KING HEROD AND JOHN THE BAPTIST

 

The Bible often contrasts in the same context the attitudes and behavior of good men and evil men. For example, the Old Testament discusses two men whose lives are diametrically opposed - the faithful prophet Elijah and King Ahab. There are many other examples in the Old Testament, but I shall devote our study today to two men in the New Testament - King Herod and John the Baptist. What a tremendous difference in the lives of two men who lived at the same time in the same country!

 

The Herod family was known in ancient Palestine for being abusive and corrupt. Most Bible students know the members of the Herod family: Herod the Great, Archelaus, Antipas, Philip the tetrarch, Agrippa I and Agrippa II. I shall concentrate on Antipas since he is the king associated with John the Baptist. According to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) edited by Dr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Herod "Antipas traveled to Rome (around) A. D. 29. On his way he visited his brother Herod (Philip), who apparently lived in one of the coastal cities of Palestine. Herod (Antipas) fell in love with Herodias, (his brother Philip's) wife and his own niece. She saw the opportunity to become the wife of a tetrarch and agreed to marry Antipas on his return to Rome, provided that he divorce his first wife.... When Antipas married Herodias, John the Baptist boldly criticized the marriage and was imprisoned by Antipas." The Mosaic covenant did not allow for a man to marry his brother's wife, except in the case of levirate marriage (volume 2, p. 695).

 

John the Baptist was one of the most remarkable men who ever lived. He had the courage to tell his fellow Jews what they had to do to please God almighty. Some of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to the place where John was baptizing. He called them vipers and asked who had warned them to flee from the wrath to come. He challenged them: "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Mt. 3: 7 -11).

 

One of the most tragic stories in the Bible concerns King Herod and John the Baptist. Matthew records the following events: "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. For Herod (that is, Herod Antipas) had laid hold of John, and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. And John had said, It is not lawful for you to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude because they counted him a prophet. But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here the head of John the Baptist in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the sake of his oath, and them who sat at meat, he commanded it to be given to her. And he sent, and beheaded John in prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother" (Mt. 14:1-12). This gruesome story reveals the hearts of people who had no respect for God or for man.

 

Would it surprise you that there are academicians and theologians who will not say dogmatically: What King Herod did in taking his brother's wife and in murdering John the Baptist was wrong? If you think I might be exaggerating, it is because you are not keeping up with what is occurring in our world. Wesley C. Baker served on the faculty of San Francisco Theological Seminary and as a preacher for the First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, California. In his book, The Open End to Christian Morals (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), Wesley Baker affirms: "There is no such thing as a morally defensible position. That is, to be 'right' in any ethical situation is impossible" (p. 29). Does Wesley Baker think his ethical position is morally defensible? If he does not, why did he write a book defending his values? If it is impossible to be "right" in any ethical situation, that means Baker could not consistently condemn the actions of Herod or of Hitler or of Pol Pot or of Saddam Hussein. He might not like what they did, but he could not condemn it.

 

Oddly enough, Baker says Jesus "refused to condemn adultery or prostitution" (p.30). What Bible has Wesley Baker been reading? It is true that our Lord never specifically mentioned prostitution, but how can there be any doubt he condemned every form of sexual immorality? The Jews criticized Christ's disciples because they did not ceremonially wash their hands before eating. Jesus asked, "Are you also yet without understanding? Do you not yet understand, that whatsoever enters in at the mouth goes into the belly, and is cast out in the draught? But those things that proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things that defile the man: but to eat with unwashed hand does not defile the man" (Mt. 15:16-20).

 

The word "fornication" in verse 19 means any and every kind of sexual immorality. The word in the Greek is plural and may refer to different kinds of immorality, such as, incest (1 Cor. 5:1), adultery (Mt. 19:9) and premarital sex (1 Cor. 7:1-2) or it may refer to different examples of sexual immorality. Do you remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? It is not only wrong to commit adultery; it is wrong to think adultery (Mt. 5:27-28). The following words come from the very mouth of Christ: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone" (Rev. 21:8). The word "whoremonger" is from the Greek word usually rendered "fornicator."

 

Wesley Baker foolishly argues: "There are no absolutes, no unbreakable ground rules, no qualifying principles" (p. 59). If there are no absolutes - and Baker is absolutely sure there are not - stealing another man's wife and killing an innocent man, as Herod Antipas did, are not wrong. They are against the law in most civilized countries, but they are not absolutely wrong from a moral viewpoint. Does Wesley Baker believe the men who flew those airliners into the Twin Towers in New York and killed 3,000 Americans broke some kind of moral law? Were they absolutely wrong in doing so? Do preachers like Wesley Baker share any of the blame for the moral deterioration our country is experiencing? Would he condemn the thieves on Wall Street and in Washington who are responsible for the financial meltdown that is hurting so many families in our nation?

 

If you think Wesley Baker is the only influential person who denies the existence of all absolutes, let me assure you not the case. Dr. D. A. Carson edited the book, Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000). The book includes twenty-eight essays by some of the leading evangelicals in the world, such as, Ravi Zacharias, Harold Netland, Mark Dever, Walter Bradley and Dr. Carson. Colin Smith's chapter, "The Ambassador's Job Description," quotes these troubling words from a highly respected American psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton: "Those who are consistent in their beliefs, who try to live according to a specific set of principles, and imagine they have a single core of identity ... are mentally ill" (p. 178).

 

Oddly enough, Dr. Lifton wrote a scathing expose of Hitler and his henchmen. He was especially critical of the psychiatrists and psychologists who assisted Hitler in murdering 6,000,000 Jews and millions of other people. Dr. Lifton's book has the title, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1986). If Dr. Lifton believes we are mentally ill if we strive to live by our beliefs and try to honor a specific set of principles, on what basis did he condemn the Nazi holocaust? I shall read one brief statement from Dr. Lifton's book.

