Beheading of John the Baptist/ The Conscience
Transcript of Matthew Message #42….
Matthew chapter 5 – 16:20 forms a great section of the book of Matthew. The Holy Spirit presents, not only this, but the whole book of Matthew in a very logical way. In this section he gives us the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Here’s how he does it. He gives two series of three parallels. In chapters 5-7 the Lord Jesus says something and we call that the Sermon on the Mount. That’s what He said. Then chapters 8-10 the Lord Jesus did something. That’s the great miracles section, the great redemptive miracles. And then in chapters 11 & 12 people respond to what the Lord Jesus said and did and there are great responses. Then we come to chapter 13 we go through the same series again. In chapter 13 Jesus said something and that’s the great kingdom of heaven parables. In chapter 14 He did something. This is another chapter on miracles. And then in chapter 15 – 16:20 people respond to what the Lord Jesus said and did. You see where we are. We finished this first series and we’ve begun on the second; what is the Lord Jesus saying in those kingdom of heaven parables?
Last time we completed the kingdom of heaven parables. So, we begin here at the end of chapter 13:53-58. This is still part of that section where He said something. Let’s begin by reading it. “And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables that He departed from there and coming into His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary and His brothers James and Joseph, Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in His own town and His own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.”
Let me suggest a little outline of these six verses. First of all I’d like to nail down the main message of these six verses. In other words, what is the Holy Spirit’s purpose for recording these verses in the Bible? Then I’d like to break it up this way. I’d like to show their responses to Him and His response to them. I think by looking at it that way we’ll get the facts before our hearts.
What is the issue of these six verses and what is the point of this and what is the message? Why does the Spirit of God record this section? How does it fit into the section we’ve just looked at; the kingdom of heaven parables? I believe the message of this section can be summarized in these words; “The credentials of the Lord Jesus.” In chapter 13 we’ve been looking at what He said. Now we’re going to look at the authority by which He said it. Who taught Him these things? Where was He trained? Why is it that when He spoke there was such power? Why did His words have such penetration? He could transform lives.
I think this is a wonderful climax to the section on parables because in a wonderful way it takes your eyes off the parable and it puts your eyes on the One Who spoke the parable. God often does this. He turns your eyes again to the Lord Jesus. Look at verse 54, “This man,” verse 55, “The carpenter’s son,” verse 56, “This man.” Your eyes are turned to “this man” in these verses rather than what He said. We’ve been studying what this man said but now we’re going to look at this man.
He was a completely ordinary man, a regular man, yet there was something different about Him. When He spoke the heart was stirred from within. There was power and there was quickening. The Lord Jesus when He was teaching had credentials from God. Do you think He just got tired one day of being a carpenter? I read that some of the Jews believed that he made rakes. That’s what He did as a carpenter. I don’t know where in the world they got that. But did he say, “It’s tiring and boring making rakes and yokes. I don’t think I’ll do this anymore. I’m tired of working with wood. I think I’ll become a preacher. I think I’ll become a teacher.”
There are words that we use today and expressions that have become very common. Have you heard these words or expressions; “the anointing of God.” Have you heard that expression, “the anointing?” “Boy, that man has an anointing. His message is anointed. His teachings are anointed.” Another one I’ve heard is “unction”. “He speaks with unction. He has unction from God.” Others are “the power of the Holy Spirit”, “speaks with authority”. In Illinois they talk about having “the influence”; “You have the influence when you speak.” It’s all talking about the same thing.
Another expression is “being quickened”; “Boy, his words were quickened and were alive.” Well, when Jesus spoke, here was the simple explanation; when Jesus spoke, God spoke. That’s unction. When Jesus spoke, God spoke. That’s anointing. That’s quickening and that’s the influence and that’s the power of God. That’s why there was such results, because God was releasing His own burden and was communicating through the Lord Jesus.
I think it will make more sense if we look into some of the responses that you see in these verses. This home town that is talked about in verse 54 is not Bethlehem. His home town was Nazareth. He grew up in Nazareth and that’s why they called Him “the man from Nazareth”. That’s not the same as a Nazarite or Nazarene. Let me give it to you through some observation. First of all, the home town people, the fellow Nazarites, looked only on the outside of the Lord Jesus. They couldn’t understand beyond what they could see and what they could experience through the senses. Look at verses 55 & 56 again, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother’s name Mary? Aren’t His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Don’t we know Him? Aren’t His sisters here?” That was the only explanation they had; human, “I can see this – A, B, C. I can hear this – A, B, C. We’re rational men.”
