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  • Andy Grice

Read Mark Learn #21 - Money, Sex and Power


There was no recording this morning ... script follows instead:

So we are continuing our series looking at Mark’s Gospel ... we’re looking at the “Beginning of the Gospel” ... and considering how the Gospel “ends” in our lives ...

We’re looking and thinking about how we respond to Jesus ... by looking at what Mark has to tell us about the Identity - Mission - and Call of Jesus Christ ...

and this morning we are looking at the passage in Mark Chapter 6 that was read to us a few moments ago ... and I guess that this passage highlights why I think that preaching through books of the Bible is a good idea ...

… although it also highlights why I think that preaching through books of the Bible is a bad idea !

You see ... I think it’s a good idea to preach through a book ... section by section ... because it means that you don’t get to avoid some of the more obscure and difficult to preach passages ...

However, I this week I’ve been thinking that preaching through a book section by section is a bad idea because it means that I can’t avoid passages like the one we are looking at today!!

[you see] I don’t think that this section from is an easy one to preach ... I think it is the only scene in Mark where Jesus is absent ... and it a most unpleasant scene ...

However, I believe that all scripture is God breathed ... and useful ... for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training ... so let’s look at the text and see what we can learn from it that may be useful ...

But before we do ... may we pray ...

[PRAY]

So Mark Chapter 6 and verse 14 ... [worth having Bibles open as we work our way through this tricky passage ... ]

So v14 ...

King Herod heard about this ...

So I don’t know about you but when I hear the name King Herod I think about the King Herod of the nativity ... and the slaughter of the innocents after King Herod discovers that the Magi have travelled home without reporting back to him ... that was King Herod the Great …

However, this is a different King Herod ... in fact he isn’t really a king at all ...

The Herod of Mark 6 is Herod Antipas ... son of Herod the Great ... one of four sons who inherited a quarter of the inheritance and so was titled Tetrarch ...

but would have very much liked to have been called King ... and probably called himself King ... hence Mark using this title ... [Anyway ...]

This Herod … Herod the Tetrarch … Herod Antipas … has heard about “this” ...

So what’s the “this” ... Well I think it’s simply the Apostles going out in the name of Jesus ... preaching a message of repentance ... driving our demons ... and healing sick people ...

Seems like the Apostles have done their job well and were getting the name of Jesus known ... people were talking ... and they were wondering who Jesus was ...

So apparently some thought that perhaps this was a resurrected John ... which shows that there was at least one pre-christian tradition that believed in resurrection ...

some said that Jesus was in fact Elijah ... as there was a strong tradition that Elijah would return as a pre-cursor ... a for-runner to the Messiah ... others said that Jesus was a new prophet ...

So Mark … who wants us to think about how we respond to Jesus … is helpfully mapping out for us the key ways that people were responding to Jesus before His death on the cross ...

And Herod threw his lot in with the John the Baptist camp ... but notice how he puts it ... as he says that John ... whom I beheaded ...

I think you can hear the guilty conscience ... John whose head I chopped off ... John who I killed ... has returned …

I doubt many of us have used a phrase like this to describe someone …

I can imagine asking Linda to remind me which of her friends she is talking about and saying something like … “oh the one whose toe I stepped on at that thing”

Or, describing someone to Linda … you know “the one who spilled red wine on you”

Or something similar …

but I can’t imagine anyone here … describing someone as … You know… the one whose head I chopped off !!

So, of course, this then begs the question as to how on earth Herod Antipas came to cut off John the Baptist’s head ….

And so Mark takes a break from the action ... to backfill the story and explain to us how John’s death came about ...

so ... in verse 17 ... Mark writes

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison.

Which asks the question “why?”

Well … Mark tells us … it would appear that this was all because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married.

Herod Antipas ... our Mark 6 Herod ... was married to the daughter of a king ... however ... on route to Rome ... Herod Antipas stayed with his brother ... Herod Philip ...

They don’t seem to have been that original with names in this family!

Anyway Herod Antipas ... has an affair with his half-brother’s wife ... Herodias ... who ... just to confuse things ... is the daughter of Aristobulus ... whose father was Herod the Great ...

which makes her Herod Antipas’s niece ... as well as his sister in law ... and these two have an affair ... and get married ...

So Herod relates to Herodias as niece, sister-in-law, and wife ...

What’s that all about?

What is driving such immorality?

I think … although the text doesn’t actually say … I think this is driven by out and out Lust …

a lust for Sex ... a lust for power ...

It has been suggested that Money, sex and power ... are at the root of most problems in church life …

This is what Richard Foster had to say in his book ... Money Sex and Power ...

no issues touch us more profoundly or universally. No topics cause more controversy. No human realities have greater power to bless or to curse. No three things have been more sought after or are more in need of a Christian response.

And I think that it was money, sex and a lust for power that led Herod and Herodias into this sordid affair ...

And it was John ... that’s John the Baptist ... Jesus cousin remember ... who challenged Herod and Herodias ... verse 18 ... John spoke truth to power ... pointing out from Lev 18 the immorality of the situation

And here’s the thing …

there are consequences to speaking up for what is right and true ...

although Linda and I haven’t lost our heads for speaking the truth … but we have lost friends over this ... over challenging behaviour that we thought was wrong ...

