And a Good Time was had by All
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead; and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Thereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. And having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” And although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. And he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl; and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus
Lets take some Vitamin E (Examples in the CAGED method) right from the get-go. Luke 9:7-9, “Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others, that one of the prophets of old had risen again. And Herod said, ‘I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?’ And he kept trying to see Him (Jesus).”
And in Mark chapter four; “And King Herod heard of it, for His name (Jesus) had become well known; and people were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.’ But others were saying, ‘He is Elijah.’ And others were saying, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has risen!’ For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. And a strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.’ And he swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.’ And she went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ And she said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ And immediately she came in haste before the king and asked, saying, ‘I want you to give me right away the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. And immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.”
If you ever find yourself making a blind vow, and the vow turns out to be beheading someone–break the vow and do not behead a person, it may come back to haunt you, with no way out.
This story makes me sad, no matter how many times I read it. A common question from people who don’t believe in God is, “why would God allow bad things to happen to good people?” For the biblically minded christian, the answer is easy, yet impossible to explain to one who doesn’t believe the Bible; only God is good. There are no “good” people but God is good beyond our understanding. Nevertheless, even I wonder why God would allow John the Baptist to be beheaded. After all, we have read what Jesus has said about John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” But we must also remember that Jesus continued by saying, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Mark, in his gospel, gives us the most information concerning this event and how it went down. We will carefully consider the context of Mark. Luke also recalls the incident. Nevertheless, Mark and Matthew give us an intriguing impression that Luke doesn’t give. Matthew and Mark give us a one-word slice of background as to when these events happen. Did you notice that? Read them again, I will wait. What is the one word they use to describe the reason for these events taking place? Anyone who has read or listened to me speak for more than a few minutes should be able to guess. That’s right, it was Herod’s Birthday!
People are often found asking me why I am against birthdays. The problem is if one assumes that I am against birthdays they have heard me say that birthdays are never good in the Bible, in fact, they are always horrific. I mean no offense to anyone but I never say, I am against birthdays, rather, I give the context. Furthermore, I am not against birthdays and never say it like that, I simply give context surrounding birthdays in the Bible, then people draw their own conclusions–that I am against birthdays. Once again, I am not against birthdays, weddings or anniversaries. However, I do find it extremely difficult to celebrate these events Biblically. We’re about to see why.
It’s a similar situation when people come up to me, smile and say, “angels don’t sing.” Yes, I have said that and now, I will play along and say, “you’re right, they don’t.” Again, the persistent problem is that in most people’s minds, they focus on my claims of angels not singing or my distaste for birthdays but not the underlying reasons why I bring these things up. I don’t do it to be a rebel but to point out context. Search the Scriptures, is there ever a good birthday? Strike that from the record for it is better to ask, is there ever a birthday in the bible that doesn’t end horribly or demonstrate the selfishness of man? A baker was killed by Pharoah, Job’s kids died, Caleb whined about his land and John the Baptist was beheaded. Search the scriptures also for a “singing angel.” It’s not there. I don’t point this out to be pompous but because we tend to get our theology from hymns and Christmas songs (you won’t find Christmas in the bible either). I can understand why people think that I am being pompous and a know-it-all, but please read my reasoning because it is huge. Briefly; the first song ever recorded was the song of Moses and the children of Israel after the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (know-it-all). The last song in the Bible is the same song. Humans sing from salvation. Fallen angels can’t be saved, ask the devil. Sing from salvation, sing from salvation, sing from salvation! It’s a uniquely human experience. Back to birthdays.
Look at the context of Matthew 14, Herod, young Herod, the tetrarch, not the Herod from Christmas, threw himself a little birthday party, actually a large birthday party. Also notice how Mark describes it as a “strategic day.” Notice; “And a strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.” This was no small party but a great feast full of debauchery. Including a sensual dance by Herod’s so-called step-daughter. And did she ever impress! But we are getting way ahead of the content, contextually speaking.
According to the story, as told by Matthew and Mark, the birthday party was a flash back after Herod heard of the miracles of Jesus. Herod was greatly perplexed, thinking that it was possible John the Baptist had risen from the dead. “Perplexed” in the original Greek indicates that Herod felt he had no way out. John had risen and was performing miracles to torment him. But we must continue in the context to delve deeper into Herod’s state of mind. Once again, back to birthdays.
“[Herod] was very perplexed (feeling like there was no way out); but he used to enjoy listening to [John the Baptist]. And a strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.’ And he swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom (blind, open-ended vow).’ And she went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ And she said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ And immediately she came in haste before the king and asked, saying, ‘I want you to give me right away the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her.”
Herod, who although he had John thrown into prison, enjoyed listening to him. John was bold, and still lived “under the Law,” and told Herod that he was wrong in taking his brother’s wife. And for this, Herod wanted to put him to death. Yet it seems as the relationship continued, Herod, once again, had a soft spot for John. But Herodias did not and she was stewing, biding her time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to eliminate John. And this happened at Herod’s big, birthday bash.
They partied hard–were eating, drinking and being merry, when in danced the daughter of Herodias. So pleased with her was Herod, that he promised her anything, up to half his kingdom; which by the way, wasn’t his to give. In the same way, neither was the head of John the Baptist. Herod knew this and I am sure it is why he plunged into paranoia. That’s the problem, he knew it was grotesquely grandiose and patently improper to keep his blind vow, but he did it anyway, so as to not look weak in front of his “friends.” And now, at least in his mind, he is going to pay the price. But little does Herod know, how great that price will be.
Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Surely, if there ever was a good person, it was John. Yet even John was a sinner, deserving of death. Nevertheless, the Scripture is clear–John went to paradise and Herod remained here, storing up wrath for himself. It is not a question of bad things happening to good people, but the supremacy of God to act perfectly, according to his will. Like Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, church, prayer and everything else, we must not rest on our understanding but on the perfect outcome of God’s will. John knew this and knew his role. Although he did question Jesus being the Messiah, he clearly and concisely quipped, “he must increase; I must decrease.”