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THE DEATH OF A CONSCIENCE
Intro: This passage is one of the saddest in the entire Bible. It records the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. He was a special man, chosen for a special mission. He was the “forerunner” of the Messiah. He was the fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the last martyr of the Old Testament period and the first of the New Testament period. He was a powerful preacher. He was a fearless prophet. He was a true man of God. As Jesus Christ Himself testified, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist,” Matt. 11:11.
While this passage reveals the details of John’s death, it also records the death of something else. This passage records the death of a conscience. Our text speaks of a man named Herod. He was a wicked man who ruled over one-fourth of Palestine at the time.
His father was Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the king who had been ruling when Jesus was born. It was Herod the Great who had ordered the deaths of all the infants in Bethlehem, in an effort to destroy the Lord Jesus. When Herod died, the Roman emperor divided his kingdom into four parts. One part was given to the man in our text, Herod Antipas. He wasn’t really a king; he was actually a “tetrarch”, which means “the ruler of a fourth part.” He did demand, however, that his subjects call him “king”. Herod Antipas ruled from 4 A.D. to 39 A.D. He was banished to what is now France by the Roman emperor for demanding to be made a king in 39 A.D. Jesus summed up the character of Herod Antipas once by calling him a “fox”, Luke 13:32. We will talk more about this man and his background as we move through the message.
What we see in these verses is a picture of how a person can sin against their conscience to the point that they are capable of anything. It is possible to ignore the warnings of your heart, your soul and your mind until those warnings cease to be heard. It is possible to so deaden the conscience that it no longer stands as a barrier between the individual and any sin they choose to commit, 1 Tim. 4:2. That is why some people can do the things they do without remorse or guilt. They have seared their conscience to the point where it feels nothing and no longer warns them about evil.
Before we go any farther, we need to talk about the conscience. A lot of people are confused about the conscience and what it does. Many people believe that the conscience was given to us to help us make decisions between right and wrong. That is a false assumption! The conscience will only resist any deviation from the truth, or the right and the wrong, it knows.
For instance, if you have been raised to believe the Bible is absolute truth, your conscience will help you know the difference between what is right and wrong based on the Bible, your standard for truth. If you start to do something the Bible says is a sin, your conscience will rise up and tell you to stop. If, on the other hand, you have been raised to believe that there are no limits in life and you can do as you please, your conscience will not give you any problems.
That is why so many people are in such trouble today. They have adopted a philosophy that says, “If it feels good, do it!” As a result, they do not live by the truth of the Word of God, but by the feelings of their flesh. They do as they please and their conscience never bothers them.
The most dangerous thing any person can do is to sin against the truth. Paul tells us that sinning against a “good conscience” leads to spiritual “shipwreck”, 1 Tim. 1:19. A “good conscience” is one that knows the truth and desires to be obedient to it. When people know the truth and reject it in favor of their own standards of right and wrong, they sin against a “good conscience”. That is what we see in our text today.
This passage records The Death Of A Conscience. Please follow along with me as I point out the lessons contained in these verses. As we move through this text, allow the Lord to speak to your heart. Obey His Word if He speaks to you today and do not sin against your own conscience.
I. v. 17-20 HEROD’S CONFUSION
(Ill. When Herod heard about the ministry of Jesus and about all the miracles He performed, Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. We will come back to verses 14-16 in a moment. First, we need to consider the background for Herod’s belief that John had somehow come back from the dead.
Verses 17-29 form a parenthetical passage. We are transported back in time to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. Mark allows us to see Herod’s flashback regarding the death of John the Baptist.
These verses reveal a soul in conflict. Herod is fighting a battle between the flesh and the spirit. He is confused and conflicted and that is clearly revealed in these verses.)
A. v. 17-18 Herod Held John – We are told that Herod arrested John for preaching against Herod’s sins. If things haven’t been confusing enough already, we are going to take a moment to consider Herod’s family tree. A better name would be a palm, since it doesn’t really branch.
· Herod Antipas is the son of Herod the Great.
· Among his half-brothers are Aristobolus (He was killed by his own father) and Herod Philip.