It’s not easy to stand up and speak for what is right ...

But John did ... he challenged Herod ... and based on Lev 18 ... declared that it was not right for Herod to be married to his brother’s wife ...

And in this book … this Gospel of Mark … that is all about responding ...

it is instructive to look at the response of Herod and Herodias ...

… or really that should be the responses since they are different ...

Herodias is not happy ... she is not happy at all and wants John dead! I wonder if you’ve ever been so annoyed by a preacher that you’ve wanted them dead … … I do hope not!

So Herodias wants John dead … but Herod,

Herod seems to be more subtle in his response … Mark tells us that he “fears” John ... and protects him ...

Yes he has power over John and put him in prison ... but it is almost like he was simply doing that to protect him from his wife!!

No, Herod fears John ... and we assume … He fears his message ...

Herod wanted to be King … and wanted to be taken seriously by the religious power-brokers … and so this message … leaves him “greatly puzzled” ... I think the old King James version says ... that “he did many things” ...

I think the sense here is that John’s teaching agitated Herod ... led him to think and do many things … it disturbed him ... made him uncomfortable ... and yet … he liked to listen ...

But listening to the word is one thing ... notice that although he may have “done many things” ... he did not repent ... he did not change ... he still sent John back down to the dungeon after each hearing ... Although he listened to the word … he never became a do-er of the word …

I wonder how many of us ... read the Bible like this ... or listen to sermons ... or read Christian literature ... or simply think of Jesus ... like it ... we are agitated ... but never really get to the point where we feel compelled to change??

Remember this book is written to get us to consider our response to Jesus ...

so let me ask you … how do you respond ... how have you responded ... not just back in the day ... but today??

How do you respond to the Word of God …

I think that Herod in Mark 6 is a case-study in how to try to look good … try to look Holy … and Religious … whilst not actually responding!

I heard someone say this week that some of us need to shoot the parrot …

By which they meant the ability to parrot all the right answers … without actually living in the power of those answers … without those answers actually making a difference to how we live, or think or feel

I thought that was an interesting way of putting it … shoot the parrot …

Anyway ... v21 ... the time came for everything to come to a head ...

Herod gives a banquet for the leading men of Galilee ...

... ladies and gentlemen let me stress ... these men were not playing pass the parcel and musical bumps at this birthday party ...

This is a kind of Stag Party ... the wine will be flowing ... and the smell of testosterone will be heavy in the air...

I read on the BBC news website this morning of a stag-do that forced a Ryan Air flight to divert and land … the flight was on its way from Slovakia to Luton and was forced to land in Berlin … the stags … including the groom were arrested and could be fined up to £20,ooo …

I think this is the kind of party we need to have in mind …

And it is into this raucous atmosphere that the daughter of Herodias comes and dances ... now we’re not certain who this daughter was ... but the assumption must be that this is his step-daughter Salome ...

And let me just say ... the dance she would have performed was not a clog dance ...

This would have been an erotic dance ... designed to titillate ... and it seems that it achieved what it was set out to do ... for she “pleased” Herod and his dinner guests ...

And again ... the danger is that we can picture this as a quite round of applause after a polite tap dance ...

That is not the picture here ... this was sordid ... and I’m sure that the response was noisy and inappropriate ...

And so a ... no doubt drunken Herod makes this rash promise ... the half my kingdom was probably just an expression and was never really going to be cashed in ...

But the promise has been made … and so the young girl ... returns to her mother ... to ask what she should ask for …

What a piece of work Herodias must have been ... to effectively pimp her own daughter in order to get what she wants ... which is what?

The death of John the Baptist ...

can you imagine what drove this woman to these extremes ... I really hope that you can’t … as someone who strives to preach the word of God … I really hope you can’t!

Anyway ... all the scheming pays off ... Salome asks for the head of John the Baptist ...

to which Herod replies ... don’t be so silly ... come on now ... we’ve all had a bit to drink but let’s all just calm down ... I got a bit carried away and made a promise that I can’t keep ... so I’ll ring for some taxis ... and we’ll call it a night ...

Except that isn’t what he said was it?

It probably should have been ... but instead ... not wanting to lose face in front of his guests ... he follows through ...

How often do we do the wrong thing in order to save face … in order to look good? And in order to save face Herod has John beheaded ... and presents Salome with John’s head ...

John’s disciples meanwhile come and take John’s body and lay it in a tomb ...

So what on earth are we to make of this?

So I guess the easiest thing to do is to turn this into a simple morality tale...

Don’t marry your half-brothers wife who is also your niece ... and never ever behead a preacher...

Got that message ... good ... we’re done ...

Except that is not very useful ... I’m not sure that any of us have ever nor will ever find ourselves in this situation ...

So is there something else we should take from this passage?

If all scripture is God breathed and useful is there a more useful word for us…

Well, as is so often the case with Biblical passages ... how you interpret them depends upon whose point of view ... you look at the story from … which character you consider and study …

Take Herod for example,

I think it is clear that he is a negative example ... and is perhaps the easiest point of view to interpret this story from ...

