Matthew chapter 14:1-12 (continued)
“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 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.’ 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.’
Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’
The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 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. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”
Over the past few weeks we have examined some of the parables that Jesus used to teach the Apostles, and some of the disciples about the kingdom of heaven. Essentially, He was equipping them with all the information and tools they would need to do the work of the New Testament church—when He was gone.
These were the things that they would recall when He was gone; these were the tools that helped them stay the course, as the church was persecuted by her enemies across the Roman Empire. Without the persecution of the Pharisees and the Romans, the church very much may have stayed a Jewish phenomenon and died in Jerusalem. But persecution came as the gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire and most of the known world (including North Africa).
Today we will look at one of the saddest events of the New Testament narrative. It is the execution of John the Baptist. John, as you will recall was the cousin of Jesus; his mother was family to Mary. John was about 6 months older than Jesus. John was a “forerunner” to Jesus. In Jesus’ day, a forerunner was used by neighboring kings to warn other kings who would be visiting. It gave them time to repair roads or prepare straight paths for them to travel.
In John 1:23, John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3; he was the voice that cried in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of [for] the Lord.” This is exactly what a person who heralds news would do; he would let the king know that a king was coming and that the paths should be straightened and made ready for an imminent arrival.
John did his job; he was the last of the Old Testament prophets from God after 400 years of silence after the prophet Malachi; God began His New Testament phase of working with the Jewish people.
As we get to this account we are actually looking at history; John was already dead and Jesus’ fame had spread all the way to Herod’s palace. His servants were convinced that Jesus was John come back from the dead; little did they know that this Jesus would come back from the dead. But this leads us to the first point.
We All Know the Dead Will be Raised, Verse 2
You never go to a funeral and hear people say, “Oh well he (or she) is in the dirt now.” No, people always talk about “he (or she) is in a better place.” We understand that even in our fallen state, we go somewhere—death is not the end. God made us in His image and He is an eternal God so we have that in us, the desire to live forever.
Unless a person is gravely ill or very old, say over 85, death comes as a surprise to most if not all people. The entire cancer mindset is “We will beat it.” In Ecclesiastes 3:1 we find this telling verse:
“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end.”
God put eternity in our hearts and we know that we will live forever somewhere. The account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 reminds us that there are two ends to this life, one which is in torments—hell, fire and pain for eternity, the other is safe in God’s keep. The choice is yours in this life. Eternal life or eternal death, you will live in one for sure. Choose Jesus and choose life now.
John Told the Truth and it Cost Him His Life, Verses 3-10
You see, once you understand that this life is just the beginning and there is more to it after physical death, then the ability to make costly stands will be strengthened in the power of Jesus. John the Baptist was not afraid to tell Herod the truth. What was that truth that cost him his life?
Herod was a ruthless man, given to rages and unaccustomed to being told “No.” He had taken his brother, Philip’s, wife to be his own. This is adultery. Philip was still alive as far as we know. John the Baptist told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife (verse 4). Even in today’s modern and liberal world that kind of behavior is frowned upon.
The Ten Commandments which John would have known as a prophet of the Lord clearly states in the 7th of the commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, that you should not commit adultery. Adultery is any sexual act between a married person and a person he or she is not married to. Fornication is any sexual act between people who are not married at all or any other sexual act outside of marriage. Thus, John spoke the truth; Herod was not allowed to have his brother’s wife. For this John was imprisoned.
Today we are seeing much of the same thing and if you study down through history you will find that countless numbers of Christians have been killed over the years for simply speaking the truth. Of course no one can hear of the death of a Christian and not think of the great Stephen who was killed in Acts 7:57. The people who heard the truth about Jesus and their sins covered their ears and cried out with loud voices to drown out the truth.
Biblical truth cuts to the heart of men, it separate the lies and fictitious cushions we build to protect our fragile egos. Man says, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” But the Bible says we are sinners, snakes, and our mouths are deep graves, and that our hearts are deceitfully wicked. The Bible says that all of our goodness is filthy like rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6).
Today we have Christians being brutally persecuted in Muslim countries because they are believers in Jesus Christ. Closer to home, we have families that have bakeries and are losing their businesses—because they stand for the biblical definition of marriage. Or we have Christians being labeled as intolerant because they accept that the Bible is the final authority in life. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way of salvation in John 14:6, and we lovingly teach that for the benefit of our friends, family and yes—even our enemies. But we are branded as intolerant for speaking the truth.
You see, the true God of the Bible is the God of absolutes and mankind kind of likes things to float, so that right and wrong become relevant to the situation as opposed to a fixed boundary. To accept God’s absolutes would be to admit that the naysayers are wrong or to admit that there is a God to answer to for their disregard of His rules. The godless haters would rather try to imprison us, kill us or do whatever it takes to drown us out. The same truth that sets us free in Christ can get us killed for Christ.
Pride Is a Killer, Verses 9-12
Herod did not intend to kill John the Baptist; he imprisoned him hoping John would come around. In the course of his imprisonment we see in Mark 14:6 that Herod celebrated a birthday and Herodias had her daughter do a dance for him. Herod was mesmerized, I am sure, by the young lady dancing before him and he made her a promise and an oath to give her anything she desired.
It is very important for us to learn not to write checks with our mouths that our hearts don’t want to cash. The Bible has a lot to say about the mouth and the tongue in particular:
“But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
Whoso keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23).
“ I said, I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psalms 39:1).
Well, it would seem that Herod did not heed the Scriptures well, so he ended up doing something he did not want to do; the king was distressed about his oath, but to save face he murdered John the Baptist for simply telling the truth. Jesus warned that in the last days the same fate would fall upon those who are His followers. In Matthew 24:9-12 we find these sobering words:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”
Notice that we will be hated by the world and its systems; this is very important for the modern church to understand. The new compromising church wants to appeal to the world and draw them in. There is no such instruction in the Bible; rather we are to be a peculiar people set apart for the Lord (1 Peter 2:9).
We need to interact for the sake of the gospel; Jesus interacted with the masses but He did not assimilate. He kept His uniqueness and His righteousness in that perverse generation. We are called to do the same. Jesus was killed for it and they will kill us as well. Are we ready to die for the name of Jesus? John the Baptist did; he told the truth and it cost him his life.