“But an opportunity 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.’ 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. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” - Mark 6:21-29
This is not a Bible story you see depicted on a felt board in a children’s Sunday school classroom. In fact, it seems more like the plot from a soap opera than a passage from Scripture. And yet, the Bible is as full of drama and human weakness as daytime television. King Herod was renowned for his debauchery and licentious living. Given the events of this narrative, it isn’t hard to see why. First, Herod tossed aside his own wife and stole his brother Phillip’s. Then he threw a lavish birthday party for himself and commanded his stepdaughter to dance for the entertainment of his distinguished (male) guests. Let’s be clear, this was not a cute little ballet or tap recital; this young girl was trained to perform a seductive, erotic dance.
Herod and his guests were so pleased that the king offered the girl anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. Of course, that was a relatively empty promise. Herod was essentially a puppet king who ruled only at Caesar’s pleasure. One wrong move and he could be ejected from office, exiled, or even executed. Still, to puff himself up in front of his guests, King Herod made this unusual and generous offer.
Most parents might be appalled at the exploitation of their daughter, but Herodias saw it as an opportunity. When the girl asked what she should request from the king, her mother did not skip a beat. What could be better than the head of her enemy, John the Baptist, on a platter? Without hesitation, the young girl made this gruesome demand, insisting the deed must be done “at once”. And though clearly distressed by the turn of events, Herod was not willing to deny her in front of his guests. He valued his crown and his pride far more than his convictions. And so, true to his word, Herod had John executed in prison and presented his head to Herodias’ daughter on a platter.
There is a stark contrast between Herod’s fickleness and John’s faithfulness. While the king gave in to worldly pressures and pleasures, the prophet/prisoner never wavered. John was willing to pay any price for what he believed. His faith and work on behalf of the Lord led to his rejection, imprisonment and execution, clearly foreshadowing what would become of Jesus and his followers.
Evil seizes all kinds of opportunities to hinder the work of God and his followers. While many today claim that faithful living leads to nothing but blessings from the Lord, Mark paints a very different picture in his Gospel. Even Jesus’ faithful followers will face persecution and even death. While Mark continually calls his readers to a radical faith, he also calls them to count the costs.
Reflect and Respond:
Have you fallen prey to the prosperity gospel, which asserts that the faithful should experience nothing but God’s blessings and rewards? How does this narrative about John the Baptist challenge you to consider the costs of discipleship? As Chris Tomlin sings, “Is he worthy?”
In our new six-week Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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