Martyrdom of John the Baptist
February 17th, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W.A. Criswell
2-17-91 10:50 a.m.
John the Baptist: in our preaching through the Book of Mark, we have come to the middle of chapter 6. And the reading of the tragedy is this:
King Herod heard of John; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, This is John the Baptist risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him . . .
But when Herod heard, he repeated, It is John the Baptist, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.
For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.
[For] John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful [for thee] to have thy brother’s wife.
Therefore, Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man… And when a convenient day was come, Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee in the castle of Machaerus.
And when Salome, the daughter of Herodias, came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me anything that thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
He sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
And she went forth, and asked her mother, What shall I desire? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me the head of John the Baptist on a golden charger.
And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded John in the prison,
And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up the corpse, laid it in a grave.
And Matthew 14:12 adds, “and they went and told Jesus.”
John the Baptist, called of God to announce the coming kingdom and the coming King [Matthew 3:2], his sermons were not concerning the amelioration of the social order or the establishment of a better economy, but as he preached, he spoke of sin, deep, dyed, and hell-deserving, and directed that sin against Herod Antipas, who had taken his brother’s wife. It infuriated Herodias, and she moved her husband to incarcerate John in a dungeon in the castle of Machaerus on the other side of the Dead Sea, and finally to behead this great Baptist preacher, an emissary of God [Mark 6:17-27].
But that was done years before. I would have thought his name would had been forgotten. How is it then, when the marvelous ministry of Jesus begins, Herod says, “This is none other than John the Baptist raised from the dead?” [Mark 6:14]. How does he remember him? Dear me, he lies buried, beheaded, forgotten. There is no shrine to which pilgrims go. There is no monument above his headless body. So far as I know there was no bronze plaque on the palace walls where Herod lived in his capital at Tiberias.
How is it that he remembers the name of this man whom he’s executed? I just wonder, is there a recording angel in heaven that writes down all of the things that we do and brings them back into an unwelcome memory? Are those Greek tragedians right when they say, “There is a nemesis in this life that hounds us and dogs us to our graves?”
Is there some other preacher beside this one that he has just beheaded? And he speaks terrifying words, and his name is Conscience. And Herod could destroy and slay this preacher in the flesh named John, but what about that preacher that speaks to him in the middle of a disastrous, darkened night?
Like Cain [Genesis 4:8-9], he sought to drown the murder of his brother in the building of cities. But Abel looked at him from the foundations of every town that he built, and the red blood of Abel incarnadined every masonry as he reached the top of every building. Like Ahab, who slew Naboth and entered into Naboth’s garden vineyard as his own [1 Kings 21:1-16], but every red-colored flower reminded the king of the disastrous murder that he and Jezebel had perpetrated.
I wonder: Shakespeare in Macbeth, encouraged by his wife to slay Duncan, King of Scots—and Macbeth cries, with that dagger flowing blood from its sharpened point, “If t’were done when ’tis done, but it is not done!” There is something about evil that hounds and dogs the perpetrator to the grave. What happened is told in the stories of Josephus and other ancient histories.
Herod Antipas, the tetrarch—the son of Herod the Great, the tetrarch—inherited Galilee and Perea; called a king in this text—had gone to Rome and stayed there in the home of his brother, Philip. Now, Philip was a private man. His wife, Herodias, was insanely ambitious and unscrupulous, and she saw an opportunity to trade a private husband for a king. So she seduced Herod Antipas, and made a plot to get rid of his wife, the daughter of Aretas the king of the Arabians, and to be married to Antipas, the king. The wife of Herod, the daughter of Aretas, found out about the plot and escaped to her father in Arabia. And the Arabian king declared war against Herod and annihilated his army. But the Roman legions were assigned the task of defeating Aretas, which they did, and restored Herod Antipas to his throne. Wonderful for the achievement of the Roman legions, but it wasn’t that way with John the Baptist.
At Aenon near to Salim—long time after the passage you read on the Jordan—at Aenon near to Salim, this Baptist preacher was baptizing his converts because there was much water there [John 3:23]. And as he preached, he denounced, by name, Herod Antipas and his adulterous union by taking his brother’s wife [Luke 3:19; Mark 6:18]. It infuriated Herodias, and she moved her husband to incarcerate the Baptist preacher in the dungeon at Machaerus [Mark 6:17-19], and sought every occasion to destroy him.
The day came, in that big castle that Herod the Great had erected against the Arabians, on his birthday: his lords are there, the officers of the army are there, the heads of the great estates in Galilee are there [Mark 6:21], and they are in drunken revelry, and while they are drunken and in festive revelry, they call for Salome, the daughter of Herodias, to come and to dance before the drunken throng. She did. And King Herod was so enamored with her dancing that he said to the girl, “Anything you ask, it is yours.” Not knowing what to reply, she asked her mother, and her mother, Herodias said, “You ask for the head of John the Baptist” [Mark 6:22-24].
And Herod, because of his oath before that throng in the festive hall, sent an executer; cut off, beheaded the head of the great Baptist preacher, put it on a golden charger and gave it into the hands of that dancing girl [Mark 6:25-28].
She danced for the king,
The sweet little thing,
With bare breast and arms
And all her soft charms,
She pleased the great king,
The cute little thing.
There were courtiers fine,
Noblemen and wine,
“Whate’er your behest,
I’ll grant the request,”
In haste swore the king
To the dear little thing.
