Vol. 5, No. 2
~ Page 13 ~
The story reads like a transcript from a recently aired edition of The Jerry Springer Show. Both had been married before. Both had found other "more desirable" partners. Both divorced their first mates and subsequently married each other. His new wife had previously been married to his half-brother, Philip. The story is true, but it doesn't originate from tabloid TV, but from the pages of the Bible (Mark 6:17-18; cf. Matthew 14:4; Luke 3:19-20).
Herod Antipas had been married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. On one particular visit to Jerusalem, Antipas met Herodias, was taken with her great beauty and began an affair with her. She likewise, was enamored by the tetrarch's great power, and so the two divorced their current spouses and joined in their unholy union.1 Antipas was interested in gratifying his fleshly desires; Herodias was interested in securing political clout.
Then came the preacher -- John. John preached a sermon on the sins of incest and adultery -- "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (Mark 6:18). The Greek text suggests that he continued to repeat his message and censure the politician's illicit behavior (cf. Colossians 3:5-7). Antipas and Herodias may have been married from a strictly legal perspective, but they didn't have heaven's sanction for their relationship. As one author notes, "This case establishe[s] the fact that God recognizes marriages of the unbelievers but He does not approve unlawful attachments (not really marriages.) By whose law was the relationship 'unlawful?' Divorce and remarriage was common among both cultures. It could be called 'pagan license' and 'Mosaic toleration.' They were responsible to God's marriage law and this was the point…"2 (cf. Leviticus 18:16; 20:21). Each time the couple engaged in physical intimacy, they were violating Jehovah's "one man for one woman for life" principle (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:5). John had to confront that fact.
John's courage in light of this circumstance merits our attention. Consider his loving, but firm example:
1. He could have preached on any number of other subjects. Instead of taking a stand on such an emotional and volatile issue, John could have "side-stepped" it all together and delivered a less offensive message (Amos 8:11; Isaiah 30:10.) He could have gone back into his office and chosen something else from his sermon files. For that matter, John could have chosen to ignore the whole matter and "let God sort it out at the judgment." He didn't. "He had Truth that applied to this specific situation, and he had a duty to say so."3
2. He preached what his audience needed to hear (cf. Acts 4:20; 5:29). John's divinely-authorized (cf. Mark 11:30) sermon addressed the necessity of r-e-p-e-n-t-a-n-c-e (cf. Matthew 3:2). Repentance is a change of mind [toward sin] that results in a change of behavior (2 Corinthians 7:10; cf. Acts 3:19.) Obviously, Antipas and Herodias didn't appreciate such a stringent sermon topic, nor its implications for their lives, but in terms of their standing before God it was imperative that they hear and heed it (cf. Jeremiah 22:29; Matthew 11:15; 13:15; 1 Corinthians 1:21).
3. He preached the truth despite the consequences. John's fearless proclamation came with a hefty price tag. His conviction and dedication to truth not only cost him his freedom (Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17), but his head (Matthew 14:10-12.) By speaking "thus saith the Lord," John paid the ultimate price (Matthew 10:34-39) and exchanged his life for the promise of eternal reward. You might say he "did the math" and decided that the approval of man was more expensive than the approval of God (2 Timothy 4:7-8; Mark 8:36-37.)
Faithful gospel preachers [as well as all Christians] today can take a lesson from John and his preaching. "Stand up, Stand Up, for Jesus" is more than a song -- it is a "bill" that is mailed to us daily (Luke 9:23; 1 Corinthians 9:16) through the Spirit's revelation. The payments are hard, and they never stop coming (2 Timothy 2:3; Romans 12:1-2).
John was willing to pay his debt (Romans 1:14-15.) Dear reader, what about you?
1 Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 17:5, 1.
2 Allen Webster, "Marriage Laws And Remarriage," Jesus "Spake These Things Unto Them," Seventh Annual Truth In Love Lectureship, Paul Sain, editor (Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications, 1997), 330.
3 Tim Nichols, "John Beheaded And Various Travels And Miracles Of Jesus," Studies In Matthew, Fourteenth Annual Denton Lectures, Dub McClish, editor (Denton, TX: Valid Publications, 1995), 195-196.