What Do You Do With A Sad Story?

 

Scripture Text: Matthew 14:1-12

When Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee,heard about Jesus, he said to his advisers, “This must be John the Baptist raised from the dead! That is why he can do such miracles.” For Herod had arrested and imprisoned John as a favor to his wife Herodias (the former wife of Herod’s brother Philip). John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. But at a birthday party for Herod, Herodias’s daughter performed a dance that greatly pleased him, so he promised with a vow to give her anything she wanted. At her mother’s urging, the girl said, “I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray!” Then the king regretted what he had said; but because of the vow he had made in front of his guests, he issued the necessary orders. 10 So John was beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a tray and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. 12 Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.
 

INTRODUCTION

I don’t like this story. I don’t like Herod and I don’t like his wife Herodias. I especially don’t like them entertaining themselves at John’s expense because I do like John. John is like an idol to me: well, not quite but he is a role model. I like John because he had the courage to celebrate his uniqueness. John didn’t try to be like anyone. He was different. I guess some would say he was weird or austere. John didn’t wear a suit and tie. He didn’t eat friend chicken and drink coffee. He dressed more like a biker, he wore leather and he ate dried locust and wild honey. He was an outdoorsman. He did no like be cooped up inside walls; he didn’t even want a ceiling. He loved the wilderness. He was a wilderness man who knew how to live off the land. John was a straight shooter. He was not politically correct. I heard a preacher say some years ago, that if John had stayed out of politics were he belonged, he would not have lost his head. John may have lost his head but he didn’t love his backbone and if some of these namby-pamby compromising preachers would start preaching the truth, it might make a world of difference. He told the truth. That became his legacy, he was the voice of truth. Herod’s wife did not like what John was saying so she coached Herod into arresting John and putting  him in a dungeon underneath the palace.

So, in coming to this story, I asked myself: what are you going to do? [1] You can skip it because you don’t like the way it ends [2] You can look for some new insights and try to make it a story with a happy ending, or [3] You can do like John and tell it like it is which is what I intend to do but first let me make a confession:

 WE CANNOT CHANGE THE TRUTH. TRUTH IS ABSOLUTE AND OBJECTIVE.

 

Truth has nothing to do with the way I feel and it has nothing to do with what I think or what anyone else thinks. Truth is not relative nor subjective: it is absolute and objective. It stands a part from human experience. We live in a mathematical world. We did not create math; we discovered math. Two plus two is four. That was true when Abraham lived and it is true today and it will be true tomorrow. You do not have to worry about truth changing, it is immutable. I know that because Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Amen, it is not rocket science, just simple faith.

I have already confessed that I do not like the story. If I were to rewrite the story, it would go something like this–Word reaches Jesus that John has been arrested and is being held in the fortress of Machaerus. Jesus dispatches Simon the Zealot and 50 Israeli commandos [a delta force], they storm the fortress and before Herod knows what’s going on, they rescue John and set him free 30 miles to the North in the wilderness he loved. You know the Israeli’s are good at rescue: it would be like the raid on Entebbe. This is wishful thinking but it is not the way things happened.

We cannot change the truth, even the ugly truth. Before 1934, we taught true history in our public schools. The story of George Washington riding fearless across the battle field was in our history books. It was taken out by John Dewey and the liberals/progressives because both Washington and the Indians attributed the General’s survival to Almighty God. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin…virtually all our founding fathers believed in God. John Dewey spent a great portion of his life re-writing American history without reference to the Almighty. We don’t want to be guilty of what the liberals do. When they don’t like a story, they change the story and then try to convince the masses that their version is true. You need to do some research on John Dewey the first NEA president. You are going to be shocked.

So, we cannot change the truth. Jesus did not come to the rescue and Herod had John beheaded.

WE CAN’T CHANGE THE TRUTH BUT LIKE JOHN, WE CAN TELL THE TRUTH

[John told the truth and it cost him his life but he did right by telling the truth, the ugly truth. I feel obliged to tell the truth, the ugly truth.

