“We Know Who Jesus Is…What Will We Do With Him?”

Posted: March 30, 2013 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

Well good morning, so glad to see all of you here. I must confess from the get-go that this is something of an odd morning, for many reasons. Obviously, we’re in a different part of the school. If you’re new to us, this isn’t where we typically meet- usually we’re in the cafeteria.

I’ve never preached three Gatherings in a row until now, which is also an anomaly. Typically Walt and I alternate Sundays, but with the imminent arrival of Baby Drake weeks ago, we felt it best to free his Sundays up. In case you’ve not heard yet, Drake was born early Saturday morning and Walt and April are doing well.

And on top of that, we’re at a bit of an odd text this morning as well. Walt and I have been systematically making our way through the book of Mark and will continue to do so unless the Holy Spirit impresses upon us a need to deviate. Until then, we’re strolling through the life and ministry of Christ and trying to discover two things: what Mark was communicating to the Christians in Rome to whom this book was written, and what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us today, 2000 years later.

And so as we prepare to continue on, let me explain how there are a few reasons why I say the text is odd. For starters, we’re going to cover the only lengthy passage of scripture found in the book of Mark that has no mention of Jesus. Up until this point, and from here on out, Jesus is the primary focus of Mark’s narrative. But this passage, while certainly connected to Jesus, contains a lot of material that doesn’t feature Jesus.

That ties in well with the second reason this is an odd passage. It’s not doctrinal in nature, nor does it contain a description of current or on-going events. It’s largely a flashback into the past, without many clear tie-ins to our own present day, much less that of Mark.

But lastly, I find it an odd text because despite what I’ve already said, this passage will serve as a beautiful bridge to our quickly approaching Easter celebration. Next Sunday we celebrate life, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the new life given to those who died with Christ, the coming physical resurrection for all who believe. Lots of life to be found in Christ.

But this week we’re surrounded by death. In five days Good Friday will be here. While there is spirited debate about the actual day of Jesus’ death (made possible by the complexities of the Jewish method of denoting days and time) there is no arguing that Good Friday is the day where world-wide, millions of people will stop at least once in their day and think about the bloodied cross, where 2000 years ago Jesus died to atone for the sins of His people.

Jesus, the true King of the Jews, was betrayed by his own people and murdered….But there was another. There was a forerunner for Jesus who preceded Jesus in life, who preceded Jesus in the ministry of repentance, of calling men to turn to God, who preceded Jesus even in death. Jesus called him the greatest man ever born, but we know him simply as John the Immerser, the Baptizer. There were incredible parallels in the deaths of these two.

Now that may catch some of you off-guard, ‘cause John was alive and well when we last saw him. Well, alive at least. Maybe not so well. Mark told us back in chapter one that John had been arrested. As we’ll see, his story didn’t have the happiest of endings.

We’re also going to meet a man today that’s consumed with fear and guilt…a man who later in life has the opportunity to be freed of this, yet refuses. And when it’s all said and done, we’re going to have to ask ourselves the same question that’s been brewing for over six months now: how are we going to respond to the power and authority of Jesus?

So let’s continue reading in Mark chapter six. When we left off last week, we found Jesus commissioning His twelve closest followers and sending them out on a mission. This made them apostles, or “sent ones.” We saw that in obedience to Christ, they went out “proclaiming that people should repent, and they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”

We also know from Matthew that these men were raising the dead back to life. And now word is spreading. Jesus has effectively multiplied His ministry from one to thirteen. It’s not just Him performing miracles now, but the other twelve are as well, all in the name, power, and authority of Jesus.

We see in verse fourteen that “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.”

Before we continue we need a little background info on this King Herod. This part might sound a bit more like a history lecture, but bear with me. This guy’s family puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional.”

King Herod’s full name was Herod Antipas. There were lots of Herods running around back then. It was a family name. His father was King Herod the Great. You might remember him as the King of Israel who ordered the execution of all the baby boys who were two and under in Bethlehem when he heard of the birth of Jesus.

