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The Power of Pressure

Date: Aug. 18, 2019

Author: Bob Henkins

Mark 6:14-29

Key Verse: Mark 6:26

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.

All of us live with pressure every day and most of the time it doesn’t bother us. Do you realize that you have a little more than 101000 pascals pressuring you right now? (that sounds like a lot, but it’s the atmospheric pressure @ sea level) We don’t notice all that atmospheric pressure because it’s spread out all around us. But if it were to be increased or just focused on a small area then that pressure can be deadly. For example, if were to dump 8000 snickers bars on you, you would probably be inconvenienced quite a bit, and maybe angry, (who knows maybe you’d be happy as you eat your way out) but that’s about it. But if those same snickers bars were focused in a small area the results would be different. If you stacked them one by one on top of each other, the pressure of those bars would snap your thigh bone in half. Which, by the way, is the strongest bone in your body. (4600 Snickers would crush your skull) Pressure is the ratio of force to area over which it is applied. (Force is the total impact of one object on another) So, the snickers spread out would not be as devastating compared to if they were focused on one point.

You’re probably wondering, “what is this guy talking about?” The reason I’m bringing this up today, is because it’s related to our passage that we’re going to study. All of us live with varying degrees of pressure. Now I’m not referring to physical pressure here, but to all the social pressures that surround us.

If we are subjected to a lot of pressure, or focused pressure, we can be severely injured or even killed. But there is also the case where extreme pressure can be transforming, as in the case of a piece of coal under pressure (and heat) is transformed into a diamond.

It takes roughly 4K newtons to break the typical femur. That would be equivalent to the force of 8K Snickers bars (50g each). And 5G newtons will transform a piece of coal into a diamond (at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit)

So how in the world does this connect with our text this morning? In our passage, Herod is put into a situation when all of a sudden, a lot of pressure gets focused into a small area. What’s he going to do when he finds himself under these circumstances? Let’s see what happens.

Our passage starts out in verses 14-15. They tell us, “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.”” It says that King Herod heard about “this”, what is “this”? This refers back to v13 which says “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” At this point in Jesus’ ministry amazing things are happening; sick people are being healed, demon possessed people are being set free, the dead are being raised, people are confessing faith in God. It’s an amazing time in the work of God. Jesus’ ministry is so powerful, and it seems to be happening all over the place because the twelve disciples have split up into six groups and were going from village to village. The result is that Jesus is going viral. People are taking notice and all over the countryside they are hearing his name.

This is still pretty early on in Jesus’ ministry and at this point, no one really knows for sure who he is. We heard in last week’s passage how the people were split on who he was. Some had the attitude, “Isn’t this Mary’s son, the carpenter?” and they were offended that he should presume to be some kind of teacher. And yet there were many others that marveled at Jesus’ wisdom, his teachings, and miracles. Still the people were confused, and they thought that John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the old school prophets had come back to life.

Whoever he was, Jesus was causing quite a stir. Now when this news reached Herod, it affected him in a whole different way than the other people. Take a look at verses 16-17, “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.” Herod was what was called a tetrarch, or sub-king of Galilee under Roman rule. His name was Herod Antipas but people called him Herod for short. Since he was in charge of the area, he wanted to know everything that was going on because this area was kind of a hot bed and riots broke out all the time. So, naturally Herod was curious about this new news that he heard. But as soon as he hears “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead” he’s triggered and starts to freak out and he has this major flashback as he reflects upon his prior actions.

I find it interesting that the author of the Mark’s Gospel writes more about John than any other Gospel writer, and specifically he writes more about John’s death than he does about John’s ministry. Maybe John’s death was significant to Mark as a preview of the death of Jesus. John, like Jesus, was executed by a secular ruler. Herod, like Pilate, did not want to execute his prisoner but caved in to pressure from others. Herodias, like the chief priests, schemed to bring about the execution. John’s disciples, like Joseph of Arimathea, tenderly buried the body of their leader. Or maybe Mark wanted to warn his readers about the danger of proclaiming the word of God. Or maybe he wanted to encourage them by showing that no opposition could stop the work of God.

Anyway, cold sweat breaks out across Herod’s forehead as he recalls what he did to John. Maybe he thought, “John’s back from the dead and I was the one who had him killed, he must be coming for me.” (Revenge is the plot of so many action movies) The reason Herod had John thrown into prison is because John kept saying that it wasn’t lawful for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife and that irritated his wife so much.

So, let’s see what’s going on here. This is a family story, and as we know, some family stories can be a hot mess, and this one doesn’t disappoint. This is the family of Herod the Great. He had at least five sons, all of which he gave the first name of Herod, so it makes things kind of confusing. Anyway, this story involves three of his sons, Aristobulus, Antipas, and Philip. Antipas was married to Phasaelis who was the daughter of King Aretas of Nabataea. Philip was married to Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus. Yes, you heard that correct, Herodias married uncle Philip. (are you with me so far?) Then on a trip to Rome, Antipas and Herodias fall in love. For those of us keeping track, Herodias has now seduced two of her uncles. Antipas divorces Phasaelis which starts a war with King Aretas of Nabataea (which is another story) and Herodias divorces Philip so that Antipas and Herodias can now get married. Confused yet? It gets better, Herodius was the daughter of Antipas’ half-brother, Aristobulus, which made his now wife, his niece, and she was also his sister-n-law. Just imagine going to these family parties.

