At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
(Matthew 14:1-12 ESV)
Today we read another passage by Matthew that depicts a man whose heart is like the soil that is so hard that it cannot accept the seed that is the gospel [Matthew 13:3-4]. Sadly, today’s story is not a parable. It is a true story that is verified by extant historical documents.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about Jesus. This is a very revealing statement. Jesus had been preaching for well over a year at this point and His fame had spread. Yet the man who ruled over Galilee had not yet heard about Him. Herod was obviously very detached from the people and the events of his jurisdiction.
This Herod was Herod Antipas. He was the son of Herod the Great who had all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed in an attempt to kill Jesus after His birth [Matthew 2:16].
Upon hearing about Jesus this Herod feared that Jesus was really a resurrected John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded some months before. Perhaps Herod was afraid John had come back from the dead to seek revenge.
History tells us that Herod divorced his wife and married Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Philip. Notice that even though Herod and Herodias were married, the Holy Spirit directs Matthew to call her Philip’s wife. God does not recognize divorce. In God’s eyes Philip was still married to Herodias and Herod was still married to his wife. Not only that, but Herodias was actually Herod’s niece so his relationship with her was incestuous.
Apparently John the Baptist had confronted Herod about all this sin more than once. Finally Herod had him thrown into prison. Herod originally wanted to put John to death. But he feared the people, who considered him to be a prophet. So he had put him in prison. Then in today’s story (which is a flashback), he gets tricked into killing John the Baptist by his wife.
Notice that Herod’s life was ruled by fear. He feared the people. He feared his wife and didn’t stand up to her when he realized he had made a foolish oath. He feared his guests and what they would think about Him if he went back on his oath. He was sorry he made the oath, but not sorry enough to break it. The only one he didn’t fear was God Himself.
The world does not welcome having its sin pointed out. A typical response is to seek revenge against those who present the truth, as Herodias did. The world loves its sin and hates God.
Nevertheless, Christians are to tell others God’s truth so that they can be saved. They won’t like it. But we are not to be afraid of them [Jeremiah 1:8; Ezekiel 2:6].
But like John the Baptist, we are to point people to Jesus. Telling others of their sins does no good if we don’t tell them how to have that sin forgiven.
I certainly didn’t like it when I was an atheist and had my sins pointed out to me. But I’m now glad that someone took the risk and told me and also told me about Jesus. Otherwise, I’d be on my way to hell.
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