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 Beware a Seared Conscience

Mark 6:14-29

Message #20 

This is the third in a trilogy of messages in Mark about sharing the Gospel. Beware a Seared Conscience.

Our conscience is that part of us – that God put in us – that knows right from wrong and either comforts or afflicts us based on our actions. And the Bible warns of a seared conscience – which is a conscience that is unable to sense the knowledge of God’s right and wrong. Today, we see a powerful illustration of a seared conscience.

Don’t you love John the Baptist? John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus. He was sent by God to turn the “spiritual conscience” of Israel back to God.

Luke 1:17 says, . . . he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the Godly, and he was certainly not afraid to share God’s truth with whoever needed to hear it, regardless of their social, political, or religious standing. In fact, he was most direct with the religious leaders of the day.

And his message always started with the simple Gospel: Repent of your sins - and turn to God for Salvation.

And some time after the baptism of Jesus, John had the opportunity to share his message of repentance with Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was the ruler for Rome over the Galilee area, but he lived in a fortress near the Dead Sea, not far from where John was baptizing.

Herod Antipas was one of six Herod’s in the New Testament, so it can get a bit confusing. This Herod was the son of Herod the Great, who killed the babies in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and this Herod was now Rome’s ruler over the Galilee area.

So, first, let’s meet the players in our lesson today. Herod Antipas, who we’ve already met, is the son of Herod the Great and Rome’s ruler over Galilee.

And then there’s Herod’s wife, Herodias. Herodias was the daughter of this Herod’s half-brother (Aristobulus), which made Herod’s wife, his niece.

Then, this niece first married another of Herod’s half-brothers (Phillip), and that made Herod’s wife his sister-in-law.

So, Herod’s wife (Herodias) was first his niece, then also his sister-in-law, and now – also his wife. And according to God, this was not right. And John the Baptist (maybe even politely) had let King Herod know that this was not right in God’s eyes.

And so, Herodias (Herod’s wife) had taken a vow to remove the influence of John the Baptist – permanently, just as many in our culture (including most media) have taken a vow to remove the Church’s influence – permanently.

And then, our third player today is Herodias’ daughter, who we’ll meet when she comes on the scene.

Now, Mark first mentioned the arrest of John the Baptist back in Chapter 1, and today Mark returns to it in kind of a “flashback” style. But we’re not going to approach it in flashback style. We’ll approach it more like it happened. So, let’s start today down in Mark 6:17.

Mark 6:17–18 (NLT)
17 For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her.
18 John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife
(not to mention, your niece).

So, how does it go for you when you say to someone, this thing you’re doing – it’s not right in God’s eyes based on his Word? And how does it go for us as a church when we say to our culture, this thing that you’re doing – it’s not right in God’s eyes based on his Word? It seems clear to me, that someday (maybe soon), we may face similar imprisonment – or worse – as John did for saying those same words to someone.

And the “or worse” was coming for John the Baptist. Continuing in Mark 6:19,

Mark 6:19 (NLT)
19 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless,

John the Baptist had the King’s protection (for now), and the real question is – why was Herod protecting John the Baptist? Look closely at Mark 6:20.

Mark 6:20 (NLT)
20 for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.

This is such a huge verse because it shows (that at one time) Herod had a conscience that had some sensitivity to what was right and wrong in God’s eyes.

And we know John the Baptist would’ve begun his conversations with the simple Gospel – Repent of your sins and turn to God for Salvation. And then, as the conversations continued, the subject of Herod’s marriage came up and John pointed out to Herod that his marriage was not right in God’s eyes – it was against God’s laws.

But verse 20 says Herod respected John and Herod knew John was a good and holy man, and Herod was disturbed by the truth of God, which is a good sign of conscience. And so, why would Herod continue to call for John to come talk to him? Maybe because John had the courage to tell him the truth? Maybe because Herod recognized the truth of God? Maybe even Herod was drawn to the truth of God to some extent at this point in his life?

And this is really the point of the message today. At this point in Herod’s life, he was, to some extent, impacted by and drawn to the things of God. There is actually a good chance Herod had learned some things about God as a child.

We know his father (Herod the Great), though not a Jew by birth, was raised as a Jew. And so, God’s truth may well have gotten into this Herod as a boy and now the Spirit of God had stirred something in Herod. He had some desire to know at least about God. God’s truth was stirring the smallest spark of possible faith in Herod. But, would it grow? Or would it be put out for good?

As we continue, we see the work of the Black Widow, and we see the end of John the Baptist (on this earth).

Mark 6:21–22(a) (NLT)
21 Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee.
22 Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests . . .

These types of parties were usually all (or mostly) men, and they would resemble our non-Christian bachelor party or stag party; meaning, excess food, excess alcohol, and excess sensual entertainment – and the better the sensual entertainment, the better the party.
And verse 22 says Herod’s daughter came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. Now, to try to make it slightly less creepy, this was actually Herod’s step-daughter performing a sensual dance for a bunch of drunk, old men.

