A Prophet On A Platter
Sunday, July 23rd 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 15 Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. 17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. 19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. 21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. 24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. 29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
Father, we thank you for the example of Saint John the Baptist, a man greater and holier than any others before the coming of Christ. We thank you for the testimony of his martyrdom, and for his willingness to decrease that Jesus Christ might increase. As we reflect upon his execution in the Gospel of Mark, we ask for your Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth, for we ask this in Jesus name, Amen.
Last week we saw what happens when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus has been away for a time, ministering in Galilee, and yet despite the many signs and wonders and wisdom of his teaching, the people of Nazareth refuse to believe in Jesus.
This is of course exactly what Isaiah prophesied would happen when the Messiah comes.
Isaiah 53:2-3 says, “For he shall grow up before the LORD as a tender plant, And as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: And we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
So Jesus did not walk around with a halo around his head or a divine glow radiating from his skin.The glory he had from all eternity was something hidden and concealed. There was not outward beauty that made people attracted to him.
John 1:11 says likewise, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”
So Jesus is suffering rejection from those who should be closest and kindest to him. His family, his brothers and sisters, his friends who grew up with him, they do not yet understand who Jesus of Nazareth is. They think that just because they knew him according to his humanity as a common carpenter, that therefore he could not be the promised Davidic King, and certainly not the Creator God in the flesh.
We saw last week that there are many diverse motives for rejecting Christ and the gospel, some are intellectual, some are theological, but more often than not, they are usually personal reasons like envy, jealousy, pettiness and pride.
And while these sins may seem relatively small or minor to us, Jesus says that it will be “more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city that rejects him” (Mark 6:11).
So what we might deem as a minor sin, like nursing a grudge, or coveting what someone else has, can actually become the cause of far more serious sins like rejecting God and his offer of salvation. The slope of unbelief is very slippery. And this is the sin of people of Nazareth.
However, by now, Jesus is used to rejection, He is no stranger to opposition, but that does not remove the sorrow in his heart over the people’s unbelief. And while many of us would be tempted to despair or discouragement or bitterness because our family or friends reject us, Jesus continues to minister undeterred.
As Isaiah 50:6-7 also says, “I gave my back to the smiters, And my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help me; Therefore shall I not be confounded: Therefore have I set my face like a flint, And I know that I shall not be ashamed.”
Jesus (like the prophet Isaiah), for the joy that was set before him, despised the shame of the people who rejected him. He despised the shame of those who wanted to distance themselves from his movement.
And this absolutely fixed determination to do the Father’s will, come what may, is what Jesus wants all of his disciples to learn as well.
As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
And so Mark has written this chapter in such a way as to teach us this lesson from Jesus: that no man can serve God faithfully if he also desires the approval of others. Just as you cannot serve God and Mammon, you cannot serve God and seek the approval of others.
Listen to what John 12:42-43 says about the people who attempt this, “Many even of the authorities believed in Jesus, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”
The test of a true Christian is to answer the question: Who do you want glory from? Whose approval do you most desire?Is it God? Or is it man?How you answer that question will determine your fitness for the kingdom of heaven.
And so to help us aspire to this seeking the glory of God above the glory of men, Mark inserts this story of John the Baptist. And he inserts John’s martyrdom between the sending out of the disciples in verse 13 and their return in verse 30.
You can think of these verses (14-29) as a kind of interlude to inspire and encourage the disciples before they go out to preach. This is a coach’s pep talk in the locker room before they head out to the field.
And the takeaway from this interlude is pretty straightforward: Sometimes the reward for obeying God, is to have your head chopped off. Sometimes the reward for doing exactly what God commands you to do, is imprisonment and martyrdom.
And this is basically the opposite of how most people think about the Christian life. We think that obedience leads to blessing. Which is exactly right and true. But what we miss and often overlook is that God’s blessings sometimes come to us disguised as curses.
For John the Baptist, sitting in prison, might not seem like effective fruitful ministry. He can’t preach, he can’t baptize, he can’t point people to Jesus, he’s just sitting there in chains. And yet, his imprisonment and beheading, are going to be written down by the apostles and proclaimed until the end of the world in every nation under heaven, and the testimony of his faith, which is sealed in blood, will resound into eternity. John was counted worthy to suffer for the name, and that cursed death he endured was the reward of his faithfulness.
God’s blessings sometimes come to us disguised as curses. This whole scene of course is a foreshadowing of Christ’s death. If this is how the powers that be treat John a holy prophet and forerunner for the Messiah, then how they will treat the one who comes after him?
So with this in mind, let us turn to our text.
14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
Notice first that Mark calls Herod, “king Herod.” There are a bunch of Herods in the Bible (this is a different Herod than the one that tried to kill Jesus as an infant). This is Herod Antipas who was the tetrarch of Galilee. You can think of a tetrarch as a kind of local governor who only had power insofar as Caesar granted it. Rome was the imperial power, and Herod Antipas was the local governor over the regions of Galilee and Perea.