We call this line of rulers over Israel “King,” but this kinda exaggerates their position in the Roman empire. It’s nothing like when David was king over Israel and Israel was a mighty nation with its own borders, military, and political system.

You see, as Roman rule expanded, there was an increasing need for regional rulers. These were more or less pawns of the Roman empire- not men with legit power sticks. You were to obey the mandate of the Empire and ensure the same of your district. Failure to do so meant you were replaced, killed, or both.

So tread lightly, but hey- call yourself a “king” if it makes you feel better. If it helps you do your job. Herod the Great was the so-called king of Israel when Jesus was born, but in his will he requested that upon his death, Rome should divide Israel into four regions and allow four of his sons to rule over each, collectively. Rome agreed, and so his sons became known as “tetrarchs,” or “governors of a fourth.”

Sounds like a nice thing to do for your kids, that perhaps Herod the Great wasn’t that bad a guy, but just five days before his death, Herod the Great had murdered one of his own sons, thinking that he was out to claim his kingdom.

So along comes Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, make-believe king of a region of land in Galilee, maybe 900 square miles or so, along with a larger tract of land further south around the Dead Sea.

Now also important to keep in mind is this: Herod the Great was a descendant of Esau- not Jacob. By blood, he wasn’t Jewish. Nor was Herod Antipas- though he often partook in Passover and other Jewish festivities. He’d built a new capital and named it Tiberius, though there was much flak when the Jews discovered that he’d build the capital building on one of their graveyards. So Antipas was trying to front with his subjects, wanted them to think he was one of ‘em. See? I believe in God. I can be religious, like you.

But now word of Jesus has reached his ears. At least, word of the miracles had come. There was debate over the actual person behind them. Some said “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah!” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

Understandably, there was confusion. Reports of these supernatural events are circulating- it only makes sense that the explanation is equally supernatural. The Jews knew their history. If Elijah the prophet had raised the dead, maybe he was back! Wasn’t there a prophecy about Elijah returning? Maybe it’s him, or maybe God has raised up another great prophet and empowered him for service!

Herod is among those who think that this “Jesus” character is John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Whenever the conversation came up, Herod’s response was always “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!” It wasn’t an indifferent guess- it was fear-based, guilt-driven, anxious, frightened reality in the mind of King Herod. And rightfully so- after all, he’d had John murdered.

Why would he do a thing like that? I’m glad you asked, because Mark gives us the backstory.

Turns out, Herod is the kind of man who likes to have his way. He sees something he likes, he takes it, or does whatever necessary to acquire it. Just so happens this was the case when he met his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias.

Now get this: Herodias’ grandpa is Herod the Great. Her dad is a half-brother to Philip, who is a half-brother to Herod Antipas, so she didn’t just marry into the family; she was part of the family to begin with. She’d married her own uncle. And now another one of Herod the Great’s sons wants her- Herod Antipas, who himself is already married to one of the daughters of the King of Arabia.

Well, Herod wants Herodias, even though she’s a blood relative only one more generation removed from his father than he is. Even though she’s married to his brother already. Even though he’s already married. And so he divorces his wife Aretas, Herodias leaves her husband Philip, and the two are married.

Come to find out, John the Baptizer is also John the preacher, and he wasn’t shy about condemning the actions of King Herod. And rightfully so, given the public prominence of Herod and his quasi-adherence to the Law of Moses. So John called him out on it. “Come on, bro. You know it’s wrong to have your brother’s wife. This is adultery. You claim to be a ruler over God’s people, you celebrate Passover with us, yet you do this? Something ain’t jiving somewhere, amigo. No true King of the Jews could do this sort of thing.”

Weirdest thing, here. Could you believe that Herodias wasn’t a fan of John’s nosiness? In fact, Mark tells us that she had a grudge against him- maybe a bit more than a grudge. She wanted him dead. She hated him for his proclamation of truth.

