And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead…
There are some men who would rather be without a head than without a conscience; John was one of this kind.
I. A SELF-REVELATION. The text with a single stroke lays open before us the mind of Herod. Deeper than mere speculation, below all the apathy of worldliness, there exists in man some conviction of spiritual reality and of moral obligation. The awe of Christ's marvellous works awoke the solemnities of even that debased nature. Deep called unto deep. The vibration of miraculous power brought up the secret shapes of conscience, as it is said the vibration of cannon will bring drowned men to the surface of the water. Now, this spiritual substance, in which man differs widely from all other creatures, and in which all men are most alike, is both a point of recovery and a ground of condemnation. I say, in the first place, this is a point of recovery. In the worst man — though his nature, like Herod's, be enslaved to passion, though his hand, like Herod's, be stained with blood, — there is this profound relation to spiritual things. In some way they are acknowledged. And, however vile the man may be, it is a sign of hope and a point of recovery. But this spiritual consciousness is also a ground of condemnation. Responsibilities are in proportion to capabilities. In the reckoning for talents used, we rate as a decisive element the amount of talents possessed. The depth of a man's fall must be measured by the dignity of his original position. Let no man delude himself, by any manner of sophistry, with the notion that the evil of his guilt ends with the guilty act, or that the wrong which he has done lies buried in his memory as in a grave. It may lie as in a grave; but there will be trumpet blasts of resurrection, when conscience calls, and memory gives up its dead. "Confessions of faith," so called, may be sincere, or they may be heartless and formal. Yet the most genuine confessions of faith are not expressed in any creed or catechism, but in utterances of the moment, that come right out of the heart. So Herod made his confession of faith. So might any man be startled by his own self-revelation.
II. But the text also suggests a point of CONTRAST. The contrast is between Herod, and John whom he beheaded. Here are two different types of men, — a type of worldliness, and a type of moral heroism. Two different types of men; and yet let it not be considered a mere play upon words, when I say not two types of different men. Beneath all external and all moral contrasts lay the same essential humanity. The self-willed and voluptuous king was forced to acknowledge the same spiritual realities as those in reference to which John so steadfastly acted. But starting from this common root, see how unlike these two men were in the branching of their lives. Herod illustrates the sensuality of the world, the imperious domination of appetite and passion. He treated the world ass mere garden for the senses. But there appears in Herod another phase of worldliness, — the phase of policy. I do not mean wise policy, but policy divorced from principle. Herod had no honest independence: he vacillated with the wind. Now, I suppose there are a great many such men in our day, — men who, on the whole, are disposed to honour truth, to eulogize it, even to put it foremost, if just as well for themselves. But they would imprison it, behead it, and send the desecrated head around in a charger, if they could gain votes or get pleasure by doing so. Moreover, Herod was obedient to a false code of honour. "For his oath's sake, and for the sake of them that sat with him," he commanded that John should be beheaded. All men, however faithful and earnest they may be, are not cast in the mould of John the Baptist, or tempered to such a quality. But such a soul crying out in the world does the world good. It is refreshing to see the moral heroism of John set sharp against the worldliness of Herod. But, in closing, let us consider the fruit and consummation of these two lives thus brought in contrast. The world's power triumphant. O sad type of many a defeat of many a fallen cause! Such, then, is the upshot of these two lives, — Herod victorious in his wickedness; John in his moral loyalty defeated and slain. But we do not, we cannot, say this. We form a different estimate than this of John and Herod. Even in the conditions of this world and of time, we hear the tetrarch crying out, "It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead!" We see him driven into exile, and dying an inglorious death. We see, too, the Baptist, in the processes of his truth, going abroad throughout the earth in "the spirit and power of Elias." So, in other instances, we are to judge not by the transient event, or the aspect of the hour, but by the prevailing influence, the product that abides. Truth conquers in the long run, and right vindicates itself against the wrong, as "John risen from the dead."
(E. H. Chapin.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.