Now we're turning to Mark's gospel chapter 6 please. Now if you're new to the Iron Hall, even if it's only on Sunday mornings, for a while now - with a few interruptions - we have been studying Mark's gospel. Believe it or not, we are still in the midst of chapter 6, and this is our 31st study! So we're going slowly, but I think it's important that we glean all we can of the spiritual information that the Holy Spirit has given to us through Mark.
We're going to read from verse 13, please, of Mark 6: "And they", that is, the disciples that the Lord Jesus had sent out, "cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. And king Herod heard of him" - and let me just pause there, because Mark calls Herod, that is Herod Antipas, a King. Now that was what Antipas would have wanted, but in reality Herod was only a tetrarch. He set himself up with the persona of a king, but he was the ruler of a fourth part of the nation. When Herod the Great died, the Romans divided the territory among his three sons, and Antipas was made tetrarch of Peraea and Galilee.
"When Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:)", that is, the name of the Lord Jesus, "and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb".
The portion that we have just read together is somewhat of a difficult one from the point of view of bringing application to you as a people of God in the 21st century - and yet, with many difficult passages of Scripture, I think the deeper you dig the more marvellous the jewels are that you discover. There is a great deal that is instructive within this portion of structure to us all. First of all, I believe we will encounter what a preacher of the word should be like - and that is personified for us in John the Baptist. We will also see the converse of that truth, and that is what a hearer of the word of God should be like - or should we say, what a hearer of the word of God should not be like, which is very graphically characterised for us in the person of Herod the tetrarch and his family.
So what we have here, in application at least, is how we ought to deliver the word of God, and how we ought to respond to the Word of God - how we ought to be as messengers of God's message, and how we ought to receive the message that God sends us. It is vividly portrayed here, look at verse 14 for instance. We see there the wickedness of Herod the King, he heard of the Lord Jesus, and: 'He said that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew themselves in him'. Now why does that show his wickedness? Well, it seems amazing, to me at least, that Herod - who incidentally was a Sadducee, and the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection - Herod was willing to believe that John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, had risen from the dead - and yet he was not willing to believe in the God who he supposed had power to raise the dead. It shows us the irrationality of unbelief. We have been sold the lie that atheism and agnosticism are the rational philosophies, but they are not.
Now, of course, a worse sin for Herod was the fact that this was not John the Baptist, this was the very Son of God, and he was resisting Him and His ministry, and preferring his own sin and lust for power. Look with me at verse 15 - others were speculating who this One was: 'Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets'. Now let me cast your mind back to chapter 1 verse 24, because there the demons that the Lord Jesus was casting out, they had the identity of the Lord Jesus right: 'I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God', the demon confessed. Yet these Jews were getting it wrong. It's interesting that often those who get the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ wrong, they do recognize something wonderful about Him. If you think about several of the major and even minor religious faiths and beliefs in our world - even some of the cults of Christendom - you will note that many of them, if not all of them, reverence and revere the Lord Jesus Christ to some extent. Wasn't it Gandhi who said: 'I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ' - but he liked our Christ. But Christ does not ask our respect as a great man, He demands our faith and our obedience as He is the Son of God. There's a universe of difference!
Look at verse 16 now: 'When Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead'. Now Herod thought that John the Baptist had come back from the dead, perhaps in judgement to him, to haunt him for beheading him - but one thing is sure: John's supposed resurrection from the dead to Herod, proved that there was something special about this man, he was a prophet. Now what I want you to note is that Herod, with all his shortcomings - and there were many - he was supernaturally curious. He was not disinterested in spiritual things. This is evident from verse 20: 'Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly'. Then when his wife's daughter, in verse 26, asked for the head of John the Baptist: 'The King', it says, 'was exceeding sorry'. He didn't want to see John dead, he feared him, he recognized God working in him.