  1. The truth about Herod [hero-like]. Oddly enough, remove the d and you have the meaning of his name hero but Herod was anything but a hero. He was a sniveling coward.  He was not only wicked, he was weak.  He had the spine of a jelly fish. He did not have one ounce of courage. He was insecure and easily intimidated. Herodias pounced on his weakness. She broke up his marriage with Phasaelis the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the Nabateans [Arabs] which was arranged by Caesar Augustus. She manipulated Herod like he was a puppet on a string.  Herod feared John, Herodias engineered the old thing. She kept prodding until she got what she wanted. Herod was afraid of John, He was afraid of the people, he was even afraid of his guest and you know he feared the devil woman that he married or shacked up with. Do the research, I dare you: find something good about Herod. He was a loser.
  2. The truth about Herodias [heroic]. Give me a break, she was as big of a hypocrite as her husband. She was mean, vile, malicious, vindictive. She was ruthless and power hungry. The only reason she left Rome was that her husband Philip lacked ambition and she wanted to be a queen of a large kingdom. Herod Antipas has a small kingdom, very small, more like a small state or large county.  He controlled the area around the sea of Galilee. Herodias wanted more land and wealth. She was the driving force behind Herod’s demise.
  3. The truth about sin. It has wages. The way of the transgressor is hard.
    • Herod first wife returned to her father who was the king of Arabia [Nabateans]. He was outraged over Herod sending his daughter away and he began to attack Herod’s holding on the eastern front. He took control of everything Herod had except the castle where he was hiding and would have taken everything but he backed away in fear of the Romans. Besides, he accomplished his mission: he embarrassed Herod and made him look weak to the Romans.
    • Meanwhile, Herodias who does not know when to quit talks Herod in to going to Rome and asking for more land. This turned out to be a huge mistake. In Rome he was tried for treason and banished to Gaul where he died in just a few months. As a part of his punishment, they made Herodias go with him. She probably nagged him to death. He lived 11 years after John but they were miserable years.
    • Just so you know that nothing went right for Herod after the beheading of John the Baptist. The Jews believe to this day that the Arab invasion was the hand of God vindicating the death of John. So the truth, the gospel truth is that the wages of sin is death. Sin has a pay day and it comes sooner than expected. Herod may have had a drink or two at his birthday party, a laugh or two at the expense of a good man but he didn’t die laughing.
  4. The Truth about life. Herod lived twice as long as John but it is not how long we live but how we live that counts.
    • John left a legacy, a good one. What did Herod leave. We know what John accomplished, he set up the Ministry of our LORD. John was the LORD’s laser. He was focused and on target. A lot of folks name their boys John but you don’t see many boys by the name of Herod. Matter of fact, I can’t think of a one, can you? Who is their right mind would name a kid Herod. Who wants their kid to be a spineless wimp, a sniveling coward, a person devoid of character.
    • Jesus said John was the greatest man born of woman. He called Herod a fox, not a lion or bear but a fox. It was 2,000 years ago when Herod killed John but John is more alive today that he was 2,000 years ago. The life and legacy of John continues to grow. Herod will forever be a nobody.
    • John lived from 29-32 years yet he accomplished more in 30 years than Herod in 60.
    • It is not how long you live that counts, it is how you live.
    • Some of the best, most influential lives have been cut short. [William Borden 26, Jim Elliott 28, David Brainard 29, John the Baptist 31-2, Jesus 33, King Josiah 39] These stories of men like John and Jim Elliott will never make sense. Why do the good die and the wicked live on? As the write of Hebrews says in chapter 11, “Maybe they were too good for this world.” In terms of purity, Josiah was the best King in Israel’s history. When Josiah died, hope died for Israel.
    • John was a laser [focused] and Herod was a loser.
    • John spoke the truth, Herod feared the truth.
    • John died for something, Herod lived for nothing.
    • To die for something, you have to live for something.
    • I like what Paul said in Philippians 1:20…. For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
    • Whether you are John or Herod, you are going to die. Herod lived a few more years but he died just like John. It is appointed unto man once to die. It is going to happen. It would be wise to prepare.
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