· Herod the Great had at least five wives and had sons and daughters by the all.
· Herod Antipas, the man in our text, married the daughter of Aretas I an Arabian king.
· Herod Philip married Herodias, the woman in our text, who was the daughter of his half-brother Aristobolus. She was his half-niece. They had a daughter named Salome, the girl who danced for Herod Antipas, her double half-uncle and step-father.
· Herod Philip was disinherited by his father Herod the Great. He and Herodias moved to Rome.
· Herod Antipas and his wife visited his brother in Rome and Herod Antipas fell in love with his half-niece and sister-in-law Herodias. They had an affair and both left their spouses and married one another.
· Confused yet?
It was this arrangement that John repeatedly condemned. The phrase “had said” in verse 18 suggests repeated action. Every time Herod was around, John preached against incest and adultery from the Law of God. Herod was upset by this preaching. It seems that Herodias was even more upset, v. 17, and so Herod had John thrown into prison.
(Ill. This is not the proper response to biblical preaching! When a preacher takes the Bible and preaches the truth from it, there will be times when he will get a little too close to where you are living. When that happens, you have several choices.
1.) You can ignore the message. That is dangerous because it can lead to a dead conscience.
2.) You can attack the preacher. That is also dangerous because God will judge you for that response. Besides that, if the preaching is preaching the truth, he is really just delivering the mail. If you have an issue, you should take it up with the Lord.
3.) You can bring the need to the Lord. You can let Him work in your life to bring you to a place of repentance and blessing, 1 John 1:9.)
(Ill. We are swiftly approaching an hour when preachers in this country are going to be persecuted for the message we preach. If a liberal Congress has its way, preachers will be imprisoned if they preach against homosexuality and lesbianism. Even the Gospel itself is being called “hate speech” by those who reject the Lord Jesus. The days are coming when those who dare stand for the truth are going to face hardship and persecution.)
B. v. 19 Herod Helped John – While Herod disliked the message John preached, Herod protected John from the murderous ambitions of Herodias. She refused to forgive John for what he preached and she held hatred in her heart for the man of God.
Herod’s confusion is clear to see. He hated the fact that John was telling him the truth about his sins, but still he wanted to keep John around.
(Ill. This same love/hate relationship exists in our world between the preacher and some of those he preaches to. They hate it when he exposes their sins. Yet, they do not hesitate to call him when they have a need in their life. Some people are as confused as a termite in a yo-yo!)
C. v. 20 Herod Heard John – Here is the most amazing verse in this section. Herod did not like the fact that John exposed his sin, he still wanted John around. Let’s examine this verse for just a moment.
· Herod had a reverential fear of the Baptist because he knew that John was a genuine man of God. He knew he was a holy and a righteous man.
· Herod “observed” John, that is, he kept John the Baptist safe and under constant guard. He didn’t want John the expose his sins, but he didn’t want anything bad to happen to John either.
· When Herod heard John preach, “he did many things” – This can be interpreted two ways and I think both are true. First, when Herod heard John, he was perplexed. That is, what he heard caused him great conflict of soul. He heard the truth and recognized it as truth. Second, Herod did some of the things John told him to do. He may have reformed his life to a certain point, but not the point of giving up Herodias. The truth touched Herod’s heart and he tried to dull the pain of conviction by doing some good things.
· The most amazing part of this verse tells us that Herod “heard him gladly”. The idea is that Herod “enjoyed” hearing John preach the Word of God. He didn’t intend to change his whole life and surrender all to the Lord, but he liked the preacher and he loved to hear him preach.
· King Herod is one confused man!
(Ill. There are many people just like Herod in our world today. They get caught up in the preaching or the personality of a man, but they miss the point of the message. They like to hear their favorite preacher preach, but they have no intentions of doing everything the Bible is telling them to do. That is a dangerous way to live your life!
When God speaks to your heart, He is extending grace to you that you do not deserve! He is showing you that He cares about you, that He loves you and that He has a better plan for your life. When He points out your errors in the Word of God, He does so because He loves you and wants change you.
