A DYING CONSCIENCE
This evening we are going to look at two different lives. One is Herod Antipas who allowed the influence of others to dictate his actions. He was more concerned with his popularity than doing what was right. And in the end, though he was living, he was dead!
The other person that we will focus on this evening is John the baptist. Of this man Jesus said "...among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist..." Matthew 11:11. And John was an interesting man. Before he was even conceived in the womb, an angel of the Lord came to Zacharias and told him that he and his wife will have a son and his name will be called John. And this child is to be raised in accordance to the vow of the Nazarite. He is not to drink wine, cut his hair, come in contact with unclean things, and-so-on. Now Zacharias had a hard time believing this and because of that, Zacharias was made mute until John was born and on the eighth day, when they took him to be circumcised, God restored his voice. So this child was special before he was even born!
Now if John the Baptist walked into many churches today he would be kicked out. The reason I say that is simple. He had long hair. He wore weird clothes made of camel hair, had a big leather belt and ate locusts and wild honey! I can just see parents of daughters as this character walked into a church, grabbing their daughters for protection. But the way John looked was meaningless when you saw that he lived what he believed. He loved the Lord and His life reflected that. He was the forerunner of Jesus, announcing the coming of the Messiah and telling the people to prepare their hearts for His coming, to repent of their sins!
And John was not politically correct in the things he said, the way he talked to people. He was not a respecter of people. In Matthew 3:7-8 we see this played out. We read, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance." You see, that is not how you win friends and influence people. John called sin like it is, sin!
John went around preaching a baptism of repentance, to turn from their sinful ways, and Im sure news reached the ears of Herod Antipas. This man was the son of Herod the Great and in his death, the kingdom was divided up into four areas, and Herod Antipas took over a fourth part of the kingdom, and thus his title Tetrarch. And Herod Antipas was living in sin, and we dont know if John spoke to him face-to-face, or just used Herod as an example of sinful living, and that got back to him. But whatever the case, Herod Antipas is not happy with John.
And when you compare John the baptist with Herod Antipas it is like comparing night and day. John loved the Lord and lived what he believed. And even though he was killed for his faith, he still lives. On the other hand, Herod Antipas rejected God and though he still lived, he was dead, as we are going to see this evening in our study. So lets begin reading in Mark chapter 6, beginning in verse 14.
1. The ministry of Jesus was growing as more and more people heard of Him. And the talk of town was "Who is this Jesus?" Some said that he was like Elijah, able to do many miracles. Others said he was the Prophet, the Messiah, or maybe one of the prophets of God, although they have not heard God speak in a few hundred years.
But Herod Antipas has a different idea, he thinks Jesus is none other than John the baptist who has risen from the dead. Now why in the world would Herod say that? Because he had put John to death and now Herod had a guilty conscience. He is worried. He is troubled. His conscience wont let him rest, wont let him get comfortable in what he has done. Now that is good. If you are comfortable in your sin that is bad, you should be afraid. You see, the only way that is going to happen is if your conscience is dead. You no longer know what is right and what is wrong. But at this point in Herods life, he still could feel, his conscience still troubled him for the wrong that he had done.
1. Again, we dont know if John spoke directly to Herod or just used him in speaking of his sinful lifestyle to the crowds. And of course, whatever the case, it didnt sit well with Herod, so he locked John up in prison. In fact not only was Herod angry with John, but his wife Herodias was also angry. In fact, it was Herodias who forced her husband to do this. And Herod responded to her request. I guess he didnt want any trouble in the family, he didnt want to sleep on the sofa.
2. Now this prison was located in the fortress palace of Machaerus which was located near the northeast shore of the Dead Sea. And you can go there today and still see this dungeon that has hooks still hanging there where the prisoners were kept.
3. What was all the fuss with Herods lifestyle? Plenty! See if you can follow this one with me, it is difficult! Herod Antipas married his half-niece Herodias who was the daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus. Now prior to her marriage to Herod Antipas, she was married to Philip, the half-brother of Herod Antipas. But she divorced him and married Herod Antipas. Now you know why John was coming against their lifestyle, it was sinful. Also, prior to her marrying Herod Antipas and divorcing Philip, she had a daughter named Salome, who went with her mother when she left Philip, and was the step-daughter to Herod Antipas.
1. Again we see the reason for this trouble. Herodias hated John, wanted him dead, because he spoke against the way they were living. But Herod feared John and instead of putting him to death, he locked him up in prison. Herod knew that John was a just man, a righteous man and the words that he spoke were true. John was above reproach. He knew that John loved the Lord and practiced what he believed and spoke. Because of all that, Herod would go down to this dungeon and listen to what John had to say. His conscience was still alive and it was stirred by the things that John was saying.
2. Now also understand that as Herod heard these things from John sometimes he received them and sometimes he didnt, he rejected them, he didnt appreciate them. The thing we need to remember is that the words that John spoke to Herod could have made a difference in his life if he allowed them to. For Herod, he went back and forth. He desired to serve God, then he didnt. He desired to repent of his sins, then he didnt. He was wishy-washy! He struggled in what he should do. You see, between the passion for Herodias and his respect for John he had this conflict. He didnt know what to do. It showed his vacillating moral weakness on his part.