Remember how last week I said that following Christ might not end the way you envision? Here’s a case study for us. Herodias wants John dead, yet oddly enough Herod actually enjoys listening to him talk and preach. And so he doesn’t have John killed, but simply arrests and imprisons him. There was also a part of Herod that feared killing John because of the fallout that would ensue from the people, not to mention the Divine fallout for killing a man of God.

So for over a year- closer to two, Herod has kept John imprisoned. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Perhaps in general…but Herodias hadn’t forgotten, and her hatred was in no way diminished.

In verse twenty-one we find ourselves at a birthday party for Herod. We call it a party- it was a banquet that he orchestrated, one to which he invited “his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.” That’s the upper crust of Jewish society, the movers and shakers. Herod wants to rub elbows with the real powerhouses of both the Jewish people as well as the Gentiles, or non-Jews. It was a night of drinking, of eating, of enjoying the baseness of their depravity.

Here’s our next player in this drama. At some point during the party, Herodias’ daughter makes an appearance. According to the historian Josephus, her name is Salome, and according to history she’s somewhere around the age of 15.

Now Mark isn’t very clear in the details, but Salome comes into this party and begins to dance for these men. I don’t think it was the Harlem Shake or the Texas Two-Step. This was a dance that led to these men being “pleased.”

I think we’d got every right to assume it was a sensual dance, because when Herod sees it, he begins to write all kinds of checks with his mouth that his rear can’t cash. He tells her, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you. I swear to you, whatever you ask of me I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

Who are you kidding, Herod? You have no kingdom. Rome is allowing you to rule over a fourth of what your daddy did, and if you deviate too far from that, you’ll be kicked out in a New York second! Herod’s talking big in front of his boys, is what he’s doing. And he’s doing that to please her, more than likely motivated by his sexual perversity.

She’s related to him. He should have been the father-figure she needed and protected her from these leering men. Her mom should have loved her enough to keep her out of the party, displaying herself to be gawked at.

Told you this was a dysfunctional family.

Salome runs back to Herodias. “Mom, Herod said that I could have anything I wanted, up to half his kingdom. What should I ask for?” And here was Herodias’ chance to finally get her way, to be rid of this meddler. This loud-mouthed nuisance. “Salome…ask for the head of John the Baptist. Demand it. He promised you.”

There’s no way to know what went through Salome’s head when she heard that, but Mark tells us that Salome wasted no time in running back to where the men were still recovering from her dance. I have to wonder at this point if Herod even remembered why she was there. But she came in and blurted out, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter!”

‘Was right about then that Herod realized, “You know…maybe I shouldn’t have spoken so quickly after her dance.” Herod didn’t want John dead. He kinda liked the guy. People loved him. This had the potential for all kinds of negative fallout.

Now this room full of Jews and Gentiles alike are waiting to see what Herod does. While the Gentiles may have been more indifferent to John’s fate, I would like to think the Jews in the room were sober enough to realize the ramifications of Salome’s request.

Here they were, descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people. And below them in the prison was one of their own. A wildman, yes. Preaching a crazy message of repentance, yes. But his message was turning people to God. And he was right; Herod’s marriage to Herodias was wrong. But John had been bold enough to proclaim it. Them? They liked their wealth. They weren’t about to make waves.

And now because of his stand for Godliness and obedience to the Law, John was locked up…and Salome had just asked for his head. Herod was too arrogant to retract his offer- he didn’t want to lose face or have his integrity later challenged. In his mind, he really had no choice. He needed to act, and he needed to act quickly.

Wasting no time, Herod called for the executioner to come and gave him orders to go to the prison and cut off John’s head. And he did. The head was placed on a platter- not an uncommon practice at the time- and given to Salome, who in turn gave it to Herodias. Mark tells us that when John’s disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

…And with that, the greatest man who’d ever lived was gone. God’s last Old Covenant prophet was quietly murdered with no fanfare, no national mourning. He was innocently killed while some of God’s people sat there in the party making no attempt to prevent it. Allowing this death to happen was more beneficial to them than risking their status to save him. Their allegiance was to Herod, not to God. That’s why they were known as Herodians.

