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Herod's Unlawful Oath

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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September 27, 2020 12:01 am

Herod's Unlawful Oath

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 27, 2020 12:01 am

Because his dinner guests were pleased by his stepdaughter's lewd dancing, Herod Antipas vowed to give her whatever she desired. Today, R.C. Sproul continues to examine the unjust execution of John the Baptist in his study of the gospel of Mark.

Get R.C. Sproul's Expositional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark for Your Gift of Any Amount: https://gift.renewingyourmind.org/1301/mark-expositional-commentary

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Today on Renewing Your Mind. It's become an axiom repeated so often that it is often unaccompanied by any argument to defend it that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Of course, there's something inherently wrong with that axiom in that the only being who possesses absolute power is God Himself, and He is absolutely without corruption.

But the unspoken assumption of the axiom is that it refers to human beings. And if you want to see unrestricted corruption manifested, just give to a human being unrestrained power. The rogue's gallery of evil people is filled predominantly with rulers, people who are not accountable or answerable to anybody beyond themselves. We see this with Pharaoh in Exodus, that Pharaoh's arrogance, Pharaoh's power, Pharaoh's wickedness and cruelty was an expression of the freedom from restraint that he enjoyed as the most powerful ruler in the world of his day. Well, Herod here is not of the same level of power of a Hitler or of a Stalin or of a Pharaoh or of a Nero, but in his local environment he wielded almost absolute power. And we see in this man unrestrained evil and wickedness.

Like his father, he was known for his licentious lifestyle. He was known for his cruelty. And it is because of his wickedness that he has this unfortunate encounter with John the Baptist. But what I find striking in the text here is what we read in verse 20. First we heard how much Herodias hated and despised John, and how she wanted to kill him, just as Jezebel was after the life of Elijah through her wicked husband Ahab in the Old Testament because the prophet thundered against their immorality. So Herodias is furious with this man who is attacking the legitimacy of her marriage. But now we get this note about Garrett's attitude where it says this, for Herod feared John knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things and heard him gladly. Now what's with this? I mean this is so out of character of this monster who is ruling there in Galilee that when he heard John speak, even though John was denouncing the actions of Agrippa, nevertheless he had this admiration, respect, interest. He heard him gladly.

Why? The single greatest restraint for evil that God has put in this world is conscience. And the most wicked person, even people who are described as being without conscience, as being sociopaths or psychopaths, nevertheless have not been able to annihilate altogether that voice of right and wrong that God has implanted in every human creature. Remember that the law of God is not known merely from the Ten Commandments or from the pages of sacred Scripture. As the Apostle Paul labors, death reigned from Adam to Moses, and that's because sin reigned from Adam to Moses, and Paul argues that where there's no law, there can be no sin. No sin, no death. And so the point that the Apostle makes is that from day one before the Ten Commandments were ever delivered, God planted His law internally in the conscience of every human being. Now this is dangerous. We have to be careful that we don't become seduced by Walt Disney and begin to think like Jiminy Cricket that we should let our consciences be our guide, because if we follow our consciences at every point, beloved, they will guide us into disaster.

Why? Because even though God plants conscience in the mind of every creature, through our repeated transgressions, through our ongoing sin, we have the ability to put calluses on our conscience, and we learn how to silence the voice of conscience and almost completely eradicate it. That is, our consciences can be distorted.

They can be twisted. And if you let your conscience alone be your guide, you will probably live a life of unrestrained wickedness. But as far as you go in your wickedness, and as much as you seek to quiet and stifle your conscience, you won't be able to destroy it. The people that you know in this world who are hostile to the things of God, who have no qualms about the godless behavior in which they are involved every day, nevertheless do not always sleep easily at night. When they put their head on the pillow, they know, and they know that they know that how they are living is not good.

How they are living is not good. So I think that explains to some degree at least this attraction, this fascination that Herod Agrippa had with John the Baptist. The turn of the century from the 19th century to the 20th century, a German theologian and sociologist studied human beings' reaction to whatever they deemed to be holy. And he found within it a certain fascination that holiness both is repulsive to the sinner, and yet it has a certain fascination. We know that we're not holy. We know that our lives are not right.

