The Bible is full of beautiful stories that lift our spirits. But today’s story is as bad as any you will read in our newspapers. It is the story of John the Baptist’s execution by King Herod. Why was it chosen to be part of the lectionary used by thousands of churches? Or you wonder why I didn’t substitute another text.
My answer is simple. It brings a powerful message on the theme Ð Living With Guilt and Fear.
John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance that was getting the people’s attention. Among those who listened to his sermons was King Herod. The Bible tells us that Herod was puzzled by John’s messages, yet “. . . Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” and “he liked to listen to him” (v. 20).
But one day John the Baptist got too personal. He told Herod that it was unlawful for him to live with Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife. This angered Herodias, and she wanted John the Baptist killed, but Herod would not go that far. However, he had the preacher arrested and put in prison. This was not good enough for Herodias, and the Bible tells us that she nursed a hatred for John that would not rest until he was dead.
Then came the opportune time. Herod was celebrating his birthday and had invited many prominent people to the celebration. As part of the entertainment a dancer, Salome, was asked to dance before the king and his guests. She so pleased her audience that King Herod made a promise. He called Salome to him and said, Ask me for anything you want, and I will give it to you.
Salome went out and asked her mother, Herodias, “What shall I ask for?” And her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24).
At once she went back and told the king, I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter (v. 25).
Herod was not happy with her request, but because he had made a promise, the executioner was sent to the prison to kill John. He beheaded him and brought the head to Herod on a platter (v. 26-28).
This shows the power of guilt causing a person to act irrationally.
John the Baptist’s inspired messages had confronted Herod with the sins of his life. This was too much for the king, and he concluded that it was necessary to silence the man who was causing all of the guilt.
Now God uses this incident to ask us, How do we deal with our guilt?
Many of the crimes we read about daily in our newspapers are caused by guilt. A few weeks ago the media told us about a man going to a church in Wichita, Kansas and killing a person who was ushering at the church. Following the shooting, it was reported, the gunman was detained some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting.
Imagine the guilt that must have been in the accused killer’s soul. But is it not also true that we have carried guilt in our own souls?
The prayer of confession that we pray in our worship service says it all. “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
Where do we go with these feelings of guilt? Adam projected his guilt on Eve by blaming her for transgressing God’s command. Herod thought he could put his guilt to rest by killing John. Judas tried to free himself from guilt by committing suicide. Think of the many people we have known who have sought freedom from guilt through lying, alcoholism, or other addictions. Nothing works.
Only Jesus Christ can free us from our guilt. Listen to this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9-10). There is our answer.
Think how Herod’s life could have been different if He had only repented of all he had done wrong and turned to Christ. Think of how our lives can be different if we will open our hearts and let the Lord Jesus Christ in to be our Savior from sin.
Fighting our sins is a daily battle. We are never free from it. However, God offers His grace to us daily, and in that relationship with Him there is a peace that goes beyond our understanding as we live with the thought that His grace is new every morning. What a Savior! We all need Him.
Experiencing this forgiveness, we pray with the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10). Each day the old man must be destroyed, that a new man may come forward.
Isn’t this the kind of life that we want?