By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 11, 2021
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Mark 6:14–29 (ESV)
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 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. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. 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.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
This past week I have thought a great deal about life. I was back on the farm helping my dad. When making various trips and while in the field the farm life allows for a great deal of introspection. When you are traveling at a top speed of twenty miles per hour, you have time to think.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. This phrase had stuck out to me this week. Why would anyone even mention it? Of course, Jesus’ name was making its way across the land and into the local seats of power.
As I was making the various slow trips across the plains of Kansas, I began thinking about Herod. We know him as a king, and when we hear the word king our mind begins to come up with mental images that are filled with grand extravagance. But I want us to consider what Herod was the king of.
To call Herod a king is a bit of a stretch and I think the gospel writers used that term as much in jest as anything. This particular Herod is Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was an actual king. When Herod the Great died his kingdom was divided among various heirs because Israel, while being semi-autonomous, were under Roman authority.
Herod Antipas wanted to be king. At one point in time, he was the sole heir of the entire kingdom of Herod the Great but his desire for power proved to be his undoing. Herod the Great, was by all secular accounts an effective ruler. He had the support of the people and when necessary, he would stamp out rebellion quickly and efficiently. The problem was that he had too much influence. Israel has never been large, yet when they have a ruler that is wise, they have had influence that far exceeds their size. Herod the Great had a great deal of influence. That amount of power in such a small area under Roman jurisdiction posed a threat to the influence of Rome, so when he died the only accepted transition of power was to divide the territory into smaller parts. Herod Antipas was given Galilee and Peraea.
This is interesting. If you were to look at a map Antipas was given a decent inheritance, but the areas he ruled were not continuous. The area known as the Decapolis was in between Galilee and Peraea. This division was purposeful, because the politicians in Rome knew Antipas could have been as effective as his father in ruling Israel.
But how did the Herodian dynasty get power in the first place? Herod the great was Idumean, or an Edomite, not Jewish. He became the governor of Galilee because he had great connections. He used his influence to spread the influence of Rome, as well as honoring the people. He would use brutal force to stamp out rebellion, but quickly after he would bring in wonderous building projects like expanding the Temple. He also used his influence and connections to gain greater influence in Israel, by marrying into the Hasmonean family. This family was recognized as the royal family of the Jews because their ancestors were able to Israel to gain their independence from the Greeks. The Herod family although foreigners, became converts to the Jewish faith to some degree. They were able to use religion, might, and political cunning to maintain relative peace.
Some in Israel accepted their rule, while others still saw them as foreigners, and this is why there is a group of religious leaders known as Herodians. They agreed with how Herod and his family used religion and government to accomplish what is necessary.
This method of rule had its problems. It is impossible to govern in both spheres completely. At some point you will offend religious leaders because you are too secular and you will offend those not of similar religious faith by giving in to the religious.
King Herod, the want to be King Herod heard of Jesus’ growing influence, and it caused him concern. It caused concern because of how Herod lived his life.
Antipas used whatever was necessary to ensure his influence. When he wanted to be seen as religious, he would act pious. He had scholars at hand to assist him in speaking to the religious, but he was not too concerned with living a pious life.
Today’s passage begins with Jesus’ name, but then it goes into something else. It begins to speak about Herod’s guilt. If we were to look at a historical timeline of ministry, Jesus and John the Baptist ministered at approximately the same time. John began and built his influence, and shortly after Jesus began his public ministry, John was arrested and executed. It would almost appear as if Jesus did not fully engage in ministry until after John was executed. I think this is important because it gives us a fuller understanding of scripture. We know John as the forerunner, as the witnesses, as a prophet like Elijah. All these things have messianic and apocalyptic meanings.
When Jesus’ name was becoming known and some began to say that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead, and that Jesus could also be Elijah, or a prophet. Antipas had his own understanding. He said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” We are then told the circumstances of that execution.
Herod Antipas, although accepted as a Jewish leader by many, was not the greatest example of piety. Antipas had a problem; he was married to his brother’s wife. The whole Herod family is a bit twisted. The wife in question was not only his brother’s former wife but was also his niece. Herodias was the last living member of the Hasmonean royal family, the daughter of Antipas’s half-brother. Since she was the last member of this family, who she was married to could claim to be the ruler of the Jewish people. We are not told exactly why the divorce happened, but we can infer that Herodias was a power seeker. Her first husband Herod the second was the one that was to inherit the kingdom, but when Herod the second got caught in a scandal he was removed from the will. Then suddenly Herodias divorces and marries the most likely son of Herod to unite the kingdom again.
