Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887
John the Baptist's Death.
Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29.
We cannot conclude these meditations without a few words concerning the close of John the Baptist's career. Come in the "way of righteousness" (Matt. 21:32), he persevered in it to the end; separated to God from his mother's womb, he maintained this precious characteristic to the last. Herod knew him to be "a just man and an holy." (Mark 6:20.) His practical righteousness and holiness are shown when he says to the king, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife." But the testimony of the faithful, instead of improving the world, condemns it, and this is what it cannot bear. A frightful unfolding of the character of Herod fighting against the truth is to be found in this narrative. The lust of the flesh was at work in the heart of this man; and in order to satisfy it he is led into wickedness and pollution. The sinner cannot give up sinning even though under restraint; he goes on in his sin by getting rid of the witness who condemns him. Herod causes John to be taken, bound, and put in prison. (Mark 6:17.) Corruption is necessarily followed by violence, which, kept within bounds at first, opens the door to murderous thoughts (Matt. 14:5), and his conscience is hardened more and more. It is not the fear of God which makes him object to the crime, but that of public opinion, and a selfish desire not to lose his influence and prestige. It is also a certain respect for a superior man, who cannot be got rid of without further formality, besides the loss of the profit of his counsels for self-exaltation. (Mark 6:20.) Herod is led by Herodias, a passionate woman, governed by her hatred, and esteeming the prophet's reproof an unpardonable affront; she also "would have killed him" (Mark 6:19), but had found Herod's feeling of respect for John a hindrance. (Mark 6:20.) The passions of these two converge to one point; Herod's are accompanied by some scruples and cunning (Luke 13:32), while Herodias is more energetic in her accomplishment of evil and triumph over obstacles.
"A convenient day" arrives; the hand of Satan is there urging on his instruments to the final act. Men are blinded, and think to accomplish their own will; they do not see that they are the sport of the devil, and that he is leading them on in warfare against God. It only remains to touch one or two more secret springs in man's heart, and the crime will be perpetrated. The day is well chosen; it is Herod's birthday, whereon his power and sumptuousness are displayed in such a way as to satisfy the pride of life. His lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee surround the king on this occasion. (Mark 6:21.) The daughter of Herodias comes in, dances, and pleases Herod and those at table with him. The lust of the eyes enters with the damsel, and takes possession of the king, and he promises with an oath, "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom." (Mark 6: 23.) Incited thereto by her mother, this thoughtless girl, with no conscience, accustomed to see her caprices obeyed, eagerly asks (Mark 6:25) "straightway" the head of John the Baptist.
Herod is exceeding sorry, but what matter? He is taken in the meshes of Satan. To his heart's secret desire is now added his so-called honour, and the fear of breaking his word before his courtiers. The devil leaves him no time for reflection; he has taken complete possession of his victim, and succeeds in stifling the testimony of God which was opposed to him. The end is attained; the instrument is left to himself and his misery. Of what advantage is his crime to him? Henceforth it will always be his companion. He hears Jesus and His miracles spoken of. "It is John," says he, "whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead." (Mark 6:16.) Striking fact, this hardened man, like the Pharisees, believes in the resurrection; but believing a doctrine gives neither satisfaction nor rest of conscience; on the contrary, it is a means of increasing the torment. "He was perplexed." (Luke 9:7.) The desire of getting rid of this vague terror, which had laid hold of him at the thought of finding again the one whom he had put to death, makes him seek to see Jesus (Luke 9:9), perhaps to kill Him also. (Luke 13:31.) Anything is better than uncertainty. But the uncertainty remains in spite of all; when at last Herod sees the Saviour, he can neither see His miracles nor hear Him. He meets on earth a silent Christ, whose voice he will not hear until by-and-by when he will see Him as Judge! (Luke 23:8-10.)
Freed from John the Baptist, Satan succeeds later on in getting rid of Christ by means of other springs in the heart of man. But, blessed be God, Satan, himself deceived, is only an instrument through which God will accomplish His own designs. However, all this wickedness draws forth divine vengeance. The Lord will execute judgment on men, and the God of peace will bruise Satan shortly under our feet. Then also afflicted saints will be at rest, and Christ will be glorified and admired in them, without restriction, in a John the Baptist, and in all those who have believed!