There’s a human proverb. I can never pronounce the first word of it, but I’ll try, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” You see something every day and if you hear the same thing over and over again and if you are brought up with it, often you will under value that thing and it becomes old hat and you’ll dis-esteem it and you’ll regard it very lightly and you’ll slight and neglect it. They were brought up with the Lord Jesus. They saw Him as a little boy and as a neighbor and as the one running through the neighborhood. They saw Him grow up and they saw Him in His teens and they saw Him as a young adult and they knew His family and mother and father and they knew His trade and now all of a sudden the home town boy walks up in the synagogue and picks up a Bible and begins to teach. They say, “Wait one minute. Isn’t this Jesus? Isn’t this the one who grew up in our neighborhood? What is He doing teaching in the synagogue? He’s just an ordinary man and we don’t understand the extraordinary things this ordinary man is doing. We don’t understand the signs and wonders and the power He has in teaching.”
Because He was an ordinary man and He was doing extraordinary things, and they didn’t have an explanation for the extras in His ordinary life, and there was no human explanation for the wisdom and power that He had, and because they only saw the outside, the Bible says they took offense at Him. An ordinary man doing extraordinary things with extraordinary wisdom and extraordinary power and extraordinary results and all they saw was the outside.
Notice verse 54, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” They had no answer to that question. Notice the question, “Where?” It doesn’t say “how” and it doesn’t say “why” and it doesn’t say “when”. It says “Where?” And what do they mean by “where”? Just this; from which school did He graduate? Where did He get that? From which school did He graduate? Does He have a degree? Does He have a piece of paper? Certainly He must have gone to one of the accepted schools of the Rabbi. “You see, what right does He have to stand in our synagogue and teach? He, an ordinary man without proper training. The very idea; an ordinary man without proper training. Where did He get that wisdom? Where did He get that power?”
One would have thought and it seems logical to me, except unbelief blinds, that because He was an ordinary man and because they knew His humble family background and because they knew He didn’t go to their regular colleges, you’d think they would have concluded, “Wow, He must be sent from God.” That would have been their conclusion, “Here’s an ordinary man with no education in the respected schools and He’s doing extraordinary things. It must be from God.” Well, they didn’t conclude that. God takes us right to the heart of their response. The last word in this chapter is “unbelief”. Verse 54 says, “They became astonished. When they heard Him they became astonished at His wisdom and they were astonished at His power.” And then you read the last and it says “unbelief”. How could they be astonished and still have unbelief?
Let me say this by way of application, when you teach the truth of God and people get astonished and they begin to admire and wonder, don’t think you’ve got a favorable response because you may not have a favorable response. Astonishment and wonderment and amazement and admiration flow out of ignorance. It’s not a sign of life or a sign of the Spirit of God and it’s not the sign of a receptive heart. These people were astonished but they didn’t repent. These people were astonished and were in awe but they didn’t turn to Jesus. They admire but they are still unbelieving.
Let’s answer the question the right way. Verse 54, “Where did this man get that wisdom?” You know the answer. It’s from God; from the Lord. God Himself spoke through the Lord Jesus. Here’s how it works and it’s illustrated by Christ but it’s the same principle. The fact is, it doesn’t change. God finds an ordinary person with an ordinary background and then he puts a little extra in the ordinary, making the ordinary extraordinary. In other words, God Himself qualifies. God Himself qualifies the ordinary person, giving him wisdom and power that he could never get from any seminary or Bible school or any school or institution of learning.
What is an extraordinary person? An extraordinary person, according to this chapter, is a person whose life cannot be explained by any other word than “God”. The question is, “Are you an extraordinary person?” Do people look at you and say, “The only way I can explain that life is God,” because if that’s not so, then we’re not entering into the life of God. God has planned that we become extraordinary by living ordinary lives in union and relationship to Him. The answer to verse 54, “Where is God?” When you get that, you’ve got unction and you’ve got quickening and you’ve got anointing and you’ve got power from the Lord.
I’ve got to say this because I know probably I’ll be misunderstood, especially some of those who follow by tape are Bible school students and I can just hear them saying, “Well, now we don’t need to get an education and we don’t have to get trained.” I’m not saying that. I’m not saying it’s wrong to go to Bible school or it’s wrong to go to seminary or some university. The goal is not “no credentials”. That’s not the goal. “If he doesn’t have credentials, he’s qualified.” No, he may not be qualified with no credentials. This passage is not for or against human training. This passage is for credentials from God. You can have credentials from men, too, but you better make sure you have credentials from God. It doesn’t amount to a rat’s nest, really, if you have all the credentials in the world from men and you don’t have credentials from God. What good is it if you have no power from God and no anointing from God and you don’t have His blessing upon your life and your ministry?
