While John may have been a no-nonsense kind of preacher, there was another side to him that is often overlooked. Sure, John could bring the heat when it was necessary but people sometimes forget that John was also a very humble man. We can see this side of John’s personality in a short discussion that he once had with some of his students…
“So (John’s disciples) came to John and said, ‘Master, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River –the one you said was the Messiah– he is baptizing too, and everybody is going over there instead of coming here to us.’ John replied, ‘God in heaven appoints each man’s work. My work is to prepare the way for that man so that everyone will go to him… He must become greater and greater and I must become less and less'” (John 3:26-28, 30).
When you consider the type of person that John the Baptist was, it’s interesting to see the kind of reward that he received for all his hard work. Now you might expect that John would have been honored for his commitment and dedication to God and His Word. You would think that he would have been recognized for his humility and service. You might imagine that John would have been admired for boldly proclaiming God’s message, right?
Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.
You see, a first century historian named Josephus tells us that a man named Herod (who was the government official responsible for the Galilee area of Israel during that time) arrested John and had him executed. Josephus tells us that Herod was afraid that John’s popularity might lead to a rebellion against his own authority. That may have been true but the Bible reveals the real story behind John’s death…
“…Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John because he kept saying that it was wrong for the king to marry Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias wanted John killed in revenge, but without Herod’s approval she was powerless. And Herod respected John, knowing that he was a good and holy man, so he kept him under his protection. Herod was disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:17-18).
So John spoke out against Herod’s immoral marriage to Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip and probably told Herod about what is written in Leviticus 18:16: “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother” (NIV). This must have really made Herodias mad because we’re told that she held a grudge against John as a result.
Now it may have been dangerous for John to speak so boldly to a politically powerful man like Herod but it seems that it was even more dangerous to oppose Herodias…
“Herodias’ chance finally came. It was Herod’s birthday and he gave a stag party for his palace aides, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. Then Herodias’ daughter came in and danced before them and greatly pleased them all. ‘Ask me for anything you like,’ the king vowed, ‘even half my kingdom, and I will give it to you!'” (Mark 6:21-23)
King Herod was probably in such a drunken, messed-up state that he basically said to this girl, “You name it, and I’ll give it to you- even up to half my kingdom.” Imagine that- Herod is offering to give up half his kingdom to a belly dancer!
But the story continues…
“She went out and consulted with her mother, who told her, ‘Ask for John the Baptist’s head!’ So she hurried back to the king and told him, ‘I want the head of John the Baptist -right now- on a tray!’ Then the king was sorry, but he was embarrassed to break his oath in front of his guests. So he sent one of his bodyguards to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier killed John in the prison, and brought back his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl and she took it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came for his body and buried it in a tomb” (Mark 6:25-29).
Do you know who is the most pathetic figure in this whole episode? Without a doubt, it has to be Herod. You see, Herod enjoyed listening to John, but he never allowed John’s message to influence his behavior! Like many people today, Herod heard the Word of God but never let it really impact his life. When it came down to a choice between protecting the life of a righteous man or losing face in front of his guests, Herod took the coward’s way out. How different things might have been if only Herod had not only heard God’s Word but acted on it.
John’s death is also instructive in another way. Consider this: Jesus Himself made the following comment about John the Baptist: “In all humanity there is no one greater than John…” (Luke 7:28). That’s pretty good, right? Yet how did John die? His head was chopped off from his body and put on a plate. Again, this was the man of whom it was said (by Jesus no less!) that “there is no one greater”!
So if John was the greatest and God allowed him to suffer this kind of death, then what does that tell us? Well, the question that we need to ask ourselves is this: If it came right down to it, would we be willing to suffer the same fate for our belief in Jesus?
You see, John did the right thing and it cost him his life. He might have lived if he had kept quiet but John refused to take the easy way out. For John, it was more important to obey God rather than compromise. John preferred to speak the truth and let the consequences (whatever they were) follow. Because of this, John became a great example of what James would later write of in the New Testament letter that bears his name…
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV).
Because of his uncompromising dedication, John the Baptist is remembered today as a great man of God. And so The Doctor’s question for today is this: How do you want to be remembered?