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Jun 23, 2024

A Faith to Die For

Passage: Mark 6:12-29

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Gospel of Mark

Keywords: persecution, suffering, john the baptist, disappointment, trials, hopes, confusion with god, theological gaps, kings herrod


What is God doing when things He has promised don't play out the way we envisioned? What do we need to do when God disappoints us or when reality conflicts with our theology? The beheading of John the Baptist holds rich truths about how to navigate these kinds of disappointments and about what God is probably up to.


A Faith to Die For

Mark 6:14-29

June 23, 2024

Fellowship Question:  Share with someone about something in your life that didn’t play out like you thought it would.


  • Anyone wish our country was in a different place morally than we seem to be, things like honesty & integrity, sexuality and family, rule of law, truth-telling vs. gaslighting?
  • Anyone wish things were working out differently politically or economically in our country?
  • Ever been disappointed or perplexed by why God 1isn’t doing more to stop evil and bring in His kingdom?

I’m not as spiritual as most of you so I have to answer “YES” to each of those questions.  The good news is that today’s text speaks to every one of those questions…and every one of my doubts.  So let’s read it.  Scripture:  Mark 6:14-29

Remember, Mark’s discussion of John the Baptist’s death comes on the heals of Jesus having sent out the 12 Apostles to multiply just what they had seen Jesus doing.  Last week’s passage ended with these words:

12 They (the Apostles) went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

14 King 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.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

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

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

17 For 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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled[c]; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of[d] 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.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

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

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

25 At 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.”

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

Not exactly your normal happy Sunday text, is it.


As we’ve been working through Mark, some of the most powerful stories of Jesus just took up a handful of verses.  So, “Why did Mark take up so much space telling us about something 2 of the other 4 Gospel writers don’t even include in their Gospels and the 3rd one (Matthew) deals with in shorter fashion?”  It’s not the kind of uplifting story I’d want to include in my “Good News” letter if I were writing a history of Jesus.  Well, apparently the Holy Spirit thinks quite differently than I do (which is why I desperately need to continue to immerse myself in God’s Word.)

            This is one of the great differences between our generation and the first century church.  Early Christians were apparently not all that interested in making the Gospel sound super user-friendly or inviting. They had experienced it’s power so personally that they knew they didn’t have to embellish it.  But they did have to be honest.

            Very early on in the life of the church they learned that pressure and persecution would come to those who staked their lives on God and His truth.  So, they wanted to help each other…and us … to, as 1 Peter 4:12 says, “not be surprised by the fiery ordeal(s)” that come upon us when we walk in the truth of Christ.  Nor did they want believers to “be surprised…if the world hates” us (1 John 3:13).  We’ve sort of forgotten that in the modern American church.  It’s not a message that will draw crowds of 30,000 well-dressed, middle-class church-attendees more interested in a good joke a Sunday morning.  But it is a message that will equip fervent Christ-followers for the reality of living for Jesus in this life. 

            So, let’s get the historical setting straight for this story. 

John the Baptist:

  • Had been leading a spiritual revival in Israel in a rather unorthodox Instead of going to the big city and securing the biggest crowd venue available (like the Temple or synagogue), John went to the wilderness quite away from the cities.  Instead of following the fashion trends of the day, John chose a very rough and rural look—camel-skin with leather belt.  Instead of dining in fine restaurants with well-to-do-donors, he ate the local insects and wild honey.  It’s almost as if John was trying to be sure that people came to hear his message because God was drawing them, not himself!  And come they did.  By the thousands and from every strata of society, people came to listen to him convict them.  Those who repented were baptized.  Those who didn’t stayed dry… and critical.
  • John knew that repentance was an essential element of any genuine spiritual revival. So his words were meant to convict people of the sin they were engaged in.  They were meant to provoke a spiritual crisis.  His words were designed to make people make a decision for or against God. 
  • But his preaching was not aimed at the Jews only. His concern for repentance extended to the Gentiles in the Promised Land as well.  He didn’t just call out the sins of God’s people; he called out the immorality of the politically powerful of the day, both Jews and Romans.  We know that he specifically called out Herod the Tetrarch or Herod Antipas, as he his known in Scripture.  This Herod had had an affair with his half-brother’s wife, Herodias, while visiting him in Rome.  He then convinced Herodias to divorce her husband, Philip, and shack up with him.  BTW, Herodias was not only his sister-in-law by marriage; she was his niece by blood, being the daughter another one of his brothers Aristobulus.  Trust me, their family tree must have looked like a briar patch!

In fact, it may make it easier to remember these different Herods as they are presented in the New Testament by remembering who they killed.  (Yes, it was that kind of family, not unlike Kim Jong Ill and Kim Jong Un of N. Korea in our lifetimes.) 

