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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 20, 2015
The Contrast Between Belief and Unbelief
Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9
How important is what you believe? It is very important for what you believe will direct your actions and your actions will have consequences. The most serious area of belief is about God for its consequences are both temporal and eternal. God has revealed Himself to all mankind through nature (general revelation) and the Scriptures (special revelation). When man fails to respond in belief to what God has revealed then he will suffer the consequences of unbelief which includes both a life of futility and folly in the present and eternal damnation in the future. When a Christian fails to believe God, they will also suffer consequences. Though they have the security of eternal life since that is promised by Jesus, there will be consequences in the loss of joy and peace in this life and loss of reward in eternity to the extent they do not believe all that God has said and live according to it. What you believe and what you do not believe are very important.
Let me take this question a step further. How much do you really believe what you say you believe? How much challenge to your beliefs can you take? Or stated another way, How much are you willing to suffer for your beliefs?
The material prosperity and ease of life we Christians have had in America has led to a common erroneous belief concerning God. This is not something most people would state they believe, in fact many Christians I am sure would state they believe the opposite, but when it comes down to practical living, most Christians live according to this error in their belief. That error is the idea that if I do what is good, that is, I do what I think God wants, then God will bless me with a good life which includes material prosperity to at least some degree, decent physical health, and few troubles.
This idea is easy to see in action in the churches that proclaim the perverted health, wealth and prosperity gospel, but it also shows up commonly among those in evangelical churches such as this one that reject the health, wealth and prosperity heresy. It shows up in what we pray and the manner in which we live. Christians commonly expect that God will be good to them, as defined by the individual, if they try to do what God wants from them. If you claim that is not true of you, then praise the Lord! But before you rest on your laurels, consider how you react when serious troubles come such as your health declines or your material prosperity is threatened. Do you ever get upset that God is not giving you what you think you deserve?
In the text we will be examining this morning, we will gain insight into the lives of two key men. One man will be an example of how stubborn unbelief can be. The other man will be a wonderful example of faith. He was man who was committed to what he believed though it eventually cost him is life on this earth. John the Baptist became a martyr because of his righteousness.
Herod’s Belief – Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9
We begin with an introduction to Herod and what he believed about Jesus. Turn first to Luke 9:7-9. In this passage we find that Herod is confused. 7Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, 8 and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again. 9 Herod said, “I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see Him.
Who is Herod? This is is Herod Antipas the tetrach who is the son of wicked King Herod the Great’s fourth wife, Malthace, the Samaritan. Herod the Great was the one that was reigning in Judea at the birth of Christ and who slaughtered all the boys in the area of Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. Herod Antipas inherited many of his father’s evil qualities, but he only inherited part of his kingdom. After Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., Herod Antipas was made ruler over the regions of Galilee and Perea (the area east of the Jordan River – modern Jordan); his brother Archelaus is given rule over Samaria, Judea and Idumea (everything south of Galilee and west of the Jordan river), and his half brother Philip is given rule over the areas North of Galilee.
All three gospels begin this section with King Herod hearing the news about the many miracles that Jesus is doing throughout the region of Galilee which was within Herod’s domain. It is a bit hard to understand why he was only now hearing the news about Jesus, but Herod Antipas was not very interested in Jewish affairs. His father was an Idumean – a descendent of Esau – and his mother was a Samaritan – a mixed breed of Jew and Gentile. The Jews held him in great contempt and his disdain of the Jews was about the same. In addition, he split his time from being in his palace in Tiberias on the Southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the fortress/palace his father had built in Machaerus which is abut seven miles east of the northern end of the Dead Sea. Since both Tiberias and Machaerus are outside the region of Galilee where Jesus has been ministering, it is reasonable to conclude that between Herod not being in the immediate vicinity and lacking interest in Jewish affairs, he either had not heard or did not pay any attention to Jesus until the much more widespread ministry of Jesus’ apostles stirred the people around him to talk about it which brought it to his attention.