We don't want to hear judgments against us. And yet when the holy comes near, as fearful as it is, we have a certain attraction to it. You see, that's how God has made us. He's made us so that we cannot totally eradicate the voice of conscience. And so when John comes into the presence of Herod, Herod is fascinated. And notice what he says, or it's said of him, Herod feared John.

Why? Because he knew that he was a just and a holy man. Why would he fear him? Because he knew he was a just man and a holy man. I'll tell you why. Because Agrippa knew that he was not a just man.

And Agrippa knew that he was not a holy man. I tell this story many times. Some of you have heard it before, but an interesting experience that was related to me of a friend of mine who was once on the PGA golf tour in America. And he had a friend who had been voted the golfer of the year.

This is decades ago. And he was the defending champion of a given golf tournament that was held in the south. And in the pro-am to that event, he was paired with Jack Nicklaus, Billy Graham, and the President of the United States.

And that's quite a foursome, the reigning golfer of the year, President of the United States, Jack Nicklaus, the golfer of the century, and Billy Graham. And after the round of golf, this man stormed off the eighteenth green, went over to the practice tee, took his driver out of his bag, and started beating drives out into the practice area in a state of fury. And my friend who was watching all this said to him, what's the matter? He said, I don't need to have Billy Graham forcing religion down my throat. And then he went back to pounding the drives down the practice tee. And when he was finished and put his club back in the bag, my friend walked over to him and said, Billy really came on strong to you, huh? And the golfer hung his head and he said, no, no. Actually, Billy didn't say a word about religion.

I just had a bad round. Isn't that fascinating? Billy Graham didn't say a single word about religion to this man, but Billy Graham didn't have to. His mere presence and what he represented to this golfer was enough to make him supremely uncomfortable.

This golfer was like Herod Agrippa in front of John the Baptist. I know who he is. He's a just man. I can't deny that he's a just man. He is a holy person. I know that he's a holy person. I'm fascinated by him. I don't want to kill him.

I'll put him in jail to make my wife happy, but I'm going to protect him. And so this is the posture that Herod takes with respect to John. But then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, the chief men of Galilee. The guest list was who's who in Galilee.

It was the A list, the elite list. In fact, this brief narrative brings to mind a similar feast in the Old Testament when Belshazzar gathered all of his chief satraps around the leaders in his kingdom and threw this munificent banquet for them, and you remember what happened, while he was making toast using the stolen sacred vessels of the Jews. And all of the people who had invited were there were facing the king. The king looks over their heads at that back wall, and all of a sudden he sees a hand writing on the wall, and his knees begin to buckle. His teeth begin to chatter, and he sees this hand, and finally gets the message later. Mani, mani, take a leparsen.

You've been weighed in the balance and found wanting. And then almost as a concluding unscientific postscript, the end of the chapter reads, and on that night was Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, slain. It was a night just like that where Agrippa gathers all of his leaders, all of the noblemen, all of the princes of the earth and of the land to this tremendous birthday party. Huge feast and celebration. And the featured guest of the night was his stepdaughter. The Bible doesn't give her name, but Josephus the Jewish historian does. Another name that is ranked up there with Jezebel is the name Salome, who was invited to the feast to perform a dance. And if you examine the background of this text culturally, you know that this dance was not ballet, maybe ballet but not but not ballet. This was clearly an erotic dance, a sensuous dance that made the men who were at this feast exceedingly happy. And Agrippa sees the dance, sees the reaction of his chief lieutenants to it, and he's pleased with his stepdaughter.

It said, when Herodias' daughter came in and danced and pleased Herod, and this is critical, and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, ask for whatever you want, and I'll give it to you. Ask me anything. You have rung the bell here. You've really pleased my guest. Ask me anything. Up to half of my kingdom I'll give you as a reward for this performance.

Don't take that literally. This was a common expression of rulers in antiquity. I will give up to half.

My kingdom is simply an idiom that was used to express this idea. I am prepared to reward you, and I will reward you greatly. I will be exceedingly generous in my reward to you. And so Salome hearing this goes out, and she speaks to her mother Herodias, and she says, Mom, he said, I can have anything.

What should I ask for? Herodias smiles. She says, this is the day I've been waiting for.