I find this ironic, because later this week we’ll observe Good Friday, that day 2000 years ago where God’s people screamed for the murder of Jesus of Nazareth. Didn’t scream against it. Screamed for it. And again sat by undisturbed when they got it.

John preached repentance, so did Jesus. John was persecuted for his message, so was Jesus. John was murdered while his own people did nothing to stop it. Same with Jesus. In life, in ministry, and in death, John truly was his cousin’s forerunner.

But there’s two major differences in the deaths of John and Jesus. The first is this: Jesus’ death accomplished far more. That’s because John died to appease Herodias’ wrath, but Jesus died to appease His Father’s wrath.

It’s true. Yes, Jesus was killed because the Jews hated His message. Yes, Rome was content to execute an innocent man to prevent a potential uprising among the Jews, but ultimately Jesus died for this purpose: to save His people from the wrath of His Father by bearing our guilt, though He was innocent.

I want to shift gears a little bit as we begin to wrap things up by fast forwarding over a year to where we see Herod lay his eyes on Jesus for the first time. The occasion? By this time Jesus had been arrested and was making His way through the pitiful excuse of a local legal system.

The Jews wanted Him dead but had no authority of their own to execute Him, so they lied through their teeth, brought Him before the governor of Judea- a man named Pilate, and tried to show how Jesus was an enemy of the state. Luke records for us what happens next in Luke 23:

6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Luke tells us that Herod was “glad” when he saw Jesus, “for he had long desired to see him.” You would think a man of Herod’s stature would have had no problems seeing Jesus. He’d been in the area for over a year since we saw Herod first catch word about him.

Admittedly this is speculation, but I wonder if Herod’s gladness came from seeing Jesus face-to-face and finding out that He wasn’t John the Baptist. I wonder if he was glad because with John truly gone, he could stop living in fear. I wonder if he was glad because he could finally quell his nagging conscience.

It’s a shame that when Herod met Jesus, it only served to build a friendship between him and Pilate. Herod became just as complicit in the death of Jesus as he was with John. Herod saw Jesus as an escape from his fear and guilt- and not because he was trusting Jesus to deliver him from the punishment he was due for his rebellion against God, but simply because if Jesus wasn’t John, then Herod saw no reason to have any further concern with Him.

Herod never learned his lesson and not even a decade later he died while powerless and in exile. John the Baptist talked with him for over a year and Herod never listened. Jesus gave him His undivided attention and Herod asked all the wrong questions. Talk about wasted opportunity.

So here’s where we’re going to land this plane. As our band comes forward I want us to take these last few moments and really ask ourselves this question, this question that has served as our foundation to Mark’s Gospel for the last six months: how will we respond to the power and authority of Jesus? More specifically, how will you respond?

If you’re a believer this morning, the response I wish for you is this: “I am going to respond to the work of Christ by resting in the work of Christ. I’m going to quit striving for Godliness as a means of making God happy and I will rest and delight in the knowledge that God is happy. I’ll quit abiding by a set of rules to please God and rest in the reality that He is pleased! I will stop attempting to earn God’s love and embrace God’s love. I will pursue godliness purely as worship in response to God’s grace in my life.”

I can’t tell you how much I hope you’re here next week. I told you Jesus’ death was different in two ways. One, it served as the basis for the believer’s salvation. Secondly and more importantly, Jesus’ death was different because He didn’t stay dead. On the third day, on that first day of the week, Jesus was raised to life. Next week Walt is going to explain why the resurrection is so vital to the Gospel.

But maybe you’re here and you’re not a believer. What should your response be to the person and work of Christ? Complete reliance and trust in Him. And it begins in your heart when you tell God that He’s right and you’re wrong. Will you do that this morning?

Our JourneyMarker, the thought I want you to take with you from today’s message, is this: “We Know Who Jesus Is…What Will We Do With Him?” Will we embrace Him as Savior, or decide we have no need for Him? The choice is yours.

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