The parallel passage in Mark 6:14-15 states the same thing as Luke that the people were making various claims about Jesus. Some were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” Then there were those saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” Luke records that this perplexed Herod. Matthew 14:2 and Mark 6:16 record that Herod settled on the idea that ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead; and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’”
Herod’s reaction gives us a hint about what we will see in him throughout the rest of this passage. He will believe what he wants to believe. Herod refused to accept the fact that there was someone new on the scene doing even more than John the Baptist. He not only rejected the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, but also the other ideas suggested by the people that He was Elijah or a prophet. Instead, Herod’s superstition and guilty conscience combined to persuade him that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead as suggest by others around him.
Herod’s Immorality – Matthew 14:3-5; Mark 6:17-20
Why would Herod have a guilty conscience? Herod had many reasons to have a guilty conscience beginning with his immorality which John the Baptist pointed out resulting in his arrest as recorded in Mark 6:17-20. 17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.
John the Baptist had been thrown in prison by Herod Antipas because John was, as the grammar here indicates, repeatedly telling Herod that he was violating God’s law in having Herodias as his wife. Herod and Herodias were already in disfavor with the Jews and John’s accusations did not help. John’s rebukes stung them with the result that they both wanted to kill him, but since Herod was afraid of John, he put him in prison instead. Mark points out that part of this fear was because Herod knew John was a righteous and holy man and that he even enjoyed listening to John though it perplexed him. That particular fear may have been related to a common superstition among polytheists and those influenced by them that harming a holy man would invite wrath from the god they served. Matthew points out another fear of Herod. The crowds regarded John as a prophet and therefore would react badly if Herod harmed him.
John was absolutely correct that it was unlawful for Herod to have Herodias, but they did not want to be reminded of the truth. The Herodian family is more bizarre than even a day time soap opera and made more complex because so many of them were named Herod, so listen closely as I explain the relationships. Verse 17 states that Herodias was the wife of Herod’s brother, Philip. This is not Herod’s half brother Philip the Tetrach. This is a different half brother named Philip who is the son of Herod the Great and one of his other ten wives. This is Herod Philip who had no rule. Herod Antipas had met Herodias on his way to Rome. He seduced her and they then plotted to divorce their spouses and marry each other. That would move her up into the position of being the wife of a Tetrach, one of Rome’s puppet rulers. She divorced Herod Philip and Herod Antipas divorced the daughter of Aretas, King of the Nabateans, to whom he was married. This move later cost him dearly because Aretas took revenge on the way his daughter had been treated and attacked and destroyed Herod’s army. Only the intervention of a Roman army kept Herod alive and on the throne. The first reason Herod Antipas and Herodias’ marriage was unlawful was because God still considered Herodias to be Philip’s wife as we have already noted in vs 17.
The second reason their relationship was unlawful was because it was against the Mosaic Law which in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 forbids a man from marrying his brother’s wife with the exception of raising children to a deceased childless brother by levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5). However, not only was Philip not dead, but Philip and Herodias had a child, Salome, whom will play a role later in this story.
There is yet a third reason that John told Herod Antipas that it was unlawful for him to have Herodias. It was incestuous. Herodias was the daughter of Herod’s half brother Aristobulus making her Herod’s niece and therefore consanguineous. It was too close of a relationship according to Mosaic Law (Leviticus 18:14). Herodias’s daughter, Salome, followed in her mother’s footsteps for she later married her uncle, Philip the Tetrach, and thus became her mother’s sister-in-law and also her Aunt.
But aside from the bizarre nature of Herod’s family, note the actions of John the Baptist.
The Righteousness of John – Matthew 14:4; Mark 6:18,20
Mark 6:20 is specific that Herod believed John to be a righteous and holy man, and John’s actions in calling the king to account for his immoral relationship was an action of righteousness. There are several things here that we need to consider as we live in an increasingly immoral society.
First, consider that Herod was not Jewish and Herodias was only partly so. Did the Mosaic Law apply to them? Second, the Jews were not the rulers of the land, but Rome, and Herod was Rome’s puppet ruler. Political authority flowed from Rome through Herod over the Jews. Why then did John, a righteous man and a man that Jesus said among the greatest (Matthew 11:11), so boldly apply the Mosaic Law to Herod?