And it’s pretty clear that she was being used by her mom hoping to entrap her Herod into something – and it worked. Again, verse 22(a) says, The daughter’s dance greatly pleased all the guests. And then we read in Mark 6:22(b)-23,

Mark 6:22(b)-23 (NLT)
22 . . . “Ask me for anything you like,” the king (Herod) said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.”
23 He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!”

Here, suddenly, Herod finds himself at the crossroads, like Robert Johnson Meetin’ the Devil at the crossroads in Mississippi, where the fable goes, he sold his soul to the devil to be able to play the blues. Here too, (for real), Herod Antipas was about to sell out his soul.

The daughter knew she was being used by her mother to get something from Herod. So, we read the following in Mark 6:24-25.

Mark 6:24–25 (NLT)
24 She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!”
25 So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!”

After all, it is a feast, so bring me the head of the man of God on a silver platter.

And at that moment, something broke in Herod. He had to choose, in an instant, to either hold on to what little light he had left about God’s truth or to succumb to the conscience searing pressures of his life in the world. And although he regretted it, Herod chose to sear his conscience and have John the Baptist killed.

Mark 6:26 (NLT)
26 Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her.

He deeply regretted it. But Herod chose his sensual immorality, his worldly parties, and mostly he chose his pride, all over what he knew was right before God.
And the result was a conscience that became completely seared to the things of God.

There had been the beginning of a spiritual awakening in Herod. There was an ember of light glowing in his very dark world. But, when it came down to either the world’s ways or God’s ways, Herod chose to snuff out what little light he had – permanently.

Mark 6:27-29 (NLT)
27 So he
(Herod) immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison,
28 brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.
29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came to get his body and buried it in a tomb.

Now, please hear me right here. Even now, even at this point, God would have forgiven Herod. Even at this moment, Herod could have chosen to repent and turn to God for salvation, even after having John the Baptist beheaded.

Do we understand that? Do we understand that God would have immediately forgiven Herod if Herod would have turned to God for salvation?

Listen, please. You killed Jesus! It was your sin and my sin that put Jesus to death on the cross, and God will immediately forgive us the moment we truly turn to him for salvation.

God’s grace was still there for Herod. But instead of turning to God for salvation, Herod was going to sear his conscience so he would never have to think about anything regarding God ever again.

And so, time passed. At least a year or more. And then, we read back up in Mark 6:14-16,

Mark 6:14–16 (NLT)
14 Herod Antipas, the king, soon heard about Jesus, because everyone was talking about him. Some were saying, “This must be John the Baptist raised from the dead. That is why he can do such miracles.”
15 Others said, “He’s the prophet Elijah.” Still others said, “He’s a prophet like the other great prophets of the past.”
16 When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.”

I wonder if Herod really thought John the Baptist had actually come back from the dead and if he was speaking metaphorically, like, “Oh great, I’m going to have to deal with this again.”

Has that ever happened to you? Where you thought you had buried all the truths of God and you were just trying to live happily in your sin, and then God just brings it all right back up and sets it right on the table in front of you?

This is the grace of God that never gives up on us. God will continue showing up in our lives and he will continue to call us to receive his grace and forgiveness until our conscience is so seared that we can no longer sense God’s truth.

And that is exactly what happened to Herod. In Luke Chapter 23, Jesus was on trial before Pilate, just hours before he would go to the cross. And in Luke 23:6, Pilate finds out Jesus is a Galilean, so he sends him to this same Herod Antipas because Herod was Rome’s ruler over the Galilee and he was in Jerusalem that night.

And what transpires is terrifying. This is the same Herod who was moved by John’s words. This was the same Herod who enjoyed hearing John speak about the things of God.

And Herod wanted to see Jesus, but not for the same reasons, and so Jesus was taken to Herod. And suddenly, Herod had the very Son of God standing before him, and all Herod did was mock him. Herod’s conscience had been completely seared. He had gone so far into the darkness of the world that he couldn’t see a glimpse of the radiance of God that was standing right in front of him. And all Herod could do was taunt Jesus to perform a miracle and challenged Jesus with meaningless questions. And then in Luke 23:11, we read,

Luke 23:11 (NLT)
11 Then Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Finally, they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate.

This is terrifying.

John the Baptist had given Herod the light. God had planted a glimmer of light in him. But then at the crossroads that night, Herod’s conscience was seared, and he began a slide into full and overwhelming darkness.

And now, the very Author of Life and Light – God in the Flesh – was standing in front of him. But Jesus never even speaks, because he knows Herod’s conscience is dead.

As R. Kent Hughes says here, “Herod sees nothing in Christ, and more terrifying Christ sees nothing in him.”

Herod’s conscience is seared, and the darkness has won Herod’s soul.

To close, let me say, if you are not yet a believer, please keep your heart and your conscience open to the truths of God. Please be careful to keep hold of whatever amount of God’s truth you have. Don’t let the darkness and sin of this world snuff out whatever amount of God’s truth you have received.

Instead, act on what you’ve received. Move closer to what you’ve heard about forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Ask God to open your heart to whatever truth he has given you and ask him to draw you closer to his truth. Don’t try to forget, or escape, cover up, or remove whatever amount of God’s truth you have.

And most of all, beware a seared conscience.