Greg Laurie — The Death of a Conscience
I want to look now at the story of a man whose conscience was dead. This is effectively the story of the life and death of a conscience. This man had no excuse. He had as his personal counselor his friend, his confidant the greatest prophet in all of the Bible. I am talking about John the Baptist. The man I am addressing was known as king Herod. We are going to see how his life began to unravel. Remember our series God came near is a chronological look at the life of Christ. When we last left our Lord he was standing before Pontius Pilate who did not want to condemn Jesus to death though that is what the religious leaders were demanding. He was looking for a way out of this dilemma that he found himself in. When it was said that Jesus was from Galilee a light went on and he thought, "Galilee. That is the jurisdiction of Herod". He thought he could get rid of this problem as he saw it and send Jesus to Herod and thus Pilate would not have to make a decision about him.
In our last message we alluded to this. Now I kind of want to talk about Herod and then we will return back to Pilate and the trial and crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. As we pick this story up back in Matthew 14 we are sort of going back in time a little bit to an earlier event. This is after Jesus was beginning his public ministry and his name was on everyone's lips. Lives were being impacted. Sick people were being made well. Dead people were being resurrected. Demon possessed people were being delivered. Herod heard about this. Though his conscience wasn't completely dead yet he thought that it was John the Baptist risen from the dead and there to haunt him. How did John the Baptist get killed in the first place? That is what our story is about.
Let's look at Matthew 14:1-6. "At that time Herod the Tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, 'this is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.' For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. Because John had said to him 'it is not lawful for you to have her. And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet" who was Herod? The problem is there are a lot of Herod's in the New Testament. They are not all the same guy. They are all from the same twisted dynasty.
The first of the lot was Herod the Great. He was the Herod who was in charge when the wise men came from the east looking for the one who was born the king of the Jews. Remember they followed that star. That is king Herod. The first Herod. He was not called Herod the Great because of his acts of benevolence or because he was a wonderful ruler. He was called that because he was known for the amazing edifices that he erected. He actually rebuilt the Jewish temple. It was many years in the making. He built the great fortress Masada and many other things. Parts of which stand to this very day. But he was also known for his paranoia, for his wickedness, and how he had members of his own family executed because he thought they would be a threat to his throne. That was a wicked man king Herod. Now we are looking at his son known as Herod Antipas. He is the son of Herod the great. Clearly the apple did not fall far from the tree. Like father like son. This Herod is also wicked. Historians tell us that Herod Antipas was cruel and scheming and indecisive and utterly immoral. He had a conscience that was in the process of dying. Here is the thing. Herod was without excuse because, as I mentioned, he had as his personal counselor none other than John the Baptist.
John was everything that Herod was not. While Herod was unsure and torn and proud and worried about the opinions of others, John was sure and humble and concerned only with the opinion of God. John was a man of immense moral courage. Herod was a man of spineless weakness. John was a man who kept his conscience but lost his head. Herod was a man who took John's head but lost his own conscience. This is really the story of the life and death of a conscience in Herod. John was the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was the last of a long line of spokesmen for God. He was the last of the Mahicans if you will. Jesus said of John, "Of those born of women there has never been a greater than John the Baptist". Why was John greater than say Elijah and Elisha or Jeremiah or Isaiah or other prophets? He was greater because he and he alone was the direct forerunner of Jesus. The forerunner of the Messiah. He had this amazing place in history.
Herod respected John. Over in Mark 6:20 we read, "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he observed him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly". Herod liked John but his wife Herodias hated John. They had a real bizarre relationship. Herod and Herodias. The way it came about was interesting. It is noted that she was Philip's wife. While she was still married to Philip who was the brother of Herod. Herod had seduced her and took her as his own wife. But it gets worse. Herodias was also the daughter of Herod's half-brother making her his neice. This would have been a great episode of The Jerry Springer Show or Maury Povich. Kings who marry their sisters-in-law who are actually their nieces. If that wasn't bad enough he was lusting after Herodias' daughter who was named Salome. Herodias was fully aware of this.
John called him out on it. He said, "This is crazy. This is really messed up. You need to repent". Herod respected that. He respected the fact that John would speak up to him. John's PR people, if he had PR people, which he didn't, would have said, "John come on. Relax a little bit. You have to be more diplomatic. You have to think through what you are saying. You need to keep Herod as a friend. He could really help you advance your ministry. Pull your punches a little bit". John didn't care. He just told the truth. We need more people like John today. More men and women that just tell the truth. We do. We need them everywhere.
