20 June 2021
Series: Hope Emerges
Book: Mark

A Tragedy of Failures

Bible Passage: Mark 6:14-29

One man was given every opportunity for greatness in this world and in the Kingdom of God – but he blew it.

A Tragedy of Failures

When you speak of the word tragedy you not only mean there was a great loss but what most people also mean by it is that it’s a loss that shouldn’t have happened.

Believe it or not, the hardest thing for me to stomach is not actually losing, but rather not winning when I knew I had the opportunity to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate losing, but I’m a lifelong competitor and understand it happens.  Sometimes you just get outmatched by your opponent or your circumstances and, apart from a miracle, you’re not going to win.  However, when you know you had a chance and you blew it, that’s the biggest pill in the world for me to swallow!

The story of Herod Antipas is one of those stories.  It’s a true tragedy.  This man was given every opportunity for greatness in this world and in the Kingdom of God – but he blew it.  It’s a story that has been told far too many times to count, and sadly too many times in our own life, but it’s a story we cannot forget or we are destined to repeat. 

So today I want to walk you through Mark’s account of this tragic story, the tragic story of a man who should have been a champion in the things of this world and in the things of Heaven but he miserably failed at both.  It’s a story that I implore you to do what Herod didn’t do, listen, learn and have the courage and wisdom to respond to the Holy Spirit and the opportunity He is trying to give us all, life! I implore you to learn from the tragic failures of Herod!

Mark 6:14-29 teaches us about the 3 tragic failures of Herod.

Herod made an absurd conclusion about Jesus. (6:14-16)

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Who is Herod?

“Herod the Great, who ruled over Palestine as a vassal king of the Roman Empire from 37 to 4 BC, was the “Herod” who is mentioned in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. Upon his death, his kingdom was divided into four parts and given to his four sons, each of whom became the “tetrarch” (“ruler of a fourth”) of one of the four pieces. Herod Antipas, who became the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, was the “Herod” who is mentioned in Luke’s account of Jesus’ passion (23:6–12). Thus, members of the Herod family appear in Scripture at both the beginning and end of Jesus’ life, but Herod Antipas is also mentioned in Mark 6, as Mark breaks away from His narrative of Jesus’ work to recount the fate of John the Baptist.” 1

“King Herod, strictly speaking, is an error, for Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great by his Samaritan wife Malthace, was the only tetrarch. Matthew and Luke both make the correction in parallel passages. But it is quite likely that Herod was popularly called a king. In Matt. 2:22 similar language is used about Archelaus, who occupied a similar status.” 2

What had Herod heard?

“We are tempted to answer: “He heard about Christ’s charge to The Twelve and the manner in which they carried it out, for that was the theme of the immediately preceding section.” Nevertheless, as the context indicates, the reference is broader and centers in Jesus himself, as is clear from the fact that Mark continues “for his [Jesus’] name had become well-known.” It is not strange that when at Christ’s word even hopelessly sick people were suddenly and completely healed, even lepers cleansed, storms hushed, demons expelled, and a dead child brought back to life, as the preceding sections of Mark’s Gospel have indicated, the name and fame of the One who accomplished all this had become well-known. What is somewhat strange is that it took so long for the news to reach the ears of Herod. A possible explanation would be that the palace where he was now staying probably Machaerus, on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea was too far removed from Capernaum for the news to have reached him earlier” 3

Remember Jesus is sending out his disciples at this point.  He is getting his message out and Herod has heard about his message getting out.  Even Scribes from Jerusalem had gone to investigate and attempt to discredit Him.

So, Herod had heard about the things that Jesus and His disciples were preaching as well as the stories about what he was doing (healing and casting out demons). Previously Herod had heard the things that John the Baptist preached, and as you will see in a minute, heard them directly from John!  But Herod nonetheless, when he heard what Jesus and His disciples were preaching; when he heard the miracles Jesus was performing, assumed Jesus to be John the Baptist resurrected!  Despite the fact that it’s very likely that John the Baptist told Herod about Jesus!

Herod, the great King, and leader of Galilee, out of all the theories on who Jesus was, chose to align himself with the most illogical and factually absurd conspiracy theory available.  

It’s amazing to me how so many people are willing to accept all kinds of theories about Jesus other than who He actually claimed to be.  Sometimes it seems the more removed it is from the historical record of Jesus (the Bible!) the more accepted it is.  People would rather follow an absurd imposter than simply believe in the Jesus of the Bible.  The following are 3 examples from a Buzzfeednews.com article 4

Inri Cristo from Brazil is wheeled around their compound on a rolling pedestal. INRI are the initials that Pontius Pilate had written on top of Jesus’s cross, which translates from Latin to “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.”