Thousands of Christians speak. There are teachers and elders and pastors and evangelists and priests but their message stands in the power of schools and books and then they quote and they aren’t in the power of God. Human credentials and human endorsements and human certificates of recognition don’t mean a thing when it comes to God’s program of redemption on the earth. In this connection listen to Jeremiah 23:30&31, “’I’m against the prophets,’ declares the Lord, ‘who steal my words from each other. Behold, I’m against the prophets who use their tongue,’ declares the Lord, and say, ‘The Lord declares.””
The people of Nazareth in Jesus’ hometown did not recognize the credentials of Jesus because he was an ordinary person that they knew and because He didn’t go to the recognized school of the Rabbis and because He came with only one credential, “Thus says the Lord.” They couldn’t see beyond their nose. They only saw the outside. Because they couldn’t see something you could put in a frame and hang on a wall, they rejected Him and they were offended at Him.
I think one of the greatest evidences of the lack of spiritual insight in the church, and on the same token one of the greatest slaps in the face to our Lord Jesus Christ, is how many churches choose pastors today. In many places, if a person piles up enough degrees and he has enough schooling from men and enough people to endorse him, then they’ll be accepted in the pulpit, or as a teacher in a Bible school or seminary. Very few questions, and I’ve been invited to sit on a lot of pulpit committees, have to do with credentials from God. It’s sickening, really, and it must wound the heart of the Lord. Nobody asks if they are anointed of God. They say, “Where did he go to school? How long did he study? What were his grades? Let’s see his transcript, and things like that.
If a man comes weak and humble and meek but he’s standing in the power of God speaking with the life of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in most place he’d be turned down and in most places he would not be qualified. I suggest that’s an insult to the Lord of glory. I’m not knocking Bible schools and seminaries. I promise you I’m not but I am trying to tone up the credentials of God. They should look at your life and mine and they ought to be scratching their heads and saying, “Where did he get that wisdom? He’s just an ordinary man.” He’s an ordinary man but he got it from God. What good is any teacher if he doesn’t have the power of God?
According to the last verse, their response is unbelief and rejection. They looked only on the outside and they see what physical eyes can see and because they can’t see beyond the ordinary, they are offended. But I think there is also instruction in not only seeing how they responded to him, just seeing the shell and the outside, but how He responded back. Very interesting. I trust the Lord will give us heart-eyes to see this. Jesus spoke with the credentials of God. How did He respond to those who were offended in Him and disbelieved Him, in order to know how we’re to respond to those who respond that way to us?
Let me give you two responses of the Lord Jesus. First of all, when they questioned His authority and credentials (this is a paradox, don’t miss it) He responded by not responding. Do you follow that? That was His response. His response was no response. Verse 57 is not really a response, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and his own household.” That’s an explanation of why they did it but that’s not His response. In verse 54 they said, “Where, where, where did He get this wisdom and where did He get this power?” Now, there’s an easy answer to that. He never gave it, but it’s an easy answer.
If someone came up and said, “Where did you get that power?” You would say, “God.” See how easy that is? Jesus didn’t say that. He didn’t respond. Their question was simple enough, “Where did you get that wisdom? Where did you get that power?” He could have said, “My authority is from above. My power is from within. It’s the Spirit of the living God. It’s not human training and it’s not group dynamics and it’s not understanding some principles of psychology and human behavior and it’s not human wisdom. Where did I get My authority? That’s easy; from God; from heaven; from the Holy Spirit; from the living God.” That’s probably what I would have said.
I would give my reasons why my message was from God. But not Jesus. The Lord Jesus responded by not responding. Why didn’t He respond? It’s because it wouldn’t have helped. They had unbelief. It wouldn’t have helped. When there is unbelief, Jesus said, “Even if someone arose from the dead, even if there were great signs and miracles, these unbelievers would say, ‘If there is a God, make the lights blink or make something happen in the sky, then I’ll believe.’” No, they won’t. The wicked generation seeks after a sign.
Listen, if you speak in the power of God, under the anointing of the Spirit of God and men don’t recognize that you’re from God, your telling them isn’t going to make an iota of difference. If they don’t see that you are from God, what good is it going to do for you to tell them, “I’m from God.”? It’s not going to do any good in the world. If they don’t recognize the power of God in your life, do what Jesus did. Walk away. He ignored it and He didn’t try to defend it and He didn’t try to prove He was from God. He didn’t say anything and they were offended. “Wonder where He got His credentials?” He didn’t give a sermon on apologetics, He didn’t defend His calling and He didn’t stand there and say, “If you believe it or not, it’s from God.” He didn’t do anything. I suggest there’s enough sound timber in what the Lord Jesus did to fill the city and we ought to get that principle of God. If we have the power of God, we don’t need to tell people that we have the power of God. If we speak in the Spirit of God, we don’t have to say, “I’m speaking in the Spirit of God.” You just be filled with the credentials of God, and be filled with the Spirit of God, and they’ll know it. If they don’t know it, it won’t help to tell them. So, don’t waste your breath, their breath and God’s time. Don’t argue. Just smile and walk away in the power of God. That’s what the Lord Jesus did and I believe it’s very instructive.