Now later on in the gospel record we find that this man Herod was also supernaturally curious towards the Lord Jesus. If you look at Luke 23 and verse 8, we read there: 'When Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad', this is at the trial of the Lord Jesus, after Pilate had sent Christ to Herod, 'for Herod was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him'. Herod was supernaturally curious, so he could not have been classed as an agnostic or an atheist - yet what I want you to see today is that though he was spiritually curious, and we could say 'believing' in a loose sense of the word, he lived and operated both in his private life, his personal life, and his political career on the basest of all levels. That's interesting, isn't it? Verse 26 shows us that again: though he was sorry that they had requested for the head of John the Baptist, 'yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her'. He regretted having to take this action, cutting off John's head, but sadly his ego was greater than his regret.
Now how can we apply these very searing facts? Well, I think it's obvious that hearers of the word of God, at least many of them, are exactly like Herod. Most people would not say that they are atheists, they believe in some kind of deity. They might even believe in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and they acknowledge the truth of God's word, some of them - but in their own personal lives and experience they choose to silence the voice of God's Spirit to their heart. Their minds give assent to the gospel, but their lives are an affront to it. Maybe they are supernaturally curious, they like to be tantalised and fascinated by supernatural power - healing, miracles, or about prophetic predictions, and they want to know what the Bible and the book of Revelation tells us about what's going to happen in the future. Their spiritual intrigue gives them a buzz, but their hearts remain untouched, unaffected by the Person, the claims, and the work of Jesus Christ the Son of God - and that is evidenced in the fact that their lives remain unchanged.
Herod is a prime example of this, and so we conclude upon his example that whatever people say - they might say: 'Well, I'm seeking the truth, and if I find the truth one day, well, I'll imbibe it and live it and do whatever it takes to accept it' - but in reality people, generally, aren't really that concerned about the truth. Do you accept that? People are more concerned with enjoying themselves in this life - and, incidentally, if the search for truth clashes with their search for pleasure, fulfilment, and satisfaction, what will they drop? They'll drop the truth. If you go to someone and say: 'I've got a message for you, and it's the truth of God, and if you accept it by faith it will revolutionise not only your present life but your whole eternal outlook'...but once you explain that that truth is going to affect their lives to such an extent that they'll have new desires, new passions, a new way of life, they say: 'Look, I'm happy the way things are at the moment, just don't bother me'. They might be the most unhappy person that you have ever met, and whilst they will acknowledge the facts, they don't want the effects of the man Christ Jesus on their life.
Herod is a dramatic illustration of this: John the Baptist was the voice of God to him, and Herod had him beheaded - he silenced God's voice in his life! Now he thinks John has been resurrected from the dead, and the pangs of conscience are now stabbing Herod for what he had done to the voice of God. He is finding out that the way of transgressors is hard, and eventually in Luke 23 that we have quoted, when he comes and stands before the Lord Jesus Christ himself, he comes before a silent Christ! He doesn't even speak to him!
Now let's bring out the lessons that we have here. First of all I want you to see the preacher, John the Baptist, the Lord's servant. Then secondly I want you to see the hearers, Herod and his house, for they are the great sinners. First of all the preacher, John the Baptist, the Lord's servant. Now the Lord's assessment of John the Baptist is conclusive, in Matthew 11 Jesus said: 'Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist' - what a commendation! In John 5:35, the Saviour is recorded as saying: 'He was a burning and a shining light'. Now if you're a preacher, there are many lessons for you in the character of John the Baptist - but we are all, in a sense, preachers, we are witnesses to the truth of the gospel, we are called to gossip the gospel, and there is much that all of us as Christians can learn from John.
Here's a couple of things: we're told where his home was - not here, but in the other gospel records and at the beginning of this gospel itself, we're told that he lived in the wilderness. It's often a lonely occupation being a preacher, certainly if you're going to be a witness for Christ you will find estrangement among your peers and friends and relatives for giving testimony to Christ and His good news. His home was the wilderness, we see also his clothes described for us - he wore garments of camel's hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist...just as Elijah, who was his forerunner and who was to be expected before Messiah, wore such clothing, so did John the Baptist. We read of his food: he ate locusts and wild honey. Now: his home, the wilderness; his clothes, camel's hair and a leather belt; his food, locusts and wild honey - they all depict for us the simplicity that marked this man. He lived a simple life, indeed he subordinated all these things to the glorious task of making Christ known.