Moses Hlongwane, otherwise known simply as Jesus, gives a sermon during his wedding to Angel, one of his disciples. In Moses’s theology, his wedding day is the start of the end of days.

Vissarion of Siberia addresses his disciples on his birthday, Jan. 14, otherwise known as Christmas to his followers.  Formerly a traffic policeman in the 1980s, Vissarion got his first revelation that he was Jesus Christ at the same time as the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since then he has gathered a following of 5,000 to 10,000 disciples in the Siberian forest. There they live in separate villages with their own infrastructure and social systems.

So, the point is, like us, Herod had every single rational and factual reason and resource to know and understand Jesus to be who He claimed to be, but tragically, he opted for an absurd conspiracy theory instead.

Herod repeatedly rejected incredible opportunities to repent. (6:17-20)

17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

Who was this Herodias?

She was the daughter of Aristobulus, who was a son of Herod the Great by Mariamne I. She had married her half-uncle (her father’s half-brother) Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great by Mariamne II. To this Herod Philip, she bore a daughter, who in 6:22 is referred to simply as “the daughter of Herodias,” but who by Josephus is called Salome (Antiquities XVIII.136).  Now Herod Antipas, on a visit to Herod Philip, became infatuated with Herodias. The two illicit lovers agreed to separate from their present marriage partners Herodias from Herod Philip; Herod Antipas from the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabatean Arabs and to marry each other. This was done. When John the Baptist heard about this he rebuked Herod Antipas. He kept telling Herod, “It isn’t right for you to have your brother’s wife.” There was good reason for the rebuke, for such a marriage was incestuous (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). Was it not also adulterous (Rom. 7:2, 3)?” 5

Now here’s what’s interesting.  “It seems that Herodias was more irked about John’s denunciations of Herod than was Herod himself and that she prompted Herod to respond to John; Mark writes that Herod had John imprisoned “for the sake of Herodias.” But Herod would not give in to Herodias’ demands that John is executed. Mark tells us why: “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.” Furthermore, he “heard him gladly.” It seems that Herod had a certain admiration or respect for John.” 6

What’s even more interesting, and even baffling, is that Herod didn’t want to execute John the Baptist; that Herod protected him from Herodias!  Herod was ruthless, so there is no concept that he was shy about executing people; but rather the text tells us that even though John was calling Herod out as a wicked sinner Herod wanted to continue meeting with him, hearing what he had to say about God, the Messiah (Jesus), God’s Kingdom and most importantly repentance and forgiveness (the main message of John the Baptist).  But Herod never seemed remotely close to repenting.  Why would he go to such an extent and never really even consider repenting?

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, a German theologian and sociologist studied human beings’ reactions to whatever they deemed to be holy, and he found that holiness is both terrifying and fascinating to the sinner. We know that we are not holy. We know that our lives are not right. However, we do not want to hear judgments against us. Therefore, we fear that which is holy. That is why Mark tells us that Herod “feared John.” His fear was not the result of any power John had to harm Herod. Rather, it was because he knew John was “a just and holy man.” And yet, when the holy comes near, as fearful as it is, we have a certain attraction to it. Thus, even in his fear, Herod wanted to hear John talk. He was both fearful of John and drawn to him.” 7

“Herod may have liked listening to John because he felt that listening would somehow atone for his condition. Similarly, some today think they are good Christians because they listen to the truth and even give assent to it. Very likely, John’s preaching elevated Herod’s aspiration to better living. Perhaps he made some attempts at self-reformation, did a good deed, pardoned someone, played with his kids, or gave to a beggar. But he was a “double-minded man” (grossly evil, but with some good impulses) and thus “unstable in all he does” (James 1:8). Whatever the case, he returned, again and again, to “take it on the chin” from John. In fact, even though he often wanted to kill John (Matthew 14:5), he also protected him from the murderous intentions of Herodias. Herod’s conscience was being stirred by this man of God. We might even say that his conscience was coming alive. Unfortunately, this was not to be for long.” 8

So here again is a huge tragedy, not just in a man like John the Baptist being arrested, a man who was actually very popular among the Jews, but rather the fact that Herod realized John the Baptist was a holy man, anointed by God and as such didn’t accidentally hear what The Baptist was preaching but intentionally brought him into his courts to have him preach right to him!  Herod didn’t accidentally stumble on an opportunity to repent, he invited in the very reasoning on why he should, yet he wouldn’t listen. He literally had all the answers and explanations given to him, answers and explanations he sought out, yet he wouldn’t listen.  This leads us right to the third characteristic.

