An Enslaved Man

July 9, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 6:14-29

King Herod

1. The character "King Herod" appears in today's reading of the gospel. Speaking of "the Herods," a Herod also is found in the Christmas story. In trying to wipe out the infant Jesus, the extremely cruel Herod the Great killed every boy under two years of age in the vicinity of Bethlehem, but [the Herod] found in today's passage is his son Herod Antipas. He was territorial ruler over Galilee and Perea. In a certain sense, though, Mark sarcastically calls him "King Herod" because [Herod Antipas] is actually behaving as if a king. At the banquet table, which is depicted in today's passage of scripture, the daughter of Herodias has danced a dance and he blurted out to her, "If you ask me for it, I will give you even half of this country. [Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.]" These lines are a famous phrase which most anybody knows. They are [also] found in the story of Esther, which I read aloud for the first scripture reading for today. It is a statement that the great Persian imperial lord Xerxes the First had said. He had once ruled the entire region of the Orient. In other words, Herod arrogantly compared himself to King Xerxes. He had waved his own "royal scepter," and as a result, he cut off the head of a prophet. That's the story I read to you for today.

2. At the very beginning of it all was the marriage of Herod to Herodias. Call it a marriage, but the fact of the matter is that Herod had robbed Philip, his own half brother from his mother's side, of his wife. In abandoning her husband Philip, she came about as Herodias by transferring over to Herod. It was an act that clearly went against the law of God. However, no one was able to stop their sinful deed because Herod had the authority. But, John the Baptizer had courageously urged repentance upon Herod, "To marry the wife of your own brother is not permitted by the law." Yet, it was the easiest of things for Herod to shut the mouth of John the Baptizer. He arrested and imprisoned John. Ultimately, while imprisoned John would be beheaded and end up dead. After that then, not a person in the land showed up to accuse Herod or Herodias. In the end, nobody could limit their actions. None could bind them. In that sense they were extremely potent people. The power to control others brought them freedom and power. The more power they have, the freer they become. It certainly appears that way.

3. But, this gospel has depicted Herod as an extremely impotent and not so free person, though he claims to wield an authority of his own. It depicts him as a miserable slave like person. We want to focus our attention upon that reality.

The King Is A Slave

4. First, Herod was a slave to lust and desires. In verse twenty the scripture says, "Because Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, and he feared him, protected him, and even though he was very perplexed at hearing his teachings, still he rejoiced and gave ear to him," (verse twenty). Herod's complex mental state is clearly revealed here. He knew what was wrong, when it wasn't God's will, what was unclean [according to scripture]. He certainly got his hands on what he wanted. He understood, though, that it was things that he shouldn't be wanting by the nature of things, things that he shouldn't be taking possession of. Even though he knew it, he could not restrain the desires at work within him.

5. Do you know the tenth commandment from the ten commandments [given to] Moses? "Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, the male and the female slaves, cows, donkeys, or any of your neighbor's possessions," (Exodus 20:17). This is the tenth commandment. In an every day translation, it has been translated, "Do not lust insatiably for; do not deeply desire." Of course, human desire in and of itself is not wrong. If a person has lost the capacity to desire and to want, he or she cannot live, and humankind would become extinct. In giving the command here of "Do not covet anything at all" it is about coveting things that you shouldn't be coveting, it is about being controlled by those cravings.

6. "Do not covet." It is the message of the commandment. From one way commands and prohibitions can be viewed upon as something that makes a person less free, with less powers. But, these words we call the ten commandments were a message God gave to the people after he freed them, who were originally slaves. Do you suppose the God who freed the slaves gave them commandments in order to disable them intentionally, to render them unfree? I don't think so. These [laws] were in fact given to these former slaves in order for them to truly live free.

7. Freedom is not being able to do just what you want and that only. Freedom is not getting hold of the things you desire exactly the way you desire them. What would happen if you wanted something you shouldn't have and you got it? The person would come to want even more of the things that one shouldn't want. Desires get bigger unchecked. Then the person will get to the point of being under the control of those desires.

8. True freedom is not in getting hold of what you desire, but in not coveting. Freedom is being able to control one's covet prone heart. We could say that Herod the ruler was misfortunate in that sense. He had the ability to get hold of what he wanted. Perhaps it was like that since childhood. Even though it was something he shouldn't have wanted, he was able to get it on numerous occasions. But, that was misfortunate for him. He became a slave. He became a slave to desire.

9. Second, Herod was a slave also to vanity. A great matter of concern for Herod was how others evaluated him. He took serious how he was seen by others. It had more weight with him than somebody's life.

10. [It was] Herod's birthday. He held a banquet inviting the high officials, the military officers, and those with influence in Galilee. During it, the daughter of Herodias danced a quite talented dance. The people enjoyed it a great deal. The [peacock] king made a prideful grand stand gesture of his own before everyone present. Like I touched upon earlier, performing the role of the once great emperor, he spoke like this, "Tell me whatever it is that you want. I'll give it to you." He went beyond that and said, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." Making a pompous display of his authority, he swore an oath before the rows of guests.