That’s the first response; no response; just live and just speak and don’t try to convince a flea that you have the power of God. If the power of God can’t convince them, what good is it going to be for you to tell them? D. L Moody used to say, “The word of God is sharp, powerful like a sword. I don’t have to prove it’s sharp any more than I’d have to prove there’s a lion in the cage. Just let him out and that will be proof enough.” Exactly right! If you have the power of God in your life, just let Him out. You don’t have to give five reasons why you’ve got the power of God. Let Him out. Once He comes out they’ll have all the proof with all the evidence that you need.
The second response the Lord Jesus had is in verse 58, “He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” And Mark adds this, chapter 1:5, “He could do no miracles there except, He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” The first response was no response. The second response, it says that He didn’t do many miracles. It doesn’t say He didn’t do any miracles. Mark says that He laid His hands on a few sick folks and then He left. The principle is this; the Lord Jesus ministered to the few that were open. I used to think He did no miracles there because of their unbelief. But it doesn’t say that. It says that He didn’t do many; it doesn’t say any. There were a few sick folk; a few needy people and those He ministered unto.
If we’re going to follow the rejected Savior-King, then we’re going to find for ourselves, as indeed it was for Him, the world, especially those most familiar with us, will not, as a whole, recognize the credentials of God. They just won’t see that. And where His credentials aren’t recognized, His power is withheld. He didn’t do many mighty works there but there will always be a few who are open; a few sick folk. And God will use you to minister to the few.
I’ll summarize a few principles from this section. Don’t try to be extraordinary. God never called you to that. Just be ordinary and let God put the extra in the ordinary. Just be an ordinary person and just be yourself. Live in union with Christ, embracing Him, and He’ll put the extra in the ordinary, and leave no other explanation for your life, except God. Number two, don’t try to defend the power of God in your life and don’t try to explain it and don’t give testimonies about it. Just live it. If God’s credentials are upon you, they will not need an explanation. Don’t argue whether you have it or don’t have it. If you don’t have it, arguing won’t give it to you. And if you do have it and they don’t recognize it, arguing is not going to convince them. Number three, if there is unbelief, just minister to the few who are open. The power of God has never needed numbers to be satisfied. The power of God, the anointing of God, has never needed crowds and never needed masses. God has always and only gone after the hungry, the thirsty, the few, the individuals, the sick folk who want His help. Go after them. Don’t try to have a big following.
The first part of the miracle chapter, chapter 14, He did something. Chapter 14 is in three parts, really, even though they are wonderfully connected to chapter 15. Matthew 14:1-12 is the beheading of John the Baptist. Verses 13-21, the feeding of the five thousand and then verses 22-36 is Jesus walking upon the stormy sea. The feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the stormy sea are recognized as great miracles. But what about chapter 14:1-12, the beheading of John the Baptist? It looks like the miracle chapter begins with no miracle. Exactly right and it’s very instructive. Jesus let John die. Jesus did not lift a finger to help his cousin, the forerunner. He could have stopped it and prevented it and He could have worked some miracle to set him free but He didn’t. He let him die in jail at the hands of some very infamous people.
I’d like to look at this event as the Holy Spirit records it and I’d like to show how it fits, I believe, into this chapter and into the message of Matthew. “At that time Herod the Tetrarch,” (Tetrarch means ¼. Herod the Great divided his kingdom into four parts and this is just one of those parts), “heard the news about Jesus and said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He has risen from the dead and that’s 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, Phillip, 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 multitudes 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.” Another gospel writer says, “Unto half the kingdom”. “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 the disciples came and took away the body and buried it and they went and reported it to Jesus.” By the way, verse 12 is a wonderful funeral verse. If you want to have a good funeral verse, “The disciples came away and buried the body and then went and reported it to Jesus.” Put your loved one away and then go tell the Lord.
