God’s Word for You
Mark 6:26-29 “I must become less…”
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 21, 2023
26 The king became very sad, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So at once he sent an executioner and ordered him to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He brought it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Herod’s thoughts and deeds don’t seem to make any sense, but this is just what sin does to human reason. Herod couldn’t think of a way to get out of the outrageous request for John’s head, not even the simple, “I promised a gift, not a crime,” or “I promised a gift for you, not your mother.” Filled with dread at the thought of killing the holy man, filled with his own pride, but unwilling to back down even on legal grounds, he sent out the executioner to carry out the deed. The cells were nearby in the fortress, and the act was quickly carried out.
John’s disciples had been allowed to see him when they wanted to (Matthew 11:2). Now they were permitted to come and collect his remains for burial.
This would have serious repercussions for Herod. Although he was still in power when Jesus was put on trial (Luke 23:11-12), the killing of John was frowned upon by many of the Jews, perhaps even some who were not followers of Jesus. This was used by King Aretas of Nabataea (the father of the wife Herod set aside in favor of Herodias) to gain support in his military campaign against Herod in the mid-30s. Herod’s army was completely defeated. Later, Herod was summoned to Rome by Caligula and exiled, in 39, to Lugdunum in Gaul (Lyons, France).
No wonder Herod was haunted by what he did. He was convinced that the appearance of Jesus was the risen John, and who knows what horrors he imagined about such a figure walking all around the kingdom? Did he cringe every time a messenger told him that a visitor wanted to speak with him? Did he sleep at night? Did he look Herodias in the eye ever again? Did he see John’s eyes, hear John’s voice, sniff John’s camel-hair clothing, for the rest of his life?
What company do you keep, Christian? Place yourself in the room with Herod. There in the wings is the sister-in-law he was sleeping with, gloating because she was getting everything she wanted; “her steps leading straight to the grave” (Proverbs 5:5). There is her whorish teenage daughter, with no regard for God and “no regard for any of his ways” (Job 34:27). Reclining at the table are the king’s guests, drunk and groping in the darkness of their wicked thoughts (Job 12:25), men who didn’t raise their voices in protest when John’s death was requested and then commanded. “Bad company corrupts good character,” Paul said (1 Corinthians 15:33). And Solomon said: “A companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). And here comes the executioner with a plate, and on it, the head of the great prophet and forerunner of the Messiah. The company we keep leads us to many things, either many more sins than we might ever have imagined, or urging us to service for God in ways we would not have thought possible.
John had indeed become less as Jesus became more (John 3:30). Like the boy who led Samson to the pillars of the temple of Dagon (Judges 16:26), he did what was commanded even though it meant his death. John therefore led the way of the Christian martyrs, along with James the brother of John the Apostle (Acts 12:1) and the innocent boys who were killed by Herod the Great who was trying to murder the Christ child (Matthew 2:16). Since “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death” (Irenaeus), what shall we do at any moment of life but give God glory with what we say and do, and especially with our thoughts? For when our thoughts keep in step with God (Galatians 5:25), our words and actions will follow along. If we are called on to do something unpleasant in the service of God, it will be more glorious than whatever would seem to be the most pleasant task apart from his service! For whatever is given to me to do, to say, and even to suffer, in his service, is for his plan and design for the world. Even if my work means suffering many indignities for many years, like Jacob’s years working for Rachel, which were doubled when Laban cheated him (Genesis 29:19-27), I will gladly do what God has given me to do. But no one should strive to lose their life for the sake of the gospel. Such a labor might be asked, but it is a supreme test that not many have the ability to withstand. For “those condemned to the wild beasts endured dreadful tortures” we are told, “being made to lie on sharp shells and many other kinds of torture, so that the devil might lead them to a denial, if possible, through prolonged torture” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:4). If a Christian is asked to die for Christ, we would pray that he would be up to the task without denying his faith. But it is such a terrible thing to imagine that we would not wish such a thing on anyone, no matter how strong we think their faith might be. Who can stand such a moment of wrath and pain (Malachi 3:2)?
Sometimes affliction brings us to trust in Christ all the more: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). May your struggles be light, but struggles that you overcome for the sake of Christ. Remember John and his work and his martyrdom. Give God glory with your life, showing your faith in Jesus today, tomorrow, and always.
Pastor Timothy Smith