  • Herod the Great killed the children in Bethlehem;
  • Herod Antipas/Herod the Tetrach-- killed John the Baptist (one of the 4 sons of Herod the Great); controlled Galilee from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D.
  • Herod Agrippa I killed the Apostle James
  • Herod Agrippa II heard Paul's appeal recorded in the book of Acts. 

Herodias had one daughter, Salome, by Philip. Herodias, who was looking for political advancement, seduced Herod Antipas when he visited his brother in Rome. Herod Antipas divorced his wife and Herodias divorced Philip so they could be married. And they lived unhappily ever after. 

When it comes to Herodias’ daughter, we learn her name, Salome, from the Jewish secular historian, Flavius Josephus, in his book The Antiquities of the Jews 18:5:4. She was most likely between the ages of 12 and 17 at this point. [Mark uses the same Greek term for “girl” here that he used for Jairus’ daughter in the previous chapter—a girl, we were told, who was 12 years old.] 

There was obviously a family thirst for power and revenge running through Salome’s veins.  Early on she must have learned to control and manipulate like her mother.  But she turned it into an art form as a teenager and used it on her step-father, Herod Antipas, with the medium of seductive dance. 

John was his generation’s Elijah, operating out of that same spirit of Elijah that was zealous for the people of God to have no other gods but Yahweh.  If you want people to leave their false gods and serve the only true God, you must usually call out their gods.  John apparently knew that divine morality was meant to apply to Jews and Gentiles alike, because he accused Herod Antipas and Herodias of immorality according to the Jewish Law.  (According to Lev. 18:7-15, they were engaged in an incestuous marriage.  According to Leviticus 20:21, they had engaged in adultery as well.)

NOTE: The fact that the revivalist John the Baptizer would not be silent about the immorality of public officials tells me something about law, morality and politics. 

  • God’s law should form the basis of all civil and criminal law. What God calls sin should be disincentivized and sometimes punished.  What God calls good should be allowed and encouraged.
  • Just because something is “legal” in some man-made penal code does not mean it is right, moral or ethical.
  • As God’s people, we have a responsibility to call government and governmental officials to account when they sin and promote sin.
  • Morality is always political. When someone tells you, “Don’t force your morality on me,” they are simply softening what they are advocating for which is their morality.  They are actually saying, “Don’t make any laws I don’t like!  Don’t make any laws that don’t conform to my morality…not yours!”  Law is always ‘morality’; it’s just a matter of whose morality, whose justice, whose ‘goodness’ or ‘evil’  we choose to live by or punish. 

We not only have every right to advocate for godly morality and laws; we have a divine responsibility to call others to live by God’s law, whether they like it or not.  Not to do so is to abandon our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens to evil.  There is nothing virtuous about that.

Satan doesn’t like it when people are getting right with God.  He doesn’t like it when they are being convicted of their sin, confessing their sins privately and publicly, and living for God. Satan doesn’t like spiritual revival!

So, it is no wonder that he stirred up the man with the power to go after the man leading the revival.  Herod Antipas, who we are told in Matthew 14:5 wanted to kill John, had him arrested and brought to his dungeon at his palace just about 18 months after he had started his ministry.

NOTE:  we know where this palace was.  Josephus tells us that it took place at Herod the Great’s (Herod Antipas’ father’s) palace-fortress of Machaerus on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan (Antiquities 18.5,2).  Herod had built the fortified palace around 30 B.C. over the ruins of the earlier Hasmonean fortress. All that is left today is the foundation and floor.  But this is likely the very courtyard in which Salome danced before Herod, the site of John’s prison and the very place of his beheading. 

            I have to wonder:  when John was arrested in the wilderness by Herod Antipus’ soldiers, clapped in irons and thrown in the dungeon in this castle, he must have wrestled with what God was doing.  We know he did because, according to Matthew in Matthew 11:2ff, When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

            John and Jesus were cousins, just about 6 months apart in age.  So here is John, in his early 30s, seeing a massive move of hearts to God in his nation.  It’s what he’s been praying for, preparing for and longing for his entire short life. 

But before he knows it, he’s in a dungeon.  Oh, there may have been some hopeful moments…when Herod called him to come and converse with him.  It almost appears from the account in Mark that Herod was experiencing a change of heart.  He moves from wanting to kill this bothersome moralist to wanting to protect him from his wife.  We can only imagine the kinds of conversations Herod and John had about God, about morality, about the coming Messiah.  Perhaps a little hope was dawning that this pagan Gentile leader might just be ready to entertain God’s truth and eventually embrace the Messiah of Israel.