Don’t be like Herod and play around with the things of God. Herod kept John and treated him like he was a pet parrot. He treated the Word of God like he could do as he pleased with it. Nothing sears the conscience any quicker than saying “no” to the Word of God. If the Lord has been speaking to you about any area of your life, you need to heed His voice and obey His Word without delay. To do otherwise is deadly!)
II. v. 21-29 HEROD’S CRIME
(Ill. These verses chronicle the tragic death of John. He was a mighty man of God, but he was sacrificed on the altar of hatred, self-gratification and lust. Let’s look in on the events surrounding John’s death.)
A. v. 21-22a It Involved A Sinful Dance – Herodias had been biding her time, waiting for an opportunity to see John the Baptist put to death. She saw her chance at Herod’s birthday bash. This supper was nothing more than a drunken party for Herod and his men. When they were drunk with wine, Herodias sprung her trap.
She sent in her teenage daughter Salome to dance for Herod and his friends. This particular dance would have been a suggestive, sensual, sexual dance designed to inflame the passions of the men in the room.
These dances were usually performed by professional dancers or by prostitutes hired for the event. Her dance had the desired effect, for Herod and those with him were captivated by the beautiful youngster.
This act reveals the wickedness that was in the heart of Herodias. Imagine putting your daughter on display in that fashion. Imagine sending her out to dance for a man who was both her uncle and step-father! What wickedness!
(Ill. People are no different today! Just this week I saw where a mother sent her little daughter under a locked door and had her steal a woman’s purse. People are wicked to the core!)
B. v. 22b-25 It Involved a Senseless Declaration – Herod’s passions are inflamed by the girl’s dance and he promises to give her anything she desires, up to half his kingdom! It was a foolish boast designed make Herod look good in front of his guests.
The girl runs to her to seek her advice on what she should ask from the king. Her mother, without hesitation, tells her daughter to request the head of John the Baptist. The girl runs back and reveals her own heart when she tells Herod she wants John’s head. But, she adds her own twist to the request by telling him that she wanted it now and she wanted it served up on a plate.
C. v. 26-29 It Involved A Shameful Deed – Herod realizes immediately that he has made a mistake. He should have said, “I promised you a gift, not a murder!” But, he is afraid of losing face in front of his guests, so he sends the executioner and John is immediately beheaded. The grisly trophy is then presented to Salome. And, with that, the Baptist is dead! His disciples come and take his body away for burial.
As we watch Herod in these verses, we are witnessing the death of his conscience. He refused to accept the Word of God and change his ways. Then, he listened to John preach repeatedly and said “no” to the Word. Now, he has crossed the line and done the unthinkable. He has put this man he both feared and admired to death, all because of the anger of his wife. This is a tragic scene.
(Ill. There are several lessons for us here, if we will listen to them.
· These verses reveal the devastating power of hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness. It is better to follow the command of God and forgive those who hurt you than it is to be consumed alive by bitterness and hatred. (Ill. Eph. 4:32; Matt. 18:21-22; Luke 17:1-5)
· These verses reveal the dangers involved in the use and abuse of alcohol and mind altering drugs. They will take control of your life, lower you inhibitions and lead you to do things you never would have thought of doing otherwise. (Ill. Pro. 23:29-35)
· These verses reveal the danger of peer pressure. Just because others do stupid stuff does not mean that you have to follow their lead! Just because others drink, use drugs, engage in pre-marital sexual activity and other things, does not mean that you have to do it too! You have nothing to prove to your so-called friends! By the way, not everyone is doing it if you aren’t!
· These verses reveal the danger of not controlling your tongue. What you say can harm you and it can harm others! (Ill. James 3:1-12)
III. v. 14-16 HEROD’S CONSCIENCE
(Ill. When Herod heard about Jesus and what He was doing, his conscience made one last attempt to point him toward the truth. But, by this time, his conscience has been so ignored and abused; it is hardly functioning at all. Let’s listen to the last gasps of a dying conscience.)
A. v. 14 His Contrition – As soon as Herod hears about the miracles, the message and the ministry of Jesus, Herod immediately assumes that Jesus is John resurrected from the dead.
