By Joel Hess –
Many of us heard the Mark account of the death of John the Baptist this past weekend. At first, we want to quickly summarize it as a classic example of good versus evil, Christian martyrdom. But after deeper inspection, it ain’t that simple. Even from this small account, Mark makes it clear that Herod was a little more complicated than we usually give him credit for.
Mark writes, “When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20, NIV)
Herod isn’t just Doctor Evil. He’s all too real. Herod had put John in prison because it was a compromise with his wife who truly wanted him dead. The brash and honest John accused Herod and Herodias of adultery since she was once Herod Jr.’s brother’s wife.
Ironically, Herod probably understood himself as the savior of John! After all, he preserved John’s life. He might have hoped to be considered an obedient child of Israel. And unlike the Pharisees, at least Herod listened to John.
God in a cage. Herod thought he could have God in a cage. Put him in prison. Of course he didn’t want to kill John. Herod knew deep in his heart that John was right. What else did John talk about that interested Herod? He knew it would be wrong to get rid of John. Yet he also had to obey his wife. And of course, he wasn’t going to actually change his life. Yet all the while he must have sat there nodding his head to John’s sermons.
Herod thought he could play with the devil and with God. Walk the fence. Put them both in a box in his life. He’s king, after all. Right?
Sound familiar? Do you think you are king? Do you think you can play with the king of this world and the true King of all things? Put them in prisons where you can listen to them at your pleasure and leave.
American Christians have been playing Herod for some time. Playing with the government as if it could be on their side. Playing with a culture sliding into madness trying to keep church attendance up. Don’t be too bold in proclamation. Fit in to the world. After all, when is the last time your pastors told a member he or she was committing adultery!?
Some churches quite intentionally put God’s prophets in prisons when they call a sin a sin. But it might offend their wife or the world, so ….rip that page out of the Bible.
But you can’t play with the world and God. At some point the king of the world doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you, even if you put your God in a prison for him. At some point, she’s going to ask for your church’s head on a platter. Just ask those churches who to had both God’s and the government’s approval in Germany not so long ago. As Luther says, “when the snake sticks his head in, the whole body will follow.”
Herod was forced to make a choice. He chose his to keep his word to the world. He didn’t want to look bad before his friends after all!
Forgive us, O Lord!
Fortunately you can’t put God in prison. He is the one who breaks prisons. Keeps His word. He breaks even the prison of the grave.
He is the one who will raise John up, head and all.
He is the King who did not come to be served but to serve. Who does not throw parties for Himself, but for unworthy guests like you, me, and Herod. Who gives us not half the kingdom but all of it, for free! And not because we shook our booty for Him. Because He loves you and me.