At once the girl hurried back to the king with her request: "I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter immediately."
Luke 13:31); and on the third, with his men of war, he mocked the world's Redeemer (Luke 23:8-12). These together afford an example of the progressive nature of sin. Herod passed from superstitious fear to anger, and from anger to mockery and scorn. He "walked in the counsel of the ungodly," and "stood in the way of sinners," and at last "sat in the seat of the scornful" (Psalm 1.). It appears to have been the extension of our Lord's influence, doubtless through the work of his newly appointed apostles, which aroused the interest and fear of Herod. The miracles which were wrought vividly brought before his guilty conscience the terrible crime which he had recently committed, in the murder of John the Baptist, of which Mark gives us the most graphic and detailed narrative we have. The feast described could hardly have taken place in Tiberias, but probably in some other palace close by the castle of Machaerus, in which John was a prisoner. In the scene which is here portrayed we see three types of character, represented by the three chief actors in this tragedy, which are worthy of our study.
I. CONSIDER HEROD AS AN EXAMPLE OF MORAL WEAKNESS, He was the son of Herod the Great, by Malthace, a Samaritan woman, and inherited his father's vices without his vigor. Profligate and luxurious, he had no vestige of moral greatness. His language was that of a braggart, as we can see in his promise that he would give "the half of his kingdom;" as if he were a mighty Ahasuerus, whereas he was but the subordinate ruler of the small districts of Galilee and Peraea. In the scene before us we notice in him the following faults: -
1. He was disloyal to his convictions. Impressed by John's words, he did not forsake his sins. like Pilate, he acknowledged the innocence and dignity of his victim, yet he had not the moral courage to set him free. To know the right, and yet to fail in following it, is the germ of grosser sins.
2. He was easily influenced by circumstances. "A convenient day" came at last for Herodias's purpose, a time when the weak king would be inflamed by wine and lust. The tempter ever waits and watches for such occasions to effect the moral ruin of those who do not resolutely resist him. The opinion of the civil and military officials around him also prevented Herod's refusal of Salome's request. like all moral cowards, he had more fear of the scorn of men than of the wrath of God.
3. He was led gradually to the worst crime, There had been a time when he would have shrunk from the murder of John; but he had been gradually prepared for it. His sinful connection with Herodias blunted any sensibility to good, as sensuality always does. His unwillingness to put her away led him to silence the bold preacher who denounced his crime. And when licentiousness had led to persecution, it was not long before persecution led to murder.
4. He was moulded by the stronger will of companion in guilt. The weakness of a vacillating man is easily overcome by one who is resolutely bad. Give examples from Scripture, and illustrations from daily life, of the perils besetting those who have no moral firmness and strength.
II. CONSIDER SALOME AS AN EXAMPLE OF ABUSED GIFTS. Physical beauty is as much God's gift as wealth, or position, or mental talent. Too often it has been used for the sake of display, for the gratification of vanity, or for the excitement of evil passions. Many have hereby been led into moral ruin. Salome degraded herself unspeakably by coming forward in this shameless dance. Forgetting all decency and decorum, she danced" in the midst," that is, in a circle of half-intoxicated admirers.
1. Her regal dignity was forgotten. With amazement the historian records that it was the "daughter of Herodias herself" (not "of the said Herodias" ) - a princess of royal blood. Even social position and family repute may be fairly regarded as defences against sin.
2. Her maiden modesty was sacrificed. In modern social life Christians should set themselves against all that seems to have the slightest tendency to this.
3. Her feminine tenderness was repudiated. The twenty-fifth verse indicates that she eagerly shared her mother's hatred against John. But her womanly pity should have pleaded for the life of a helpless prisoner, and this God-given characteristic of her sex being trampled underfoot, made her crime the more revolting when she accepted the bleeding head of the murdered prophet.