This is what I've worked behind the scenes day and night for. This is our golden opportunity. You go back and you say to the king, I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Now when the king heard that, Mark tells us that the king was exceedingly sorry. Oh, no.

Never dreamed that that's what she would ask for. I've been protecting John. I've kept him in prison.

I've put the muzzle on him. He can't go about the countryside preaching about my immorality, but I don't want to kill him. But notice what it says here, that because of the oath and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. It doesn't say because of his commitment to justice, because of his commitment to righteousness, he didn't want to carry out this diabolical act. But his first excuse was the oath. I think there's a reason why in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the confession of faith of this church, there's an entire chapter devoted to lawful oaths and vows. We are a people who have lost our understanding of the sanctity of oaths. We make promises willy-nilly.

We promise certain things before God and before witnesses, before family, before the church, and then as soon as the service is over, we forget about them. Yet at the same time, beloved, though the Bible warns us that it is better not to vow than to vow and not pay, that there are some vows that we take, some oaths that we take that are unlawful and should not be fulfilled. Remember Jephthah's vow in the Old Testament? The first person who walks through that door, I'll sacrifice.

And he saw his daughter come through the door. He had no right to make that vow. And having made it, not only should he not keep the vow, he must not keep the vow because he vowed to do something that God forbids.

And so the vow that Herod Agrippa makes here is an unlawful vow. The oath that he swears to Salome is ungodly, and when she holds it to him, he says, well, I guess I have to do it. I promised, promised, as if keeping promises were something sacred to this man. But you see the problem he really faced was where he made the oath. And when he made the oath, all of the princes, all of the A-list, all of the opinion makers of his society heard him make the promise.

So because he made the promise, and because all those who were there heard him make the promise, make the promise, he acted swiftly. It says immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. What a ghastly story.

What a macabre narrative this is. What a birthday party. And in the middle of the party, somebody's severed head is brought in to display to the guests. And guess what, folks? They loved it.

They loved it. That's what happens among pagans. That's what happens among barbarians. Several decades ago, a leading theologian in America said that American culture had become neo-pagan. That is that you can't really speak of America as being a Christian culture anymore. Paganism has taken over. But today's commentators say, no, neo-pagan is far too innocent a term to describe us. Our culture has become barbarian.

Oh, it's educated. But we think nothing of slaughtering a million and a half babies every year. That's barbarian. Historically, that only happens in barbarian cultures.

But once it's legal, it's okay. The only thing is they're not bringing the heads on platters to us. Barbarians love a culture of death. They were the ones who loved the blood of the martyrs on the sands of the Colosseum floor and in the Circus Maximus. So those chiefs and princes were amused. They would go back to their friends, and they'd say, you can't believe what happened last night at King Agrippa's party.

What a dance! And then this guy who thought he was a prophet got his head cut off, and they brought it and showed it on a platter like a pig with an apple stuck in its mouth. Then the disciples heard of it. That is John's disciples.

They came, took away the corpse, and laid it in a tomb. The king didn't respect their leader, mutilated his body, a foreshadow of what was to come with the disciples of Jesus. In John, chapter 15, Jesus says, remember the word that I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master.

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. We see the beginnings of that in John the Baptist's martyrdom, and next week we'll see God's faithfulness, even in this difficulty. We're making our way through the Gospel of Mark here on the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

We're glad you've joined us. If you'd like to enhance your week-by-week study, let me encourage you to request our resource offer. When you contact us today with a donation of any amount, we will send you Dr. Sproul's commentary on Mark. It's nearly 400 pages, and it's full of R.C.

's insight. You can request it when you go online to renewingyourmind.org. Again, that's renewingyourmind.org.

Well, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed the routines for many people around the world. You may have a little more time to listen now and study along with us, so it's a perfect time to discover or rediscover RefNet. Twenty-four hours a day, we're streaming sound biblical content from Dr. Sproul, our Ligonier teaching fellows, and other trusted pastors and teachers. There are a couple of ways you can listen.

You can download the free RefNet app for your phone or tablet, or you can listen at any time when you go to RefNet.fm. Next week, we'll see how Jesus solved the problem of a very hungry crowd. I hope you'll join us next Sunday for that sermon, Renewing Your Mind as the listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Thank you for joining us. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-26 23:59:01 / 2024-02-27 00:06:50 / 8

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