I have been reading through the gospel of Mark recently, and I wanted to share some thoughts about Mark 6:14-29 with a particular emphasis on verses 23-24, which I have marked in bold font. For purposes of structure, I’ve simply put the text below and then jotted down some main points below it.
Hope it encourages ya:
The Death of John the Baptist
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 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. (Mark 6:14-29 ESV)
Yeah, I realize the bolded text—which is the particular focus of this blog—isn’t exactly something one would expect to be the focus of an expositional blog. But I think there are some significant takeaways about sin and its distorting effect on us that can be directly gleaned from this odd account where a woman eagerly trades half a kingdom for the execution from one man.
There are 2 main points that I think particularly standout in this account:
It is beyond frightening to think that our sin can convince us to trade incredible blessings in life (such as a kingdom) for its own bidding (murder)—and we might just be so blinded and caught up in our sin that we don’t even realize the whole scenario of what could be potentially gained or lost. This account indicates that sin can lead us to neglect the things that are actually valuable and, in turn, place incredible value on things that are actually quite trivial or wrong. In this episode, Herodias values the death of her righteous enemy over the acquisition of a kingdom, wealth, and status–showing us that sin can lead one to willfully shortchange heavenly—and even earthly—blessings. God can be offering you so much blessing, and sometimes sin can convince you to choose something else of incredibly lower value. In this case, sin was her kingdom of choice.
One potential caveat: this isn’t a prosperity gospel type of message where you “follow God and then you’ll get earthly blessings;” quite the contrary. In fact, I would argue that most of the world with earthly blessings either 1) rejects Jesus or 2) values their earthly blessing over Jesus (which is arguably the same). There is nothing inherently wrong with material wealth—it’s our heart’s relationship to it that makes it a moral issue. I’ve heard it said, “If you can’t give up your earthly blessings, then you no longer own it—it owns you.” I’m only saying that the overall, analogical message is that sin shortchanges the blessings of God in your life. If you are not following God, you aren’t really gaining anything anyways; you’re spiritually bleeding to death. I love CS Lewis’ quote here: “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”
This account reveals to us the weightiness that conviction can take on. Imagine the opportunity of being offered anything by a king—up to half an empire—and instead, you choose to kill the one imprisoned man who exposes your sin.
This is proof that the heavy conviction of the guilt of our sin can be such a totalizing, all-consuming, weighty thing that we will do and give up almost anything to resolve, alleviate, and depressurize it’s incredibly oppressive force over our life. That is scary. This means sin functionally kills something or someone—and practically speaking, it either drains the life out of you, or it threatens to drain the life out of you so much so that you direct it on another person in a way that drains the life out of them. In this case, the pressure of conviction upon Herodias’ sinful desires became so overwhelming that it was unbearable to deal with. So instead of accepting the weight of her sin and confessing her wrongdoings and repenting, she decided to remove the pressurizing source of conviction: John the Baptist. So she had him killed. But the thing is, even after she had killed him, the guilt of her sin remained. That’s because the true source of conviction was not John the Baptist; it was God’s Word. John the Baptist was merely a vessel declaring God’s declaration of the law and gospel to her.
Similarly, with us, even if we attempt to remove the source of the exposure, pressure, or conviction, we still can’t run away from it, because the ultimate source is God. Sure, you can run away from Him your whole life, but you’ll eventually face him at Judgment. Own your sin now. Christ can’t be your functional Savior until you functionally recognize the reality of your sin. In one rotational movement, turn from your sin and turn to Jesus; you can’t secure forgiveness of sins or the righteous requirement for salvation any other way.
But here’s where the story gets juicy, where it can reveal a significant reversal of sorts, preaching the gospel message in a multidimensional kind of way. Here’s what I mean:
As the story accounts, King Herod offers Herodias anything she wises, up to half the kingdom; yet, under the powerfully distorting influence of her sin, she chooses the unjust murder of the righteous prophet in society instead. Sure, we can draw direct parallels between how God offers us blessing in life but how our sin disorients our values, distorts our morals, and shortchanges our joy.
