he preached “repent for the kingdom of heaven his here.”
Broadus says, “For many years he lived a life of hardship and loneliness, that he might be better fitted for his work as a reformer.” John the Baptist didn’t just preach about repentance, but the way he dressed and the food he ate and even where he chose to do his ministry – all pointed to his message of repentance. He lived out what he preached down to the last detail and he died in a prison because he faithfully spoke the truth.
For John he boiled his life down to one word – repentance. How he dressed, what he ate, where he went, all pointed back to his calling and it gave constant direction to his life. All too often we are split in thousand different directions because we can’t narrow our calling down, if we even take it into account at all.
In “A world where Herod sits in the festival chamber, and John lies headless in the dungeon, needs some one to set it right.” And his disciples [Johns’] came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus What do we do in light of such injustice? We go and tell Jesus. Jesus understands what is like to lose those he loved.
In Jesus’ parable of the sower Herod is an example of the seed that fell among the thorns. “Herod hears the word, but “the cares of the world” (he has a kingdom to run and important people to impress), “the deceitfulness of riches” (he’s not about to give up his position and the wealth that goes with it to follow some hermit from an obscure little town in Judea or some traveling peasant from Nazareth), and lusts for other things (women, power, you name it) enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (13:22). So it never grows.”
We must be careful to cut ourselves free, through the convictions of the Holy Spirit, from the sin that entangles us. We must keep our consciences calibrated with God’s Word, and keep it clear.
Baby Jessica’s Rescue Oct. 16th, 1987
 Week One: By Repenting of Sin and Drawing Close to Him. Week Two: By Accepting My Place in His Universe
 “The place of confinement is said by Josephus (Ant. 18.5.2) to have been Machaerus a fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.” W.N. Clark, An American Commentary, Mark (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press, 1881) 88.
 Matthew 2:19ff. Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip
 John A. Broadus, An American Commentary on the New Testament, Matthew (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press) 314.
 Broadus, 314.
 Broadus, 317. Lev. 18:16; 20:21
 Craig Blomberg, The New American Commentary, Matthew (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1992) 230.
 Esther 5:3, 6; 7:2
 Kent Hughes. Matthew, All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publishing, 2013) 387.
 Mark’s account tells us that he was an “executioner.”
 Broadus, 321.
 Lewis, 359.
 Hughes, 388.