And the ironic thing about Mark calling him “king Herod,” is that he never actually held the official title of king though he desperately wanted it. The Jewish historian Josephus tells of how his wife Herodias goaded him into requesting this title of king from Caesar, and it was that ambitious request to be made king of the Jews, that led him to him being deposed and banished by the emperor Caligula (AD 39).
Now for all intents and purposes, for those who lived in Galilee, Herod very much lived and acted like a king. And beyond the irony of him being deposed for aspiring to that royal title, Mark calls Herod, “king Herod” because he wants to set up a contrast between two different kinds of king, two distinct visions of kingship.
Mark is wants us to compare King Herod with King Jesus, and therefore the rest of this chapter is a kind of commentary on what a true shepherd/king is compared to the false shepherd/king that is Herod.
We’ll see next week that Jesus will say in verse 34, the people are like “sheep without a shepherd” and then Jesus is going to miraculously feed those sheep with five loaves and two fish.
The contrast then, and the question Mark wants us to ask is, What kind of shepherd is king Herod? Does he feed the sheep, or devour them? Jesus multiplies and divides loaves and fishes, what does Herod divide?
So “king Herod” has heard of Jesus, and he thinks that John the Baptist has risen from the dead. And again, there are layers of irony here, because in Jesus, John will one day literally rise from the dead, but in the meantime, John was Elijah, and Jesus is Elisha, who comes with a double portion of the same spirt. The ministry of Jesus then is what John’s ministry looks like resurrected. John did no mighty signs and wonders, but he preached the truth. Jesus comes as “a resurrected John” and is performing miracles all over the place.
In verses 15-16 we hear what people are speculating about Jesus’ identity…
15 Others said, That it is Elias (Elijah). And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.
Herod appears here haunted by the execution of John. And perhaps in his mind, Jesus is a kind of divine vengeance for John’s murder (the ghost of John is haunting him).
And then in verse 17, we get a flashback from Mark, which tells us how John’s execution went down.
17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. 19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
King Herod is a man divided. He has married his niece, Herodias, who was also the wife of his half-brother Philip, and so there are multiple violations of God’s law in this marriage between Herod and Herodias.
Leviticus 18:16 says, “Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife.”
Leviticus 20:21 says, “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”
Herodias had already had a daughter together with Philip, and so for her to divorce him and then marry Herod Antipas was a scandal to the Jews.
John the Baptist therefore confronted Herod about this unlawful marriage, and ever since then, Herodias had wanted to kill John.
This should remind us of the various scenes in 1 Kings where King Ahab is controlled by his wicked wife Jezebel, and uses her husband’s power to get what she wants.
Elijah slaughters the false prophets of Baal, and then Jezebel tries to slaughter Elijah (1 Kings 18-19).
Naboth has a vineyard that Ahab desires, and Jezebel sets up false witnesses to have Naboth murdered.
There are many parallels between Ahab and Herod, Jezebel and Herodias, Elijah and John the Baptist.
And if you remember how Jezebel dies, she is thrown out of a window, eaten by dogs, and when they go to bury her it says, “they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.” Jezebel has her head severed from her body.
So just as Jesus is John “risen from the dead.” Herodias has “resurrected” the spirit of Jezebel, and she now seeks the head of John the Baptist.
We should also note here that it belongs to the prophet to confront kings when they deviate from God’s law. It did not matter that Rome claimed supremacy, or that king Herod was not a professing believer. According to the law of God as set forth in Leviticus 18 and 20, it was unlawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife.
This prophetic ministry now belongs to the church, and therefore the job of preachers is not only to feed the people of God, but also to confront the lawlessness that happens in Washington D.C., in Olympia, and wherever the city council meets. The church is Christ’s mouthpiece to tell the powers that be, what is lawful and what is not.
It does not matter if the President or Governor or Mayor is not a Christian, the moral law of God is forever binding on all men, and if they deviate from it, we have the authority given to us by God, to tell them, “You may not have your brother’s wife.” You may not allow abortions in this state. You may not allow transgender surgeries in Washington. You may not allow same-sex mirage to exist. You may not draft our daughters into the military. On and on I could go. These people who desire to corrupt our children and spread perversity need to be punished, not elected to public office.
This is the prophetic ministry of the church, and if we start to preach like John the Baptist, we should not be surprised when they like Herodias, want to kill us.
The fact that we have so many women (like Herodias and Jezebel) in government is not a sign of great progress, it is a sign of God’s judgment.
Isaiah 3:12 says, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, And women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, And destroy the way of thy paths.”
If you go to vote, and your options are Herod, Herodias, Jezebel, or Deborah, of course choose righteous Deborah. But as you vote for her, remember that this is not how it is supposed to be.
When God ordained the government of Israel in Exodus 18:21-22, this was the standard for being a ruler, “Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: 22 And let them judge the people at all seasons.”
