Scripture: Mark 6:14-29
There is a term that is used in our language. This term has a very morbid heritage that stretches back into the dark days of European history. The term is to stick your neck out. The term is used in cases of risk. To stick your neck out you would go out on your own, beyond what is commonly held as practical or wise, to push for change. In the darker areas of history people that stuck their neck out usually ended up a head shorter than the rest.
I say that this term comes from the dark days of European history that may not be the entire truth because people that oppose those in power usually came to the same or a similar end. It is common knowledge that you do not oppose those in power. Our nation is one that defies most of the commonly held beliefs, we believe that we have a right to speak freely, to worship freely and openly however we want, a right to oppose those in power without facing a penalty of death. This does not however mean we will not face consequences.
Such a morbid passage to reflect on today but one that is very important. There are always consequences to the words we use and say. Once they leave our lips or are published in any way, they cannot be retracted but they are forever lodged in the hearts and minds of those that listen to or read them. The first lesson to learn is thinking of what you are saying and how you say them.
There are many things that can be said about the Herod family. Moral is probably not one that would be used often. The day that Herod the Great died he arranged for the mass murder of many of the key leaders of the Jewish people, he arranged the death of his wife, and even some of his children. Those that remained threatened to cause a civil war within the region so Rome chose to remove most of the power from the family. The region of Palestine was spit among all of the remaining children but the rule over the capital Jerusalem was given to a Roman Governor. This insured that the leadership and control of the Hebrew people was ultimately in the hands of Rome. This, however, does not mean that the Herodian dynasty is without control. They had authority and were the voice of the Emperor. So back on point, this Herod came from a pretty bad family, he may have even had some issues with his dad, but we’ll leave those questions to someone else. This passage also clearly states that he stole his own brother’s wife.
Historical record states that this little affair sparked a war. Herod’s previous wife was the princess of Arabia. The Arab king just a bit upset at this and to show his objection he nearly conquered the entire Herodian army. With that being said, Herod’s brother was not too happy either. The issue was not only one of bad taste but legality, the Herod family were converts to the Hebrew religion, we do not think of converts to Judaism but there are times throughout history where there were great evangelical activities among those that were not hereditary Jews. That was the main point of the Pharisees; they sought to clean the land by converting the Gentiles to the true faith. Herod the Great was a convert to the religion; his children were born into the faith. So there are several laws broken in this relationship. Things like do not covet your neighbor’s wife and do not commit adultery pop into the mind. There are also a few other laws that were slightly overlooked about the relationship; both Herod and Philip married their niece, which is slightly creepy even in ancient times.
John the Baptizer was not afraid to call Herod out on the unrighteous affairs in his life. Herodias the wife is a bit upset and builds a grudge against the baptizer. This grudge grew from a simple dislike to murderous intent, even to the point of putting her own child at risk to obtain what she desired.
The interesting thing is that this man crying from the wilderness intrigued Herod. This brings us to the next point; the world wants to hear the message. Herod protected John, because there was something about the message. He knew that John did not particularly care for his choices in life, but John never changed the message he delivered. He imprisoned the man yet John still continued to preach the message of repentance. This unnerved Herod, he knew that John was a holy man and at the same time he drove him nuts.
Well eventually Herodias’ grudge won. She set her own daughter up to perform a sensual show for her stepfather and his friends. He was so impress that he offered her anything that she wanted. Asking for John’s head was the prize,
So we learn that the world wants and needs to hear the message yet to preach it is like sticking your neck out. I mentioned this has been a problem throughout history. Challenging the commonly held beliefs can be dangerous to your health. So we must proceed with caution. John is still an intriguing figure. He is often compared to one of the most popular people in Hebrew history, Elijah. The comparison is shocking to be honest. Elijah was a prophet in ancient Israel during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Many would compare the three figures in this passage to these three figures of history. The biggest difference is that John was not carried off into the Heavens in a fiery chariot. Elijah preached powerful messages and performed amazing feats through the power of God; he had a relationship with God beyond any other man yet he lived in constant fear for his life. John made a habit of saying highly controversial things among groups that participated in the devious acts. To the soldiers he told them to be content with their wages, meaning stop pillaging. To the tax collectors he demanded them to collect only what was necessary, this continues on and on and to end this message he said Repent. Turn around and be baptized as a sign of the repentance.
There are two options for people that hear this message. They are either enraged or they are inspired. They become enraged because you are revealing the areas that they miss the mark of righteousness. They say, “Who are you to judge me.” Let me remind you that it is the Spirit that is convicting not us. Although there are ways to present the gospel that does lighten the blow, John held nothing back; Jesus held nothing back they both called things as they saw them they called people snakes if they were. Others used different methods. Many of the prophet used symbolism and parables, Jesus also engaged in this method. The parable is delivering the same message but the hearer must engage the presenter with their own minds. They consider the words, slowly the message seeps into their consciousness, like a time-release capsule. At first it is an inspiring story, but it lingers in the mind, they begin to look through the layers and the Spirit begins to convict them that their life should change.
Parable or blatant message, vinegar or honey they both attract attention and both have their place. The message John gave struck fear into the hearts of the hearers. Where the parable brought people by grace. Think about your words how we speak and act. Our words can enrage or they can inspire. Our words can be filled with the grace and love of God or they can be filled with wrath. We live in a time where the Gospel is needed more than ever but the ears of many are tuning out because they have heard the message expressed using a mechanism that is not well received. The preachers of old have gone from the fire and brimstone messages of “sinners in the hands of an angry God” to the “love wins” yet even still people continue to walk away from God into the abyss. How do we speak to those around us? How do we present the message? We speak through our actions and experience.
I was engaged in a conversation with a friend about the idea of cohabitation before marriage. In this particular conversation I spoke boldly saying that it is harmful to most people because it does not require a leave of commitment needed for that sort of relationship, harming more often than not women. Later that same day the same person asked another question about the existence of Hell. Grace was needed in this case because I knew they were probably wounded from the boldness of the previous conversation. My answer was to speak about a relationship, someone that you desired to grow closer to yet they just did not want to engage no matter how hard you tried. I asked the question if the relationship would be healthy if they were forced to engage? Oddly enough that person still talks to me when I basically told them that their lifestyle was rejecting God’s ways and was leading them to hell.
Ministry is dangerous; we often stick our necks out just waiting for a sword to slice. We can speak in boldness or in grace but either way we are mere instruments of the Spirit who are working in the lives of those around us. If we act and respond to