Monthly Archives: June 2020

THE GOSPEL OF MARK – CAUGHT IN HIS OWN TRAP

CAUGHT IN HIS OWN TRAP

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:21-29

What a sobering and terrifying chain of events, a setup which Satan used to his full advantage. John the Baptist was incarcerated in prison. What hope did he have of being released? Would he ever have a trial and if so, who would speak for him? What sort of justice system operated in his day? Herod was a puppet of Rome and functioned within the Roman system which would have had no interest in his personal affairs. He probably did not see himself as subject to Jewish law – so John was caught in the middle with no hope of justice or release.

I don’t think Herod had John in mind when he planned his birthday bash. Free-flowing booze and debauched emotions set him up for the dilemma he landed in. Herodias’ daughter’s provocative dance must have fired his alcohol-soaked lust even further, eclipsing his brain and loosing his tongue into making a rash promise which set him up for the trap he fell into.

Herodias was sharp and opportunistic. She wasn’t demented by alcohol. Her daughter was probably completely under her domination. She saw her opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. Herod had unwittingly opened the door to her unscrupulous obsession to get rid of John and her one-track mind fastened onto it immediately.

As soon as her request came back via the girl, Herod realised his mistake. He had been caught in his own trap and he couldn’t get out of it – so he thought. A series of completely self-centred plans had backfired and now, instead of being seen as a generous and magnanimous host, he was exposed as a weak, spineless drunk and foolish dictator. He had no guts to say no and so he also became a murderer.

Where was God in these circumstances? Mark begins the record by reporting that Jesus was baptised by John but only began His public ministry after John’s imprisonment. Do I see God’s mercy in John’s violent death – saving him from a long, slow and ignominious death?

THE GOSPEL OF MARK – INOPPORTUNE OPPORTUNITY

INOPPORTUNE OPPORTUNITY

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high   officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:21-29

Herod’s downward slide began with his illicit rendezvous with an evil woman and ended with blood on his hands. His unwillingness to rein in his lust had serious and sinister repercussions and, once he had allowed himself to start the slide, nothing could stop him. “The fear of man brings a snare”. Herod reminds me of Israel’s first king, Saul. He was also driven by the fear of man.

Throughout Scripture, there are patterns of people who had similar characters and showed similar tendencies in their behaviour. Compare Herod and Herodias with Ahab and Jezebel, for instance. Weak kings were manipulated by evil and scheming women. Both situations led to murder. Both men were warned by caring prophets whom they chose to ignore and persecuted instead.

What is the lesson in this story for us? Firstly, we must be on our guard against making the first poor decision that will set us on a downward path. The antidote is clearly stated in Proverbs 3:5, 6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” No-one knows where one wrong decision will lead, especially if it is driven by the fear of man. How much better to do the right thing even if it costs than to shrug off responsibility and open oneself to greater and greater pressure from the enemy.

Secondly, everyone must ultimately take responsibility for their choices even if they are made under pressure. We are either victims of forces outside of ourselves which makes us helpless against whatever happens, or we accept responsibility for our responses and our actions and can change the whole situation by taking positive action. What if Herod had stood up to Herodias and refused her request on the grounds that murder was not included in his offer? Would he have lost face with his guests or would he have won a new respect for doing the right thing? We will never know but it is a resolve we must make before we ever get into a situation where we must make a similar choice,

THE GOSPEL OF MARK – WHOM DO YOU FEAR?

WHOM DO YOU FEAR?

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:17-20

There is something about Herod that fascinates me. He was a tormented man, caught between two worlds and torn between two compelling forces in his life. His fleshly appetites were powerful, pulling him towards the woman who temporarily satisfied his lust; but there was another equally strong pull in him towards a higher spiritual dimension triggered by his own conscience. He had a love/hate relationship with John. He was drawn by John’s powerful godliness and integrity and loved to listen to him but, at the same time, John’s words drove home his guilt and aroused fear of its consequences which he chose to ignore. He would not turn from his immoral behaviour and chose, rather, to suffer the pangs of conscience his choices provoked.

To make matters worse, his relationship with an evil and conscienceless woman, whose hatred for truth brought to the surface her true nature, tipped him towards fearing her rather that fearing God. Herod’s first step towards the evil deed he became embroiled in was to have John arrested to satisfy Herodias’ persistent nagging. He was not strong enough to stand by his conscience. He was not the perpetrator of this sequence of events but, at the same time, he did not have the strength or resolve to withstand Herodias. He chose to silence John rather than Herodias and that poor choice eventually had serious consequences for him.

My mind takes me to Moses who also had a significant choice to make. Where Herod was driven by the physical and the present, Moses saw something in the unseen realm that became more compelling than the pull of his human appetites. “He persevered as seeing Him who is invisible.”

There are huge benefits that go with the choice to deny the flesh and to pursue the prize that is only handed out at the finish line. Along the way, which demands self-discipline and self-denial, and sometimes a lot of pain and suffering, my heart is being sustained by Jesus’ gifts which cannot be bought with money – His love, His joy and His peace.

THE GOSPEL OF MARK – IF ONLY HE HAD KNOWN!

IF ONLY HE HAD KNOWN!

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” Mark 6:14-17

What a stir Jesus was causing throughout the whole country. From north to south, east to west, everyone was talking about Him. They did not know what to make of Him. Never in their lifetime or on the 400 years since the last prophet spoke authoritatively from God, had anyone arisen in Israel like Him! It’s no wonder they thought He was Elijah or one of their great prophets returned from the dead. The last thing on their minds was that He was their long-awaited Messiah.

Herod’s conscience was his biggest enemy. He knew he had murdered John the Baptist through Herodias’ trickery and he must have been haunted day and night by the memory of John’s head on a platter, sightless eyes staring at him, silent lips accusing him, and he knew he was as guilty as if he had swung the sword that severed John’s head from his body.

Was it comforting or terrifying for Herod to believe that Jesus was the resurrected John? John had once indicted him for adultery. What would he accuse him of now? He knew he was a murderer and nothing could erase his guilt. His very conviction that John had come back was an admission of guilt but that brought him no relief.

One of the most comforting statements of Scripture is this: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17. If only Herod had known that his desperate feeling of guilt was God’s merciful way of alerting him to his need of forgiveness. The very one who terrified him because he thought Jesus was John, was the one who could offer the forgiveness he craved, that could release him from his burden and give him peace.

This is the wonder and the miracle of the one who came from God to declare to the world that God is not angry with us. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”  2 Corinthians 5:19.

THE GOSPEL OF MARK – THE SHOW-AND-TELL METHOD

THE SHOW-AND-TELL METHOD

7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. Mark 6:7-13

This is such a challenging passage of Scripture. How is it that the church has moved so far from Jesus’ original mandate? He may no longer be with us in the flesh but the same Spirit that energised Him is in His church. The same simple plan works today as it did then.

I suppose that the greater the number of people who become participators in the life of the kingdom, the greater the variety of opinions, interpretations and understanding of the words of Jesus and the greater the possibility of corrupting the simplicity of His message and method.

On the other side of the coin, I marvel at the confidence Jesus had in these twelve men. He had not spent very long with them, perhaps a year or so, but He sent them out with instructions to focus on the most important part of their task, to introduce people to the kingdom of God by the show-and-tell method. They were to show people God’s love and power by healing, casting out demons and undoing the work of the devil, and to tell them about the kingdom of God where perfection reigned. He trusted them to do it with the same clarity and simplicity that He worked in.

How do I measure up? Like them, most of my learning is unlearning and relearning the truth through the renewal of my mind.