11. Herodias' daughter issued a ludicrous request to the king in accordance with her mother's suggestion. "I would like for you to put the head of John the Baptizer on a plate for me right now." What did the king do with regard to her request? The details are recorded beginning in verse twenty-six. "The king was greatly disturbed by it, but he had sworn an oath, and he did not want to refuse the young lady's wish before his guests. So, the king sent for the palace guard and commanded that he bring him the head of John the Baptizer," (verses twenty-six and twenty-seven).

12. Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man. Therefore, he was greatly disturbed. He must have seen into the fact the daughter's request was a suggestion from Herodias. He must have known that killing John in response to her request was not the right thing to do. But, in the end, Herod reluctantly issued the order. The gospel record clearly gives the reason as "He did not want to refuse the young lady's wish before his guests." The most important thing was how he would look to his invited guests. His conscience is not what ultimately controlled him. It was his vanity that did. In that sense he was nothing other than a wretched slave also controlled by vain glory and pride.

13. Then third, he was also a slave to feelings of guilt and fear. Sin yields forth fear. The Bible says that right from the beginning. In Genesis chapter three, it describes the situation after Adam and Even had eaten the fruit from the tree from which they were forbidden [to eat] as follows. "That day, about when the wind blows, the sound of the Lord God walking through the garden was audible. When Adam and the woman evaded the face of the Lord God and were hiding among the garden trees, the Lord God called Adam, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'Since [I] could hear the sound of your footsteps in the garden, I got scared and hid; for, I am naked.'," (Genesis 3:8-10).

14. [We've all] got plenty of excuses. We can justify ourselves. He gave the excuse, "The woman you made for me to be with me, well, since she took from the tree and gave it to me, I ate [from it]." However, no how much I justify myself, insist on a sin not being a sin, or insist that I'm not wrong, my heart knows [otherwise]. Therefore, [my] fears won't go away. I can't avoid saying, "I got scared and so I hid myself."

15. Herod was the same. John was dead. No one was left to accuse him. But, if one's sin has been sealed away, will one's fears go away? No, fear will never go away. Therefore, when he had heard the reputation [and reports] of Jesus, his fears were resurrected. He began to shake saying, "I cut John's head off but he has come back to life." He did indeed; he could have even made excuses about it. "It's what Herodias wanted. I never wanted it." But his heart knew. [It told him,] "I cut John's head off." He had sinned in freedom, and as a result he had become a slave to his fear and guilty feelings.

16. Thus, though Mark calls Herod "King Herod" he is depicting him as a truly enslaved and impotent person. While he is a king, the truth is he is a slave. While he appears to rule like he is in control with power, the truth is he is being controlled. Is Herod a special person? No, he is not. There are many cases that come to our minds. Whether in our own lives or in the people around us, we will always end up becoming slaves if we live wanting only everything according to our way. While we live wanting to be little kings of our own ways, we will find ourselves turning into wretched slaves before we know it.

The Kingdom Of God Has Come Near

17. So then, when we read today's passage of scripture, we may get sucked down into dreary thought. However, we want to give thanks that this episode does not stand in isolation, but has been written as a part of the good news of the gospel. Were this story just to conclude with just Herod, Herodias, and John, there would be no hope. Had the story ended with Herod and Herodias becoming slaves to sin and John's head being cut off, there would be no hope. That's how people are, that how society is, is that all we've got to say? No, that's not all there is. This is one part of the gospel. It is a part of the story of Jesus Christ.

18. Yes, indeed, the story of Jesus Christ has already begun. [His] work and words have begun. The voice of Jesus is already sounding out. What has Jesus said? In regard to the mission and the message of Jesus, already in the first chapter the scripture has said, "After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, and proclaimed the gospel of God, 'The time is full, The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel.'," (Mark 1:14-15).

19. "The kingdom of God has come near!" -- "The kingdom of God" means "the rule of God, the control of God, the government of God." As king God is in control and rules. God's rule and control has drawn near. It has come even here already. Jesus said so. Whenever someone would try to become king, he or she cannot help but become a wretched slave. But, whenever God has entered in and he becomes the king and is in control, there will be liberation there.

20. So, where is the story of Jesus Christ heading to? Just as John as the forerunner underwent suffering and died, Jesus Christ also will undergo suffering and come to die. It will be so that he will atone for our sins. In this manner then, Christ did not just proclaim the kingdom of God and the rule of God, but he made it so that we could live in it. He did it so we could put ourselves under the rule of God being at peace, as persons forgiven of sin.

21. Since this is so, what is important? Jesus said, "Repent and believe the gospel." We have only been seeking our own control, we have only been seeking our own ways, but by repenting, by changing our thinking, by turning directions, by turning towards God, we will begin to live under God's rule and his control. Now, we don't need to turn into little King Herods. By believing the gospel, trusting from the heart, being at peace, we will begin to live under God's rule. We really should be doing that. At that time, those persons who have been living lame and libertyless will come to take their first steps into true freedom.