Mark 6:20 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.
Even evil people know the truth when they hear it. King Herod was no exception. Like his wicked father before him, he was a cruel despot who retained his power by wiping out his enemies. He was also a puppet-king who sovereignty solely depended on the reports of the Roman Governor and the whims of the Emperor. If Herod did anything to displease the Romans, he would have been immediately assassinated or executed. On the other hand, if he did anything which displeased the people, he could always rely upon the Roman garrison to back him up.
Herod’s fascination with John the Baptist is full of contradictions. He imprisons John for preaching against Herod and his wife, and yet the king visits him in prison because he liked to listen to him. He was a despotic ruler who ruthlessly crushed his enemies, and yet he is afraid of John because he speaks the truth. Herod is used to being pampered in his palaces and lives a life of luxury; John, however, is the exact opposite – he lives in the rough outdoors, surviving on locusts and wild honey. The two men are worlds and poles apart – and yet Herod protects John because likes to listen to him.
I wonder what would have happened if Herod had not made the rash promise which resulted in John’s beheading. Would Herod have eventually repented and been restored to God? If so, would he have intervened on Christ’s behalf or kept him protected as a prisoner so that the king could listen to the carpenter? We’ll never know, but at some point in his life, Herod listened to what God had to say through John; his only trouble was this: he never fully accepted or personally applied the truth of John’s words.
As we approach Christmas, our churches become fuller because of the special programs and great festivals that take place in our sanctuaries. People like to listen to the Christmas carols and hear the Christmas story. However, just like Herod in the past, they miss the wonderful opportunity to make a direct connection to God through Jesus. They like listening to Christ’s words; they’re just not ready to live accordingly.
Questions for personal reflection
What truths do the Gospels convey to me, especially during this season of Advent and Christmas? Do I like listening to them, or am I willing to go further and live by them?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, speak Your Truth to us throughout this season of Advent. Allow our hearts and minds to embrace Your words and to live according to the challenges that they contain. Be with us and strengthen our faith in You this day. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.
Today’s image is John’s latest nativity drawing called “Long Ago.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Long Ago.