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God’s Word for You

Mark 6:17-18 The sin of Herod

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 7, 2023

17 For Herod himself had sent men to arrest John, and he had him bound in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (he had married her). 18 It was John who had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Paul could say that the sin of incest was “a kind of sexual immorality that is not found even among the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 5:1), but there are sad examples among the Jews in both the Old and New Testaments. Here was a sin Reuben had committed in the 1890s BC (Genesis 35:19), and Absalom a thousand years later (2 Samuel 16:22). It was reported by Amos (Amos 2:7), and here by Mark. Laws against incest are also known as sanguine (blood-relationship) laws. A Christian is no longer bound by the laws of Moses in such things, just as the ancient Patriarchs were not bound by them (living, as they did, before the laws of Moses), so that Adam and Eve’s sons could marry their own sisters, and even Abraham could marry his own half-sister without burdening his conscience (Genesis 20:12) but we are still bound by the Fourth Commandment. And although “customs curtsy to great kings” who regard themselves as “the makers of manners” (Henry V, V:2), even the Egyptian and Roman monarchs who wanted to marry their siblings or in-laws ran up against their own laws by doing such things. For even if someone is not bound by the Laws of Moses (which Herod certainly was), they are still bound by the laws of their country. There is no nation that condones stealing your living brother’s wife and marrying her.

The trouble here was this: What bothered Herod a little did not bother his sister and wife Herodias one little bit. She had decided that she would be proud of her sin, and that she would kill anyone who dared to say she was sinning. I suppose she would fit right in with many outspoken groups today. But what her actions said was that she didn’t only want to kill John, God’s prophet. She was acting as if she wanted to kill God himself. She wanted the status of a goddess. She would be supreme. She would be the maker of laws so that no one could even claim that she was a breaker of laws. She was judging herself, showing that she didn’t consider herself worthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46).

In connection with the next verses (6:19-20) we will examine the difference between Herod and Herodias, subtle though it might be. Now we must address the glorious truth in John’s actions. Here we have the regular use of the Greek imperfect tense in the word elegen (ἔλεγεν), “he kept saying.” The imperfect tense is the Greeks’ idea of expressing a regular or ongoing act in the past. So this was not just one sermon from John, nor one chance encounter with Herod and the sister-in-law who shared his bed and spent his money. This was John’s regular, continuous sermon to Herod: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

John understood that a preacher must never proclaim what is contrary to God’s Word. Even as he takes time during the week to craft a sermon, writing out lines that may seem powerful, remarkable, interesting, apt to capture the attention and the interest of his hearers, he must also be stern and even cruel to himself and cross out or delete a sentence or paragraph (or whole sermon) that could be misunderstood. A minister cannot afford to be heard by two different people and be accepted in two different ways, as if walking a tightrope between conservatives and liberals in the pews. That sort of nonsense is dishonest, and throws open the gates of hell for those who listen. “He must not rely on the ability of his hearers to give the correct interpretation to incorrect statements of his, but must speak so as not to be misunderstood in what he says” (Walther). For both sin and false doctrine are yeast that “leavens the whole batch” (1 Corinthians 5:6), and to downplay a sin, most especially a sin on public display the way Herod’s was, must be called out as a sin.

For this reason, John was arrested and imprisoned. This kind of opposition has not stopped. A pastor must still present himself “as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

I was a witness to a surprising event more than twenty-five years ago. A family member of mine belonged to another denomination, a Methodist church, and heard his pastor say (on Easter Sunday) that Jesus died for our sins on the cross and has now risen from the dead. That simple, and absolutely correct statement, got that minister fired, because the theology of the denomination claims that a person might become sinless on their own merits apart from Christ.

Pray that your pastor would have the courage and conviction of John, who preached the truth of God’s Word even in the face of death. “For what good would it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Pray that he would use God’s stern warnings and gracious promises to “draw the will, which is in some way unwilling, to make it willing, and to draw the sluggish will to make it run.” Let our leaders lead us in truth to the green pastures and quiet waters where we may be fed without fear and in everlasting peace.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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