It was not the fact that she was his niece that caused the problem, but that she was the wife of his brother. John the Baptist did not mince words in this. He referenced Levitical law to support his stance. This law states that a man should not marry his brother’s wife because it will reveal his brother’s nakedness. The wording of these laws confuses us because they use wording that we do not understand. Nakedness does not necessarily mean what we think, it can mean something like honor and dishonor, so to marry your brother’s wife dishonors your brother by publicly revealing his lack of honor. When John condemned the marriage, we could see it as being a condemnation based on honor and respect. Philip, or Herod the second, was removed from the will and by Antipas taking his wife adds more dishonor to him by dishonoring of his brother.
To dishonor his brother, is to dishonor God. Throughout scripture we are told that God places people in or allows for positions of power. When Herod the second lost his position, it was God’s will. Antipas by marrying Herodias while her husband, his brother, lived was not only dishonoring his brother but was joining his brother in God’s displeasure. It could be seen that God did not want the continuation of the Hasmonean linage of power, so when Antipas married Herodias, they were attempting to circumvent God’s will.
There are other interpretations to this Levitical law as well. Some scholars believe that Leviticus was not written as law for all people of Israel, but for the priests and kings. When a leader of God’s people participated in actions condemned by Levitical law, it was a sign that they did not have the integrity to be a leader of the people. Antipas married his brother’s wife; therefore, he was condemned from holding the position he desired. He could not be king.
The point I am getting at is that John struck a nerve in Herod’s life. Antipas wanted to be king, he wanted to be the king of the Jewish people. He married a woman whose linage would give him greater standing in that area, but issues remained. He wanted to be seen in one manner, while living another. He sought to silence the voice that was calling out his hypocrisy. Just when he thought he had silenced that voice, another name is heard. Another voice proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. When the name of Jesus comes to the courts of Antipas, he is struck by guilt.
We all have areas of hypocrisy. Our leaders have areas of hypocrisy. What do we do with this? Antipas sold out. His desire for power and influence trumped his faith. And ultimately his quest for power lead to his complete loss of power and exile, and he died with nothing. Another king in Israel’s history also used his power to gain things that were not his. A king by the name of David. David’s lawless actions were also called out by a prophet of God, but the story ended differently. We do not look at the name of David with the same disdain as we do Herod even though David was just as bad as Antipas.
David committed adultery, and as a result he committed an act of murder to cover up his indiscretions. The difference is Herod killed the voice and David repented. David was willing to accept any judgement God bestowed on him and Herod tried to outmaneuver God. Even though Antipas respected John’s righteousness and believed that John was a holy man, he was willing to kill to silence that voice. And when Herod began to hear the name of Jesus, Herod Antipas was plagued by guilt and fear because he realized that the voice of God was still speaking out against his actions.
What do we do when we are faced with our own sin? What do we do when it is revealed to us that our actions and our words do not reflect the life we claim to live? How do we respond to those among us who are living hypocrisy in their own lives? Are we willing to sell out our faith for power or are we willing to lay down our power for the sake of our faith?
We all sell out. Antipas sold his life and reputation for power and influence, and he lost both. And he died with nothing. David sold his power and influence to gain a restoration of his life and reputation. We all sell out. We are all willing to give our lives for something. What are we giving up and what do we gain? John cried out to those in the wilderness to repent. Jesus also encourages us to repent, to turn around and walk on a different path. Jesus shows us what that path is.
He made it his custom to worship God, in the community. He withdrew often to pray in isolated places. And he ministered to the needs of those around him. He called and commissioned his disciples to Love God in worship, to embrace the Spirit in prayer, and to live the love he showed with other. Jesus is calling us to walk a different path. But he does not call us to do it on our own. Antipas sought to gain everything on his own and in the end he lost. We will lose too without Christ. Jesus came to show us what life with God is like, and he also shows us what life without God is like. Antipas wanted to silence Jesus as well, He participated in the execution of Jesus on the cross. The wages of sin is death. Each of us will eventually have to pay those wages. But death could not hold Jesus, he takes on our death and restores life to those who entrust their lives to him. Antipas sold out. He sold his life for fame and fortune. Jesus calls us to sell out too, but he is calling us to something greater. Life with Jesus does not end with death but we will live with him, for he is the resurrection and the life. How will we respond?
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