Matthew 14:1-12 John the Baptist Murdered

The dance that ended in death

The dance that ended in death

The main character in our story today is Herod. He is beside himself with guilt and worry. He has good reason to feel guilty. He just murdered John the Baptist. Now he hears about what Jesus is doing and is terrified that John has risen from the grave.

Herod and John have history together. Somehow their paths crossed when John was preaching and calling for repentance. Did Herod go down to see John preaching? Was he interested in the message? Did he go just to see what all the fuss was about? Or did John come to him? Maybe Herod rode by on his way somewhere and John stopped him to talk to him. Maybe Herod requested John to come and speak to him. How did John get an appointment with Herod? How many meetings did they have? In chapter 6 of Mark, we are told that Herod heard John gladly, even though John’s message confused him.

However and how often they met, John would confront Herod during their meetings. John wasn’t shy about confronting anyone about their sins. That was his mission from God. To prepare the way for the coming Kingdom and to call the people to repentance. You won’t repent if you don’t believe you have sinned. Most of us recognize when we sin, but we are also VERY good at justifying anything we really don’t want to deal with. I believe Herod was in this same boat. Somehow Herod had ended up with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. I’m not certain if she divorced Herod’s brother before she started sleeping with Herod or not, or even if she divorced Philp at all. Whatever the sequence was, John told Herod straight out that he was in sin with this relationship. Somehow Herodias had even heard John’s rebuke of their relationship.

John’s words REALLY bothered Herodias. I think it bothered her more than it bothered Herod. Did she fear Herod would eventually listen to John and dump her? Did she fear the people would listen to John’s words and somehow impact her relationship with Herod? I believe she was afraid of losing whatever power she had as Herod’s wife. She certainly had power over Herod. She had enough power to convince him to arrest John for his words. But she didn’t have enough power to get John killed, yet.

Herod was certainly bothered by John’s words but he didn’t independently act against John because of them. He didn’t act because he feared John’s authority more than he feared public opinion. He was convinced that John was a prophet and he was not prepared to mess with God by messing with God’s messenger. He did work up enough courage to throw John in prison, because of Herodias’ prompting, but that was as far as he was prepared to go. John could still get his message out if he wanted to. Herodias probably still approached Herod to put an end to John, but she didn’t have enough power over him to make him cross his own invisible line.

All was as well as could be expected as far as Herod was concerned. He even protected John while he held him in prison. Herodias knew all of Herod’s weaknesses. She was about to capitalize on two of them. 1) Herod had a fondness for beautiful women, especially in the performing arts. 2) Herod liked to show off in front of his guests. Now all Herodias had to do was set a trap, exploiting those two points and whatever she wanted was hers for the taking. And what she wanted most of all was John the Baptist DEAD.

Herod had a birthday dinner coming up. During this dinner he would invite many nobles, military commanders and leading men from Galilee. This would require entertainment. Enter Herodias’ plan. Herodias had an exceptionally beautiful and talented daughter. Herod’s weakness number 1. I don’t know if Herodias disguised her daughter so Herod wouldn’t recognize her or not, but Herodias arranged for her to dance before Herod and his guests at one of his official gatherings. Herod’s weakness number 2 comes in here. This plan was premeditated and carefully orchestrated by Herodias.

The birthday banquet is in full swing when Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod. She pleased him so much that he offered her up to ½ of his kingdom. She really must have known how to shake her tail feathers! Herod even made this offer in front of all his guests. Mark tells us that the girl went to her mother “immediately” and asked her what she should ask for. I wonder if Herodias was waiting in a hallway right outside the banquet hall pacing the floor in anticipation of her daughter’s return. Herodias knew exactly what she was going to ask for.

As soon as the daughter asked, Herodias gave her answer. She wanted John the Baptist’s head. This request apparently didn’t faze the daughter one bit because she ran back over to where Herod was and made her request. She even embellished it a bit by adding the platter piece to it.

Herod’s face probably went white and his eyes grew wide. What was he going to do? He made a promise, in front of witnesses. If he went back on his word he would lose all credibility. But if he gave her what she requested, he would be in danger of the wrath of God. I guess he figured he could square things with God later, so he gave the girl what she asked for. He had John brought out of prison and beheaded. He then gave Herodias’ daughter John’s head on a platter, which she brought straight to her mother.

Herodias must have been overjoyed! She finally got what she wanted. But how did it affect her relationship with Herod? He was eaten up with guilt. He KNEW that John was a righteous man and was on a mission from God. He had killed God’s anointed! What was God going to do to him?

Herod was so consumed with guilt that when he heard of Jesus’ ministry he believed John had risen from the dead. THAT would have been quite the miracle! Someone who was beheaded rising from the grave. This had NEVER happened before, so there was no president for such a thing. Yes, Jesus was raising the dead, but not THAT kind of dead. John’s body and head weren’t even together! Herodias had his head and John’s disciples took his body away. What did Herodias do with his head? Did she keep it? Did she have it stuffed and mounted? Did Herod ever have to see it? Did the daughter ever regret her part in this drama?

Father God, it is amazing what guilt can do to a person. It can actually eat you alive! Herod KNEW he had messed up and was just waiting for the hammer to fall. Had he asked for forgiveness? Did he think You would actually grant it if he had? Was he too afraid to even come to You, like Adam was when he sinned? He didn’t have Jesus’ blood covering his sins like we do. He had to make a sacrifice through the priest. Was he too afraid to even tell the priest what he had done? Did he try to justify his sin as part of being a ruler?

I have had times when I was SURE You wouldn’t forgive me for something I had done. It usually was connected to a willful sin. One that I knew was wrong and was wrestling with not to engage in, but gave in to temptation anyway. On our human scale, NONE of my sins were anywhere near the caliber of Herod’s sin. But in Your eyes, sin is sin. There is no distinction. So also it is with forgiveness. There is no limit to what You can forgive, EXCEPT the act of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That one sin Jesus said will not be forgiven. One reason for that is because it is not something that you can just slip up and do accidently. It requires a hardening of the heart to all that God has and is. It also requires a deliberate vehement act. This act involves ascribing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, or esteeming His works as of no more value than Satan’s works. At this point the person’s heart is so hard against God that they don’t even want forgiveness. They have rendered the Holy Spirit in their life null and void. So He withdraws.

Please God, NEVER let me get that far away from You! Do whatever it takes to get through to me before I reach that point. I pray my son has not reached it. I place him in Your hands to do with him whatever it takes to bring him back to You. Please soften his heart. Thank You that You hold out Your hand to us as long as we have hope of listening. Don’t give up on him and don’t let me lose hope.

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