Now, note what these things are. The Lord Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount said: 'Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than clothing?'. What did John eat? What did he wear? Where did he live? Well, we've said it, one thing is certain: he didn't take much thought about them. He lived a simplistic life. One man has commented on him like this: 'To his hearers he reminded them not of the fashionable orators of the day, but of the ancient prophets who lived close to the great simplicities, and avoided the soft and effeminate luxuries which kill the soul' - what a statement! He avoided the soft and effeminate luxuries which kill the soul! His whole life, really, was a protest against the godlessness and self-serving materialism of his day. His life, not just his message, but his whole persona was a call to the people of God of separation: to be holy, to be distinct, to live for God not for themselves.
Now, boy, do we need that today! I'm deeply challenged by John in this regard. It was Bishop Quayle who had the remark made to him: 'Preaching is the art of making a sermon and delivering it', and he answered that statement like this, 'Why no, that is not preaching. Preaching is the art of making a preacher and delivering that'. How true. E.M. Bounds says it takes 20 years to make a message, because it takes 20 years to make a man. This man, John the Baptist, was filled with the Spirit of God from the womb, he was a Nazarite from birth, consecrated to God as a child, and he was completely committed to God the whole of his life - that's what every preacher should be, that's what every witness of Christ should be, that's what every Christian should be!
After the Lord Jesus Himself, John the Baptist, I think, is the model preacher in the word of God. Here's a couple of other things he was: he was a road builder, he prepared the way of the Lord. He was not making a name for himself, he was not pursuing a career, he was not building an empire around his ministry: he was building a road to somebody else. Some of you can remember the old telephone exchange, and whenever you reached the operator sometimes it took a while for them to connect you, but after saying that they were trying to do that, once they had achieved their objective their voice would fade out and you'd be left with the person with whom you wanted to speak. That's what John the Baptist was like: he was a voice in the wilderness, but his voice was only to get you to hear the voice of Christ, he was pointing towards another, he magnified the Lord in all things. He himself said: 'I must decrease, and Christ must increase':
'Preach Him to all, and cry in death:
Behold, behold the Lamb'.
Not only was he a road builder, he was an axeman. In Matthew chapter 3 and verse 10 he said: 'Also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire'. He was an axeman who got to the root of sin and exposed it for what it was. When I think of that, how he preached against sin, I'm reminded of Billy Sunday, that great evangelist who said: 'I'm against sin. I'll kick it as long as I've got a foot, I'll fight it as long as I've got a fist, I'll butt it as long as I've got a head, I'll bite it as long as I've got teeth. When I'm old, and fistless, and footless, and toothless, I'll gum it till I go to glory, and it goes home to perdition'. He hated sin, and he preached against it, and he was impartial to the audience that was before him. When John preached to religious leaders in Matthew 3 verse 7 we read that: 'He saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'. Here in our passage, Mark 6, when he's standing before royalty he still preaches against their sin. He was not intimidated by people, he was not afraid to preach judgement. Matthew 3:12 says he spoke of Christ who would come: 'Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire'. Here in our portion, verse 18: 'John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife'. 'You're unlawfully married to your brother Philip's wife', and the force of the expression there is that John kept on repeating this charge! This wasn't a one-off message, no isolated rebuke: over and over again and again John laid the axe at the root of Herod's sin.
He preached against sin, but he could because of his own moral consistency. He didn't change his message with the times. Indeed, we would have to say that John the Baptist was the antithesis of the times in which he lived. His morality probably was the same, but he didn't dilute it. Hugh Latimer, that great martyr, before his death was appointed as Bishop of Worcester in the reign of Henry VIII, and it was the custom in those days for each new bishop to make presents to the King on New Year's Day. Latimer went with the rest of his Bishop brethren to make the usual offering, but instead of a purse of gold, Latimer presented the King with a New Testament in which there was a leaf, a page doubled down to this passage: Hebrews 13:4, 'Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge'. You know Henry had six wives? Latimer was a bit like John the Baptist, wasn't he? Fearless! Fearless to preach against sin! John Wesley, the great evangelist said: 'Give me 100 men who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen - they alone will shake the gates of hell'.