There are many today that claim that we Christians should not try to impose our morality on other people. That is a fallacy on two accounts. First, everyone seeks to promote their morality – or immorality as the case may be – on others by the advocacy of their practices. Christians do the same. But secondly, and much more importantly, we are not seeking to impose “our” morality. We are declaring to all God’s morality. We do this both in warning that sin brings death and eternal damnation and we do it in seeking to make life here better for all. Everyone benefits when the principles and precepts of God’s Word are followed and everyone suffers when they are not. Proverbs 14:34 is succinct on this point stating, “Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”
Over the years I have written Government officials and Letters to the Editor on various moral issues. I received the following response from an Assemblywoman after writing to her concerning her pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights views. She wrote, “It is the role of the church to teach its’ cannons and precepts to its’ followers. Each individual has been given a free-will which they in turn use to determine what is right or wrong. I do not believe it is the role of government to interfere with ‘freedom of religion.’” That is now a common view in America, but let me ask you some questions about it. First, is she correct on the role of the church? Does the church exist to teach the Scriptures only to those in the church, or does the church have a responsibility to proclaim God’s word to all people? Is the church to declare the Scriptures only to those who will join a church gathering or are we to join in concert with all creation which declares the glory of God and displays His eternal power and divine nature everywhere. Or perhaps more pointedly, are the Scriptures to be excluded from the public forum?
Here is a second question. Is she correct on free-will? Is right and wrong determined by the individual or is it determined by God’s declaration of what is good and what is evil?
Here is a third question. What would have happened if John the Baptist had behaved according to the politically correct ideas that are dominate today and tried desperately not to offend anyone? Calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” was certainly not sensitive to their feelings. Or what if he decided that calling people to repent was too harsh and instead tried to prepare the way for Jesus by saying, something like, “The Messiah is coming, so get ready to be loved!” If John had acted like so many professing Christians do today, then he would not have been thrown in prison and he would not have lost his head. But then, he also would not have been God’s prophet either and his life would have been vanity, an empty chasing after wind.
If you are a Christian, then you need to follow John’s example of boldness in confronting the world around you. Certainly you should be courteous, respectful, tactful and without any self-righteousness. However, you should also never be shy about declaring the truth. You can be bold when you have the truth, but perhaps that is the problem with too many professing believers. They claim to believe, but how much do they really believe what the Scriptures say? If you were threatened with jail for declaring what is righteous before God would you continue to proclaim the truth, or would you back away? John’s goal in life was to serve the Lord and so he would not compromise the message of the Lord, and if that meant imprisonment, then so be it. He believed God and acted upon it even knowing that the prophets of old had often suffered at the hands of the unrighteous.
Jesus warned it would be the same for us as we saw in Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” From the rest of what Jesus said we know that we can expect to be insulted, slandered and persecuted, yet can also trust God that our reward in heaven would be great because of it. Let me be pointed here. Would you be a Kim Davis? She is not the greatest example because she was not actually trying to stop homosexual marriages, as if she could do that even if she wanted to, but she is a good example because she held fast to her integrity and righteousness. She believed her name on a marriage license made her a participant in it and she did not want to participate in what God declares to be an abomination. The authorities over her refused to accommodate her request to have her name removed from the licenses, so she willing went to jail for the sake of righteousness. Without her authority, the county now issues licenses without her name, her very request, though the legality of them is questionable under Kentucky law.
John feared God and followed Him. Herod feared everything but God, and it was because of his fear of the people that he kept John alive. It appears John was kept in prison for some time and this would probably have been at the fortress at Machaerus. The cells were in a dungeon far from any natural light and the air would have been stale and rank. The prisoners were usually chained to the walls. Though Herod did not like John’s rebukes, Mark 6:20 tells us that he “used to enjoy listening to him” even though it perplexed him. We can well imagine John trying to explain the Old Testament, his own role as the herald of the Messiah, and Herod’s need to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Herod could have let this arrangement with John continue for sometime, but “Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death but could not do so.” A day of opportunity eventually came.
The Death of John the Baptist – Matthew 14:6-11; Mark 6:21-28
“21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.”
