The events surrounding the sermon subpoena [can we call it “Sermongate”?] in Houston reminded me and others of a particular incident involving John the Baptist, Herod, and his mistress (Matthew 14:1-13). The similarities are uncanny: a government official using political power to silence a man for speaking out against sexual sin. However, I do doubt that any pastor in Houston will end up headless at the end of this whole ordeal.
The beheading of John the Baptist is one of the most bizarre narratives I have ever read. Where else do you find adultery, incest, dancing, a birthday party, a guillotine, and a prophet, all in one story? John the Baptist spoke out against the incestuous adultery taking place between Herod and his brother’s wife Herodias (two people with the same name!), which landed him in jail. Herodias’ wrath burned so hot against John that she tricked her drunken lover into rewarding her dancing daughter with John’s head on a platter at his birthday party.
We Are Not the Center of the World.
In the midst of the drinking, dancing, and partying one character is an afterthought: John the Baptist. This story is all about Herod, Herodias, his guests, and his dancing step-daughter–not about John the Baptist. John is a means to an end. This is the story of Herod and Herodias’ bizarre love game. She’s sending her daughter to dance for him; he’s sending cut off heads back to her.
Does Herod care that John is the greatest prophet to have walked the planet? Does Herodias care that John the Baptist was paving the way for the Messiah? To the world, believers are an afterthought. The world is all about itself. Why are Christians being thrust aside in the public square? Why are Christians being slaughtered day after day on the continents of Africa and Asia? Why are they being persecuted at various levels all over the world? Because the world is all about the world—Christians are just in the way.
In God’s eyes, John the Baptist was a precious prophet, an essential man making the way for Jesus’ Kingdom. In the world’s eyes, John was just another prisoner, a man they beheaded because he got in the way of an immoral and illicit love game. Do not be surprised when the world’s attention is focused elsewhere. Brothers, we are not the center of the world.
We Are an Expendable, Enraging Nuisance.
What landed John the Baptist in prison in the first place? Was it for preaching the good news of the Kingdom? Was it for performing miracles? Was it for caring for the poor? No. It was for pointing out Herod’s immoral relationship with Herodias, his brother’s wife. John was a nuisance! He could have kept silent on that one issue, and he would have been fine. However, John did not have the luxury of picking and choosing. He was calling everyone to repentance, not just the common man and not just from some sins. When John called Herodias to repentance, her response was, “Stop judging me! Quit it, you enraging nuisance!”
John’s life meant so little to Herod that he was willing to kill him just so he wouldn’t upset his party guests. The world does not value the life of a believer in the least. Christians are an expendable, enraging nuisance to those who want to have sex with whomever they choose: “So what if I am having an affair with my brother-in-law? Shut up! Quit judging! Off with your head!” The World does not like being called “sinners”, and they will kill you for doing it. You are worthless to them.
John’s fate was enviable compared to the tortuous death of Jesus. (Whack) And it was done. Jesus’ death was long, tortuous, and humiliating. In Matthew’s gospel, John’s death forebodes the fate of Jesus and nearly all of the original 12 disciples. We are not to see this as unusual. This is held out to us as an example of what it means to be a disciple. When you join the Kingdom of Heaven and begin to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of this World will try to kill you, because you are an expendable, enraging nuisance.
The Kingdom of Darkness is trying to destroy you. And if it isn’t, then you need to think about your commitment level to Jesus. If Satan doesn’t see you as a threat, what good are you to Jesus? When we see John the Baptist beheaded, Satan’s message to us is this: You’re next. Jesus got the message. Why do you think he withdrew after hearing the news of John? Not because he was afraid, but because he knew he was the next in line.
The One Who Strong-arms Death.
Are we without hope then? If the Prince of Darkness is out to destroy and kill all Christians, where is our hope? There was something that Herod mentioned at the beginning of the story: “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Herod got it half right. He recognized that the miracles of Jesus were performed by a man who had power over death. He realized that only a man with the ability to raise from the dead could do these kinds of mighty deeds. Power over death is greater than power over sight, power over hearing, power over anything else. We have hope in the face of persecution because our Savior is risen from the dead. He has won the victory, and one day we who have been faithful to the end will also share in that victory. This gives us strength and courage to go forth and call sinners out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ. When the powers of this world recoil at our message and our call to repentance–even if they throw us in prison over issues of sexual immorality and sin–we can know that our King will vindicate us.
One day all of heaven and earth will hear the declaration: “The Kingdom of the World has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).