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Today’s post continues a study of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which have been excluded from the Lectionary for public worship.

As such, it is part of my Forbidden Bible Verses series, also essential in understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 6:14-20

The Death of John the Baptist

 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.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 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.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20for 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.

———————————————————————–

After Jesus restored Jairus’s daughter to life, He returned to Nazareth, which is where Mark 6 opens.

However, he was not well received by the people from His hometown. Verses 3 and 4 say:

3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4And Jesus said to them,  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

In other words, you can’t go home again. It is rare for a hometown hero to be respected and admired, even by his own family. And there is evidence that not all of Jesus’s family believed He was the Messiah. The general reaction — even today — to many hometown heroes is ‘Who does he think he is?’

Jesus healed a few sick people, but Mark records (verse 5) that He ‘could do no mighty work there’ and was stunned by (‘marvelled’ at) the general unbelief among the Nazarenes.

Whilst Jesus went to teach in the villages, He sent His Twelve to begin their ministries (verses 7 through 9). He stipulated six groups of two. They were to carry the bare minimum with them: no bag, no money and no food. He told them to find lodgings in a private house wherever they were preaching and not to leave there until they had completed their teaching and healing. If any town or village rejected them, they were to shake the dust off their sandals — an ancient Jewish insult — in that place.

Matthew Henry explains the symbolism of the shaking off of the dust in someone’s home or community:

That dust, like the dust of Egypt (Ex. 9:9), shall turn into a plague to them; and their condemnation in the great day, will be more intolerable than that of Sodom: for the angels were sent to Sodom, and were abused there; yet that would not bring on so great a guilt and so great a ruin as the contempt and abuse of the apostles of Christ, who bring with them the offers of gospel grace.

Jesus invested in His Apostles the power to drive out demons (verse 7). Verses 12 and 13 describe the Apostles’ ministry:

12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Such was the power of Jesus’s and the Apostles’ teaching and healing that news of it reached Herod (verse 14). He puzzled over Jesus’s identity and no doubt pondered what others said — that He might have been a resurrection of John the Baptist or perhaps Elijah (verse 15). Then again, maybe He was another great prophet in His own right.

Herod decides that Jesus is John the Baptist, who has returned to life after his beheading (verse 16). We’ll get to the story next week, however, Mark prepares the background for us in verse 17: it was Herod who was responsible for imprisoning John the Baptist.  This was because John told Herod how immoral it was to marry his brother Philip’s wife.

John MacArthur gives a long account of the Herodian dynasty. It was full of incest, questionable marriages and other immorality. MacArthur believes that John the Baptist took exception to the union of Herod and Herodias because she was not divorced from Philip. This infuriated Herodias, and, for her, John the Baptist was her number one enemy. She wanted him dead and out of the way (verse 19).

However, Herod was of two minds (verse 20). He had gladly heard what John the Baptist had to say. Perhaps he also thought that John the Baptist could prophesy something regarding his own rule and his subjects. As long as John the Baptist spoke of things which did not impact Herod’s personal morality, all went well.

Henry notes:

Here we see what a great way a man may go toward grace and glory, and yet come short of both, and perish eternally.

The same situation has taken place throughout history. American presidents avail themselves of clergymen, e.g. Billy Graham in my day, yet continue to pursue questionable public policy or private immorality.

Mark tells us that although Herod knew John the Baptist was a holy man, he was ‘perplexed’ by what he heard.

MacArthur explains:

He couldn’t understand the message of John the Baptist. He couldn’t figure out what he was saying about the Messiah, about judgment. But he used to enjoy listening to him. It was kind of a curiosity. I mean … he was a very great preacher. He must have been at the lowest level at least amazingly entertaining. And he enjoyed listening to him.

So the combination of the novelty of John and the fear of even greater consequences to come against him in the judgment of God, if he did anything to this obviously righteous and godly man, restrained him from taking his life. But he lived in fear of the man. Fear, first of all, to kill him, and then after he did kill him, fear that he’d come back from the dead.

St Matthew’s account relates that Herod was afraid of what his subjects would do should he have John the Baptist put to death (Matthew 14:1-5):

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.

MacArthur explains:

Herod Antipas was put under Tiberius in this position and while the others didn’t last very long, he lasted 42 years…42 years, through the entire life of our Lord Jesus. This man was the petty ruler for Rome over the realm of Galilee. He is the one then who has the most to lose if a power movement starts, if a populace movement rises. And like the rest of the Herods, they’re all paranoid about their power. And if indeed this is John the Baptist risen from the dead, and he has the power to conquer death, then Herod is in some serious trouble….serious trouble. And that’s what he is convinced has happened.

More on the death of John the Baptist next week.

Next time: Mark 6:21-29

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