This was not a birthday party as we think of them, and Herodias’ daughter did not perform a ballet. Birthday celebrations in that age were entirely Gentile and pagan. The Jews considered them shameful. It was common for Roman nobles like Herod to hold stag birthday parties in which gluttony, excessive drinking, erotic dancing, and sexual indulgence were standard fare. Herodias was so immoral that she had no shame about allowing her daughter to perform a dance where these drunk and lecherous men would leer at her. We are not told whether Salome coming in to dance was part of some plan by Herodias to gain an advantage, but whether it was a thought out plan or not, it ended up bringing to her the opportunity she craved to gain vengeance upon John the Baptist for his audacity in pointing out her sin.
If Herod had been partying as would have been common at such an event, and there is no reason to believe that he had not, he makes a rash and foolish promise in his drunken and lustful stupor to give to Salome whatever she wanted up to half his kingdom. Such an offer would have been overwhelming to the girl and verse 24 informs us, 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” This was Herodias’ opportunity, And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.
Even though Herod knew it was wrong, he had the request carried out and had John executed because of his pride and fear of what his dinner guests might think if he failed to carry out his oath. Herod had the governmental authority to arrest and execute John, but it was wrong on both counts and constituted government sanctioned murder. What a contrast between Herod and John.
Contrasting Belief and Unbelief
Herod was a man confirmed in his unbelief. Like the seed sown by the side of the road in the parable of the Sower, Herod never comprehended what was being told to him because of the wickedness of his own heart. He would have known about all the events surrounding the Magi coming just prior to his fathers death with the message that a baby had recently been born “king of the Jews.” He would have known about his fathers response in murdering the baby boys in Bethlehem. He was very aware of John the Baptist’s ministry of calling the people to repentance for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He was specifically rebuked for his sin by John. He talked with John while he had him in prison. Jesus has been ministering in his own territory, yet Herod never went to see Him. When Herod finally did meet Jesus, his main interest was seeing Jesus perform some miracles like those he had heard about. Herod feared everything but what he should have feared. He feared his subjects. He feared others might take away his power, a fear later fulfilled when his nephew Herod Agrippa (Herodias’ brother) later usurps him and he is banished to what is now France. Herod feared his wife and his friends. He feared losing a reputation he did not even have. Herod believed lies, deception and the thoughts of his own pompous pride. He did not believe the truth and he suffered all the anxiety that fear brings in this life and damnation in hell for all eternity.
John was the opposite. He did not fear men or what they might do to him because he believed the Lord. He proved to be a faithful servant of God throughout his life and even in his death. Matthew and Mark record that John’s disciples gave indication of being the same way when they “came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.” They risked being identified with John though he had just been murdered, and they also followed John’s directions in following after the Messiah to whom they then reported. Are you ready and willing to do the same as John the Baptist and his disciples?
John knew what he believed and knew it was true and so he acted accordingly. What do you believe? Do you know if it is based on the truth, and if so, are you living according to it?
Life here on this earth is not about your physical comfort or pleasure. It is not about gaining wealth or amassing an estate. It is not about gaining power or position. It is not about having a lot of friends and having people think good things about you. It is not about obtaining fame or prestige. Life on this earth is not about you, but if you think it is, then you will always compromise the truth to get what you want for yourself.
Life here on this earth is about God. He is the center of the universe, not us. His does not exist for our good pleasure, but we for His. Our egos do not like to hear that and our pride fights against it, but that is the truth. We can believe it or reject it in unbelief, but we will bear the consequences of that decision. If God were a tyrant this truth would drive us to despair, but God is not out oppressor. We exist for His good pleasure to be sure, but God loves us and He proved it in such a way that it can never be questioned.
God could have left us condemned in our sin and doomed to everlasting hell, and if He had done so, He would have been perfectly just. Instead, God loved us humans whom He had created and He provided a way in which He could be just and redeem us from our sins and bring us back into a relationship with Himself. That way was by Jesus, the second person of the Godhead becoming a man, living a perfect life and then dying in our place on the cross. He rose from the dead on the third day proving He had conquered sin and death and giving the hope of eternal life to all who believe in Him.
Herod and John the Baptist are two opposite examples of the importance of belief. Which example will you follow? That depends on what you really believe?
If you are not sure what to believe or are struggling in your belief, talk with myself or any of our church leaders. We would love to help you understand and believe the truth.