It is amazing that he would leap to this conclusion. Herod was a member of the party of the Sadducees. The Sadducees denied the supernatural and did not believe in the resurrection. Another amazing thing is the fact that John the Baptist did no miracles during his ministry. Herod assumes that the miracles could only be done by a man returned from the dead.
The guilt over what he did is eating him alive. He knows he killed an innocent, decent and good man. His conscience is bothering him and he is sure that John the Baptist has come back to haunt him.
(Ill. That is the power of guilt! It will eat you alive. You can’t run from it. You can’t hide from it. You can’t escape its words. It shows up when you are alone. Guilt comes calling in the dead of night. It gnaws at the soul and eats away at the mind.
The only solution for guilt over past sins is to bring those sins to Jesus. When they are brought to Him, Jesus forgives the sin and removes the guilt. He can set you free from the monster of guilt! Listen again to His promise: 1 John 1:9.)
B. v. 15-16 His Confession – Some people around Herod and around the region were saying that Jesus was Elijah or one of the other prophets. Herod is convinced that Jesus is none other than John the Baptist. Then, Herod makes a startling confession. He says “whom I beheaded”. That “I” is an “emphatic, personal pronoun”. Herod is saying “whom I and I alone beheaded”. Herod is confessing his guilt, but he is not seeking forgiveness from the hand of God. There is confession, but there is no repentance! Thus, there is no salvation! There is only the death of a conscience and Herod stifles the last effort of his wounded soul to call him to God.
(Ill. It is one thing to know you are guilty of sin. It is another thing altogether for you to get honest about that sin. When you get honest about your sins and confess them to the Lord, He will forgive your sins. When there is a desire to repent, or turn away from sin, there can be salvation.
But, when He calls and you ignore that call, choosing to remain in your sins, there is nothing left for you but judgment. God can cleanse. God can restore. God can give new life. But, He only does these things in the face of a “good conscience” that longs to do right.
When His call is ignored, the conscience begins to die. If the call is rejected long enough and often enough, the conscience will die altogether. At that point, God may call, but His voice will not be heard. More likely is truth that God will abandon the sinner to the way he or she has chosen, Rom. 1:24-32. Do not kill your conscience by ignoring the call of God. Come if He is calling you!)
C. Luke 23:6-11 His Condemnation – The final mention of Herod Antipas in the Word of God is in these verses. Here, Jesus had been arrested and had appeared before Pontius Pilate. Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas because Jesus was from Herod’s jurisdiction.
When Jesus appears before Herod, all Herod wants is to see Jesus perform some miracle. He doesn’t care about the truth; he is just looking for spiritual entertainment.
The Lord Jesus refuses to even speak to Herod. God has finished with him and there will be no more calls for him to repent. God has nothing more to say to King Herod! There will be no more opportunities for him to be saved. He has sinned away his day of grace and he is doomed.
Herod’s conscience is so scarred that he has no compassion for a condemned man. He and his men mock Jesus. They adorn him in a king’s robe and send Him away. Thus ends the story of Herod Antipas! He has ignored the truth and killed his own conscience. There will be no hope and no salvation for Herod forever.
(Ill. It is a dangerous thing to turn God away. When you do, you are not guaranteed that He will ever speak to you again, Gen. 6:3; Pro. 27:1. Each time you turn the Lord away, it hardens your heart more and more. Eventually, you reach the place where the conscience dies. When that happens, you will never hear His voice again. Please do not play around with spiritual matters. If He is speaking to your heart, do as He is calling you to do.)
Conc: The death of a conscience is a tragic event because the death of a conscience usually leads to the death of a soul. When you refuse Jesus and the Gospel, there remains no hope for your salvation. There is nothing in your future but the terrible effects of sin and the horrors of Hell.
Has the Lord been speaking to you? Has He been calling you to come to Jesus for salvation? Has He been calling you to get before Him and get your spiritual life back in order? Has He been calling you to turn away from some sin in your life? If He is calling you, please do not do like Herod. If He is calling you please come to Him today and do what He us calling you to do. The time for obedience is right now.