What can we learn from Herod … apart from to not be tricked by you wife/ niece/ sister-in-law to cut off peole’s heads!

I think we learn from Herod to not ignore God’s word in your life ...

To not just be a hearer of the word but a do-er of the word ...

To not get carried away and do things just because of what other people might think of you ...

Avoid situations where you can be tempted by lust ...

I’ve spoken to Linda about this ... but not so long ago I found myself in a situation from which I pretty much ran ... for fear of where it may lead ...

I know of two Christian leaders in this town ... who have made a shipwreck of their ministry because of adultery ...

no-one is immune ... and those of us who are married need to work hard to protect ourselves and our family unit ...

For a number of years I’ve been thinking that we should run a marriage course or some kind of event to help strengthen marriages ... I’m looking into this at the minute so watch this space ...

I want to be careful not to be heard to say that sex is at the root of every problem in marriage ...

But I can’t help but notice that it is sexual relationships which cause the problems in this passage... I think we need to work hard to protect ourselves and one another in this area …

Anyway ... that’s one way we can interpret the passage …

from Herod’s point of view ... but are there others?

Well … What about Herodias ... What can we learn from her … I have to say that my first reaction was to dismiss her as simply a nasty piece of work ... and I must admit that she is such an extreme negative example that I didn’t think she was much help to us ... then I read the editorial in this week’s “The Week” made me think again ...

[read]

It’s easy to this that Herodias is wicked ... and I’m not that bad ... which I’m sure is true ...

But perhaps we sometimes have a higher opinion of ourselves and our motivations … all perhaps we operate too often on principles of what is best for us ... and perhaps we are not actually as different from Herodias as we would like to believe

... so perhaps there is a lesson for us to learn from her ... to be careful to not hold grudges … to not allow them to eat us up … to question whether what we are doing is actually as right as we think it is

And as I’ve lived with this slightly bizarre passage and have tried to break it open to reveal its message …

I found myself starting to think about this whole sordid affair from the point of view of the daughter ... Salome ...

Probably a young teenager ... how do you think she was effected by the scene we have described for us in Mark 6??

How on earth do you think she moved on in her life from the night when she danced an erotic tease before her step-dad and his mates ... and received a man’s head on a platter in payment ...

What on earth do you think this did to her soul?

… and this led me to think about the women and girls who will be used and abused in this town over race week that Georgina drew our attention to last year

... and the question was asked what does the hyper-sexulaized climate of our town during festival week do to the women and girls who are exploited by those more powerful than them?

Friends … we have not yet mobilized a response … we have no political solution … but we can pray … I’d like to pray now … I’d like to encourage you to pray whenever you can … I’d like to invite you to join with the me before the service next week at 10am and we shall pray …

I think we need to pray for Salome …

[may we pray]

And then finally we come to think about the lessons we may learn from John himself ...

and maybe we need to learn something from this passage about john’s courage to speak truth to power ... to stand up for truth ... for what is right ... and to declare the word of God whatever the consequences ...

I think all of these things and more may be take home messages from this passage ... the negative examples ... of Herod and Herodias ... the recognition of the damage that may be done to the innocent ... the positive example of John ...

And we could perhaps stop there ...

But the final thought on this passage that I want to leave you with ... is that Mark doesn’t stop there ...

And I just wonder if this is the message Mark wants to highlight ...

that the tragic conclusion to this story... which starts with a man ... a prophet ... Elijah returned ... speaking Biblical truth to power ... that results in an innocent man being imprisoned and then killed ... and ends with disciples laying a body in a tomb ... is not in fact the end of the story …

Can you hear the parallels in this story … of another innocent Man … who declared the word of God … imprisoned … beaten and killed … laid in a tomb by his disciples?

I just wonder whether Mark is intentionally playing with these future echoes to highlight for us … that this story does not end here … and the story of Jesus does not end in the tomb …

... for the truth is that Jesus is not merely a prophet ... and for Him the ending will be different ...

And although the Apostles will again be sent out ... to heal and drive out demons and to preach a message of repentance ...

They will also declare the awesome truth that Jesus is the risen Christ ... and has conquered sin and death … and so offers us … all of us … the Herods, the Herodiases, Salomes, the drunken party goer … the John the Baptists, all of us … no matter how broken … or how immoral our lives have been … the Grace of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ … is that the story does not end here in Mark 6 .. we are … all of us … offered an alternative ending ... so we can be lifted out of the mire ... so that we can be freed from the lust for money, sex and power ...

And so I just wonder if in this bizarre tale of Herod in the middle of Mark’s Gospel ... even though Jesus is absent ... we are still being shown something of who Jesus is ... why He came to do what He had to do ... and something of what it means to respond ...

… or perhaps we are being shown what it means if we do not respond …

to the Amazing Grace of God shown to us in the Lord Jesus Christ ...

Which leads me to ask you the question hanging in the air … what will your response be?

To cling on to Jesus for dear life ...

Or to be puzzled ... agitated ... to do many things ... but to never respond to the Amazing Grace of God ...

So my friends will you?

Will you hear, understand and respond …

Let’s take a moment of quite ... before I lead us in prayer ...


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