I don’t know if you have ever had this happen to you when you were raising kids, but this happened to me this past week. I got home around 6 or so on Thursday night. Around 7 is when our kids usually get ready for bed. You know, they brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, that sort of thing. Then they listen to a story, and around 7:30 it’s off to bed. During this time, if Marika is home and not to tired, she does the routine with them. This was one of those nights. So on those type of nights, I usually do something until she’s done and then we watch a movie, or play a game, or something until we’re ready for bed.
Well on this night I was un-seaming some patches on a costume for our VBC this coming summer. So I’m working away and from the opposite side of the house, where everyone is getting ready I hear, “Well actually…” And it was in the sassy tone of a nine year old. So my ears perk up. The sentence I heard was, “Well actually I was cleaning my room.”
Now, when I’m doing mindless work, like ripping out a seam out, I can focus on more than one thing. And the conversation that proceeded this “well actually…” statement was this,
“I was in here first,” said the little blonde. “I need to go potty.”
“Elisabeth,” said the beautiful mother. “She was in there first, why are you going in there when she is trying to go to the bathroom?”
And it’s at this point where I heard, “Well actually…”
Now, if you have ever dealt with kids you know they’ll fight for no reason at all. Literally, they’ll have no idea why they themselves did what they did to start the fight, they simply just act.
But what was so interesting to me was the fact that my daughter defended her being in the bathroom, when she wasn’t supposed to be, with the reality that she was cleaning her room. What did cleaning her room have to do with being in the bathroom? Nothing. One had nothing to do with the other. Yet, for her, when confronted with the why, her focus changed from the situation at hand, to something more important for her.
See, from her perspective, she was cleaning her room, which her younger sister should have been doing as well. And since the older one did what she was supposed to do, she deserved the bathroom first.
But for the adults in the conversation, her reason wasn’t expressed that way. Instead it came off as seeming to have nothing to do with the question that was proposed to her. “Why are you going in there,” was the question. “Because I was cleaning my room was the answer.” One did not seem to go with the other.
And this is where we come to our passage today, to an un-seemingly out of place story about Herod and John the Baptist. So if you have your Bibles, were going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 6 starting in verse 14. But before we get into Mark chapter 6 verse 14, let’s bring ourselves up to speed.
So we’re returning to our Gospel of Mark where we left off from last summer. Because this will become our summer routine. Every summer will go through a book of the Bible. When the winter starts, will go back to topical preaching, and when summer comes around, we’ll return to the book again, until we finish. Once we finish a book, we’ll start a new one.
We have already worked through 5 chapters in the book of Mark, and the first 13 verses of the 6th chapter. At this rate it will take us three to four summers to finish.
But as we return to the book of Mark chapter 6 verse 14, let’s bring us up to speed. From what we have gone through already, Mark gives us two phases of Jesus’ ministry in these first several chapters. The first phase was Jesus establishing himself as an itinerant preacher. Going from town to town preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God coming. But not only was he preaching, he was gathering specific disciples to follow him. As a teacher, Jesus had confronted the established religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, speaking with an authority that none of the people had ever heard. But Jesus didn’t only have authority over the words he spoke, but he was healing people from everyday diseases, to things such as paralysis and leprosy. This Jesus had authority of the physical realm. And it didn’t stop there; on top of these physical healings, Jesus was casting out demons that had possessed people’s bodies. This Jesus was unlike anyone the people had seem. His words had authority, his authority extended to the physical world, and not only to the physical realm, but his authority was also over the the spiritual realm as well.
Then, in Jesus’ second phase, He began to focus more on the training of his disciples. Preparing them to go out and share his message, the message that the kingdom of God was at hand. Then, for about a year, Jesus prepared them. Then, about six months into their training, it began to click. The disciples were beginning anticipating their teacher’s actions. And it was at that point that Jesus sent them out. He sent them out with nothing, so they would learn to trust God, just as Jesus had showed them to do.
And that’s were we come to our passage today. To this breather within the text, in Mark chapter 6 starting in verse 14, let’s read.
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Now, does that have anything to do with what we have talked about? If you read from beginning to end of Mark, out of all the chapters, and verses that you read, these 16 verses are the most out of place of any of the other verses in the entire book. Because the next set of verses pick up with the return of the disciples. So these 16 verses between the sending of the 12 and the return of the 12, just seem to come out of nowhere.
When I first read this, my thought was, well maybe Mark is taking a breather? Maybe Mark wanted to let us know about John the Baptist, who was at the beginning of the story? Maybe Mark thought we would be interested in knowing how John died? Maybe Mark had a little bit of ADD, and rabbit trailed a bit?