III. CONSIDER HERODIAS AS AN EXAMPLE OF UNSCRUPULOUS WICKEDNESS. She was to Herod what Jezebel was to Ahab, or what lady Macbeth was to her husband.
1. Her vices were great. Abandoned licentiousness and malignant cruelty.
2. Her influence was disastrous over both Herod and her own daughter Salome. She ruined herself and others too. For all such there will come a terrible awakening and retribution. "Who hath hardened himself against God, and prospered?" - A.R.
For Herod feared John.
1. The consideration of the excellent gifts which they discern in them, especially natural gifts. These draw them into admiration, and so cause them to esteem and reverence them.
2. Some worldly good or benefit which they reap by the acquaintance or society of such faithful ministers of God.
3. The holy lives of God's faithful ministers.
(G. Petter.)I. HOW MYSTERIOUS AND COMPLEX IS THE CHARACTER OF MAN! In the same individual what a variety of qualities, apparently the most opposite, are sometimes combined. How important it is that we should "know" ourselves and the sins which so easily mislead and overcome us; looking meanwhile for guidance to Him who searcheth the reins and trieth the hearts of men.
II. HOW STRONG IS THE IMPRESSION WHICH REAL EXCELLENCE OF CHARACTER MAKES, EVEN ON THE MINDS OF WICKED MEN. With all his abandonment of principle and looseness of practice, Herod could not help admiring and respecting John.
III. YET A MAN MAY GO FAR IN HIS ADMIRATION OF GOODNESS, WHILE HE REMAINS PRACTICALLY UNAFFECTED BY IT. The precise extent of John's moral influence over Herod we do not know; but it is plain that he did follow his guidance in some respects, and, so far, for good; but, in spite of all, there was no real, decided, permanent change in his heart and character. He had mistaken the semblance of religion for its reality — the husk for the kernel. Consequently, when temptation came, it made him tenfold more the child of Satan than before.
IV. LEARN FROM THIS THE DANGER OF YIELDING TO FAVOURITE SINS. Until met by the home thrust, "It is not lawful for thee to have her," all went on smoothly and pleasantly between Herod and John; but the exposure of his darling vice turned his friendship into enmity.
V. THE DANGER OF TRIFLING WITH SERIOUS IMPRESSIONS AND ACTING CONTRARY TO CONSCIENCE. Herod's association with John ought to have brought him to a humbling sense of sin and a decided change of heart. But he trampled on his convictions; and fatal was the result. Let us be warned by his example. Every funeral that passes, solemn and slow, along the streets; every visit of disease and death to your family circle; every season of holy communion with God; every prick of conscience; these are all so many instruments which God puts in operation for your well-being. Attend to these faithful monitors; cherish them; and they will be productive of lasting benefit to your soul.
(R. Burns, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(Leonard W. Bacon.)Haggai 2:10-14); it can pollute a good act, it cannot sanctify an evil act. Here is Herod resolutely protecting the sternest of God's prophets, eagerly listening to him, heeding him, obeying him in many things, but standing out obstinately in his incestuous and adulterous love against that word of the Lord, "It is not lawful for thee to have her." How does the case stand with him, just now? It was right, wasn't it? for Herod to "do many things" at the preaching of John. He was a pretty good man for the time being, wasn't he? Wasn't it quite like heroism — moral heroism — backed up by political caution, when he stubbornly refused to permit the killing of John, and said to Herodias, "No! I will not! I will agree to lock him up in prison, but not one step further will I go!" Was he not rather the pattern of what we should call a good member of society — a man with a sincere respect for religion, and a great interest in the church, and a strong attachment to his favourite minister; — a man who is willing to subscribe handsomely, and do many things, and deny himself many things, but of course, not everything? Now I do not find that the gospel has any dealings with this kind of goodness. It does not appear that Jesus Christ has any advice or encouragement for those who would like to be rid of a part of their sins. He is not a specialist in spiritual maladies; He is a Great Physician. It is not worth your while to go to Him with a request for partial and local treatment — to hold up before Him your infected, swollen limb, and say, "There! give me something for that! Don't touch the rest of me. I am all right. I only want that arm cured." He will not treat the case on any such terms. Your case is constitutional, not local. If you would have the help of Jesus Christ; you must surrender the case to Him; and prepare for thorough treatment, perhaps for sharp surgery.
(Leonard W. Bacon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE HOPEFUL POINTS IN HEROD'S CHARACTER. He respected justice and holiness. He admired the man in whom he saw justice and righteousness. He listened to John. He obeyed the word to which he listened. He continued to hear the preacher gladly. His conscience was greatly affected.
II. THE FLAWS IN THE CASE OF HEROD. Though he feared John he never looked to John's Master. He had no respect for goodness in his own heart. He never loved the Word of God as God's Word. He was under the sway of sin. His was a religion of fear, not of love.
III. WHAT BECAUSE OF HEROD. He slew the preacher whom he respected. This Herod Antipas was the man who afterwards mocked the Saviour. He soon lost all the power he possessed. His name is infamous forever.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF HEARING THE WORD. The preaching of the gospel is represented by the sowing of seed — casting the net into the sea — it is the bread of heaven — it is the light of the world.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE HEARER OF THE WORD.
III. THE NEEDFUL ACCOMPANIMENTS OF HEARING THE WORD.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
"When he saw a thing was true,
He went to work and put it through."He could die, but he could not back down, Every time I meet a man who is a man, and not a stick, I ask myself one question: "Why are you the man you are? Whence does your power hint itself to me? Whence does it come." And while the ultimate answer has never come out of Phrenology or Physiognomy, or any of the sciences that profess to tell you what a man is by how he looks, yet the indicative answer has always lain in that direction. In the head, and face, and form of a man there is certainly something that impresses you in some such way as the weight, colour, and inscription of a coin reveal to you, with a fair certainty, whether it be gold, or silver, or — brass and it is possible, too, that the line in which a man has descended, the country in which he is born, the climate, the scenery, the history, the poetry, and the society about him, have a great deal to do with the man. The father, in Queen Elizabeth's time. as I have known in old English families, may be twenty-two carat gold; and the children in Queen Victoria's time may be no better than lead. That mysterious antagonism that sows tares among the wheat, sows baseness in the blood; and if there be not forever a careful and most painful dividing and burning, the tares will in time come to nearly all there is on the soil. But still forever the great mint of Providence beats on, silently, certainly, continually, sending its own new golden coins to circulate through our human life, and on each of them stamping the infallible image and superscription that tells us "this is gold." Nay, the same great Providence makes not only gold coins, but silver and iron too; and if they are true to their ring, they are all Divine; as in all great houses there be divers vessels, some to more honour and some to less honour, but not one to dishonour if it be true to its purpose; for while the golden vase that holds the wine at the feast of a king is a vessel of honour, so is the iron pot that holds the meat in the furnace; the Parian vase that you fill with flowers is a vessel of honour, and so is the tin dipper with which you fill it at the well. For me, it is a wonderful thing to study merely the pictures of great men. There is a power in the very shadow that makes you feel they were born to be kings and priests unto God. But if you know a great man personally, you find a power in him which the picture can never give you. I suppose this good Jewish country parson, the father of John, flora the little we can glean about him, was just a gentle, timid, pious, retiring man, whose mind had never risen above the routine of his humble post in the temple. But lo! God, in the full time, drops just one golden ingot down into that family treasury, pure, ponderous, solid gold. Yet I need not tall you that there is a theory of human nature that busies itself forever in trying to prove that our human nature in itself is abominably and naturally despicable. Now, this primitive intrinsic nature, I say, was the first element that made John mightier in the prison than Herod was in the palace. The one was a king by creation; the other was only a king by descent. And then, secondly, there comes into the difference another element. Herod made the purple vile by his sin; John made the camel's hair radiant by his HOLINESS. And in that personal truth, this rightwiseness, this wholeness, he gained every Divine force in the universe over to his side, and left to Herod only the infernal forces. It was a question of power, reaching back ultimately, as all such questions do, to God and the devil. So the fetter was turned to a sceptre, and the sceptre to a fetter, and the soul of the Sybarite quailed, and went down before the soul of the saint. Then the good man, the true, the upright, downright man of power, goes right on to the mark. Let me tell you a story given me by the late venerable James Mott, of Philadelphia, whose uncle, fifty years ago, discovered the island in the Pacific inhabited by Adams and his companions, as you have read in the story of "The Mutiny of the Bounty." I was talking with him one day about it, and he said that, after staying at the island for some time, his uncle turned his vessel homeward and steered directly for Boston, — sailing as he did from your own good city, — eight thousand miles distant. Month after month the brave craft ploughed through storm and shine, keeping her head ever homewards. But as she came near home, she got into a thick fog, and seemed to be sailing by guess. The captain had never sighted land from the time they started; but one night he said to the crew, "Now, boys, lay her to! I reckon Boston harbour must be just over there somewhere; but we must wait for the fog to clear up before we try to run in." And so, sure enough, when the morning sun rose it lifted the fog, and right over against them were the spires and homes of the great city of Boston! So can men go right onward over this great sea of life. The chart and compass are with them; and the power is with them to observe the meridian sun and the eternal stars. Storms will drive them, currents will drift them, dangers will beset them; they wilt long for more solid certainties; but by noon and by night they will drive right on, correcting deflections, resisting adverse influences, and then, at the last, when they are near home, they will know it. The darkness may be all about them, but the soul shines in its confidence; and the true mariner will say to his soul, "I will wait for the mist to rise with the new morning; I know home is just over there." Then in the morning he is satisfied; he wakes to see the golden light on temple and home. So God brings him to the desired haven. New John was one of those right-on men. Had there been a crevice in John's armour, Herod would have found it out and laughed at him; but in the presence of that pure life, that deep, conscious antagonism to sin, that masterful power, won as a soldier wins a hard battle, this man on the throne was abased before that man in the prison. Then the third root of power in this great man, by which he mastered a king, — by which he became a king, — lay in the fact that he was a TRUE, CLEAR, UNFLINCHING, OUTSPOKEN PREACHER of holiness. Some preachers reflect the great verities of religion, as bad boys reflect the sun from bits of broken glass. They stand just on one side, and flash a blaze of fierce light across the eyes of their victim, and leave him more bewildered and irritated than he was before. Such a one is your fitful, changing doctrinaire, whose ideas of right and wrong, or sin and holiness, of God and the devil, today, are not at all as they were last Sunday: who holds not that blessed thing, an ever-changing, because an ever-growing and ripening faith, but a mere sand hill of bewilderment, liable to be blown anywhere by the next great storm. Then there is another sort of preacher, who is like the red light at the head of a railway night train. He is made for warning; he comes to tell of danger. That is the work of his life. When he is not doing that, he has nothing to do. I hear friends at times question whether this man has a Divine mission. Surely, if there be danger to the soul, — and that question is not yet decided in the negative, — then he has to the inner life a mission as Divine as that of the red lamp to the outer life. And I know myself of men who have turned sharp out of the track before his fierce glare, who, but for him, had been run down, and into a disgraceful grave. But the true preacher of holiness, the real forerunner of Christ, is the man who holds up in himself the Divine truth, as a true mirror holds the light, so that whoever comes to him, will see his own character just as it is. Such a man was this who mastered a king. His soul was never distorted by the traditions of the elders, or the habits of "good society," as it is called. On the broad clear surface of his soul, as on a pure still lake, you saw things as if in a great deep. He had no broken lights, for he held fast to his own primitive nature, and to his own direct inspiration.
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