3. Many in the church do the same thing. They hear the Word of God and as they do their conscience is stirred. But their life is unchanged. Nothing happens and eventually those people will reach a point in their lives where they dont respond to the light that God has given them and He will eventually turn off the light completely, leaving them in darkness. That is what is going to happen to Herod, as we will see tonight.
4. Also, while John was in prison he began to question if Jesus was really the Messiah or if there was another they should be looking for. He was looking for their release from Roman persecution, and here he was, locked in prison. So he sends a couple of his disciples to Jesus and they question Jesus regarding this concern they have. And Jesus tells them "...Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." Matthew 11:4-6. In other words, tell John that I am fulfilling what the Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah would do. I am the Messiah. And Jesus sent these guys back to reassure John, to encourage him during this difficult time.
1. We are now going to see Herod violate the conscience that God gave him, the one that was alive in him. And this was all going to take place at a big birthday bash he was throwing for himself. The place was packed with men only, except for the prostitutes that would fill the place. Wine flowed freely and these parties would last for days, weeks and even longer!
And as the party continued on, Herodias began to put her wicked plan into place, to set it in motion. And she is going to allow her daughter, Salome, who was only in her teens at this time, do her dirty work. Remember, Salome was not the daughter of Herodias and Herod, but Herodias and Philip! And Herodias sends her daughter into this perverted party that was taken place, and has her dance in a per vocative way before Herod, who was not only her step-father but her uncle also, besides all these other men who were drunk as a skunk. And the whole reason that Herodias did this is she wanted John the baptist put to death and she saw this as a perfect opportunity to accomplish this, using her daughter to get at her husband. It is hard to imagine that she would use her daughter for this, but it is also hard to believe that this young girl had no problem doing this. And she didnt!
2. As she danced in this pro vocative way before Herod, he is pleased by it. It softened his heart to the point where he tells her she can have anything she desires. That must have been some kind of dance, and it was. She seduced him into giving into her ways. And Salome must have had a closeness to her mother, because she asks Herodias what she should ask for. And Herodias says, "The head of John the Baptist!"
3. Now as teenagers, if I asked you what you wanted, what would you say! For most of you it would be a car. And not just a car, but you would have a specific model and color that you want. But this girl is not shocked by her mothers request, and has no problem asking for John to be murdered, his head cut off and placed upon a plate for all to see. That tells me her lifestyle must have been just as wicked as her mothers, and she too wanted this prophet of God silenced. She did not want to hear anymore of repenting of your sins, she was having too much fun. But, I bet if you could ask her now, she would have a different answer!
1. Notice the battle, the struggle that was going on in the heart and mind of Herod. He didnt want to do it. In fact, the phrase "exceedingly sorry" is used only one other time in the New Testament. Jesus used it in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed to the Father regarding the work He was to do, the cross of Calvary that was ahead of Him. Herod felt the same emotions here, he didnt want to do it.
But, because of what others might think, what they might say, he didnt want to go back on his promise, even if he was wrong. He didnt want to look bad!
1. A truly sad story that started out with at least some potential for good. You see, a conscience that began to respond has now been stifled by this request that was made to him. Because he was more interested in being accepted by people at this party, he was willing to turn his back upon God and not listen to God. The light, the feeling, his conscience that once spoke right and wrong to him, was now dead. It couldnt feel anymore. Because he was afraid of what others might think of him, he has John killed.
2. The last picture we have of Herod in the Scriptures is some 13 or 14 months after the events here in Mark chapter 6. We see this story unfold at the trial of Jesus where we read in Luke chapter 23 beginning in verse 6, "When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other." Luke 23:6-12.
Notice the change that now has taken place in the heart of Herod. He no longer feared God or the things of God. His conscience is dead. Now he is happy to see Jesus and he wants Jesus to perform a few tricks for him. He wants to be entertained instead of transformed into the image of God. Nothing in Jesus humbled this man, caused him to repent, caused him to fear. Before he stood before a man, John the baptist, and it caused him to fear. Now he is standing before the Son of God and he has no fear, in fact he mocks Jesus and beats Him, putting a purple robe upon Him. His heart was so dead that it was unchanged, unmoved before Jesus.
3. And what does Jesus do before this man Herod? What does Jesus say? Absolutely nothing! Why? Because, as sad as it may be, Jesus saw nothing in Herod to respond to, his conscience was dead even though he physically was alive! Jesus has not come to amuse us, or to entertain us, but to save that which was lost - you and me! We can either accept that or reject that, the choice is ours. As Jesus said in Mark 8:36-37, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Herod thought he had it all, and in reality, he had nothing!
1. The disciples of John hear of what happened, and they go and take the body of John and bury it. And Jesus takes these men to Himself to minister to them.
2. Truly a sad story that could have turned out a lot different if only Herod responded to his conscience instead of peer pressure, instead of desiring to be loved by the world and be rejected by God. But we are in that same boat. We can respond to what God is saying or reject it. The choice is ours! As Jesus said in the book of Revelation, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." Revelation 3:20.