And for the last fews months as I have read, and re-read this passage, I kept coming to the same question, “Why is this in here?” Because I don’t believe that God just allowed random thoughts or stories into his word. There has to be a purpose.
Well this week I returned to it again, and as I was working with the interns I read this passage and something hit me. It was from the first five words of verse 14, “King Herod heard about this…”
What did he hear about? Well everything that Jesus was doing. Herod heard about the authority Jesus had in his speaking. How Jesus stood up against the Pharisees. Herod heard about how Jesus was healing all these diseases and handicaps. Herod heard how Jesus was casting out demons from people. Herod heard it all.
But how did Herod respond? Oh no, John’s back from the dead! John’s come back for me! John’s come to get his vengeance on me for killing him!
Herod’s response to the work of Jesus, was to completely miss the point. Instead of seeking out Jesus, Herod coward back. Instead of seeking the forgiveness for all the wickedness he had done, he dove deeper into it. Instead of seeking the one person he should have sought, Herod’s focus was on himself.
It is almost as if the Holy Spirit through Mark, was saying this: Jesus sent the twelve with his message, now, how are you going to respond? This is how Herod responded, are you going to do the same?
There’s a question here that Jesus himself will ask his disciples later on in chapter 8, and all of Mark is building to that question, so that we may be able to answer it. But here in chapter 6 Mark gives us the first answers to the question, Who do you say Jesus is?
In the second part of verse 14 it reads, “Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead…”
Verse 15 says, “Others said, “He is Elijah.”And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
Verse 16 says, “But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
Herod answered the question, “It’s John come back to get me!” And we can look at Herod and say, “What are you thinking! How can you get that it’s John, the guy’s name is Jesus! He’s been preaching since John was out in the wilderness.”
But Herod’s own sin and guilt blinded him to the truth. This is Jesus the healer. This is Jesus who has authority over the physical and spiritual realm. This is Jesus who has authority greater than the religious leaders. This isn’t John.
But Herod couldn’t see that.
And it’s almost as if God placed this right here in the Gospel of Mark for us to take an look at ourselves, and ask ourselves are we responding to who Jesus is, or are we so engrossed in our own sin, that we cannot distinguish him from someone else?
And this is what we tend to do right? We tend to focus on ourselves, and what we’re dealing with, rather than on Jesus and what he is doing.
We can do this in a lot of ways. We can focus on our sin, on alcohol, drugs, gossip, selfishness, pride, lust. We can focus on our job, our retirement, finances, homes, family. The list goes on and on. But when we focus more on those things, we can easily miss the work of God all around us. And miss answering the question of who is Jesus?
It’s that work of God, that we are supposed to focus on. It’s Jesus’ work that he calls us to. Whether it be accepting him as our Savior, because he died for our sins. He died to bring us out of guilt and shame. He died to give us a new and fulfilling life. Or whether it be for us who have already accepted him as our Savior, so that we would see what he is doing here in our town, or to the ends of the earth. God wants us to look up from our own self-focus, and start looking for who he is and where he is at work.
How can we do that? I can tell you what’s happening in our church. Physically we’d like to build a play structure for our kids. Spiritually, there are about 3,000 people in our town that do not attend any church. So they have either been hurt by a church in the past and don’t want anything to do with them now, or they don’t know Jesus. Either way, there needs to be a work of God through his people for healing, and salvation.
I can tell you about God’s work in our nation. There’s a church over in Watts, California that we have worked with. They have the opportunity to buy their building, but it’s over a million dollars, and they don’t have the money. But they’re the only church doing life changing work in that community, and if they lose their building, the community loses a light of God’s people.
I can tell you about the work of God going on all around the world. But none of what I say matters, if we are not listening to God and saying to him, how can I respond to you Father? How can I walk in the foot steps of Jesus? How can I be lead by the Holy Spirit?
It’s so easy to focus on ourselves, and let the work of God just pass us by. But that’s not what we have been called to. That’s not what we have been saved to. Jesus did not die, so that we could focus on ourselves. He died that we might be his workers, to be a part of the work he is doing.
This week my challenge to you is this. First, answer this question have you recognized who Jesus is? He’s he your Savior or not? If he is not, seek God in his word, come have a conversation with me, come and understand who Jesus is. If he is your Savior, seek God in three areas of his work: Local, that’s in our town. National, somewhere in our country. And international, that’s everywhere else. Seek God in all three, and ask him what he would have you do to be a part of his work. Maybe he wants you to become a prayer partner. Maybe he wants you to go and help out in the ministry. O maybe he wants you to help out financially. Ask God what he would have you do.
Let us not be like Herod, and at the hearing of the work of Jesus, turn to self-focus. But rather, let’s join God in his work, so that he receives the glory that he is deserving.
Now may God bring you to him, that you may know his work, and glorify him in it. Amen.