Friday, November 6, 2009

11/6 Mark 6:17-29, John's death

(Apparition of John's head to Salome- Gustav Moreau 1874-6- based on legend of post death Salome)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Mark 6:17-29
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 [d]; 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 [e] 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.

Calvin abridged: John was seized because he had openly condemned Herod for carrying off Herodias, and for his incestuous marriage with her. Herod was offended by John because he had rebuked him. Not only did Herod keep another man’s wife, but it was his own brother’s wife, as well as his niece. Such a crime is universally blamed, but others said things about Herod behind his back, John alone reproved him to his face. The servants of God need great courage in the presence of rulers- as almost any court has flattery and hypocrisy. Most in power are used to those trying to get along with them by keeping quiet not by reproving them. Mark and Matthew seem to contradict each other as Matthew says Herod wanted to kill John but was restrained by fear of the people; But Mark seems to blame Herodias alone. Probably Herod wanted to kill John but was constrained for fear of an insurrection, but Herodias incited him and made it happen. Herod feared John in that he respected him because he was a faithful servant of God. John would rather turn a friend into an enemy than to encourage by flattery or silence an evil. John has given an example for all to not wink at the faults of rulers in order to purchase their favor. “On his birthday” There is nothing wrong in the mere act of preparing an expensive banquet, but there is a tendency toward licentiousness, luxurious pride, and unbridled merriment. The ancient custom of observing a birthday should not be disapproved—for that day should be an opportunity to give thanks to God who brought us into the world, and permitted us to spend years in it, A birthday should be held in sacred honor is often defiled. Herod allowed the wine to inflame him so that he offered too much to a dancing girl. Herodias was waiting and plotting for this to happen. This also shows the power of the word of God, that the voice of the holy man, even when it was shut up in prison, wounds and tortures the mind of the king’s wife. :the king was sorry” – he was sorry not for religious reasons, but he was sorry to lose the approval of the people. Yet he still didn’t have the courage to give a refusal to a dancing girl—and he should have refused such a rash promise. This passage teaches us that we ought to beware making promises without considering the price of keeping them. 28- “presented it to the girl”- The crime was made even worse because the head of the holy man who died was made a matter of sport. In this way the Lord sometimes gives up his people to the pride of the wicked, until he eventually makes clear that their blood is precious in his sight (Psalm 116:15). Herodias is delighted. But later Herodias is stripped of her wealth, deprived of her title of queen, and driven from her native country- which is a spectacle gratifying to the angels and all good people. The guests at the king’s table had to behold this detestable exhibition. Those who sit at the table of kings are liable to be involved in much wickedness. 29- “His disciples came”- There is evidence that the attendants of the tyrant threw out the corpse. The honor of burial is not important to the dead, yet it is a symbol of the last resurrection. This also attested to their piety and bravery- that John’s doctrine lived in them.

Thoughts: John’s death is a great tragedy. Elijah was persecuted but taken up in a chariot and did not die. Jesus suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended to heaven. But John was only tragically killed for his truth-telling. Most of the prophets in the Old Testament had a tragic end. John’s death focused the attention on the one for whom he was preparing the way-Jesus. John himself said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” John’s death also was a warning that coming out with truth in the wicked world leads to persecution. Jesus in his ministry continued to say things like- “do not tell anybody” (about his ministry). As soon as Jesus became truly popular in Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the people in power (both religious and political) plotted his death. John did not involve himself in Herod’s political policies, but only in his ethical decisions. Today the Church should be perhaps less involved with votes and policies and more concerned with ethics and true repentance. If the Church sits quietly at either the Republican or Democratic table- we stain ourselves with their wrong deeds, just as those who sat at Herod’s table stained themselves.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for John the Baptist and people like him- who tell the truth even when it hurts. Raise up people like John in our world, and give your people wisdom to know how to interact in the politically consumed world.

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