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Three Sinners

Mark 6:14 -- 29

To understand this story – which has been portrayed on stage many times – you need a little history lesson first. There are a bunch of “Herods” in the New Testament. It gets a little confusing, so I will introduce only a few to you:

  • Herod the Great is the father of the Herod in this passage. He’s the one mentioned in the story of the nativity. He’s the one who dealt with the Wise Men – and slaughtered all the children under the age of two. That will tell you pretty quickly just what kind of family we’re dealing with. He’s a contemporary of Cleopatra, by the way – who tried to take over his kingdom via Mark Anthony.
  • Herod Antipas – that’s the Herod in this passage – is his son. Dad willed him the rule of Galilee. His two brothers got the rest of the kingdom. One of them was so bad he was deposed by the Romans, who made Judea an Imperial Colony (hence we get, eventually, Pontius Pilate). The other brother was Philip, who was Herodias’ first husband.
  • Herodias – she’s a relative of all these folks by way of Herod the Great’s father – divorced Philip for political reasons (her father was King Aretas, and he seems to have arranged it). By all contemporary accounts, she was a very good looking woman.
  • Salome – her name is not mentioned in the Bible, we get it from history – is Herodias daughter. It is in some doubt, but most scholars feel she is the daughter of Philip, not Herod Antipas. She would be a young teen at this time.

“Nothing is ever a total loss – it can always be used as a bad example.” This bunch fits that proverb quite well.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

14King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known.
Some were saying,£ “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is
why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long

16But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been
raised from the dead!”

17For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him
bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s
wife, whom he had married. 18For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not
lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19So Herodias nursed a grudge
against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20because Herod
feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.
When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled£; yet he liked to listen to him.

21Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for
his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.
22When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his
dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to
you.” 23And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up
to half my kingdom.”

24She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give
me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner
guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27So he immediately sent an executioner
with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison,
28and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave
it to her mother. 29On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body
and laid it in a tomb.


In the movies, she’s usually portrayed as a misled, innocent little thing. It goes well in Hollywood, but it’s not Salome.

Her mother’s apprentice

Her mother, as we shall see, is an evil, scheming woman – who has taught her daughter well. There’s a lesson or two in that.

  • First, how important it is to remember the example! This child grew up in a palace of intrigue; how could she help but learn it?
  • Second, it shows us how values are formed in children. Principles are the stands which cost us something; can you imagine this girl sacrificing anything for the sake of principle? Her mother never did.
  • This is particularly important, I think, in girls.

I remember it well: my daughter (at this writing, 18 years old) was two years old when I first saw the wiggle and the wink. She smiled at me when she did it. I thought to myself, “There’s only one woman in the world with the right to look at me that way – what am I going to do with two?” Can you see now how she wrapped Herod around her little finger? Perhaps the way a wife treats her husband is of some influence on her daughters.

“Pretty girls just seem to find out early…”

… how to open doors with just a smile. I live next to a college campus. My wife works there, so I frequently walk through the campus to meet her. When I do, I often see young women we refer to as “advertising.” We categorize them in three types:

  • “For sale” – obviously showing off their bodies.
  • “For sale or rent” – not just that, but clearly are looking for tonight’s bed partner.
  • “Hourly rates” – I leave to your imagination.

These young women have given in to the temptation to use sexuality as a tool. Tools are just that: tools. Each tool has a right use. The right use of sexuality is to please a husband so that the marriage may be solid. Abused – we can see the result. Evidently the abuse is not just a modern phenomenon.

“Right now”

She doesn’t want his head tomorrow, or when convenient – but right now. Why?

  • She’s sized up Herod pretty accurately. She doesn’t want to give him time to repent.
  • Besides, when you’re a young teenager, everything is right now.
  • But most of all, it’s because Mom wants it.

How often do we give in to the strong personalities in our families, at the expense of the weak ones?


Usually cast as the villainess (I’d love to see Walt Disney’s treatment of this woman), Herodias is the power behind the throne, or so it seemed. We can see something of ourselves in her.

Nursed a grudge

It’s well put. She didn’t just have one, she nursed it. A grudge can be quite frail – at first.

  • It’s the great danger of anger, that you nurse it in the night until it consumes you.
  • We often do so, thinking “no harm can come of it.” But the harm is there, just waiting for the right circumstances. Nurse the grudge long enough, the tempting moment will come to put grudge into action. This usually has consequences with long term regret.
  • The end result of the grudge may appear to be John the Baptist’s head – but it also is the bitterness in her heart.
Rich man’s war

During our Civil War, the Confederate soldiers often said that it was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” My mother used to put it this way, in settling our childish squabbles: “This is a case of let’s you and him fight.” We are ever inclined to send someone else to do the dirty work. There are two points in here to remember:

  • In this extreme, her own daughter was pushed to commit murder so that Mother might have her revenge. This shows how a grudge can override even the closest of family ties – yet another reason to give it up.
  • Often we send an emissary to carry out our wishes – because if we went ourselves, we might have to face the trouble. By sending her daughter, she didn’t have to touch things. The grudge stays intact.
The trophy

It’s not sufficient that the man be killed. She wants his head – a trophy. Here is a sign of a depraved mind.

  • First, it is the desire of pride. Pride is essentially competitive. I win – which means you must lose. The desire to see the other guy lose is the core of this.
  • More than that, we need to be able to crow about it. We need to be able to strut our victory to show the world that we are better than the loser.

If you think this doesn’t apply to us, have you ever felt the need to get a better car, bigger boat, nicer house than someone else in your family? Or at work? Perhaps this sin isn’t confined to the pages of the Bible.


The man is fascinating; all actors know that the villain is the best part of the play (see Macbeth).

The man is not his own master

He may be a king, but he is not a ruler. Others rule over him, whether he likes it or not. Think not?

  • Why is John in prison? Herod likes to listen to this guy, he respects him and thinks him a holy man. But he has this wife…. And whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.
  • How did he get this wife? History tells us that he snagged her from his brother – because of his lust for her.
  • Why does he kill John the Baptist? Listen to the excuse: his oath. Listen to the reason: the peer pressure from his guests.
Moth to the flame

Herod is a moth to the flame; whatever attracts him he hovers about. He respects John; he imprisons him. He resents John; he listens to him. Perhaps it’s like Teddy Roosevelt said of Taft: he means well – feebly. Courage is still the foundation of virtue.

The fear of the holy

One thing Herod is sure of: John is holy. Herod fears that. He gives us two evidences of that:

  • His reaction to Jesus – his nemesis is back.
  • He beheaded John in his cell – not at the banquet. He feared John’s tongue.

How many of us are like that? We fear and respect that which is holy – but refuse to take the courage to become holy ourselves.

Lessons for us

I leave you with three questions for your soul:

  • Are you dealing with others by manipulation, or in honesty?
  • Are you living the life of bitterness, or repentance and forgiveness?
  • Are you ruled by yourself, by others, or by Jesus Christ?

Salome no doubt had her excuses. Herodias probably did too; Herod even tendered his. Remember that excuses and forgiveness are opposite ways of dealing with sin. You must pick one or the other.

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