Anyway, the great message of Matthew’s gospel, if you can recall back 42 lessons ago, is taken from Matthew 10:24-25, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher and the slave as his master. If they called the head of the house Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household?” You see, the message of Matthew is the message of a rejected Savior-King. As you go through Matthew, increasingly the rejection deepens. At every stage in Matthew He is being more and more rejected. We might get the idea if we follow the Lord Jesus and we’re identified with Him, that He’ll use His miracle powers to deliver us and that He’ll keep us safe. The answer is, “No, He’ll not deliver those who follow Him.” Those who follow the rejected Savior are themselves going to be rejected, because the way of the king is the way of the king’s servants and the way He walked is the way we walk.
In some churches they call this week “The Via Delarosa, the Way of the Cross”. Every Christian is to walk the Via Delarosa, the way of the cross and that’s illustrated in John the Baptist. John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ and here’s what happens to the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the climax of redemption. They beheaded Him and served His head on a platter. That’s what every true follower of the Lord Jesus can expect. You can expect to be beheaded and have your head served on a platter. You can expect that Jesus will not lift a finger to help.
The misconception among Christians is that they’re exempt from what befalls other men. Some Christians have that idea. This is especially true with persecution but there’s a broader application to the principle. Let me put it in these words, to make it crystal clear and say, “God has not exempted His children from any of the common troubles of life. God gives grace, but He has not promised deliverance. I know God can give deliverance and I know that He often does, but He hasn’t guaranteed it. You can sing, “Keep me safe by night and day,” but God has not promised to keep you safe by night and day, especially as you line up increasingly with His Son. Of course, when you are safe, you can praise God. It’s God that’s kept you safe. But when you wake up and your house is not burned down, you can praise God that He allowed that and He engineered that. Indeed, praise the Lord!
The Christian is not exempt and it won’t help for you to pray that bandits don’t break into your house. You won’t find that in the Bible. They’ll break into your house as fast as they’ll break into anybody else’s house. Christians have no protection, except that which the law gives against rapists. The Lord is not a protection against rapists and against murderers, against fires and against accidents and against disease. You won’t find that in the Bible. Sometimes Christians pray for what they call “Journeying mercies”. If someone is going on a trip they’ll say, “Let’s pray for journeying mercies, that the Lord will keep you safe on the road.” I don’t know where in the world they get the warrant for such prayers as that. They aren’t in the Bible and it’s not from God’s word. I’m not saying God won’t keep you safe on the road, but I am saying that He hasn’t promised it. You can’t pray that with assurance and you can’t pray any of those prayers with assurance because He hasn’t promised to do that.
God has never promised that His children wouldn’t be scorned or diseased or burned out or broken into. John the Baptist, Stephen the martyr, they might have liked it if they were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They had it easy. Listen to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s attitude. Daniel 3:17, “Our God who we serve is able to deliver us from this flaming fire but even if He does not…” See, that’s the right attitude. Our God is able, but even if He doesn’t, we’re going to serve Him. He’s able but He hasn’t guaranteed. John the Baptist is a foretaste of what would happen to the Savior and then would happen with all who lined up with the Savior. When God does not deliver, your faith hasn’t failed and your God hasn’t failed. It’s just that for some wonderful reason, mysterious reason in His love and providence, completely consistent with His wisdom and His grace, He has a plan and a purpose. How mysterious the providence that let such a holy man as John the Baptist in such infamous hands as these, committed him to be sacrificed to the malice of an abandon harlot, the dance of this vain girl, to the foolish vow of an intoxicated prince. God just turned him over to all those things. His ways are unsearchable. The miracle section opens with no miracle and I believe God is deliberately illustrating through that, that the path of the king is the path of the king’s servant.
Let me get a few principles before your heart and let me get a couple of the facts of the story. It’s pretty complicated. When you see the name Herod, for example, in your Bible, don’t think about the baby killer. Remember in the days of the infancy of the Lord Jesus that Herod had all those babies killed? When you see Herod in the Bible, it might be him, Herod the Great, but it might also be Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Phillip the First, Herod Phillip the Second, Herod Agrippa the First, Herod Agrippa the Second. There are seven Herods mentioned in the New Testament. When you are reading and you see a word, the same thing with “baptism”, don’t think water. There are seven different baptisms mentioned in the New Testament. Make sure you get the context and see what it’s talking about.
Let me try to get a little of this background before you. I’ll try to do only the facts. This was Herod Antipas. Herod had five wives; Herod the Great we’re talking about now. Herod the Great, the monster, the great baby killer, had five wives. We only need three of them to get this story. The first one was Mariamne. That was one of his wives. We’ll call her MaryAnne. And then his second wife was Malface and then his third wife was Cleopatra. MaryAnne had a child, a son, named Aristobulus. He and his daughter, whose name was Herodias. Malface also had a son named Herod Antipas. That’s the Herod in this chapter. Then Cleopatra had a son named Phillip. You can see that Herod and Phillip are half brothers. They have the same father but different mothers.
