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Who Do You Say I Am?
The Gospel of Mark

John’s Death

 

This morning we come to an odd pericope.  Remember a pericope is a block of scripture that forms one unit.  It is usually divided in your Bibles with a heading.  The heading on our odd pericope is “The Death of John the Baptist”.  It is odd for several reasons.

--It is one of the longest pericopes in the Gospel of Mark.

--It, for sure, is the longest pericope that is not about Jesus or one of his teachings.

--It has the feel of a soap opera...  that’s unusual in Mark.

--It seems to have a lot of unnecessary details.  The whole thing could have been summarized in one verse… John the Baptizer died at the hands of King Herod.  Instead, we have an extra-long soap opera that is not about Jesus.

Let’s explore our odd pericope to see why it is odd.  Let’s pick up the action in the last couple verses before our odd pericope.  

Mark 6:12-14 So the Twelve went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.  King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known.

Last week, the Twelve were sent out by Jesus to advance the kingdom of God.  It was a graduation of sorts.  Instead, of only watching Jesus, they got to do Jesus’ stuff on their own.  They were sent out with instructions not to take anything with them.  They were to sacrifice as they advanced the kingdom.  It worked.  They cast out many demons.  The healed many sick.  So much so that King Herod heard of it! 

Jesus, along with his disciples, were causing quite the stir.  The disciples multiplied the effect.  It was not just Jesus advancing the kingdom, Jesus had seven times more impact!  What?  Six groups of two plus Jesus is seven times as effect as just Jesus himself.  This is interesting.  Put a pin in that thought… maybe we will get back to it.

Anyway, a bit about King Herod.  Here is his family tree.  His name was Herod Antipas.  He was the ruler of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus.  The title “King”, I think is making fun of Herod. Antipas wanted to be a King, but instead he was only a tetrarch…a ¼ king.  His father was a king.  Herod the Great was the King when Jesus was born who attempted to kill him. Great, because of all his great building projects, including the Great New Temple in Jerusalem.   But Antipas was only ¼ king.  Upon his father’s death, the Romans split up the kingdom and gave a ¼ to Antipas. He wanted to be King, but not so much.

Here is the Soap Opera part.  Herod Antipas was married to, Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas. Antipas divorced her in favor of Herodias who had formerly been married to his half-brother Herod II, known as Philip. Antipas was Herod the Great's son by Malthace, while Philip was his son by Mariamne.  

The divorce of his first wife added a personal grievance to previous disputes with King Aretas over territory on their borders. The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas; a Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius, but abandoned upon that emperor's death in 37 AD. In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.

Don’t worry about all that.  Just know “King” Herod’s life was a soap opera that didn’t end well for him. 

Back to our odd pericope…

Mark 6:14-16 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him."  But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." 

The rumors were flying all of Judea about who Jesus might be.  Jesus and his disciples were causing quite the stir. Herod was asking the same question we are asking this year; “Who do you say I am?”  Some were saying…

--He is Elijah.  This is interesting.  Many Jews of Jesus day thought Elijah would precede the Messiah.

Malachi 4:5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”

There was this expectation of a fiery prophet of old who would precede the great day of the LORD!  Elijah who was taken to heaven in a fiery whirlwind escorted by a chariot… would return to usher in the Messiah.  Some thought Jesus was Elijah.

--Others said Jesus was the dead John the Baptist.  Wait John is dead?  Mark forgot to tell us that story. So, now, he catches us up on the story of how John the Baptizer came to be dead.

They were this close.  Elijah did proceed the Messiah and it was John the Baptizer.  But Jesus wasn’t Elijah or John the Baptist, Jesus was the Messiah!  They were that close.

Anyway, the guilt-ridden “King” Herod thought Jesus was John – back from the dead to haunt him. 

Now Mark gets around to telling us how John died.

Mark 6:17-20 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her.  For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."  And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 

John accused Herod Antipas of taking his brother’s wife which is unlawful according to the law of Moses. John condemns Antipas for having a soap-opera morality.  Herodias, the new wife, took offense.  The problem was Herod liked John, or at least had a love-hate relationship with the Baptizer.  Herod feared John but could not stop listening to him.  Even while imprisoned by this want to be king, John fearlessly preached repentance!

