Category Archives: Sanctification/holiness

Mark 6:14-29 – What Herod heard

Discussion question:

Have you ever wondered how different life would be as a king or queen? OR Do you think Queen Elizabeth watches Neighbours?

Read Mark 6:14-29

Context

This story of the death of John the baptist is included in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). It appears in Mark right in the middle of the mission that the disciples are sent on. Jesus sent his Twelve Disciples off on mission in Mark 6:6-13 and Mark records their return from mission in Mark 6:30. While they are spreading the news about the kingdom of God, calling people to repent and believe, healing and casting out demons, we are given this account of John the Baptist. On the ground, the disciples are spreading the news of the kingdom, but in the earthly kingdom of Herod, we see sin with no repentance and a mishearing of who Jesus is.

Observation

Structure

  • 14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus
  • 17-20 What Herod heard from John
  • 21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus

“King Herod heard about this…” This is referring to the mission that the disciples were on. The commotion in the streets caused by the disciples preaching a message of repentance had reached the ears of Herod. We are brought from the real street-talk of the kingdom of God into the house of an earthly king. See Luke 3:1 for a scope of the rulers of the day. Herod was the tetrarch over Galilee. It lists four men ruling different regions under the higher reign of Tiberius Caesar. One of the four was Herod’s brother Philip.

“Some were saying… John… Elijah… A prophet…” Jesus’ name was not in question but what was his position or identity. His name was well known but what about his calling or importance? Malachie 4:5 will help understand why Elijah is listed and why the disciples repeat this rumour in Chapter 8. Ironically, it is John the Baptist who is the Elijah figure predicted to come as he was one of the prophets like the Old Testament prophets whose primary message was to call Israel to repent and return to the LORD. A prophet like Elijah would come and prepare the way for the LORD. This was John the Baptist (Mark 9:12-13). As readers of this story, we are meant to realise how wrong they all are – that they misunderstood Elijah and rejected his call to repent – how then will they understand who Jesus is?

“But when Herod heard this, he said…” Herod’s conclusion is that Elijah has somehow come back from the dead with even greater powers than he had before.

17-20 What Herod heard from John

“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested…” We are taken back in time to understand Herod’s experience with John. What follows is a story of lust and sexual immorality; of a call to repent and a man who doesn’t disagree but unwilling to repent.

“…Herod feared John… when Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” This is the profile of someone who is unable to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Many people responded to John’s ministry of repentance and repented. Herod revered John as a holy man but what he spoke about puzzled him.

21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

“Finally the opportune time came.” This refers to Herodias’ dilemma in Verse 19. She had a grudge against John. He was a nuisance to whatever her ambitions were. The size of this grudge comes out further when we hear how it is released.

“…the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.” You can imagine alcohol and festivities and the passion of the moment and pride and the want to impress the rulers that have been invited to the party. This is not a PG rated party. Herod is swept up in the moment and promises his niece anything up to half the kingdom. Wow!

“She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Herodias must have had quite the influence over her daughter. The offer has already been suggested: half the kingdom! Why not take that offer?

“The head of John the Baptist.” The grudge is strong. Her hate of John focuses her attention and dismisses all other possibilities. 

“On hearing this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” The story is complete with the outside world hearing what has taken place inside the governor’s house. This earthly ruler behaves so unimpressively. His kingdom offers nothing but selfish ambition. He is more concerned with saving face than with righteousness and justice.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Look up Luke 3:1 to hear who is listed as important in Jesus’ day. A tetrarch is a sub-ruler. By telling us the story about Herod and John, what contrast is Mark giving us to consider?

Q2. What had Herod heard about? What conclusions were being made about Jesus from Herod’s palace? What were they getting right and what were they getting wrong?

Q3. What issues did John the Baptist have with Herod and what does the bible teach about these things?

Q4. Given all we know from this story, how would you describe the kingdom of Herod?

Q5. Why do you think Mark (and Matthew and Luke) includes this story in the gospel?

Meaning

There is a scene change in the gospel of Mark. While the disciples spread the good news of the kingdom of God, we are taken to an earthly ruler who has no backbone or care for righteous living. He hears the talk about Jesus and is filled with fear. We hear the word of what went on inside his home and are filled with disgust. He had the prophet who God sent to point people to Jesus right in his house – imprisoned – but he killed him, letting lust and pride rule. Herod heard about Jesus but did not hear about the kingdom of God. Herod heard from John but did not understand. He heard from his family and submitted to sin.

Application

Challenge#1 Human government and us

Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 teach us to pray for our governments and have respect for their authority. It does not follow that we are to agree with their conduct or decisions. This can be a complicated area of discussion but isn’t it possible to live as citizens of this world but love the kingdom of God because it is so much better? People in this world will often disappoint us. The greatest people in the kingdom of God are those who live for Christ and give him the highest respect. John the Baptist spoke the truth to the ruler and faced the consequences for it.

Challenge#2 Lust, envy, hate and pride

These things are to be put to death in us. The fruit of the spirit feeds none of these things. Romans 8 teaches us to give energy to the Spirit and not to the desires and passions of the flesh. Sin is destructive and the Spirit gives life. When the outworkings of the flesh appear, turn back to God and repent. 

Challenge#3 The kingdom of God is not in palaces

While we read about the mayhem in the court of Herod, the real kingdom growth was happening in the villages. The news of this world will revolve around what is happening in politics and sport. Very little attention is given to people turning back to God. This emphasis will be turned on its head one day when everyone sees Jesus as King and that everything that we thought was great in this world is nothing compared to him.

