The fame of Jesus was now so widespread that it reached even into the halls of government.  Herod the tetrarch heard of the great miracles being performed by this man from Nazareth, and was greatly troubled in his mind.  But he too shows no spirit of a true seeker.  Men are often troubled by strange events, without it driving them to bend the knee to God and sue for pardon.  Instead, Herod, troubled by a guilty conscience, speculated with his servants that John the Baptist had returned from the dead, and was clothed with miracle-working power.  Herod, though doubtless afraid and plagued in his conscience, was not forward to seek out the truth of the matter, but simply invented his own superstitious reasons for the strange happenings going on in Palestine, and there let the matter rest.  This is the mark of a soul still untouched by the Spirit of God.  In spite of the astounding works being wrought in his own jurisdiction, Herod was happy to remain in his present state, dead in trespasses and sins, a child of wrath even as others.

Matthew proceeds to describe why Herod was troubled about this supposed reappearance of John the Baptist.  Herod had imprisoned John, because that great man, not fearing the wrath of the king, had warned him that his adulterous affair with his brother Philip’s wife was not permissible according to the law of God.  Like so many sinners, when the law of God comes into conflict with what they want to do, Herod reacted with indignation.  The other gospel accounts seem to indicate that the woman involved, Herodias, was probably even more stirred up than Herod, who had a certain regard for John the Baptist, though he never was inclined to receive the Gospel.  John should have met his martyr’s fate much earlier, had not Herod and his court feared the wrath of the people, who considered John as the great prophet who had shattered the 400 years of silence imposed upon them by God since the days of Malachi.

But such a precarious situation could not last forever.  Though Herod himself showed some degree of eagerness to hear John, his wife bore a hateful grudge against that good man which would stop at nothing short of murder.  It is remarkable how proud and murderous the human heart can be.  John had offered no violence to anyone, had threatened no one’s life or property, but had simply reminded the king that God’s law condemned his actions.  But, truth be told, there is nothing that stirs up more murderous rage than the Word of God, when it is declared to a stout-hearted rebel.  The prouder the offender, the greater will his rage be.  Herodias no doubt considered herself beyond reproach, for was not she a queen?  How dare this backwoods preacher insult the behavior of she and lover?  Did he not know to whom he spoke?  Yes, John knew well.  But he knew equally well that the king himself was subject to the law of God, and that not even Caesar himself had the right to defy the commandments of the King of heaven.  The truth must be preached in its full application to all, whether we speak to king or peasant.

In this case, it cost John his head.  Herod, who stands out as a man driven by his lusts, upon the celebration of his birthday, watched with salacious pleasure as Herodias’ daughter by her former marriage danced before him.  So enticed was he by her performance, that he offered to give her whatever she would ask.  Uncertain what she desired from the king, this godless young woman took counsel with her mother, who now perceived the opportunity had come to exact a violent revenge upon John the Baptist.  She persuaded her daughter to ask for the head of that preacher of righteousness, which she boldly proceeded to do.  Herod no doubt was stunned by this request, but rather than lose face before those gathered to celebrate his birthday, he acceded.  This was a piece of shameless cowardice on the king’s part, who was more concerned about his own pride than about the justice he was supposed to uphold.  He would rather an innocent man lose his life than that he lose face.  Surely it would have been better to apologize for his rash promise, and offer her some other gift, but refuse to slay an innocent person.  But Herod fulfilled his promise, and John the Baptist, still a young man in his thirties, met a martyr’s death there in the prison.  The head was given on a charger to the damsel, who presented it to her bloodthirsty mother.  No doubt the memory of that murderous deed adds to their torment in the flames of hell to this very hour.

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