 

You decide on the basis of what he said about striving to live by a specific set of principles if he is mentally ill. "What my surviving friend was struggling with - what I have struggled with throughout this study - is the disturbing psychological truth that participation in mass murder need not require emotions as extreme or demonic as would seem appropriate for such a malignant project" (p. 5). Is Dr. Lifton mentally ill because he lives "according to a specific set of principles" that opposes the mass murder of millions of people just because they are Jews?

 

In Dr. Lifton's eyes, was John the Baptist wrong in condemning the adultery of Herod and his brother Philip's wife, Herodias? Did Herod Antipas do wrong when he murdered John the Baptist? John the Baptist was living "according to a specific set principles" when he opposed King Herod's adultery. That set of principles can be found in the Law of Moses and in the prophets. The simple truth is: John would have disobeyed and dishonored the one who called him for the work of preparing the way for the coming Messiah had he not condemned the behavior of Herod and Herodias. John the Baptist knew he could not remain silent and be pleasing to God.

 

Postmodernists tell us, in effect, that we must not trust anyone who tells us that that's the way it is. Do postmodernists realize how silly such an observation is? Can we trust the postmodernist who says we cannot trust anyone who tells us that that's the way it is? In other words, the postmodernists argue that we cannot be sure of any philosophical or theological concept. Is that the reason the Emerging Church Movement's leading guru, Brian McClaren, has written books like A Generous Orthodoxy, Everything Must Change and a New Kind of Christian? If everything must change, does that mean that the statement, everything must change, will also change? Postmodernists desperately need to take a course in logic.

 

I need to ask you some questions about postmodernism. If we cannot trust any voice that purports to tell us that that's the way it is, can we be absolutely sure of God's existence? The Bible never offers formal arguments for God's existence. It assumes that God exists. The Bible tells us we can know he exists by the things that are made. King David assures us that we can know of God's existence. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit to the ends of it; and there is nothing hidden from the heat thereof' (Psa. 19:1-6). The inspired author of Hebrews explains this truth as simply as possible. "Every house is built by some man; but he who built all things is God" (Heb. 3:4). Can we really be sure of this conclusion?

 

Should we distrust the voice of Moses who wrote: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1: 1)? Oddly enough, Brian McClaren, who claims to be an evangelical, does not fully endorse this passage. McClaren has written three novels that set forth his views of evolution versus creation. In his book, The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), Brian McClaren has one of his fictional characters say: "Here's how I think about it. With all due credit to Darwin, and perhaps even more deservingly, to Alfred Wallace, let's accept that evolution is more or less true, that God creates a world that in a sense must go on creating itself so that its story isn't God's forced story, God's imposed story, but instead, its own real story, a story of emergence" (p. 53). Later in the book, one of McClaren's characters insists: "If God wants to make a universe that's real, I think we would expect it to happen just as evolution says: the universe would develop, over time, writing its own story, so to speak. It's a story of becoming" (p. 98).

 

McClaren obviously is not an organic evolutionist, as were Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. He is a theistic evolutionist. He believes God started the whole process and then allowed the world with its millions of creatures to evolve. But there is no possibility of harmonizing the teaching of scripture with any kind of evolution. McClaren's acceptance of evolution shows, in my judgment, that he has not read the great books that refute every kind of evolution. He needs to read Dr. Geoffrey Simmons' two books: What Darwin Didn't Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004) and Billions of Missing Links: A Rational Look at the Mysteries Evolution Can't Explain (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007). How anyone can read Dr. Simmons' books and still be an evolutionist defies logic.

 

Should we distrust the voice of the man after God's own heart when he assured his readers: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear not evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anoinest my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psa. 23)? If we cannot trust what Moses wrote about divine creation, how can we trust what David has said about God's faithfulness?

 

Can we trust the Lord when he told some of his fellow Jews: "Except you believe that I am he, you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24)? Our Lord also told some of his fellow countrymen: "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3). Jesus tells us that we must confess him before men so that he will confess us before the Father in heaven (Mt. 10:32-33). The same Lord commanded his apostles: "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned" (Mk. 16:15­16). Can we be sure that John, Luke, Matthew and Mark wrote the words attributed to them? If we cannot trust these writers, how can we know what we must do to be saved?

 

I get the impression from reading the books written by people within the Emerging Church Movement that we can do about anything we prefer in our worship services. The titles to some of their books indicate their devotion to following their own desires in worship. For example, Don Pagitt has written a book with the title, Church Re-Imagined: The Spiritual Formation of People in Communities of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). Pagitt says concerning his church: "We value innovation and are willing to take risks in order to bring glory to God" (p. 3). Can we not bring glory to God by following the Bible's instructions about worship? Pagitt also says: "God's Spirit takes precedence over all structures and systems" (p. 13). How can we know what God's Spirit demands except through the word?

 

Why do churches which want to have God's approval have to re-imagine or re­vision or re-invent the work and worship of the church? Would it not make more sense for us to follow the patterns outlined in the scriptures? Do leaders in the Emerging Church Movement know that happened to Nadab, Abihu, Korah, Dathan and Abiram when they re-imagined what the Lord should have done? Were these examples given just to fill up space in the Bible? Do the leaders in the Emerging Church Movement have any respect for the authority of scripture? Paul commanded the Colossians: "Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks unto God and the Father by him" (Col. 3:17). How can we worship in the name of the Lord if we pay no attention to what he has revealed in his word?

 

I conclude our brief study with these words from the Apostle Peter: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles (or words) of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability that God gives: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever" (1 Pet. 4: 11).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334