But there are other, bolder parallels at work here—parallels that, once realized, will allow us to concretely draw parallels between this story, our own story, and the greater, overarching story of the Bible: As the metanarrative of the Bible accounts, however, The King of Kings offers us not just half a kingdom, but a whole one, being heirs with Christ. Yet, under the influence of our sin, we chose to reject God—the source of all that is righteous, good, and eternal. And in our cutting ourselves off from the Ultimate Good, we died spiritually. Our sinfulness hates God’s righteous authority over our lives, and the pressure his conviction brings on our sinful wants becomes draining; indeed, sin drains life—indeed, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
As I mentioned earlier, when we feel the weight of our sin, it either drains the life out of us or we redirect it upon someone else so that they pay instead. Ultimately, someone has to existentially (or actually) die. In this account Herodias had John the Baptist killed to remove the conviction. Similarly, in the greater story of the Bible, humanity attempted to remove the source of its conviction by crucifying Jesus. Ironically, however, humanity’s murdering of Jesus actually accomplished what they had hoped, just in the most unexpectedly, ironic, and uncanny way possible. They killed Jesus thinking that it would end conviction he brought into their life. They thought they were getting rid of the source of conviction so that the weight of their sin could be relieved—either by a sense of their own self-righteousness or lifestyle of self-indulgence. All along, however, God sovereignly used their actions to eradicate the source of conviction to ultimately eradicate all guilt once and for all, with Jesus being both the source of conviction and wellspring of forgiveness—“full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14, grace paired with forgiveness, truth paired with conviction). God reversed humanity’s climatic evil for ultimate good.
God sent Jesus to take the wages of our death, and humanity’s attempt to kill the source of righteous conviction was actually a powerful display of God’s sovereignty to reverse and redeem the curse of sin: Jesus dying in our place and offering his righteousness as a gift. In this account in the gospel of Mark, John the Baptist casts a vague shadow of Jesus. While this story shows that John the Baptist was murdered for the sake of righteousness, the greater Biblical narrative shows Jesus volunteered to die for stakes of Righteousness. John the Baptist preached about righteousness, but Jesus was the righteousness he preached.
* The Greater Context, A Moral Apologetic, & Personal Applications *
See, all of history is God’s ultimate plan to redeem humanity and the cosmos of its broken state because of the infinite weight of sin. But the only thing to save the world is to fully displace the infinite weight of sin with the infinite righteousness of Jesus. And he accomplished it. “He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Co. 3:25). God is both the just (truth) and the justifier (grace), and the only way we can most clearly see the uncompromising qualities of God’s truth, holy, and righteousness and God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is at the cross of Christ—the intersection of all the qualities of God fully necessitating and fulfilling one another in the most vivid, concrete, and marvelous way.
There is only One who can resolve our sin, and he loved us enough to volunteer for sin to destroy him instead of you. As a great hymn declares, In my place, condemned he stood, hallelujah, what a Savior. According to the codes and design of reality, sin will cause someone to suffer and die. And though we deserved it, Jesus took it from us; he suffered the ultimate blow of sin—existential and actual death—so that we wouldn’t have to. He was condemned in our place before God so we wouldn’t have to be. Jesus bore the weight of our sin and was crushed by it so that we wouldn’t have to be.
In contrast, other religions say, “God is merciful, so you’re sin isn’t really that bad, as long as you’re a good person” and “you can save yourself by your own works, just try harder and do better.” But a God who compromises truth and righteousness isn’t really that good or loving. He isn’t strong; he’s a pushover. Moral dilemmas abound all over the place if this God bends absolutes to make loopholes for ‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’. In all true cases of forgiveness, it’s the giver who takes a loss. And to respond to “just work harder, do more, be better”—this isn’t a message of salvation; this is a mere proof of trying to alleviate my inadequacy in my own strength and prove my self-sufficiency, which means there is no rest for the soul—there is only trying to prove myself again and again; and if I fail, I despair. If I succeed, I am self-righteous and actually quite delusional.
On the contrary, Jesus’ “It is Finished” for accomplishing our salvation declares that we are at rest in our soul—no more proving myself to God—we are loved, forgiven, and secure because of his work for us—not ours. I don’t despair because it’s his work that counts—not mine. I don’t slip into delusional self-righteousness because it’s his work that counts—not mine. I can’t boast in anyone because I didn’t do anything to save me—I can only boast in Christ! This leaves me both humble and confident. Humble—because the only thing I contributed to my salvation was my sin. Confident—because even though I was more wicked and hopeless on my own accord than I could ever imagine, I am—at the same time—more loved and secured by God in Christ than I had ever dared hope (Keller).
In conclusion, the account of Herodias in Mark 6 is a real life story that not only directly comments upon the effects of sin in our own lives, but also gives glimpses of the metanarrative of the Bible: God’s loving offer of blessing, our rebellion and sin, his redemption of us in Christ in spite of and through our rebellion, and his restoration of all things for eternity.