There are 4 basic qualifications for a godly ruler. You must be:
1. An able man (competent to rule)
2. Fear God
3. A Man of Truth
4. Hate Covetousness (hate a bribe)
Where are these men today? How many of our senators and representatives meet that very basic criteria? Not many.
If Christ is King of the world, then He is King of Centralia, He is Lord of Chehalis. Jesus is the ruler of Washington State and these United States. And Psalm 2 issues a warning to all human governments that we must constantly put in their ears, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, And ye perish from the way, When his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
The blessing of God will not come to our nation, until we as a nation put our trust in Him. In the meantime, we can either lock up and behead preachers of God’s truth, or we can amplify their voice and repent at their preaching. Which way Western man?
In verses 21-23 we have Herodias’ wicked scheme.
21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
This was most likely a very lewd dance from a teenage girl. And if you were to read about what took place in Herodian courts, this is not surprising activity. There was all kinds of incest and perversity there.
This dancing damsel stands in contrast to another damsel we just read about back in chapter 5, Jairus’s daughter who was at the point of death. We said that Jairus’s daughter signifies the death and resurrection of Israel of Daughter Zion, and here we have another picture of how corrupt Daughter Zion has become.
Here is a royal princess, dancing and debasing herself for the pleasure of men. This is exactly how God describes Jerusalem in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and elsewhere: Jerusalem is a daughter that has been made royalty, but who then debases herself with fornication and murder.
Ezekiel 16:15 says, “But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it.”
Jeremiah 11:15, 27 says, “What hath my beloved to do in mine house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many, and the holy flesh is passed from thee? when thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest…I have seen thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy whoredom, and thine abominations on the hills in the fields. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?”
Here we have another angle on this theme of Jerusalem as God’s daughter that has become corrupt.And just as Jerusalem is the city that murders and devours the prophets, so also this damsel will be the cause of John’s murder and their devouring of him.
So Herod offers the girl whatever she wants, up to half the kingdom, and now we get her request.
24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger (on a platter/serving dish) the head of John the Baptist. 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. 29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
What is the dish that the wicked desire to eat? It is the flesh of prophets. What is the communion meal and sacrament of the perverse? It is to consume the head of those who spoke the truth.
Herodias daughter is no innocent young girl, just doing what her mother says against her will. This is a daughter who has embraced her mother’s murderous intents, and even embellishes them. It is the girl who adds to the request, “I want his head on a platter, immediately.”
She, like her mother, knows that Herod is double-minded. Herod fears John and respects him as a holy man, and therefore John’s imprisonment is a compromise to keep John alive, and his wife at bay.
And so Herodias and her daughter look for and press upon Herod’s great weakness, which is his desire for approval and the keeping of appearances. The text says, “And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.”
What did Herod want more than to keep John alive? He wanted to keep his reputation as king intact.Herod knew murdering John was morally wrong, he also knew it was bad public policy, it could incite rebellion, and endanger his ability to rule. He had a bad conscience about the whole thing. But feeling bad about sin, is not the same thing as repentance.
And at this point of the girls requests, Herod still had a way out. He could have given her half of his kingdom instead. He could have broken his oath as an unlawful oath, we know he had no problem breaking marriage vows.
And so Herod, instead of dividing his kingdom, divides the head from the body of John the Baptist. He caves to the pressure of his wife and this girl and the people who are watching.
We have then a great inversion here of something that happened in King Solomon’s court. You remember the scene where two women come in, with competing claims of who is mother of the baby. And Solomon threatens to divide the baby in half. And the true mother out of love for her child, pleads for the baby’s life (give it the other woman), and thus Solomon discerns true mother from false mother.
Well King Herod has no such discernment. And rather than judging righteously between two women, here two women exercise authority and judgment over him. This is the kind of king that King Herod is: weak-willed, compromised, double-minded, controlled by women and what they think.
In contrast to Herod, we have the examples of both John and Jesus.
John and Jesus preach the truth and care only for the approval of God. They could care less what people think of their preaching.
What gives a man courage to confront kings and authorities and those who could do us great harm, is an absolute trust that God is on our side. That the Father is pleased with us, and it his good pleasure along that we desire.
If we want to become a faithful and honest church, where truth and love abound, then we are going to have to be a little bit brave.
We are going to have to first confront the wickedness and perversity in ourselves. We are going to have to repent, and put to death that little Herod and that bitter Herodias that dwells in our flesh. Our envy, our lust for power, for money, for reputation. The hankering for other people’s approval must die in us if we want courage to stand.
The true prophet is willing to lose his head for Christ. To decrease that He might increase.
The true king is willing to lay down his life for the sheep, to face down wolves to protect those who are his.
And so take John and take Jesus as your examples of what it means to be a true disciple, a true Christian.
The path that Jesus is taking us on is a path that leads through the valley of the shadow of death.And if you trust Jesus, even unto death, then you will find on other side: green pastures, still waters, beautiful and pleasant places that will restore your soul.
So trust the good shepherd, trust the true King, and surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.