Commandment #7 – No Adultery

Opening Question

Read Romans 13:8-10 and open in prayer for one another in response.

Exodus 20:14

You shall not commit adultery.

In the beginning (5 mins)

Genesis 2:20-25 describes the origin of marriage. What can we gather from these verses?

  • Marriage is for companionship – to do life together in partnership.
  • Marriage is for a man and a woman.
  • Marriage is exclusive and intimate – the two become one, naked and unashamed. Sex is designed to take place inside of marriage. Not for a fling but as part of the marriage union.
  • Marriage is for family units – leaving the family of origin to start a new family.
  • NB: please remain sensitive to those who are not married. 100% of us are also unmarried for a great portion of our lives and those who are married have a 50% chance of becoming unmarried again later in life as widows/ers.

The command to Israel (5 mins)

Read the following with regard to the 7th commandment:

Exodus 20:14, Leviticus 18:1-5, 20, 24-30, 20:10 (the whole chapter directs Israel to not do the detestable things that Egypt and the original land owners did, the subject of the chapter is sexual immorality).

Proverbs 6:20-35 (v32)

Israel’s history (10 mins)

Malachi 2:10-16 merges the issue of unfaithfulness to God with unfaithfulness in marriage. While God rebukes Israel here for marrying women who serve other Gods, he seems to accuse them of marital unfaithfulness which matches their unfaithfulness to Yahweh. What spiritual lesson does God teach us about adultery?

The marriage covenant is a model of our covenant with God. He is faithful and we must be faithful in our marriages. The Genesis language of the two becoming one is profound. Disobeying the 7th Commandment is not simply breaking a law but revealing our unfaithfulness.

The Gospel (10 mins)

Read Matthew 5:27-30. Discuss how Jesus speaks of the 7th Commandment.

Similar to the 6th commandment, we can break this command in our hearts and minds before any real testable action takes place.

When the gospel went out from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, the Christian church in Jerusalem was concerned to write to them. Read the letter in Acts 15:23-29. Being a brief letter, what do we notice of high priority?

Abstaining from practices associated with idolatry as well as sexual immorality. The concern is for Christians everywhere to not live as the pagans live. See Galatians 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3; Heb 12:16; 13:4, not to mention much of 1 Corinthians!

Christian Living (15 mins)

The Israelites were told to not do what the other nations do in terms of sexual immorality. Christians are instructed in the same manner. We must stop living for the cravings of our own hearts but as mature people who have been saved by grace. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 to remember what we have been saved from and remember the gospel that saves.

Ephesians 2:1-10

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Commandment #6 – Do not Murder

Opening Question

“Each and every commandment exposes the inclinations of our evil hearts.”  Discuss.

Exodus 20:13

You shall not murder.

In the beginning (5 mins)

Genesis 1 and 2 contain the absence of murder. Death is mentioned here only as a warning (Gen 2:17). Rather, the chapters are filled with life! Genesis 3 describes the Fall when the serpent sows doubt with regards to God’s death threat! (Genesis 3:4)

It is Genesis 4 where we read of the first murder. Read Genesis 4:1-16. Verse 8 describes the murder, but what is the warning in Verse 6-7? Focus on those two verses and discuss.

Before the actual murder, Cain has anger brewing in his heart. God warns him to change his thoughts – focus on what is good and not what is evil. Sin is like a dog that if you let it off the chain it will overpower you. The problem was with Cain before the actual murder took place.

Genesis 4:23 describes a man who boasts in his ease of killing others in revenge.

See also Genesis 9:6. What does this tell us about the significance of murder? 

Being made in God’s image is important. We are not equal with the animal kingdom. See Genesis 9:1-6 – eating meat is not murder – although there are still regulations around that.

The command to Israel (5 mins)

What does the 6th commandment presume about life?

The key word in this commandment is ‘murder’ rather than ‘kill’. The Penteteuch contains many occasions when putting a person to death is called on (this is a civil rule given to the nation of Israel). No person has the right to take another person’s life for personal reasons.

Israel’s history (10 mins)

Read over Exodus 21:12-32 to get an overview of how various situations are dealt with.

Note also Leviticus 19:18

The Gospel (10 mins)

Read Matthew 5:21-26

To what extent does Jesus broaden this commandment?

He would declare Cain guilty even before he struck a physical blow to Abel. ‘Raca’ might be like saying ‘go to hell!’ Ironic that this is exactly where a comment like that might take you!

Discuss what is said in Verses 23-24.

Jesus may be inferring that Abel could have done more in the Genesis 4 account!

What are some counter moves to keep this command?

Be proactive in love. Don’t simply avoid killing people out of passion, but work on our love for one another – mend relationships soon.

See Matthew 7:12

Note that Jesus puts our behaviour toward others as the primary agenda for fulfilling the laws. 

Christian Living (15 mins)

The Christian way is to love as demonstrated by God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 teaches us that God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Christ himself, left his throne – the ultimate altar – to make reconciliation with his enemies – you and I! While we were haters of God, Christ came and made peace between us and God. Christ’s fulfillment of this command is to demonstrate the ultimate gift of life. Rather than taking life, he brings us to life! (see Ephesians 2:4-5)

Look up some or all of these passages to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Perhaps challenge one another to pick one reference and make it your memory verse for this week.

  • Colossians 3:12-14
  • Galatians 5:22-25
  • Romans 12:9-21