The introduction of Jesus’ evident growing fame, and the knowledge of that fame reaching the ears of the notorious King Herod, leaves Mark the opportunity to tell the story of John the Baptist’s end. Because Jesus is preaching so powerfully, Herod, with a guilty conscience plaguing him, associates that preaching with the fearful righteous preaching of a radical prophet all-too-familiar to him: John. When a man is plagued by guilt, they drum up ghosts and terrors out of every righteous preacher.
John the Baptist had boldly spoken “truth to power,” in the modern parlance, telling Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife. Herodias, Herod’s wife, had naturally enough taken a disliking to John, and so John was in prison. But she also, in her wickedness, sought to put an end to the troublesome preacher. Herod protected John because he knew that he was a righteous man. He feared him; yet at the same time heard him gladly. Was Herod caught in two minds—between pleasing his conscience and listening to John, and pleasing his wife and executing John? Vacillating, he kept John in prison but listened to him preach. A bad woman can have a terrible effect on a man, even a good man, let alone a man like Herod. Our influence is to be used for good. Make sure we encourage those nearest and dearest to us to pursue hard after Christ—and choose Christ above even family loyalties, even if it happens that in the sad instance they conflict.
Herodias manufactures an opportunity. Her daughter dances so pleasingly—we may assume, it has often been suspected, that she danced lasciviously—that Herod offered to give her whatever she wanted. Taking her mother’s advice, she asks for John to be beheaded. Now Herod is caught: instead of vacillating between pleasing his wife and pleasing his conscience, he now must choose between pleasing his conscience and pleasing the popular vote around him. As all dictators, and immoral leaders, find at one time or another, they are truly the slave to the mob, because they have no principles by which to stand, other than the principle of power to the people. If you are forced to choose between looking good to your friends and being good or doing good, choose to do good.
This great man, John the Baptist, comes to a sad end. But his story is still told with whispers and shouts of glory and righteous fame. His eternity is filled with joy, whereas Herod is a notorious figure of ongoing evil. Choose, if the choice must be, to die like John (and live forever) rather than face an eternal death.
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