What was the result of such preaching? Well, some heard and confessed their sin, Matthew says, and John baptised them; and others heard and covered their sin, the religious establishment, and Herod and his house here. Now when we are praising such preaching like this, of course you realise that we are giving God's appraisal of it - but don't you think that this will win friends and influence people for you in the world today, or even in the church. No, no, no. It was Leonard Ravenhill who said: 'The man whose one word sermon is 'Repent', will eventually lose his head'. I think he's right.
So we have to move on from this preacher to the hearers, Herod and his house, the great sinners. It was the playwright, I think, who said: 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' - and here we have a woman scorned. In verse 17, Herod had sent John the Baptist to prison for Herodias' sake. She wanted him dead, because he was continually preaching against their adultery. I believe, personally, verse 19 indicates that she could not kill John the Baptist herself because Herod had put him in prison, and I believe Herod was trying to protect him from her. But verse 21 says, and one translation put it like this: 'on the strategic day', a day arrived when this vengeful but patient Queen received her moment. Royal feasts were extravagant things, often filled with much alcohol and immorality, and it was unthought of for a Gentile or Jewish mother to bring her daughter to dance before a group of men, and yet Herodias - because of her spite, her vengefulness and her grudge towards John the Baptist - actually encouraged her daughter Salome, that's what she's called in historical records, to go and dance in an erotic way before these men. The plan was that Herod would be so pleased, titillated and tipsy that, bombastically, he would promise something to the girl - we know it was up to half his own kingdom - and at that point she was to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
When it was fulfilled, the plan was hatched, in verse 26 we read: 'The King was exceeding sorry'. He was greatly distressed. Now mark this, the only other time we find that Greek expression in the New Testament is regarding the Lord Jesus Christ - Mark 14 - in Gethsemane, when He said: 'I am exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death'. He was extremely distressed, but please note: here is a man who knew what the truth was, but for the sake of his own house, and peace in his own house, and to save his own public face, he sold the truth. The book of Proverbs tells us: 'Buy the truth, and sell it not'.
What glee must have marked Herodias' face as she gloated over the gruesome sight of John the Baptist's head on the platter, his stone cold lips would never utter of her adultery again. I'm sure the tension was palpable in that palace home. Herod feared John, verse 20, he feared John - and it insinuates that he privately visited John in his prison and listened to his preaching. It seems that he was himself in a state of personal perplexity about what he should do. The Authorised says in verse 20: 'He did many things', that could be translated, 'He was greatly puzzled'. He recognized something special, something unique in this man, but he just wasn't prepared to go all the way with God!
The Lord Jesus does this in lives, in homes, and even in Christians' hearts. He said Himself: 'I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me'. But Herod, like another King in the Old Testament this time, King Ahab, Herod allowed his wife to stir him up to do wickedly. There is a great parallel between Ahab and Jezebel, and Herod and Herodias. Jezebel, incidentally, also achieved her own evil objectives - killing Naboth for his vineyard. Here, like Ahab, Herod finds himself trapped. He knew the truth, but he wouldn't obey!
I wonder is there someone here, perhaps, this morning: you need to realise that if you keep denying the truth, whether you're an unbeliever or not, if you keep silencing the Spirit of God's voice in your heart there will come a day when you will get trapped. You might get trapped by a relationship - love will blossom, and then you start to choose the wrong rather than the right. You may get trapped because of a career, and Christ becomes second to it. One day your conscience used to be stirred because of the deals that you're doing, but eventually that conscience once stirred dies. That's what happened with Herod, that can happen to unbelievers who hear the Gospel over again and again, but do not obey, do not put their trust in Christ, and they become harder and it gets harder for them to be saved. But believer, don't think this has got nothing to do with you, because in our lives as Christians a neglected conscience will suffer a progressive process of desensitisation to God's voice, to the point where even as a Christian we can get to the stage where we no longer hear God speaking, and we even resent when He does speak to us! It well behoves us, therefore, to be much in the word of God, and to cultivate a conscience that is void of offence toward God and men by filling our minds and hearts with God's word - but not only knowing it, doing it.