What you believe is very _______________for it will have both temporal and eternal consequences
It is common for American Christians to think that by doing good, God will ____them with health & wealth
The truth of what you believe comes out in your _____________when troubles and trials come into your life
Two men provide _____________examples of belief and unbelief.
Herod Antipas the Tetarch reigns over Galilee and Perea and is a son of Herod the ____________
He had little interest in Jewish affairs & spent little time in Galilee – so was ____________of Jesus until late
__________around Herod were claiming Jesus was Elijah, a prophet, or John the Baptist risen from the dead
Herod’s superstition and guilty conscience led him to believe Jesus was a resurrected _________the Baptist
John had been telling Herod that it was not lawful for him to have Herodius, so Herod put him in ________
Herod was ______for he believed John was a righteous and holy man and the people believed him a prophet
The Herodian family is bizarre and complex – Herod had married Herodias, his brother Philip’s __________
The marriage of Herod to Herodias violated the prohibitions of ________________18:16 and 2:21
Herodius was Herod’s niece, so their marriage also violated Leviticus 18:14 prohibition of ______________
Herod believed John was a righteous and holy man, and John’s actions were those of a _____________man
Herod was not _______________and Herodias only partly Jewish
Rome had political _______________over the Jews, and Herod’s was Rome’s puppet ruler
Why then did John, a righteous man, apply the laws of _______________18 to Herod?
Everyone seeks to promote their _______________as the code for society
Christians do not impose their “______” morality on others – they declare God’s morality to all to benefit all
Does the church exist to proclaim God’s word to everyone or to teach the Scriptures ______to its members?
Is right and wrong _________________by the individual or by God’s declaration?
What would have happened if John lived by today’s _____________________________ideas?
You can be bold if you believe the _______________- John did even though it meant jail
Jesus said His followers would be persecuted for the sake of _____________- are you willing to suffer that?
Herod’s fear of the people and curiosity kept John ______________in a prison at Machaerus
This was a ____________birthday party which included gluttony, excessive drinking and seductive dancing
Whether Salome’s dancing was by a plan of ________________or not, it created and opportunity for her
Salome’s dance pleased Herod and he ______promised her what she wanted up to half his kingdom – vs. 24
Even though Herod knew it was ________, he carried out Herodias’ request through Salome to execute John
Contrasting Belief and Unbelief
Herod was _______________in his unbelief – he would not repent even after talking with John face to face
Herod _______________everything except what he should have feared
Herod did not believe the ______________and suffered the fears of this life and damnation for all eternity
John did not fear men or what they might do to him because he _______________the Lord and served Him
John knew what he believed and knew it was ____________and so he acted accordingly
Life on this earth is not about you, but if you think it is, you will compromise _______to get what you want
Life is about God, and you will bear the _________________of whether you will believe Him or reject Him
God proved His character and love in the Lord Jesus Christ – ________in Him leads to life, unbelief to death
Herod and John are opposite examples, and the one you follow will depend on what you ____________
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times Herod is mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents the contrasting examples of belief in Herod and John the Baptist
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What do you believe about Jesus Christ? What are you willing to suffer for those beliefs? Do you think God will bless you with material wealth and good health of you do what He wants? Explain. What is your reaction toward God when you face adversity in life? Who was Herod Antipas? Where does he fit within the Herodian dynasty? Who was Herodias? Where does she fit in the Herodian family? What were people telling Herod about Jesus? What did Herod chose to believe about Jesus? Why was it wrong for Herod to marry Herodias? Herod believed John the Baptist was a righteous and holy man – was he? Explain. If Herod was not Jewish and he was the Roman authority over the Jews in Galilee and Perca, why was John the Baptist holding him to the marriage standards set in Leviticus 18? Are Christians any different from other people in promoting their moral standards to society? What is the role of the church in a pluralistic society? Who is to determine the moral standards of a society? What would have happened if John the Baptist had followed the politically correct idea of modern American society? Why was John so bold? What is needed for you to be as bold as John? Jesus said His followers would be persecuted for the sake of righteousness – what are you willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness? Why had Herod refrained from executing John? How did Herodias finally get him to execute John? Why is Herod a classic example of unbelief? How is John a classic example of belief? What do you believe? How is that demonstrated in your life?
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