Life of Christ 72
John the Baptist is dead. When exactly this happens Scripture doesn't make clear though the story of the event itself is found in Matthew 14.1-12. John, being the unflinching preacher of righteousness that he was, did not hesitate to call Herod Antipas out on his completely unacceptable behavior, and it ended up costing him his head.
|The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, Caravaggio, 1608|
At the death of his father, Herod the Great, 32 years before, Herod Antipas had been given Galilee and Perea (the area directly east of the Jordan River bordering Samaria and Judea). Along the way, he married an Arab princess.
Herodias, the daughter of a Jewish high priest and the granddaughter of Herod the Great, married Herod the Great's main son, Herod Philip. Herod Philip was expected to succeed his father on the throne of a united Palestine, but when his mother was found to be plotting against Herod the Great Herod Philip was exiled. Herodias, long dreaming of being a queen, now found herself exiled with this no longer a possibility.
On an extended visit by Herod Antipas to his half-brother Herod Philip's house in exile, Herodias seduced Herod Antipas. After all, Herod Philip no longer had any possibility of being a king while Herod Antipas still did. She divorced Herod Philip and Herod Antipas, divorcing his Arab princess, which resulted in a war with his father in law, promptly took his brother's wife (and his own niece) as his wife.
Herodias was clearly operating without the aid of a moral compass. Not only did she divorce her husband when it seemed he could no longer offer her what she wanted, but she also encouraged her daughter, Salome, to dance lasciviously before Salome's step-father and Herodias' new husband, Herod Antipas. Having read enough of Roman history I have little trouble imagining that such activities stopped with dancing.
Ironically, or justly (depending on your point of view), Herodias' life ended the worse for her switch from one brother to the other. Desiring to be called a queen in name as well as in actuality she pressured Herod Antipas to travel to Rome and ask Caesar for the right to be called king in Galilee as his father, Herod the Great, had been. This infuriated Caesar, who promptly removed Herod Antipas from his position ruling over Galilee and Perea and exiled him to a remote part of Gaul (now France). He and Herodias died in that obscure place, dishonored, with the wreck of their dreams around them, having fallen far from their past lives.
When these actions on the part of Herod Antipas and Herodias came to public knowledge John the Baptist roundly denounced them both for it. At first, it only seemed to cost the Baptist his freedom, but Herodias' vengeance would not be denied, and Salome's lewd behavior became the price of John the Baptist's head. Jesus said it well in Matthew 11.11 when He paid tribute to John with these words, 'Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist'. With his passing went the first man to be accounted a prophet in Israel in nearly four centuries, the baptizer of Jesus Christ, and the conscience of a nation.
John, of course, never called himself great. 'He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord' (John 1.23). I realize he was quoting Old Testament prophecy, but what a wonderful turn of phrase to use to describe the position, work, and boldness of the God called preacher. A man of God is to be the voice for God, rather than the voice of himself, or the voice of his culture, generation, and age.
Many years ago, as a young boy, I heard a presentation from a Bible college singing group that I have never forgotten. It made my spine tingle then, and it did again when I found it recently after a lag of 30 years. It perfectly encapsulates this thought, and I managed to hunt it up. Forgive the poor quality of the audio, but it is worth the two minutes it will take you to listen to it.
The voice of John the Baptist was stilled by the headsman's ax. The voice of the preacher in the clip you just heard was stilled by a heart attack. My voice, too, someday, will be stilled in death. May God grant that He may continue to raise up voices all around this sin-sick world to speak, with boldness and power, not their own message, or the message that the crowd would like to hear, but the simple message that God has given them to speak.
The Israel of Jesus' day needed a voice, and it found one in John the Baptist. The America of our day, indeed, the entire world, is in desperate need of a voice.
What are you doing with yours?