A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Monday, October 26, 2020
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.” 23 And 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.
Some time ago I spent a morning with our youngest at preschool. On the wall outside of the class was a collection of papers that said, “All about Dad” which had the answers to questions the teachers had asked the class about their fathers. At first I couldn’t help but laugh as I read through the children’s descriptions of their fathers through three-year-old eyes, from the questions on their age (anywhere from 8 to 800 years old) to their favorite food (almost always pizza or chicken nuggets), but one in particular gave me pause. On more than one paper, children answered the question, “What is dad’s favorite thing to do?” with “Go to work.” Of course, no dad would self-identity work as his favorite way to spend his time, but apparently to at least some of children dad would rather spend time on the job than with them. If you ever want to know the truth about yourself, just ask a toddler, but just be careful because sometimes, as Jack Nicolson once famously said, “You can’t handle the truth!”
From birth, John had been set apart for a unique ministry, to be a voice crying out in the wilderness, to turn many hearts of the children of Israel back to God and make ready for the Lord a people prepared for what He was about to do. Like the arrival of Jesus, John’s birth was a miracle, foretold by the angel Gabriel to barren and aging Elizabeth and Zechariah. Everything about John was different. He chose the ancient attire of the prophets, rejected even the most innocuous luxuries, and spent his ministry in the wilderness preaching the impending arrival of the Lord.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about John was despite his difficult words, people flocked to him from throughout Israel to hear his scathing message, repent of their sins, and be baptized in the Jordan River. When the ruling Pharisees dared to come get a first-hand account of John’s ministry, he had the audacity to call out their hypocritical and unjust ways. Jesus would say of John, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
Of course John’s steadfast devotion to the proclamation of the truth landed him in prison after publicly accusing Herod and new wife Herodias of adultery. For some time, Herod kept John tucked away in the palace dungeon, from which he occasionally requested John’s presence and even enjoying listening to his moral reprimands. John the Baptist was a man unlike any other Herod dealt with. Herod spent his life surrounded by a royal court of yes-men and even the Pharisees and chef priests were unwilling to confront Herod for his unashamed, and unabated, immorality. Rather than risking Herod’s wrath by denouncing his flagrant sin, as they loved to do to so many others within society, the religious leaders instead viewed the self-serving ruler as a potentially powerful ally over whom they might have influence and enjoy favor as long as they were willing to mind their own business and overlook certain indiscretions. John, on the other hand, was unwilling, and unable, to do any such thing.
Herodias, on the other hand, did not share the same tolerant curiosity for John as her obtuse husband. She took John’s words personally and vowed to make him pay for each and every one at the very first opportunity. During a particularly raucous evening of debauchery celebrating his birthday, Herod, perhaps more than a little under the influence, foolishly made his step-daughter the deal of a lifetime, offering up to half of his kingdom, after she pleased the revelers with a special song and dance number. Rather than demanding cash or the keys to the palace, she instead went first to her mother for consultation, who wasted little time in sending back their request: John’s head on a platter. Although Herod liked John, he was more afraid of being publicly embarrassed at his own party by refusing the modest request of the young girl. Within the hour, Herodias received what she had long sought, the silenced mouth of John.
Telling the truth isn’t always popular, and in fact, as we see from John’s life, as well as many others, it often comes with a cost. Speaking the truth can alienate us from power and privilege, it can set us at odds with popular culture, and it can even create friction among friends. But the Christian can take comfort in knowing that truth is always on the side of God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the Truth; in Him there is no falsehood, no fabrication, and no manipulation. Jesus also said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Like looking into the mirror, stepping onto the scale, or talking with a 3 year old, the truth about ourselves is not always pleasant, its not always what we want to hear, but without the truth we are ignorant to reality.
The truth is also that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that in our hearts we are all like Herod, trapped in our sin, prisoner to our selfish lusts and desires. While we may at times be intrigued by the message of the gospel and the call to repentance, we are powerless to make even the slightest move towards Him. Enter Jesus. God didn’t just send a prophet to declare the truth of His impending wrath, but He sent His Son to bear the brunt of it for all who place their faith and trust in Him, that they might be set free at last. This is the truth.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, the truth is that You are Truth. As often as we may try, there is no hiding our sin before You or running away from You. You know everything about us, and yet You still love us and gave Your life for us. Help us to cling to Your words, to believe that every thing You promise will come to pass, and to know that You are good. We pray in Your name, Amen.