One day Herodias, who was the niece, fell in love with Phillip and she married Phillip. They got along pretty good and they had a little child named Salmon, a girl. But Herod Antipas had eyes for Herodias but the problem was that Herod Antipas was already married to the daughter of the king of Arabia. He decided that he would divorce his wife, the daughter of the king of Arabia, if Herodias would leave her husband and marry him. However, Phillip refused to divorce Herodias. Herod had already divorced his wife. It caused a war between Arabia and this particular province where Herod was tetrarch. So, now you have a war going on and he decides to marry Herodias without a divorce from Phillip. That’s where John the Baptist comes in. John the Baptist came in and said, “That’s not right. You have no right to take your brother’s wife.”
All of that to tell you, that’s where John fits in. Because he took a rugged stand and said, “You have no right to take your brother’s wife,” he finally lost his head. These twelve verses shed some light on the heart and the reasoning of the unsaved. Herod becomes a wonderful illustration of someone who has been under the influence of a powerful man of God, namely John the Baptist.
Let me give four little principles here and then we’ll wrap this up. Matthew 14:4, “John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’” The principle can be stated in these words, very simple; the unsaved are under the law of God. Some have said that it’s wrong for Christians to put their law on the unsaved as they don’t have any relationship to that. What right do we have to say, “Sunday blue laws. What right does a Christian have to tell a non-Christian that he can’t be open for a retail business on the Lord’s day? The answer is, “Every right.” The law of God is for the whole world and not for Christians. It’s for the whole world and the unsaved have a responsibility to keep the Sabbath. They aren’t saved and they don’t know Jesus. If they died they’d go to hell but they have a responsibility to keep the Sabbath and they have a responsibility not to kill and not to steal and not to commit adultery. Herod wasn’t saved and John the Baptist went up to him with the law of God and said, “It’s not lawful for you to take your brother’s wife,” Leviticus 27. And he begins to quote the law of God to this unsaved man. The law is designed to bring conviction.
When the law speaks, it doesn’t clear its throat. I can show dozens of verses to show the purpose of the law. Here is a couple of them; Galatians 3:10, “Those under the law are under the curse; do and live, don’t and die.” That’s the whole message of the law; guilty. That’s all the law knows; guilty. “Cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things written in the book of the Law to do them.” The law never lies. The law says, “Guilty. It doesn’t play around. The law is never deceived. It’s based on the character of God and it’s also inbred in your heart. You know when it says guilty, you’re guilty. The law is good and righteous and holy and just and pure. It’s reasonable and it agrees with your heart; guilty.
Today Christians are afraid to preach the law. We’ve come into this “love of God”. Yeah, I love the love of God, too, but to get people saved, God’s method is to convict them of their sin by the law, to show them they are guilty. Some people say, “Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.” The law is designed to slay you. John didn’t go up to Herod and say, “Jesus loves you.” He didn’t go up to Herod and say, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” He didn’t go up to Herod and say, “Jesus wants to solve all your problems.” He went up to Herod and said, “You’ve sinned. You’ve broke the law. You’re guilty.” Because the love of God make no sense except in the dark backdrop of a guilty conscience. So, the law is designed for sinners.
But there’s another law. This is the second principle. Romans 2:14&15, “The gentiles who don’t have the law do instinctively the things taught by the law. They, not having the law, are a law unto themselves in that they show the law of God written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness, accusing or else excusing one another.” So, God says there is a law out here, a moral standard, a perfect law. There is also a law in here. The law out there has one purpose. It condemns; guilty. The law in here, conscience, has one voice: guilty. That’s all that it knows; do or die. It’s the same thing; it’s the law. This is the law written in their hearts. That’s what the conscience is; a built in monitor, a built in preacher. So, when you do something wrong it says, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.” You can’t read Matthew 14:1-12 and not see that Herod had a guilty conscience. Verse 1 & 2, “At that time Herod the Tetrarch heard the news about Jesus and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He’s risen from the dead.” It’s really bothering him. That’s interesting because he was a Sadducee. Remember the Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection. He said, “Man, I’ve changed my doctrine now!” His conscience was driving him crazy. And the Lord Jesus was doing these miracles and he said, “It’s John the Baptist!” God uses the law and the law written in the heart to condemn.
I’m going to take a by-pass here just for a moment because I think it’s important and necessary. Since we’re on the law and conscience for the unsaved, if you are going to enjoy the Lord, then you need to understand the Christian’s relationship to the law and conscience. Here’s the problem. When a man fell into sin, that wasn’t affected. The law out there was not injured. The law out there still said, Thou shalt not have any God before Me. Thou shalt not take the Lord thy God’s name in vain. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother. It wasn’t touched with the fall. But I’ll tell you, when man fell into sin, the law that was in his heart was smashed to smithereens. His conscience was destroyed.
