For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife!"
I. FALSE STEPS. (Ver. 17.)
1. Unlawful relations.
2. Resisting the messenger of God.
II. CONFLICTING INFLUENCES. (Vers. 19, 20.) The fearless court-preacher and the woman he denounced. The messenger of Truth and the associate in pleasure and vice. Representative of the way in which evil and good incarnate themselves, and work upon the heart of every man. The temptation to which Herod was subject was great; but he was not left without moral witness and aid.
III. SATAN'S INSTRUMENT AND OPPORTUNITY. (Vers. 21-25.)
1. The instrument is in a sense self-prepared, coming as it does out of the very heart of moral complication and love of unhallowed pleasure.
2. Yet is it also chosen and armed by the evil one.
3. It is an instrument calculated to work insidiously, unsuspectedly, and yet surely and irrevocably. Who would imagine that a damsel would wield such tremendous destinies? The weakness of every man is thoroughly understood by the enemy of souls, and unscrupulously appealed to. The works of Satan are rather hidden than manifest.
4. The attack is made when the moral sense is drowned in sensual pleasure and excitement. Company, wine, the fascination of the dance, and the flattering of pride by the presence of the Galilean nobles. What importunity cannot secure, a skillful manoeuvre may attain by surprise. The end is gained, provisionally, in the royal offer to the maid; a concealed, implicit pledge of what is not at the moment realized. Indefinite promises like this are full of danger; they cover so many unthought-of possibilities, and carry with them the illegitimate show of obligation even with respect to things not contemplated when the promise is given. The moral sense which is insensible to real duties avenges its perversion by manufacturing fictitious obligations, and attributing chief importance to them. "Honour" is the counterfeit of morality in many minds. A promise made as Herod made his is foolish and wrong, yet it cannot bind its maker to the performance of a further wrong. If men were only a tithe as attentive to their vows to God as to their vain and boastful promises and challenges to one another, they need fear no consequences. We bind ourselves with our own ropes. It was a birthday on which Herod committed spiritual suicide. Many a parallel to this may be found in the lives of men.
IV. THE CATASTROPHE. The career of sin has been likened to playing the devil with his own loaded dice. The thoughtless word of Herod committed him according to his perverted sense of honor, and the sequel was already predetermined and inevitable.
1. In sanctioning John's death, Herod violated the deepest instincts of his nature, and rejected the voice of God.
2. Crowned a life of sin by a heinous and irrevocable crime.
3. (Humanly speaking) Destroyed his own hopes of salvation. His history henceforth is one of steady degeneration and ever darker crime. In many lives there are determining circumstances like this of Herod; they put mountains and abysses between the sinner and the God he has dishonored. "John the Baptist is risen from the dead;" "Whom I beheaded - John: he is risen," are discoveries which lighten not one whit the burden of his guilt, and bring no hope to his despair. They are the wails of a remorse from which has departed the grace and power of repentance. Yet is Christ greater than John, and able to save from even greater crimes than the murder of John, if he be but recognized and believed. - M.
For John had said unto Herod.i.e., at a right time, in a right spirit, and in a right manner. The Baptist rebuked Herod without making him angry; therefore he must have rebuked him with gravity, temper, sincerity, and an evident goodwill towards him. On the other hand, he spoke so firmly, sharply, and faithfully, that his rebuke cost him his life He reproved him under the prospect of suffering for his faithfulness; and we should never use a strong word, however true it be, without being willing to acquiesce in some penalty or other, should it so happen, as the seal of our earnestness.
(J. H. Newman.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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