Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: Matthew 14:1-5, 2 Corinthians 7:10
Our text focuses on John the Baptist and his executioner King Herod. I was named for John. When I was born, Dad had just started preaching. He was in the father’s waiting room when he heard me scream and said, “It reminds me of John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness. I’ll name him John.” I’m glad I didn’t do something to make him think of Nebuchadnezzar. People still call their sons John. I wonder, when did anyone last name a son Herod?
Herod the tetrarch ruled Galilee and Perea for 43 years (4 B.C. to 39 A.D.). John, who preached in Perea (John 1:28), and Jesus, who lived in Galilee, were under Herod’s jurisdiction. Herod executed John and took part in Jesus’ trial.
Herod, insecure and paranoid, panicked when he heard of the stir Jesus was causing in Galilee. Jesus was no ordinary man. He was the wonder of His day. People were having trouble figuring Him out. Herod offered his own explanation.
Matthew 14:1-2 (Holman) At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus. “This is John the Baptist!” he told his servants. “He has been raised from the dead, and that’s why supernatural powers are at work in him.”
Jesus reminded Herod of the only other great religious man he had ever known. Herod had John on the brain (Bruce). Blood stained Herod’s thoughts.
Had John the Baptist really been resurrected? Only in his murderer’s conscience. Herod was terrified because an inner voice was telling him he was an assassin now in danger; he needed to fear the return of his innocent victim.
We can learn key lessons from Herod’s telltale conscience. One, conscience is God’s deputy sheriff in a guilty heart. John had been killed not for any criminal activity, but for doing right, for telling truth. Herod was miserable because he was flat-out guilty of cold-blooded murder. The Baptist no longer needed to trumpet his voice against Herod’s adultery. Memory had become the new prophetic voice.
No amnesia was being suffered here; conscience recalls well. Give it no sin to remember. Macbeth wished, “If ‘twere done when ‘tis done.” If it were only done when it’s been done. But it’s not done. Guilt always has ghosts to haunt it.
Even when forgiven, deeds can be resurrected. An awakened conscience can open the grave of crimes long forgotten. Sin yields regret; no sin, no regret.
Two, conscience has a vivid imagination. Conscience can take troubles and unsettling events that are part and parcel of everyday life and blame them all on a particular sin. Hearing of Jesus, Herod imagined John’s death was the culprit.
Herod’s imagination was dead-on right about one thing. He wasn’t finished with John. Herod had thought he would enjoy his wife more with John dead, but instead only succeeded in moving John from the country to the palace. In Herod’s imagination, John was now no longer in the dungeon, but in the King’s bedroom.
Three, conscience tells what is wrong, but offers no relief. Conscience is a tough taskmaster. Herod was sorry for his deed’s results, but had no intent to fix the real problem. He was sorry for the discomfort his sin produced, but not for the sin. Herod felt a form of sorrow, but not a godly sorrow leading to repentance.
Paul wrote, “Godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). How can we know whether our regret about sin is good or bad? Examine where it leads us. If it sends us to God with grieving, good. If it leads us to despair, bad.
Conscience in and of itself cannot cure. It at best forces us to think ours is a moral universe. Guilt convinces us an unseen cosmic constitution somewhere can be violated. Conscience lets us know life cannot long go well for evil doers.
Conscience produces an angst begging to be relieved. Many people, instead of turning to Jesus in repentance, try weird, bizarre remedies. Herod suddenly believed in reincarnation. Others turn to horoscopes, psychics, telepathy, deja vu, ghosts, past lives, haunted houses, levitation, clairvoyance, lucky charms.
People who cast off faith don’t necessarily think more rationally, but often slip into superstition. People who stop believing in God often believe anything, not nothing. If you want to embrace tenets reasonable and rational, try Christianity. It is firmly rooted in history and built on reliable testimony.
Four, conscience makes cowards of us all, as our text now goes on to reveal.
Matt. 14:3-5 For Herod had arrested John, chained him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, since John had been telling him, “It’s not lawful for you to have her!” Though he wanted to kill him, he feared the crowd, since they regarded him as a prophet.
Herod had been married to the daughter of King Aretes, who ruled at Petra. On a visit to Rome, Herod stayed with his brother, fell in lust with his wife, and brought her back to Israel. His first wife, knowing her life was in danger, fled home for safety. Her dad sent an army that severely punished Herod’s troops.
Herod’s disgraceful act of adultery set the stage for a showdown: preacher versus King. The ways these two men handled themselves in this feud explain why sons are still named John, but not Herod. John was courageous, Herod a coward.
The blunt and brave Baptist feared nothing and no one but God. The guilty conscience ridden Herod feared everything and everyone but God.
Herod feared the people. He didn’t want to be unpopular. Many fear deeds people would laugh at them for more than they fear acts God will punish them for.
Herod feared John. Fearing public criticism, Herod was angry at the Baptist for being told his sin, but should have been angry at the sin John told him of.
Herod feared his wife. He was more worried about her having a tantrum than about offending God by beheading John. Many live with the source of their rebellion against God. Family can be a strong spiritual draw, for or against God.