            But Jesus’ mode of advancement was giving John some doubts.  Every time the crowds started to grow, Jesus faded into the background.  Every time it looked like the people were following him by the thousands, nothing political changed.  Like John’s disciples who had joined Jesus inner circle of The 12, he was confused about why so much of what his theology taught him should be happening wasn’t. 

            Jesus is quoting Isaiah 35:4-6 as well as Isaiah 61:1 here.

Isaiah 35:4-6

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Isaiah 61:1

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,

“Freedom for the captives!”  “Release from darkness for the prisoners!”  Wasn’t that all a part of the same promise Jesus just quoted of “good news proclaimed to the poor”???  Both of these O.T. chapters are clearly Messianic in nature, talking about a time yet future for Israel when God will fulfill his promises of blessing over the nation when they turn back to him.  And they had been turning to God.  Surely this was the time God’s kingdom would come to His people in Israel.   

            But then, Jesus had not quoted the entire passage.  He had not referred to the part that applied most to John himself.  Jesus had pointed to his works in other people’s lives, not John’s.  His answer, while encouraging, was not everything John wanted to hear.

            What he could hear was the revelry going on above him.  He heard the music, the drinking, and the dancing.  Then it was quiet.  He probably did not hear the gasp of the guests as Salome requested…no, demanded…something horrible.

            And then the guards came.  They drug him in his shackles out the prison door and to the place of execution.  He was forced to kneel.  Out came the sword.  Before John knew it, his earthly ministry was finished…and more than he had hoped for in experiencing the presence and glory of God became reality. 

            Life had not worked out like he had expected.  The King and the Kingdom had not come as he had anticipated.  Little did he know that there would be more than 2000 years of national and world history that would pass with millions more expectant God-followers waiting for the consummation of the Kingdom. 

APP:   And here we are today, waiting.  Here we are today, preaching the good news of the kingdom.  Here we are today calling people to repentance.  And here the church that John never may have envisioned and certainly never imagined is suffering imprisonment, persecution, and death.  But it is growing like never before.  More people are coming under the Lordship of Christ Jesus than ever before.  And often it is happening in the darkest of countries, under the most despotic of leadership, in the most confusing of ways. 

ILL:  Between June 4-7, 80 of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (think Ottossons) were hacked, shot and burnt to death by the Allied Democratic Forced (ADF), a rebel Islamic group waging war against Christians in the DRC.  All were simply church members working their farms when they were martyred. I’m quite sure life did not play out like they had hoped.  But they had a faith they chose to die for rather than forsake. 

APP:  Mark’s message to all of us is clear:  don’t let the incompleteness of your theology undermine your faith in the completeness of Christ. When things in life don’t play out according to our theological expectations, the problem is not with the faithfulness of God to His word; the problem is with our theology.  God does not need to change; we need to change.  Life for us will never end but life as we know it on this earth will end for every one of us some day.  The important thing is that we be found living, speaking and believing the truth about God and His great kingdom.  The important thing is that we be found dying to ourselves so that we can live for Christ. 

            Someone has noted that God can only resurrect that which has died.  In this life we are called to die—die to self, die to our plans, die to our theological weaknesses, die to our disappointments.  In the next life we will be called to the resurrection.  There can be no resurrection for that which has not already died. 

APP:  We must not be afraid of disappointments and suffering in our faith.  Those are the tools God chooses to use to refine, purify and prepare us to reign with him in the yet-coming Kingdom. 

ILL:  Thursday’s Bible study on “endurance” from 2 Timothy 2.  We were all reminded that

“If we died with him, we will also live with him;

If we endure, we will also reign with him.” 

Repeatedly we are told in the N.T. that when Jesus returns to reign in glory and power, those who have endured his like-sufferings will, amazingly, reign with Him. 

  • Luke 19—The Parable of the Minas—each servant was given 1 to steward. When the Master returned, he gave them cities to rule over based on their stewardship in his absence. 
  • Revelation 5:9-10

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.”

  • Revelation 20:6-- Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
  • Revelation 22:3-5-- No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and eve

Friends, this is why, when life is tough, we must look to Jesus.  We must learn to say with Paul in Romans 8:18,  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

This is why we must have a faith that is worth dying for.  Because until we embrace that dying, we will not experience the “power of the resurrection” that God wants to bring to us. 


  • Have you put your faith in Christ Jesus as your Savior and your Lord?
  • Have you really given God permission to purify and even put to death the parts of your beliefs/theology about Him and His Kingdom that are wrong or incomplete? Will you let God be God?  What isn’t playing out like you expected that still needs to be surrendered to God?  Tell Him.
  • Are we willing to embrace dying to self so that we can experience the resurrection of Jesus in every part of our lives?
  • Where is God calling us to speak the truth…a truth that may cost us dearly…but a truth that is greater than life itself? Who?  Where?  How?