Before you are saved, before you know Jesus, law and conscience have a ministry in your life. They are designed to condemn you and designed to make sin ugly and alive. They are designed to slay you. They only know one language; guilty, guilty. If you do something wrong, the law says “guilty”. If you do something wrong your heart says, “guilty, guilty, guilty”. Every time you turn around; guilty. Listen carefully, and God give you wisdom. If this is not from God, scrap it. Once you become a Christian, you no longer have a relationship to your conscience. Your conscience becomes an enemy. It is no longer a friend. It’s not on your side. Its mission is over.
I don’t want to go too far astray but let me get this before you. Did you ever here the devil’s big lie; “Let your conscience be your guide?” Listen to these verses; 1 Corinthians 8:12 talks about a weak conscience. “Let your conscience be your guide.” 1 Corinthians 8:7 and Titus 1:15 talks about “a defiled conscience”. Let your conscience be your guide. 1 Timothy 4:2 talks about “a conscience that is seared with a hot iron”. Let your conscience be your God. Hebrews 10:22 talks about an “evil conscience”. Let your conscience be your guide. Hebrews 9:14 talks about a “dead conscience”. Oh, isn’t that a wonderful guide; weak, defiled, seared, wicked, evil and dead?” That’s your conscience.
What is conscience? Is it an entity? Is it a state of mind? Is it based on an absolute standard on the traditions of men? Is it based on culture? Is it relative? Is it absolute? I don’t know what it is, but I know what it does; guilty. It only knows one word; guilty, guilty. It gives a million and one reasons why you should go to hell and not go to heaven; “You sinned, you lied, you stole, you’re angry, you’re impatient, you’re selfish.” Talk back to your conscience and say, “Now listen here, conscience, you say ‘guilty’, but I’ve been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. I’ve received God into my life. I’ve taken His Son and He died for me.” Do you know what your conscience will say? “I know nothing of that. I don’t know anything about grace. When God created me He programmed me with one word; guilty, guilty.” “But I’m forgiven.” “Guilty” “But I have peace.” “Guilty.” That’s all the law knows; guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty. That’s all the law written in your heart knows; guilty. It does not know forgiveness and it does not know grace and it does not know the Spirit of God. It does not know the love of God. It just says, “You deserve to die. You deserve to be separated from a thrice holy God. You deserve to burn forever in hell. You are guilty.”
That’s what makes conscience such an enemy. On the one hand it refuses to believe the message of grace and on the other hand, because it was ruined in the fall, you can deceive your conscience. It’s easily satisfied. If your heart says, “You don’t love your neighbor; guilty.” Then, bring them a can of soup and your conscience will say, “There, that’s better.” You might not have a change of heart at all. Your conscience will be deceived. Your conscience will settle for self-righteousness. That’s what is so wrong with it. Thousands and thousands and thousands of God’s children have not understood this and they live in constant bondage and slavery and fear to their conscience.
I think one of the great miracles that God does in the Christian’s life is that he sets them free from conscience. Once you are saved, conscience has no ministry in your life. Conscience militates against the message of God’s grace. I know one Christian who is the glory now. Because she was bullied all her life with conscience and finally took her own life because she listened to that voice, “Guilty.” God’s word said, “Forgiven.” God’s word said, “Clean.” And she listened to the voice of her conscience and she finally took her own life.
Most Christians haven’t seen that relationship. Because they haven’t seen their relationship to the law and to the conscience in the heart and they hear these voices all the time, “Guilty, guilty, guilty,” and the inside says, “I agree with that; guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.” They’ve got to find a way to shut those things up. “How can I shut the mouth of the law and how can I shut the mouth of conscience?” So, they come up with these cute little inventions that don’t come from the Bible. “I know what I’ll do. Every time conscience says, ‘Guilty,’ I’ll 1 John 1 my sins away. I’ll confess my conscience clean and I’ll just keep confessing and every time he brings it to my mind I’ll just confess.” So, they spend all their day confessing their sin; over and over again confessing, confessing, confessing, confessing. And since the law with all of its high standards keeps saying, “Guilty, guilty, guilty, I’ll set up a whole system of rules and regulations and I’ll begin to live by them.”