The soap opera is about to get worse…

Mark 6:21-23 But an opportunity (for Herodias) came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.  For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom."

The dance caused quite the stir. Historically, we know the girl who danced is Salome.  Salome is most likely Herodias and Philip’s daughter.  She danced so that her mother could get revenge on John the Baptizer for denouncing her for divorcing her father.  I’m SO confused.

After the dance that caused quite the stir, “King” Herod offered her half the kingdom.  I would have taken half the kingdom, leaving Antipas as 1/8 king.  But Salome asked her mom.

Mark 6:24-28 And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist."  And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.  And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 

Seriously?  Because Antipas did not want to look bad in front of the nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee Antipas cut off John’s head.  Giving it to the girl who gave it to mom.  He cut off his head.  But he did not cut off his voice.  The power of a life sacrificed to advance the kingdom is immeasurable. 

The rumors of Jesus bringing the dead back to life must have spread all over the kingdom leading Herod to be scared to death that Jesus is John the baptizer come back from the dead to haunt him for his reckless oath and his brutality.

Mark 6:29 When John’s disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

In a demonstration of respect, John’s disciples take the chance to get his body, not his head?  To lay it in a tomb. 

The scene then shifts back to Jesus and the disciples.

Mark 6:30-32 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.  And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

The twelve return to Jesus all excited about their victories over demons and sickness and their preaching of the Gospel… but there is no celebration.  Instead, they move off to be by themselves to mourn the loss of Jesus’s cousin, John the baptizer.  Perhaps, Jesus is reflecting upon what lies upon the horizon for himself.  That might be a clue. 

That is our odd pericope. Royalty... intrigue… accusations… dances… beheading… fear… Quite the soap opera.  Let’s think about why Mark included in his Gospel this long soap opera pericope, that is not even about Jesus. 

But perhaps it is.  Perhaps, it is a foreshadowing of what lies on the dark horizon for Jesus, himself. Just as John’s ministry was a forerunner to Jesus, John’s death is a forerunner to Jesus’s own death.  Notice the similarities…

--Both John and Jesus were executed by Roman appointed rulers… Antipas and Pilate.

--Herod with John, like Pilate at Jesus’s trial, both hesitated to execute them.

--Herodias, like the chief priests for Jesus… both used scheming to accomplish the deaths.

--John’s disciples like Joseph of Arimathea claim the bodies and place them in a tomb. 

--The Greek word for body… ptw/ma ptoma is a rare word used for John and Jesus.

The cross looms in the background of our odd pericope… I suspect Mark intends for us to connect the two deaths.

Every Sunday needs a sermon.  Every sermon needs a… point.  Let’s make a point here.  Watch the flow…

--On the heels of Jesus being rejected by his hometown church…

--The story of John’s death is mixed into the midst of sending out the 12 and their return.

--The two by two were sent out making sacrifices to advance the kingdom.

--John fearlessly, even after being imprisoned, preached repentance to Antipas.

--The death of John the Baptizer foreshadowed Jesus’s own death.   

--The sacrificial death of John is honored by his disciples. 

The point of our odd pericope is… sacrifice is the power to advance the kingdom. The power of the kingdom is self-offering sacrifice.  John and Jesus were willing to offer their lives to advance the kingdom.  To be a disciple of the kingdom is to live a life of sacrifice to advance the kingdom.  

Over the centuries since the death of John and then Jesus, the power of sacrifice has advanced the kingdom to the ends of the earth.  The power to bring about the restoration of creation is the power of a life given totally for the kingdom. 

One of those Twelve, who was sent out two by two, who was there with Jesus grieving John’s death, many years later, wrote this powerful verse…

1 Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

We are called to follow in the steps of Jesus, who walked in the steps of John the baptizer. There is awesome, Spirit-filled power in a life lived in sacrifice for the advancement of the kingdom! 

 

Tim Stidham

May 28, 2016

Los Alamos Church of Christ



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