Herod liked John. He admired John's chutzpah. He admired John's courage. Well Herodias didn't feel that way at all. She was as serious as a heart attack. She wanted John not just silenced. She wanted John dead. She wanted John to get whacked. She was just plotting and scheming and trying to think of a way to kill John the Baptist. She knew Herod pretty well. She knew he liked to get drunk. Probably every night like most drunks do. Excuse me. Alcoholics. I have to use the right term because it is a disease. "Greg you sound sarcastic". I am being sarcastic. Yes. Alcoholism is a choice. The Bible doesn't call it alcoholism if you are under the power of alcohol it says you are a drunkard. I know that is not a politically correct term. This is something that needs to be repented of. It is something that God can deliver you from. Most of the people I know that have an alcohol problem they drink every night to the point of drunkenness. Maybe some just want to get the buzz but others go even further than that and they get crazy.
Listen. I was raised around drunks for the first 17 years of my life. I have seen and heard it all. Herod liked to get drunk every night. He would be really foolish in his drunken state. He would offer up to half of his kingdom sometimes. Herodias knew he did this. He would get drunk. "I will give you up to half of my kingdom". Herodias said, I have an idea. I am going to get him really drunk. Then I am going to get my daughter Salome to do a seductive dance for him. When he gets all worked up and says he will give half of his kingdom away I am going to ask for the head of John the Baptist. That is exactly what happened. The party was thrown. Here is Herodias effectively for lack of a better term pimping out her daughter. I don't understand how a mother could do this. A mother should be protecting her daughter as well as the father. Caring for her daughter. It is really strange. You have some of these moms that kind of live vicariously through their daughters. They want to go out and be their daughter's best friend and party with their daughter.
I read an article about a popular Hollywood star whose mom liked to go party with her. They did cocaine together. She encouraged her daughter in her immorality. I thought, "That is so wrong". Listen to this. Your kids don't need you to be their best friend mom or dad. They need you to be their mom or their dad. They need a parent. Be a parent. Be responsible. Set an example for them. Tell them no. Tell them yes. Be that parental role. I think for some girls in our culture today they don't want to accept the fact that they are getting older. They are 65 and still shopping at forever 21. It is time to grow up. Grow up and older and gracefully. Girls I am not against you fighting gravity for as long as you can. Whatever you got to do. You go girl. It's ok. But in your pursuit to look the best that you can look, there is nothing wrong with that, don't neglect your soul. Don't neglect your spiritual life. As you become older and more mature woman of God you have a special role to play in the church and around younger women.
Titus 2 says, "Older women should live lives of "Reverence so they will not end up as gossips or drunks". Ooh. Drunks. Excuse me. Alcoholics. "But models of goodness is what they should be. By looking at them the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children and how to be virtuous and pure and how to keep a good house and how to be a good wife". Herodias was far from this. She was a wicked woman as I said pimping out her daughter. Now the whole scene is going to begin to unfold as she gets her to dance in front of Herod. That brings us to Matthew 14:6. "But when Herod's birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and it pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having prompted by her mother, said, 'give me John the Baptist's head here on a platter.' And the king was sorry: nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother".
Wow. What a crazy scene this is. It was stupid. He should have retracted it. I don't know what I was thinking. I was drunk. Forget it. I am not going to give up to half of my kingdom. Oh I said it. I am the king. I don't want to go back on my word. People are watching me. He was so worried about the opinions of other people. Herod probably spent a lot of time talking with John. He might be sitting up in the palace. Couldn't get to sleep. Go down to the dungeon. There is John. Chained up in that miserable place. John the great outdoorsman. John the great preacher. Loved to be under the blue sky out in the elements is in this little hellhole. Almost like a pet for the king. He would talk with John. That's good John. I appreciate what you are saying. I like that. I will go make a few changes. Then he would go off on his wicked course. Now he has killed his only friend in the world. No more late night talks with John. You know what? It tormented Herod day and night. He deeply regrets his decision.