Herod’s sexual immorality and pride led him to murder the first Prophet to Israel in over 400 years. (Mark 6:21-29)

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Now first you need to understand who John was.  We spoke of him when we started our study of Mark, but just as a reminder,

Since Malachi (over 400 years before John the Baptist) there had been no prophetic voice in Israel.  God had always given Israel Prophets to call them to Himself and to guide them in holiness; to guide them into life and fellowship with Him!  But for 400 years, longer than the United States has been a nation, God had been silent.   He had raised not one person to speak for Him.  Not one person to stand with His anointing to speak to the people and lead them, that is until John!

“John was a miracle child not in the sense of a virgin birth, but because he was born to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, long after the time it was biologically feasible for them to have children. Their son was also a Nazirite from birth, due to the explicit orders of the angel, Gabriel. As such, his hair was never cut, and he never touched a dead body or drank fermented drink (Numbers 6). John was from childhood uniquely alive to God. As he grew in his knowledge of the Scriptures and God’s call upon his life, he took up the garb of an ancient prophet, wearing a rough coat of camel’s hair and a leather belt and subsisting in the wilderness on a diet of grasshoppers and wild honey (Matthew 3:4).” 9

“When John burst from the wilderness and onto the national scene, he boldly denounced sin and called the people to radical repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. John quailed before no one, shouting to the insincere Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matthew 3:7). It was inevitable that he would collide with the corrupt Herodian dynasty, its present degenerate leader Herod, and that ruler’s wife Herodias.” 10

So with that let me explain what happened at this dinner.

The Guests

“According to Mark, three kinds of guests were invited: a. the “high civil officials,” more literally grandees or magnates; b. the “chiliarchs,” thus literally; according to the basic meaning each was a commander of a thousand men, but the more general sense of “military tribunes or commanders” must probably be accepted; and c. “the chief men of Galilee,” probably those socially prominent friends of Herod who did not hold any civil or military position.” 11  “The guests whom he had invited must have been men of the same class..” 12

The Dance

“From what we can tell, the evening was well along and the crowd was sufficiently under the influence when she made her move, using her teenage daughter Salome. “When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests’ ‘ (v. 22). Normally this dance would have been by the hetarai, the professional court dancers, and prostitutes, but Herodias put forth her daughter. Her sensuous, voluptuous dance, unheard of among women of rank, was outrageous. Young Salome pleased Herod and his guests.“ 13

The Promise

“It is probably not advisable to interpret this “up to half of my kingdom” too literally. It is true that the tetrarch was not really a king at all, hence had no kingdom which he could give away. But the phrase cf. Esther 5:3; 7:2 must probably be understood proverbially. It was a kind of hyperbole so that what Herod really meant was something like, “I’ll give you whatever you ask, no matter how much it costs me.”” 14

Herod’s conflict and opportunity of escape.

“The king was “distressed,” says Matthew (14:9); “sorely distressed” or “deeply grieved,” says Mark. In answer to the question, “What were the reasons for his emotional pangs?” The following items deserve consideration:  a. He had always admired John and felt uneasy about killing him. Conscience (see verse 20) told him that murdering John, who was not only innocent but righteous and holy, was terribly wrong.  b. He was aware of the fact that the people in general held John to be a prophet. Therefore he must have asked himself, “What will the people think of me if I grant Salome’s ardent wish?” See Matt. 14:5.  c. He must also have realized that his wife had tricked him into this difficult situation and that she, after all, was now getting her way.  It can be argued that the way out of his predicament would have been for him to say to Salome, “I promised to favor you with a gift; I did not promise to commit a crime.” Or else, “I promised you, not your mother, a gift.” Best of all would have been the way of escape pointed out in Lev. 5:4–6.” 15

“Herod’s vow was unlawful in just this way. It bound him to do something evil in God’s eyes. But in his pride, he would not back down—as if keeping promises was something sacred to this man. The problem, of course, was that his guests, the upper crust of Galilean society, had heard him promise, and in his twisted thinking, he believed he would somehow be diminished if he did not keep his word.” 16

“But Herod’s stubborn pride, his dread of losing face before his cronies, the dinner guests who had heard his promise backed up by oaths, kept him from saying. “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9). False pride won the victory over all other considerations, including even the voice of conscience.” 17

Again, John the Baptist’s death is a tragedy for sure.  What an incredible man doing incredible things, only to have his life ended by a perverted man who was more concerned about the opinion of his peers and was more enchanted by his perverted lust for his stepdaughter than he was concerned for His faithfulness to God.  And therein lies the context of the tragedy with Herod.  Herod had EVERY opportunity and EVERY resource available to Him to understand God’s word, to understand the value of righteousness, to know and understand God’s expectations and yet he rejected it to appease his lustful flesh and keep his standing among his sinful friends.   Think about it.  Could there be any greater tragedy than to have every opportunity to experience eternal life only to trade every one of those opportunities for the temporary pleasures of the flesh and the affirmation of man that will inevitably fade away?  

