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John the Baptist Earns a Prophet’s Wage

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| | John the Baptist Earns a Prophet’s Wage17 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.”Mark 6:17-18 (NIV)Few, if any, issues can put a Western minister in greater difficulty than that of divorce and remarriage. Both practices are commonplace, and many church members want their pastor to facilitate and bless their various breakups and unions, however unbiblical they might be. When he balks at going along with such devaluation of marriage, he is often the object of astonishment and anger.This is a longstanding problem for the Church. John the Baptist is a striking case in point. Not one to mince words (cf. “brood of vipers” in Luke 3:7), John turned his righteous indignation on Herod Antipas. The Herods were a line of native rulers, serving at the discretion of the Romans. This particular Herod reigned over John the Baptist’s “parish,” and John was not reluctant to speak the truth to power. He bluntly observed that Herod’s marriage was wrong.To marry Herodias, Herod had to wreck two marriages. First, he had to leave his political wife, the daughter of a neighboring Nabataean king. (In A.D. 36, that same king defeated him in revenge.) Second, Herodias had to abandon her first husband, her second husband’s own brother, Herod Philip, who lived over on the Mediterranean coast. Therefore, armed with verses such as Leviticus 20:21, which plainly condemned “marriage” of one’s brother’s wife as “an act of impurity,” John voiced his fateful rebuke. Herodias was livid and eventually found a way to kill John. When the dancing of her fetching daughter Salome so charmed the king that he promised her anything she desired, she turned to her mother for advice. The answer was swift and vicious, and the king was forced to kill John in gruesome fashion.The circumstances of John’s execution show two elements necessary to the persecution of prophets. First, Herodias represents those determined to neutralize God’s spokesman, to repay him for his holy offense. Second, Herod Antipas and Salome represent the pawns, those who irresponsibly enable the aggressor, either through acquiescence or direct assistance. (The seasoned pastor will recognize both types in his ministerial experience.) Of course, in most cultural settings, the minister does not fear for his life. But his reputation, employment, and career are often targets of disgruntled church members whom he has “wounded” by blunt preaching.If that were the whole story, it would send a daunting signal to timid preachers, but there is more: John failed to impress Herodias, but Jesus’ estimation of the man was different: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11a). Since Jesus reigns (while Herodias decidedly does not), John’s current and eternal status is unquestionably wonderful. It is easy for a pastor to lose this perspective when critics and their hurtful comments swirl about him, but it is just as easy for him to take up his Bible for reminders of both his high prophetic calling and its heavenly destiny.

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