What was left of his conscience was keeping him up at night. Maybe his wife Herodias said, "Now honey just forget about old John. He is gone. He won't bother you anymore. Don't trouble your conscience". But his conscience was troubled. Unbeknownst to him his conscience was dying. Then he starts hearing reports about Jesus. This Messiah figure who is allegedly healing people and raising dead people and preaching amazing things. Herod starts hearing about the miracles of Jesus and because his conscience is so guilty he thinks, "It is John. He is back from the dead and he has come to haunt me". That is where we pick the story up again. Now he thinks that John is back again.
Here is Herod now. He is thinking a lot about John. He hears about Jesus. He summons Christ to the palace. Understand Herod was a powerful man. When you were summoned by the king you went. Especially if it was king Herod. It is sort of like being summoned to the white house but even more significant. Word is sent to Jesus. Herod wants you at the palace immediately. What does Jesus do? He replies this. "You go tell that fox that I am casting out demons and doing miracles of healing today and tomorrow and on the third day I will accomplish my purpose". What kind of thing is that to say to a king? When Herod heard that he probably thought. "I knew it. It is John only John would say something that crazy to me". It wasn't John. It was Jesus.
Now to kind of catch up with our last message remember our Lord is brought before Pilate. Pilate doesn't want to deal with Jesus. Now he hands him off to Herod thinking that Christ is no longer his problem so to speak. That is where the scene unfolds catching us up this is the moment when Jesus and Herod come face to face. Let me point out that Herod never heard the voice of Christ. That is interesting. Many others heard his voice. Pilate heard the voice of Christ. Jesus engaged in some conversation with him. Jesus engaged pharisees and Sadducees in debates on numerous occasions. Goodness he even engaged the devil in the temptation in the wilderness quoting scripture to him. Jesus did not say a single word to king Herod. I will tell you why in a moment.
Luke 23:8, "When Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad: for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by him. Then he questioned him with many words, but Jesus answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated him with contempt and mocked him, arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him back to Pilate". Here is our scene now. We are in the palace of Herod. There sits the twisted king with a dying conscience on his regal throne. There stands before him Jesus Christ. Not just a man of God like John the Baptist. This is God the man. Now Herod has met the greatest prophet in human history. Now he has met the very living Son of God who stands before him.
Herod is excited. Why? He wants to see a miracle. He when he wants to see a miracle not because he wants to believe in God but he wants to be impressed. Do a trick. I hear you do this really cool stuff. Do something for me. Do a little trick for me. Pull a rabbit out of a hat. Make something disappear. Entertain me. I am bored. Dazzle me. Jesus just looks at him. Doesn't say a single word to him at all. Why? Because he knew Herod's heart was irreparably hardened. He knew Herod had gone beyond the point of no return. Herod no doubt had blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Jesus would not engage him.
1 Timothy 1:19 says, "Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and always keep your conscience clear for some people have deliberately violated their consciences and as a result their faith has been shipwrecked". Has God been speaking to you lately through your conscience but you have violated it. As a result your faith has been shipwrecked. What should you do? Answer. Go to Jesus. Hebrews 10:22 says, "Let us go right into the presence of God with true hearts fully trusting him for our evil consciences have been sprinkled with christ's blood to make them clean and our bodies have been washed with pure water". Listen to this. Jesus Christ can forgive sin and re-sensitize your conscience. He can re-sensitize it.
Years ago I was in Portland, Oregon with Billy Graham at one of his crusades. He had just preached and it was a powerful message. We got into the car to leave. Franklin his son and Billy were in the backseat. T. W. Wilson his longtime aide was driving. I was riding shotgun. I was thinking about his message. I decided to compliment Billy. I turned around looking back over the seat and I said, "Billy that was a great message tonight. I loved your point when you said Christ can re-sensitize your conscience". Billy looked at me and said, "Well he can". I turned back around. I know. I was just complimenting you. I turned around and said, "It was such a great presentation Billy. You did such a wonderful job". He said, "It is just Gospel".
Ok. So I turned back around. I thought, "I am not saying anything else". I learned something too. That Billy did not want to be flattered. He did his job. He delivered his message. That was it. What he said was and is true. Christ can re-sensitize your conscience. I love it when it rains. After the rain everything is so clean. Even people with dirty cars have their cars washed. The roads are kind of clean. The birds come out and they are singing. Maybe there is a rainbow. That is a wonderful moment. That is what Jesus can do for us. First we have to confess our sin.