Her eyes open wide,
She planned on the side,
Mamma in the lead,
On a gift agreed
To ask of the king
For a nice little thing.
“John the Baptist’s head
Now bring me,” she said;
She spoke it out loud,
In front of the crowd,
While pale grew the king,
The vile little thing.
The monarch was dazed,
Was shocked and amazed,
His face wore a cloud,
With grief his head bowed;
She had won from the king,
The sly little thing.
The mirth had all died,
What would he decide?
Then slowly he said,
“Bring hither the head
For the oath of a king.”
The hard little thing.
[from “The Dancer,” copied from Western Recorder
(Kentucky Baptist Convention)]
We live in that kind of a world. John the Baptist lingered in a dungeon in Machaerus castle on the other side of the Dead Sea. He had been sent to announce the coming kingdom and the coming King. And no kingdom had come, and the King was humble, and sweet, and lowly, and compassionate. He sent two of his disciples to ask Him, “Are You that coming Messiah, or is there yet another?” [Matthew 11:2-3]. And while John is in doubt, and in gloom, and in depression, and in unknowing, in that dungeon, the king sends an executioner and cuts off his head [Mark 6:27]. We live in that kind of a world. His headless body is flung on an ash heap to rot. And the king, in festivity, is drunken in a hideous hall. And his daughter Salome, by Herodias, is there with a golden charger, platter, with the head of the great Baptist preacher dipped in human blood, and Herodias, her mother, is exulting [Mark 6:28].
The disciples of John come and take his rotting body from the garbage dump, and they bury it in the ground [Mark 6:29]. You will find no tourist group visiting the Holy Land guided any place to where John is buried. There is no monument, nor will you find an archeological group digging somewhere in Palestine trying to uncover his bones. He was buried in an unmarked grave. But God, but God said: there is none born of women greater than this John the Baptist [Mathew 11:11]. It’s that kind of a world; how different God in heaven from us: and the disciples came, and buried him in a grave, and went and told Jesus [Matthew 14:12].
O Lord in heaven, how could we ever raise our voices commensurate with the love and gratitude of our souls for the precious and blessed Lord Jesus? “And they went and told Jesus” [Matthew 14:12].
I must tell Jesus all of my sorrows.
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
In my distress I know He will help me,
Make of my trails quickly an end.
I must tell Jesus. I cannot bear these burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! Jesus will help me.
Jesus, my Savior, Jesus, alone.
[“I Must Tell Jesus,” by Elisha A. Hoffman]
“And they went and told Jesus” [Matthew 14:12]; in my trials and tribulations, I must tell Jesus. And in my doubts, where is God? And when my heart fails to receive the full promise of the Word of God, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” [Mark 9:24]. I must tell Jesus.
May I conclude? Give God a chance. We don’t have the answers to the providences of life, but He does. In His time, in His day, in His choice, in His providence, in His elective purpose, God will do for us beyond what heart could ever think for or mind could ever imagine [1 Corinthians 2:9].
May I show you? I wrote my doctor’s thesis on John the Baptist. Two thousand years, almost, later, I wrote my thesis on John the Baptist. God’s Book says that when Jesus our King and Lord comes again and the bride of Christ, His church, stands by His side, who stands by Jesus as His best man? The friend of the bridegroom, you will see John the Baptist [John 3:28-29]. God’s not done yet; He is still working His holy and heavenly purpose in our lives and in human history.
What of this man, Herod Antipas? Tiberius was followed by Caligula, and Caligula the emperor of Rome called him back in disgrace. And the Roman Emperor exiled him in shame, and he died in untold and indescribable misery.
God is not through. God is not done. Give God time. Trust in His purpose, in His elective choice, and one of these days, one of these glorious and triumphant days, the hand of the Lord will be seen in it all. And a John the Baptist preacher will be exalted at the right hand of the good Jesus our Lord, and a despicable and a despisable Herod will be in the dregs of damnation and hell. God is not done yet!
And dear Lord, grant that in the denouement of time, in the consummation of history, O Lord, grant that we shall be there, praising the name of our blessed Lord Jesus, thanking Him and expressing infinite gratitude to Him for the providences that led us along the way. Things I don’t understand now, He will make them plain. Sorrows and tears now, that I might the more rejoice with Him in glory; O God, what a hope we have in the goodness of our Lord Jesus.
THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Mark 6:14-29, Matthew 14:12
2-17-91I. Preaching of John the Baptist
A. Called to announce the kingdom
B. Spoke of sinII. After John’s death
A. When Herod hears about Jesus, he thinks it is John
1. No memorial, no bronze tablet, yet remembered distinctly
B. Is there a recording angel who brings our cursed memory before us?
1. A nemesis in every life that hounds us to our graves?III. The story of John the Baptist’s death
A. John publicly denounces Herod for marrying his brother’s wife
B. Herod threw him into prison
C. Herodias’ opportunity
1. The dance of her daughter Salome pleased the king
2. Her mother instructed her to ask for the head of John on a platterIV. We live in that kind of a world
A. Herod on the throne in a drunken orgy
B. John, in the dungeon, brooding over the kingdom of God(Matthew 11:2-3)
C. Herodias, Salome requesting the head of JohnV. The disciples of John
A. Came and buried John away
B. They went and told Jesus (Matthew 14:12)
C. Hymn, “I Must Tell Jesus”VI. Conclusion
A. God’s timing and providence