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Mark 6.14 thru 29 The Pressure of Sin

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The Pressure of Sin

 John 6:24-35 6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?"

6:26 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

6:28 Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"

6:29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

6:30 So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

6:34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you like “flash back” movies? They seem to have started with films like Citizen Cain and Casablanca then became common place in the 40’s and they have survived in many forms such as in It’s a Wonderful Life and Red River all the way up to today’s films like Titanic and Get Shorty. But this technique did not originate in the films of the 20th century. In our gospel lesson this morning, we are given a flash back by Mark. We are in the middle of Jesus’ ministry. We have seen miracles and healing, but now all of a sudden, we are brought back to John the Baptist. Mark seems to think we need to know what exactly happened to John the Baptist. Could it be to tie the fate of John in with the Jesus story as a foretelling of what Jesus, who is strongly linked to John, must expect a few chapters later? So we flash back to this point in history. Mark talks about John’s arrest. Herod has heard of Jesus and is wondering who he is. People are saying, “He is Elijah” and “He is a prophet.” But Herod says, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” This conveys a threat to Herod personally because he himself put him to death and now he was coming back to haunt his guilty conscience and it provides the cue for Mark to tell the story of the beheading of John the Baptist.

We need to take a look at this story to understand it. Herod the Great was King when Jesus was born. He was responsible for the massacre of the children in Bethlehem as he sought to kill the Child who was a threat to him. Herod the Great married a number of women and had a number of sons by them. Some were actually murdered by their father. Among those who were not was Herod Antipas, the Herod of this passage, and Herod Philip. They were half-brothers. Another half-brother was Aristobulus. Aristobulus had a daughter named Herodias. She married Herod Philip. They, in turn, had a daughter whose name was Salome.

Now follows a storyline that reads like a near-eastern version of Peyton Place. On a visit to Rome, Herod Antipas met his brother, Philip’s wife, Herodias. She was a deceitful and ambitious woman who saw in Antipas a way to fulfill her own selfish desires. So he took her away from his brother and they came back to Palestine together. This is a sordid situation even in today’s standards. You see, what you have to remember is that Herodias was Aristobulus’ daughter, who was Philip’s half-brother. That made Herodias Philip’s niece. Philip had married his own niece. And now his other half-brother had stolen her away from him.

And now that brings us to today’s text. John found out that Herod had married his brother’s wife and said, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist, but having been arrested by Herod to keep him safe, she could not attack him. Herod would go to the jail cell to hear John preach. Scripture tells us that Herod “heard John gladly” and yet he was “perplexed.” It is clear that John told Herod what a bad fellow he and his wife were. We know that Herod “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man” and because of this “he kept him safe.” This was, no doubt, an interesting relationship between Herod and John.

So, Herodias hatched a plan involving her daughter, Salome, to kill John the Baptist. Herodias invited a large group of very powerful men to a banquet. The men were enjoying themselves with fine food and drink. Then Salome came in to dance. She mesmerized the audience. She danced so well in fact that Herod said, “‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.’ And he vowed to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’” Herod was so enamored with Salome he swore to give her half of his kingdom! So Salome runs out to ask what she should do. And Herodias knew now she had what she wanted all along. She told her daughter Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist. So Salome runs back to Herod and says “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Herod is now confused. He fears John yet wants to keep him safe and continue to “hear him.” But how can he go back on his word with all the important men sitting around the table. The text says: “And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.”

So Herodias had her revenge. She silenced John the Baptist. But Herod must have felt guilty about the whole affair; because when he heard about Jesus’ teaching his first reaction was that John had been raised from the dead. Herod was in a sense a tragic figure. He was boxed into a corner by his own pride. He could not retreat from the promise he made to Salome in front of all those powerful men. He couldn’t retreat so he had to follow through with granting the promise. He was sad, he was guilty, he was ashamed, but he could not back down. He had to follow through so he ordered the beheading of John the Baptist. Herod gave in to pressure… period. He had no back bone. He was pressured by his wife, by the important men at the party. So instead of standing up to them and saying that John was a righteous and holy man, he caved in to the pressure and had John the Baptist beheaded.

In our lives when the world clamors for us to do this, to do that, we need to have a back bone and stand up to those pressures. Brian Stoffregen tells a story about two men and how they handled pressure in their lives. There were two brothers in Georgia during the 1950’s. One decided that in opposition to the dominant culture of the day, he was going to support and participate in the formation of a multi-ethnic community. The other worked as an attorney for a prominent law firm. Both were Christians and attended church regularly. As the multi-ethnic community formed and social pressure forced them into court proceedings, the one brother asked his attorney brother to help them with the legal work. The brother refused, saying that he could lose his job. The pressure increased with the first brother asking for help with a reminder that the lawyer brother was a Christian. The lawyer responded, "I will follow Jesus to his cross, but it is his cross. I have no need to be crucified." To this his brother replied, "Then you are an admirer of Jesus, but not his disciple."

The one brother was willing to follow Jesus and his teaching no matter what happened to his life. He would not bow to the pressures of segregation. He wanted to see people from all walks of life living and working together. A disciple of Christ needs to be free from the pressures of the world. A disciple of Jesus needs to be aware of peer pressure and when it goes against the teachings of Jesus, a disciple needs to steer clear of it.

Salome was pressured by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist. I would imagine that she might have wished for something else. Riches…a glamorous house…servants. But she caved in to the pressures of her mother, Herodias, and asked for the head of John the Baptist. And Herodias gave in to the pressure of sin and hate in her live. She hated John for telling the truth. She was living in a sinful marriage. She wanted power that came with living with Herod and she did everything she could to marry him. The main characters in our gospel lesson gave in to pressure.

Jesus and John conversely stood their ground the pressures of hate and sin. John preached a message of repentance till the day he died. Jesus was not pressured by the religious leaders of his day to conform to their ideas or practices. He did not jump through their hoops. Jesus was holy and righteous and resisted all temptations and pressures in His walk…which eventually led to the cross. But the resurrection followed. John and Christ knew they could draw strength from God…enough strength to endure any pressure in this world. As Disciples of Christ we too have this fountain of strength in Christ.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Living with and in Christ can help us avoid pressure and sin. Living with and in Christ can help us not to succumb to the pressures all around us. Living with and in Christ can help us live a life that is God pleasing. He is the one that gives us strength and stands with us against the pressures of the world.

Now, may that peace which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds unto life everlasting. Amen.

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