The next time we meet Herod Antipas in the Bible is when he is trying the Lord Jesus Christ. He hoped for Christ to perform him a miracle, yet the Lord would not even speak to him, let alone please him to do a miracle! Now Jesus knew what was in all men's hearts, and we have it in Luke that He called Herod Antipas a fox - what an apt description of him! The Lord knew he was a crafty man, the Lord knew that this King would try to gain the whole world at the expense of his own soul, and He even knew he was doing it. Unbelievers do that, Christians do that you know - they're willing to lose their life here on earth for Christ, that could have been gain for Christ. They'll go to heaven, sure, but they'll not live for Christ down here. This is a lesson, if ever there was one: those who lose their lives here to gain them in heaven, gain their life here as well in Christ; but those who protect, they think, their life down here and lose it up there, also often lose it down here as well. They try to grasp the whole world with both arms, and eventually - if they ever get it - it eludes them. That happened to Herod Antipas in AD 39. Herod Agrippa, Antipas' own nephew denounced his uncle to the emperor, and Antipas was deposed and sent into exile - lost his power, lost his authority, lost his world.
In verse 29, John's faithful disciples heard what had happened and they claimed the corpse of John the Baptist. They buried it, and went and told the Lord Jesus. What a sad, sad story. Can we sum up our application? What do we learn from the preacher, John the Baptist, the Lord's servant? If we are going to be the Lord's servants we need to be simple, simple lives that speak to a dying world. We need to be truthful, truthful about sin, truthful about our Saviour. Thirdly we need to be faithful, even if it means being faithful unto death - whatever the cost, we must do it! This is the gospel of the suffering Servant of Jehovah, the Lord Jesus Christ - and here is John the Baptist, the forerunner, and he's a suffering servant, and we will be suffering servants for we are to carry our cross! What a lesson:
'Wouldst thou be great, then lowly serve;
Wouldst thou go up, go down;
But go as low as ever you will,
The Highest, has gone lower still'.
You know, the one encouraging feature of this story is that the voice may be silenced, but the message cannot be overthrown - hallelujah! Like every martyr, John the Baptist's words did not fall to the ground. William Tyndale, the father of our Bible in the English language, when they were collecting wood to burn him he was crying out: 'Lord, open the King of England's eyes!', and He did. He died, but his work still exists in the Authorised Version of the scriptures. Ridley and Latimer, as they were being fastened to the stake - Ridley's own brother tying a bag of gunpowder around both their necks! - and as the burning faggot was laid at the feet of Ridley, Latimer spoke his famous words: 'Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man, we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out'. The voice may be silenced, but the message cannot be overthrown.
Are we hearing the Spirit's voice calling us to be suffering servants? Are we obeying? I'll tell you: if you are, you will do a work for Christ that will last for all eternity.
Father we ask for grace and for help, for O we need, we need a greater capacity to receive what You're saying to us - because we feel it overwhelms us. How unwilling we are to tread the path the Master went, and yet we realise that only he who bears the cross may hope to wear the glorious crown. We thank You for those who are saved in our presence here this morning. For those who are not, Lord, who are hearing Your voice calling them and have not yet received You, may they do it now before they don't hear the voice any more. But Lord, so many of Your people, preacher included, hear Your voice calling us to this crucifixion road; and how often we ignore it, and it is our own eternal loss. Lord help us, help us to deny ourselves, the world forsake, take up our cross and humbly follow Thee. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirty-first recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Silencing Of A Servant" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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