Challenge: 

What are the potentially tragic elements of your life?  Are you going to exercise the courage and humility to repent; or arrogantly and foolishly continue down the path of destruction?

When you read the Proverbs, you learn really quickly that two of the essential ingredients to wisdom are courage and humility.  Herod grotesquely lacked both and as a result, destroyed not only his opportunity to have eternal life (the most important thing!) but ironically he also ruined his opportunity of success even in this world.  

“Josephus says nothing about John’s criticism of Herod’s marriage, but his report of the Baptist’s death is preceded directly by a reference to the problem Herod created for himself by divorcing his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Nabatea. To avenge the insult, Aretas provoked a war with his former son-in-law and soundly defeated him. Josephus reports that some Jews felt that Herod’s defeat represented divine punishment for his execution of John.” 18  

“Aretas bitterly resented what Herod had done to his daughter. He, therefore, waged war against him, and “in the ensuing battle the entire army of Herod was destroyed” (Josephus, Antiquities XVIII.114, 116, 119, for points a and b).” 19

“Herodias ultimately proved Antipas’ downfall. When her brother Agrippa received from Caius the title of king over the neighboring territory which had belonged to Philip, she persuaded Antipas to journey to Rome to endeavor to secure the same honor. Agrippa, however, sent letters to the emperor accusing Antipas of intrigue against the Government, and, instead of being made a king, Antipas was banished to Gaul. It must be said, that at the end of the story Herodias played her part with nobility and courage, which partly atones for the sordid tale of infidelity and ambition which preceded. When The Emperor, learned that she was the sister of Agrippa, his favorite, exempted her from the banishment to which her husband was sentenced. Whereupon she replied that she who had been ‘the partner of Antipas in his prosperity, preferred to share his misfortunes also.’ Caius then banished her along with Antipas and gave her private estates to Agrippa.” 20

The irony of Herod’s story is that He was destroyed by the very thing He served – sexuality and pride.  Living to fulfill our sexual desires and need for affirmation through power and achievements will always end in destruction.  The call to repent, believe and follow Jesus is the invitation to exchange death for life and failure for victory.  It was a tragedy that could have been overcome and replaced with victory.

So many however simply won’t repent!  They refuse to exercise the humility and courage that it takes to let go of tragedy and lay hold of life!

“In his very interesting and instructive book, Souls in the Making, New York, 1930, p. 114, the author, John G. Mackenzie, states, “The worst forms of functional mental disorder arise from a repressed conscience.” 21

Don’t let your life be a tragedy when you sit here today knowing that Jesus Christ Has paid the debt of your sin and vowed to never leave you or forsake you!  He has vowed to never stop loving you no matter what you’ve done, but you have to repent to experience it! 

You cannot run from God and experience Him at the same time!

Venture Church
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Footnotes

  1.  Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 130). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  2. Branscomb, B. H. (n.d.). The Gospel of Mark. (J. Moffatt, Ed.) (p. 106). New York; London: Harper and Brothers Publishers.
  3.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 234). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  4. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/gabrielsanchez/bizarre-pictures-of-the-people-who-believe-that-theyre
  5.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 236–237). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  6.  Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 132). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  7. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 133). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  8. Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant, and savior (Vol. 1, p. 141). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  9.  Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant, and savior (Vol. 1, pp. 138–139). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  10.  Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant, and savior (Vol. 1, pp. 138–139). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  11. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 239). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  12.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 239). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  13.  Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant, and savior (Vol. 1, p. 142). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  14.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 239–240). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  15. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 241). 
  16.  Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 135). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  17.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 241). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  18.  Hare, D. R. A. (1996). Mark. (P. D. Miller & D. L. Bartlett, Eds.) (p. 74). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  19.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 242). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  20.  Branscomb, B. H. (n.d.). The Gospel of Mark. (J. Moffatt, Ed.) (p. 110). New York; London: Harper and Brothers Publishers.
  21.  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 237–238). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.