yet he liked to listen...
he Good News this morning is that we do not have to mess up big like Herod did. Indeed, as heirs of the Grace of Christian centuries most of us were turned a bit toward God when we came into this world. But Herod was a little man who was trying to be a big king. The eldest son of Herod the Great, who had slain the innocents in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus, Herod Antipas was a kind of appointed dupe of the Roman Empire whose job it was to keep the Jews of Northern Palestine in check. As one whose early life had made him power hungry, he was filled with pride, jealousy and greed. He was part Jew himself but had sold out that sacred part of his heritage for the little bit of power that he had been given.
King Herod was quite a complicated character. He did not like John the Baptist because he dared to point out his sin publicly; but then, John was possibly the only person who would tell him the absolute truth. John kept reminding the King that even he was not above the law of the land and the Law of God. "Herod was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to John's words." (v.20)
Not everyone who watches Billy Graham preach on television agrees with everything he says, and that is the point. Since the 50's, Billy Graham has reached millions who were drawn to him because of his absolute honesty, and they liked to listen to Billy's charming southern sound. Lots of lost and lonely lads and lassies have liked to listen, and have been given new lives.
If we can get folks to listen we can win a some of them. This is the central strategy of the evangelical outreach of the Church. We put the words out there as best we can and then we depend upon the Holy Spirit to use them to reach into hearts and souls.
I made a friendship with a rebellious young son of a family in our church in Augusta. The young man had dropped out of everything he had started. He had experienced many sinful nights and many hard days. He surprised his parents and the church family by starting to attend church regularly. I asked him, in one of our many conversations, why he had started back to church? His reply was, "I like to hear you preach!" Actually, what was happening in his heart was that the Spirit of God was working on him. Methodists call it "Prevenient Grace," or the compelling Grace of God that draws us to Him before we are able to make a profession of faith. This same kind of thing was happening to Herod as he listened to John's preaching.
I heard the story of a young preacher who stood in his pulpit one Sunday morning and excused his preaching by saying that he had been busy and had been called to the hospital in the middle of the night. He went on to say that he would just have to depend upon the Holy Spirit for that Sunday morning. His congregation smiled because that's what they were hungry for. Actually, that is what we preachers need to do more of. Certainly, we need to prepare long hours for each sermon; but ultimately we rise to preach utterly throwing ourselves upon the mercy of God to lift up our feeble efforts and make them to become His words specifically tailored for each beloved soul present. Preaching is one of the basic ongoing miracles and we are not in control.
This is what John the Baptist was doing. It is why Herod loved to listen. We can never improve on the work of God Himself as He tugs on heartstrings. Herod had placed John the Baptist in protective custody so that he would be kept safe from those in the crowds who wanted to quiet the prophet. And Herod wanted to continue to listen and learn.
Listening is the beginning point of becoming something new and better. Herod had been paying attention and possibly toying with the idea of reforming his ways. Beginning to listen is always the starting blocks of faith. But, as long as we keep cotton balls stuffed in our ears we will never grow. At least, Herod did begin to listen.
The essence of faith development is to keep and open ear. If you have ever taught Sunday School, or weekday school, you have looked out onto heads that were nodding to sleep: You have seen empty stares looking back and you knew that their minds were drawing a blank too. We can carry a kid to school but we can't make him listen. These same kids, and adults, sometimes come to worship.
Listening itself is never enough. It is only completed when it leads to learning, change of attitudes and behavior modification. The Christian life is built upon listening, learning and becoming a changed person with a sense of newness.
Although Herod liked to listen, he caved to social pressure and custom when Herodias' daughter asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Since he had offered her anything, as King he was expected to keep his promise. Yet, as the King he could have done the right thing and refused such an egregious request.
Later, when he began to hear stories about the popular preaching of Jesus, he thought that Jesus must be John come back from the dead. We are not told if Herod ever sneaked off to hear Jesus preach, but I like to think that he did. Tiberias is just a few miles south of the large field on a hillside by the Sea, where it is thought that Jesus preached The Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps he was in attendance when Jesus fed the five thousand who had been listening to him preach. I have my mother's painting in my study of the setting and can imagine Herod in the crowd.
Luke's Gospel records that during Jesus' series of trials just prior to the Crucifixion, Pilate, the actual Roman Governor of all Palestine, sent Jesus to Herod, who happened to be visiting in Jerusalem. Luke records that when Herod saw Jesus he as exceedingly glad because he had wanted to see him. Herod questioned Jesus for a long time but Jesus would not answer him. The Jewish authorities stood by making accusations against Jesus; and sadly, Herod caved in again to the demands of the crowd. He allowed his soldiers to mock Jesus by dressing him up as a phony King of the Jews, and by sending Jesus back to Pilate. Herod could have stood up for Jesus. He could have shared how much he had appreciated John the Baptist and how much he loved to hear Jesus preach; but, he did not. (Lk. 23: 6-12)
Some may be asking how it would have affected the outcome of Jesus' Crucifixion if Herod would have confessed him publicly. I doubt that a great groundswell of support would have prevented the Crucifixion, but it would have changed Herod's life and eternal destiny. Jesus was born to die on the Cross, and Herod might have occupied a fourth Cross on Golgotha.
We do know that we are faced with the same situation that Herod faced in his response to Jesus. We are given the freedom to deny him. Or, we can live our lives for ourselves by compartmentalizing Jesus into a convenient box that we only open at church, or in a crisis. Or, we can openly confess Jesus as Lord and live our lives in witness to him. This is your free will choice, as it was for Herod who chose on at least two occasions to deny him.
And so we listen too. We listen with the ears of our souls to the still small voice that beckons us to come and walk with Jesus, and to become...
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor