For those somewhat familiar with ancient Biblical history, the name Herod doesn’t typically evoke warm fuzzies. Four Herods are mentioned in the New Testament, and three of the four are coupled with some pretty awful actions.
There’s Herod the Great – the cruel and bloodthirsty ruler who had all the male children (two and under) slaughtered because he was a wee bit nervous about the coming of Christ! Nice guy, eh? The kind of fellow you’d love to invite over for tea and toast, and have baby sit your tots!!
Then there’s Herod Antipas (aka Herod the Tetrarch). He's the dude who had John the Baptist beheaded as a gift of grattitude for little miss fancy dance – the daughter of Herodias. He was a winner as well!
You’ll find Herod Agrippa in the book of Acts. He was buds with Calligula (‘nuff said) and is the guy who set out to arrest as many Christians as he could (including Peter) “in order to mistreat them.” Horrid and haughty were his hobbies! You may remember that a bit later, while sitting on his throne and soaking up the worship of his people, he was “eaten by worms and died.” Oh, the way of the transgressor is hard.
His son, Herod Agrippa junior (we'll call him Lil' Grip for short), is the King Agrippa whom Paul preached to. There’s not much said about him in the Biblical account – he was sort of the “caspar milquetoast” of the kingly crew, but Josephus (who was friends with him) records that ol’ Lil' Grip was involved in a rather raunchy relationship with his sister, Bernice. Nice!!
It was just an all-around great group of guys.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, thanks for asking.
This morning, my Bible reading took me to Matthew 14 and the story of John the Baptist’s beheading. As is usual, my dander got up a bit about a cruel king deciding to go ginsu on a righteous man like John. Here is Christ’s forerunner, John the truth speaker – the only guy who cared enough for Herod’s soul to tell him what he most needed to hear – getting the axe (literally) because a wicked woman was ticked by John’s talk and decided to use her daughter to do her dirty work and manipulate the monarch.
In case you don’t know the story, this Herod had taken his brother’s wife as his own. John had called him out on it, telling him of the great sinfulness of his actions and urging him to repent that he might find true peace and joy. Ms. Herodias despised John for this, and apparently had, with great malice aforethought, been looking for an opportunity to rid the world of this preacher. She found that opportunity on the night of Herod’s birthday.
There was a grand “partay” with many invited to celebrate. Herodias’ daughter would go out and dance for the king and for the crowd – and I’m doubtin’ it was ballroom ballet (probably more in the Miley Cirus VMA vein!!). Herod would be worked into such a frenzy by the performance that he would offer her anything she wanted as a token of his admiration.
Things played out just as planned. Right there, in front of all the gawking guests Herod “promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.”
Mamma had already been talking to her and the Scripture says that Herodias had prompted her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
Now, before I go any farther and before I get to the main point that has pricked me, may I just say that it is an absolute travesty when parents are the instigators of wickedness in their children! Here is a mother, one who should be raising a child in the nurture and admonition of righteousness who, instead, is stirring up sin in her soul - even the sin of murder (not to mention the sin of immodesty). Woe to us if our children are being taught to transgress purposefully by us!
So, the request is made and we’re told that Herod is “grieved” by it, but “because of his dinner guests he sent and had John beheaded in prison.”
As I re-read for the umpteenth time a story I’ve known since childhood, I found myself praying for God’s protection of his people against the onslaughts of enemies like Herod…and then it hit me…
…is there a little Herod in my own heart?
I fear there may be, and I’m willing to wager there may be in your heart as well.
1) Herod heard the Word and found a way to push it aside rather than pull it near.
For Herod, it was done by putting John in jail. He didn’t set out to slay the prophet, just to silence him – at least silence him from speaking into his own ears.
How often are we the same?
How often does a sermon, or a friend, or the Scripturally induced prick of the Holy Spirit come upon our conscience crying, “Dear one, this is not God’s way” and we push it down because, like Herod, we’d rather hold onto our own forms of “Herodias”? We put the preaching in "prison," stick our fingers in our ears, and do our own thing as if the truth had never come our way.
How often does the love of our lusts override the love for our Lord?
2) Herod was sorry for what he was about to do… … …but he did it anyway!
Matthew tells us that he was “grieved” by the request of the dancing diva, but instead of saying “Hang on, I’ve made a mistake. This is wrong and I can’t do it”, he feared the crowd more than the Creator and sent the executioner to do the deed. Herod didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of guests, so he was willing to sin in front of God - even though he was bothered to do so!
How often are we the same?
How often do we walk into sin with some form of reluctance or some sense of sorry? “Oh, I really shouldn’t do this”... and then we go on and do it because of the crowd.
How often does the fear of our friends trump the fear of our God?
I’m convicted that there is indeed a little bit of Herod in my heart.
I’m convicted that I need a whole lot more of Jesus in my heart to drive "him" out.
I’m convicted of my need for His gospel grace and growth in every act of every moment, if I am to take the righteous route. Left to myself, I’ll end up on the highway of Herod over the highway of holiness pretty much every time. I can always find a way to justify my junk. Thankfully, I'm not left to myself!
Matthew ends his retelling of this event by sharing that the disciples of John “came and took away his body and buried it; and they went and reported it to Jesus.” This morning those closing words were precious, because as I thought about my Herod-like heart I knew I needed someone to go to for help. I needed to go and report to Jesus – I needed to go and repent to Jesus. I needed to run to my Savior with my sin, even as they ran to their Savior with their sorrow.
And you know what? By prayer Christ was there – ready, willing, and able to remind me of the power of the Cross and of the sanctifying assistance of the Holy Spirit. That's good news for my little Herodian heart - and I trust it is for yours as well.
By grace alone,