Now, there was a Jewish tradition (Gen 38-Judah & Tamar) where if a brother died, a remaining brother would take on the household of the one that died. But, in this case, Antipas just couldn’t wait for Philip to die, so he took his brother’s household, more specifically, his wife. John’s condemnation of Antipas and Herodias’ marriage was based on Leviticus 18:16 & 20:21, so, the author of Mark supported John, who he viewed was affirming the law.

Meanwhile, Herodias was stewing in her anger. She didn’t like being called out (who does), especially publicly. Take a look at verses 19-20. “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.” Herodias, is an evil woman, but I believe though, that sometimes we, ourselves, can resort to being like Herodius when we’re hurt. We can hold a grudge that spans a length of time greater than it probably should. As a result, we can close ourselves off from others and have a hard time letting go. Herod is pictured as superstitiously fearing John because he knew that John’s life was holy and his was wicked. As a result, Herodias could not accomplish her purpose at first (v. 19) but had to wait for an opportune time (v. 21). Herod’s hesitation anticipates that of Pilate (15:6–14). It feels like Herodias is the instigator. Her aggressiveness makes it seem like it’s personal.

Herodias was waiting for her moment to strike and soon enough it does. Take a look at verse 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.” Herodias knew her husband’s weakness. She knew he was soft toward John so she waited until Herod was in a position where she could manipulate the situation. This was the time, when he was drunk, celebrating his birthday in front of many important guests. The night gets a little weird. Take a look at verses 22-23. “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.”” I’m not sure if this was planned or if the opportunity just fell into her lap, but Herodias recognized it and pounced setting the trap for her husband and ultimately for John.

The next scene can be described as Herodias’ victory or crime (depending on your point of view) and Herod’s pressure cooker. Take a look at verses 24-25. “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.”” Herodias manipulates the situation and finds Herod’s pressure point. Herodias commits a crime when she has the motive, means & opportunity. It is a crime of passion and makes it personal by demanding John’s head to be cut off.

Herodias found her husband’s pressure point and manipulated the situation perfectly. Take a look at verses 26-28. “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.” Herod succumbs as he was caught between a rock and a hard place. There are many bits of wisdom we can take away from this passage. You can be sure that your sin will find you. (Num 32:23) Herod knew killing John was wrong. His conscience screamed at him as he was deeply distressed about it, and yet he did it anyway. Herod never really wanted to harm John. But he was in a drunken stupor and gave in to his niece/step-daughter. All because of his desire for his brother’s wife while his brother was still living. Herod gave into peer pressure and didn’t want to look bad in front of the people he wanted to impress. But the reasons why we sin don’t really matter. It’s just the fact that we’ve sinned and we’re guilty.

Maybe Herod thought he could just forget about it. Maybe if he drank a little more it would go away, but it didn’t it continued to haunt him. So much so, that he imagined the outlandish, that John rose from the dead to get even with him. When we refuse to repent of sin, we will either live in fear, guilt, condemnation, or our conscience will be destroyed. A guilty conscience doesn’t need an accuser or tormentor because it does a good job by itself. Herod charges himself with the murder of John, which probably no one else would dare charge him with. He feared John while he lived, and thought he had gotten rid of him, but now he now fears him ten times worse. You might as well be haunted by ghosts and goblins, as with the horrors of an accusing conscience. That’s why St. Paul always tried to keep a clear conscience before God and man (Acts 24:16) because he understood the importance of peace in your soul.

If we let it, sin desires the have us, it crouches at your door waiting to pounce on you, but we must rule over it. (Gen 4:7) We must not let sin into our lives because it will try to make us obey its evil desires. (Ro 6:12) We can live under some pressure, but we will all succumb to pressure, especially if it is focused on a small area, until it hits our pressure point. Herod could withstand John’s accusations the whole year he was in prison. John kept saying the same thing repent, what you’re doing is not right. Herod could have had him killed anytime, but he didn’t. Until his pressure point was hit by Herodias.

King David was in a similar situation. He went into the pressure cooker too when he wanted another man’s wife. But he took it a step further, he had the man killed so he could take his wife. However unlike Herod, King David, repented when his sin was exposed. David cried out before God, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Ps 51:1-3) What do you do when our sin finds us out, or hit our pressure point? Just like Herod all of us have our own pressure points that when pressed will cause us to crumble. Recently the infamous Jeffery Epstein was found dead in his jail cell. Some say he committed suicide, others think he was killed. I guess no one will ever know the truth. But one thing is true it that he’s dead. In the end, our sin will find us out. No one can escape their sin. All of us will be held accountable for the things we’ve done. For those who do not believe in Jesus, that’s it, the end of the road. But for those who have put their faith in Jesus, there is still one more act. Peter, Jesus’ disciple said. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Pe 1:3) For those of us who believe in Jesus, we have a new birth, we are a new creation, we have a new hope, a living one that can never die. All we need to do is repent for our sin, acknowledge Jesus as Lord and accept him into our heart. Thank God for his mercy upon sinners that he sent his son Jesus to save us from our sins.

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