“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” St. Mark 6: 18
King Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great had his wife killed because he thought she was having an affair with one of his soldiers, then Herod had her body embalmed in honey and kept in the palace. Herod the Great ordered the murders of all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem because he heard from the magi that the true King of Israel was born. Like father, like son…Herod Antipas has a luxurious banquet, a must party to be seen at, the invitations were probably coveted and did they have a story to tell after wards: they brought in the head of the Baptizer on a dish, right into the banquet hall after Herodias’ step daughter danced for Antipas. Even though they did not go away hungry, they nevertheless went away empty and starving as that was a banquet of death. Wherever the world, even the apparently decent, cultured, fashionable world, celebrates her festivals, there the delights of feasting, of reveling and drunkenness, are indulged in, there one finds swearing, blaspheming, cursing, there gambling and dancing and rioting are the order of the day, and wine and passion inflame heart and mind. (As quoted by Pr. Kretzmann in his 1924 Commentary on the Bible).
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2: 16, KJV)
The goal is to do the will of God which is life, the very life the Lord has given us by His cross and resurrection. When John preached to King Herod Antipas that his marriage was not lawful, the important word in that sermon was, “lawful”. “Lawful” means in John’s sermon, not civil law but according to the Law of God. Remember: everything legal is not necessarily lawful according to God’s Holy Law. Herod and Herodias both knew their marriage was wrong but Herod decreed it was right and he probably liked hearing John the Baptist preach and prick his conscience, but not Herodias. She wanted everyone to agree with her on the marriage, no one opposing. Herodias wanted no dissent, everyone in lock step with their insistence on their immorality, no free speech and especially speech which frees us to repent, the speech, the Word of God, Law and Promise. Last week’s Gospel Jesus sent out the disciples to preach and to heal, to preach repentance of sin, turning away from death and turning toward the Lord slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This Word means people change. Herodias would have no part of it. Herod and Herodias denied God’s Law but God in His accusing finger of the Law, as preached by John, kept pointing out their sin. Herod thought he had John figured out but even a larger puzzle to him was this Jesus, so Herod Antipas’ theological conclusion: Jesus is John raised from the dead. His theological conclusion was convenient for two reasons: it assuage his guilty conscience as he had given the orders to decapitate John that John had risen and then secondly he thought he had Jesus put into a box. The King was wrong on both counts. Yet this did not prevent John from preaching, as John kept on saying and preaching the truth.
As the old saying goes, There is no rest for the wicked, is true here again. The world’s banquet provides no rest for the wicked, just forgetfulness of who we are and Who’s we are. It is a 24/7 world of plotting and planning. Psalm 36:
Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. 3 The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. 4 He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.
Always trying to hide makes for no rest. Trying to hide from God and say one’s sin is good, as in Herod and Herodias’ marital relations, or in any relationship outside of marriage between man and woman, or any relation to false gods such as money, is to deny the reality of God’s law and so the rage. Herod Antipas was the king of death, and Jesus Christ, the King of life. Kings of this world associate with the famous and the powerful, Jesus with sinners and outcasts. Tyrants, for all their terror, are weak and unable to deal with people except by brute force. Jesus, the king, instead bore our weakness and woes and is strong, as John, to stand-up for the truth of the Father’s Word for others, not by brute force, but steadfast love in the Word. Herod Antipas was cowed by others and his polling numbers, but Jesus is in control, over wind and wave and storm, and the storms of wickedness. Rulers of this world, while making all sorts of noise about serving others, want to be served, our King, our Lord serves by His life given to us. Herod Antipas, and most rulers, only have finally the threat of death and gave John over to death, Jesus offered Himself to death for others, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has the promise of eternal life, for we are already are dead in our trespasses and have been made alive in Christ through faith in Holy Baptism. We are dressed in Christ for His Table. Yet there is rest from wickedness, from sin and sorrow. There is actually rest from the wicked. The banquet of death fills but never satisfies but the Lord’s banquet of life fills the soul with His good things: grace, mercy and peace. The world at its table, with it’s sweet meats and enticements is folly and all who eat are only fooling themselves, but the Lord, our wisdom has invited us to His House of Bread, Bethlehem and the banquet of life. Yes, John the Baptist preached to a tyrant overthrowing the commands of marriage and his life was forfeit for his preaching. We have the duty from the Lord so to teach. We reject evil and the devil and his empty promises. We openly confess Christ. We confess the Word, Law and Promise. The Lord calls us to rebuke a brother when he is wrong. But one may say, Oh, I have nothing in common with him, yes we do: we are all sinners and for us all Christ has died and rose again, that we have life. We are all created by the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are all fed on this earth by His almighty hand. We all share this earth. We all have received the same laws. We are all invited by the Lord to His table and His Body and blood, and let us not say we have nothing in common with them. As kind of bridge verse, the next verses after today’s Gospel the disciples return from their first missionary journey and Christ sees they need rest and they go apart to a desolate place. Then next week’s Gospel the feeding of the 5,000 and the contrast between the Lord’s banquet and Herod’s. The thousands come only with their hunger. After Psalm 36 verse cited earlier,
4 He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.
Such a contrast between the plots of men and the steadfast love of the Lord! The plots of men and tyrants are stifling and temporal, but the will of the Lord is freedom and eternal and He has freed you. It is only by the promises of God fulfilled in Christ that we can live in these dark days. The Lord has a better plan than all the plots of men and tyrants:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will,according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1)