Here is what the Bible says, “The law and conscience have a ministry in a man like Herod to show him that he’s guilty. But when you get saved, the law is replace by grace and conscience is replaced by the revelation of Christ in the Book; the Life of God in the Book. And you begin to walk by a new light. It’s not the light of conscience anymore. May God give you the deliverance from conscience! Don’t listen to that! It’s the Christian’s enemy. You are going to grow in grace and you are going to grow in knowledge, you are going to grow in light but you’ll never grow in assurance. If you are in heaven a million years, you shouldn’t be any more certain of your security than right now, because assurance doesn’t grow. It rests upon a finished work; the work of the Lord Jesus. And don’t let your conscience tell you anything else! That’s what the Bible says. Believe God’s word; the revelation of God’s word.
So much for that! Look at Matthew 14:7-9. It’s an amazing thing. The unsaved live by the principle of pride. They have no objective standard. Here’s his reasoning, “I have to commit murder, so I won’t tell a lie.” That’s his reasoning. “I made a promise. I’ve got to commit murder so I won’t tell a lie.” Let me say a word about rash vows. Some teach that if you make a vow to the Lord and you find out later it was wrong, you’ve still got to keep it because you made an oath and you made a promise. If you find out it was sin, you’ve still got to keep it. Then they quote Ecclesiastes, of all books, chapter 5 to prove that. Sound wisdom says, “Don’t make vows.” Start there and don’t promise God anything. Don’t make any vows to God. That whole idea of making vows is crazy. You can’t keep them anyway. The only way you can keep it is a New Covenant vow; don’t make vows. But here’s the principle; walk in the light you have today. That’s simple enough. And tomorrow if you find out today’s light was darkness, then walk in your new light. It’s not wrong to break a rash vow. Put it under the blood and go on in the joy of the Lord. Don’t worry about that. The whole idea of, “Oh, I made a vow now. I have to kill him because I promised.” That’s the reasoning that comes from another place. It’s never right to do wrong to do right. It’s never right to do wrong to do right. You can’t cheat the government to support your family. You can’t lie to keep peace in the family. It’s never right to sin to keep from sinning.
Verse 2, “He said to His servants, ‘This is John the Baptist and he’s risen from the dead and that’s why his miraculous powers are at work in him.’” This week we celebrate Good Friday, the day our Lord Jesus Christ died for us. I’m going to give an illustration from the scene of the cross but it’s also illustrated here in verse 2 and can be stated in these words, “The wicked give unwilling testimony.” They don’t want to. “They give an unwilling testimony and praise to the power of God.” Here from a heathen’s lips comes a testimony that Jesus worked miracles. He wasn’t trying to testify that Jesus worked miracles but he did. God always makes the tongues of rebellion to praise Him.
Let me illustrate this. At the cross, there were those who were constantly trying to oppose and trying to tear down. They were mocking and they were jeering at the Lord Jesus. Watch how He turned it into praise. This is so amazing. He makes, he obliges His enemy. Walk under the cross and they say, “He saved others. Himself He cannot save.” They were mocking Him but by that statement they confessed that He really did save others. They were praising Him; He saved others. They came by and said, “He trusted in God, let Him deliver Him.” They testified the king of life He lived when He walked on the earth. He trusted in God. They weren’t trying to praise God but they were writing down forever great evidences. “He saved others. He trusted in God.” Another said, “He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ If He is the Son of God, let Him come down.” And His enemies confessed that He said that He is the Son of God. Some people say He never claimed to be the Son of God. Even His enemies said that He said it, that He was the Son of God. They aren’t trying to praise Him but they end up praising Him. “Thou that destroys the temple and raises it again, builds it again in three days, come down from the cross.” And they testified that He, in fact, said He would rise from the dead in three days. “Let Christ, the king of Israel, descend.” King of Israel? Is that who He is? And all of these enemies, with a united voice (they don’t try to do it, any more than He tried to say that miraculous powers were worked by Jesus, and yet in their fury to try to destroy the diamond, they just smash it in pieces and each sliver begins to shine with a radiance proving how wonderful He is).
The wrath of men, He says, shall praise Him. So, Herod, convicted by the law and convicted by his conscience, confesses to the miracle working power of the Lord Jesus. The death of John the Baptist, like the death of Stephen, had a great ministry; more than the ministry of their lives. In the wisdom of God, in the love of God, He allowed them to die so that there would be a pall, so that others would be saved. Through Stephen we got the whole New Testament almost. We aren’t exempt if we’re going to follow the Lord.
Can I give you some homework? Follow the idea of eating. Through the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, through the walking on the water, still eating, and through chapter 15, eating. See what you come up with. We’ll pick that up next time.
Our Father, we pray that we might be open to all that is truly from You. Anything, Lord, that I may have said that did not come out of Your mouth, then protect Your children from that.