Bible Reading: Mark 6
Mark 6:27-29, “And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”
“There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). That God-sent man had quite a ministry! As the forerunner of Christ, he was sent “before the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76; Matthew 3:3). He preached in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1). His message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” His manner? He wore “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). But he had a huge following: “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5). Thousands were baptized by him, including Jesus Himself (Matthew 3:14-16).
John “was a righteous and holy man” (Mark 6:20). All indications are that he fulfilled his God-given ministry to the fullest (Matthew 11:11). And he was bold in his preaching. He did not shrink back from declaring the truth. And so, when King Herod was to be married to his brother’s wife, John spoke up, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife (Mark 6:18).” To appease his angered wife, Herodias, Herod “sent and seized John and bound him in prison” (Mark 6:17). For a time, Herod kept John safe in prison—he was glad to listen to him, though perplexed by what he heard (Mark 6:20).
King Herod celebrated his birthday with a banquet. He invited all the VIPs. Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod and the guests and pleased the King. He then offered to her a gift, “up to half of my kingdom” he pledged. She went and asked her mother what to ask for. Herodias held a grudge against John the Baptist—he had had the nerve to speak the truth about her illegal marriage. She was embittered against him and wanted him dead. She seized the opportunity and instructed her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head—on a platter. Reluctantly, Herod ordered it done. And that gruesome gift was then presented to the daughter and then to Herodias.
It is a sad end to the remarkable life of one of the Bible’s most important characters. It is hard to come to terms with the injustice of it all. Herodias got her way. Her bitter hatred was assuaged in that despicable act (though later both she and her husband would both be exiled). But what about John the Baptist? How are we to come to terms with his fate? It is important for us to keep in mind that there is more to this sad story than mere human drama or intrigue. John was a warrior in the battle for truth. He served on the front lines. He did not shrink back from declaring his message. He was unwilling to compromise and even challenged the King.
His story reminds me of the account of Hugh Latimer’s sermon before King Henry VIII. King Henry was greatly displeased by the boldness in the sermon and ordered Latimer to preach again on the following Sunday and apologize for the offence he had given. The next Sunday, after reading his text, he thus began his sermon: “Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life, if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest–upon Whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.”
John the Baptist and Jesus shared much in common. Both came to proclaim the truth. Both were conspired against. Both suffered punishment by the hand of the King. Both were put to death, though neither had done anything to deserve it. In all these ways, and Jesus preeminently so, they exemplify what happens when light confronts darkness. John the Baptist died at the pleasure of an earthly king, but ultimately won the reward of his heavenly One. Likewise, heaven’s reward awaits all of those who speak and contend for truth in His name (Acts 20:27, 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Jude 3; Revelation 1:9, 6:9).
“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!
Fierce may be the conflict, strong may be the foe,
But the King’s own army none can overthrow;
’Round His standard ranging, vict’ry is secure,
For His truth unchanging makes the triumph sure.
Joyfully enlisting, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!