By David Faust
The cast of characters starts with John the Baptist—a man divinely selected to be the forerunner of the Messiah. Jesus said of him, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). John preached boldly, called people to repentance, and baptized many in the Jordan River, including Jesus himself.
However, John’s boldness got him in trouble with King Herod, who had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. John told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). This created a royal squabble because “Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him” (vv. 19, 20).
The plot thickened during a dinner party on the king’s birthday. Herodias’ daughter danced, and the unscrupulous Herod was so pleased with her performance that in front of all “his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee” he brashly told her, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you” (vv. 21, 22). The girl consulted with her mother, who instructed her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. “The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring back John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother” (vv. 26-28).
The drama ends on a sad and sober note: “On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb” (v. 29).
Lessons for Us
What does this strange story teach us?
Courage costs. God called John to preach the truth, and John didn’t shrink from his responsibility even when it meant imprisonment and death. We must obey God regardless of the cost.
Sin ruins. It destroys lives and wrecks relationships. The marriage of Herod and Herodias started with adultery and continued with bitterness and vengefulness. They traumatized their daughter by involving her in their treachery, and Herod’s bravado led to the death of an innocent man. The name of the wicked King Herod has gone down in history alongside other prideful, evil despots like Haman, Hitler, and Hussein.
Faith conquers. Faith sustained John in prison, although it was a rugged faith that asked tough questions. (You and I would ask questions, too, if we were suffering for doing the right thing.) While in prison, John sent messengers to Jesus asking for reassurance, and the Lord responded by pointing to his miracles as evidence of his messianic work. He reminded John, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Matthew 11:2-6).
Simply stated, John was faithful to God—which is an admirable summary of a person’s life, no matter how many twists and turns that life may take.
1. Are you willing to speak necessary truth regardless of the personal consequences?
2. Is your faith strong enough to withstand intense hardship?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for April 21, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 Corinthians 9:13–27
Judges 4, 5
1 Corinthians 10:1–13
Judges 6, 7
1 Corinthians 10:14–33
1 Corinthians 11:1–16
1 Corinthians 11:17–34
1 Corinthians 12:1–13