Based on John chapter 3 verses 22 to 36 & Mark chapter 6 verses 14 to 29
The Death of John the Baptist
His life had been outstanding. It had even begun with a miracle when his father, Zechariah, had met the angel Gabriel in the temple and been told that at long last God had heard their prayers, and would give them a son as the forerunner to the long awaited Messiah.
And John’s ministry, his work, had been that of a mighty prophet as he fearlessly confronted the people with their sin, telling them that they couldn’t trust in the fact that they were born Jews, they needed to get right with God! They needed to live lives that proved they’d turned away from their evil ways and turned back to God. He even urged them to get baptised as a sign of the reality of their change of heart – the change from putting themselves first to serving God.
John didn’t just preach the message for others to hear, he lived it himself! Once when his disciples saw that Jesus and His followers were baptising more people than John, they went to him to complain. But John knew that it was the Lord’s will that Jesus should become greater and greater, and that he should become less and less. He didn’t complain when he saw it happen or try to hold onto his position and reputation, rather he rejoiced knowing it was God’s will!
But such a message and such a radical obedience to God brought enemies, those who didn’t want to be reminded of their evil ways and had no intention of submitting to God. All that mattered to them was the flattery of others, and what they could get for themselves – no matter who they hurt trying to get it. John’s message reminded them that there’s another place and there will be another time when the things of this world won’t mean anything and only the rule of God will matter. A message these evil people feared and would do anything in their power to silence!
If John had kept quiet about the evil he saw, his life would have been so much easier. But if he’d kept quiet, although he’d have received the praise of men, he would also have received the condemnation of God – the Lord of eternity to whom we must all give an account of our lives, and who has the power to throw us into Hell! So John couldn’t keep quiet, because he saw how real eternity is and how important it is to please God and not men.
For John, it all came to a head when he spoke out against the ruler Herod Antipas. Herod had broken God’s law by marrying Herodias the woman his own brother Philip had divorced. She was an evil and self-seeking woman. Herod himself might have ignored John if it wasn’t for the hatred of this wicked woman. She wanted her revenge on John for showing her up and pointing out that they’d broken the law. She should have pleaded with God to have mercy on her, to forgive her! But she cared nothing for God or what He thought, only caring about what she wanted. And what she wanted more than anything else was to put John to death for the embarrassment he’d caused her.
So as a favour to Herodias, Herod had John arrested and kept in prison, but he wouldn’t have John killed because he knew John was a good man, a holy man and so he protected John from the rage of Herodias who was powerless to do anything to him. But her anger would not be calmed, and day-by-day she bided her time waiting ‘till the right opportunity came along to get rid of John once and for all.
Herod often talked to John because he liked to listen to what John said, although he never really understood what John was saying and always went away from their discussions feeling disturbed. (PAUSE)
Some time later it was Herod’s birthday, and he wanted to put on a fine display for his guests, including his palace aides, army officers and the leading citizens of Galilee. He wanted to show how wonderful he was, and as part of the celebrations, Herodias’ daughter, who was also called Herodias came and danced for them. Herod watched her every move totally captivated by her performance. Having had a little wine and wanting to show his guests what a generous man he was Herod stood up to congratulate Herodias on such a wonderful dance, and in so doing he made a rash pledge. ‘That was fantastic,’ he said, ‘what joy you’ve brought to my guests and to me. Now in return ask me for anything your heart desires. I will give you anything you ask for, up to half my kingdom!’
Herodias didn’t know what to ask for and ran to find her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ she said.
‘Ask for the head of John the Baptist to be brought to you on a tray,’ her mother replied.
And so, just as her mother had told her, young Herodias ran back into the hall to find the king.
‘Have you decided already what you want?’ the king asked.
‘Yes my lord,’ she replied. And then, in the silence that followed as the guests waited to hear her request she announced, ‘I want the head of John the Baptist brought to me on a tray, right now!’
Herod was horrified, and he should have said no, for it’s a far worse thing to murder a man than break a promise. But Herod’s pride and embarrassment in front of his guests wouldn’t let him back down. So, as Herodias had asked, Herod sent a soldier to the prison who cut off John’s head and brought it on a tray and gave it to the girl. She then hurried to give her gruesome prize to her mother.
John had suffered and died for being good and righteous! It didn’t seem right or fair, but then again, John had always lived knowing that this world would pass away and that the only real place he would ever be at home would be in the presence of the Lord – somewhere he now lived and that could never be taken away from him. Even in his death, John continued to point to Jesus and another death still to come, the death of a truly righteous man for the ones He loved!
When John’s followers heard about all that had happened, they came to the prison, took John’s body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.