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Entries in Martyrs (2)

Tuesday
Aug272019

The Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 25, 2019.

Our Passage today is about how people in power do not like to have anyone rail against their sins in public.  Imprisonment and execution can be done in a moral manner and will occur under good governance, but they are the main methods and means of tyrants to keep a firm hold upon society.  The Bible warns that in the last days mankind will be more likely to kill believers than less.

We should praise God for the protections that have been provided for us in t he United States of America.  However, we are guaranteed that it will not last forever.  It is important that we recognize that our purpose on this earth is to take our stand beside Jesus before all others and without shame.  To do this without redefining Jesus in our own image, we must remember that our reward is not what we experience in this life, but what we shall experience in the life to come.

John’s imprisonment and death

This story tends to work backwards in time, which doesn’t give us a good idea of when John had been imprisoned and executed, and how long before this it was.  Those who have researched the history tend to see an overlap of less than a year in the ministry of John and Jesus before he is arrested.  It is also thought that John may have been in prison up to a year.  We will deal with the story by looking at the imprisonment and death of John first, and then we will come back to verses 14-16.

Before we get into John’s arrest, we must also take a moment to talk about the convoluted Herodian families, and just which Herod is being referenced here.  The Gospels don’t always give good clues to us because they had lived through these things and it was obvious.

Herod the Great is the Herod that is mentioned in the stories about the birth of Jesus.  He had been made king over all of Israel by the Romans.  He is also the one who ordered all children under 2 years of age in Bethlehem to be killed.  He was a dangerous man who was considered by many to be somewhat insane.  He executed three of his sons under suspicions of plotting to assassinate him.  Herod the Great died within 3-4 years of the birth of Jesus, which allowed Joseph and Mary to come back from Egypt and settle in Nazareth. 

Upon the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was broken up into 5 parts and divvied up between three sons and 1 daughter.  Now, Herod had married many different wives and so, most of the brothers mentioned here are actually half-brothers.  The Herod of our passage in Mark 6 is one of these sons and is usually called Herod Antipas.  Herod Antipas was given rule over the Galilee (the western side of the Sea of Galilee including Nazareth) and another area called Perea, which was on the eastern side of the Jordan River between the Sea of Galilee and about half way down the Dead Sea.  Notice that John the Baptist would have been baptizing people on the edge of his territory.

John the Baptist had a clear message.  Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  He often challenged the people on specific sins, even calling out the Pharisees, but what got him in trouble was when he called out Herod Antipas for his sin.  You see, Herod Antipas had gone to Rome at the same time as one of his half-brothers named Herod Philip (not Philip the Tetrarch who is mentioned in the Scriptures).  There he had fallen in love with his half-brother’s wife, Herodias.  Yes, as her name implies, she is related and is actually the half-niece of Herod Antipas.  Apparently, the feelings were mutual because they divorced their spouses and married each other when they returned to Israel.  Now, the Law of Moses specifically prohibits marrying your brother’s wife, while he is still alive, not to mention the flimsy “case” for divorce.  Secondly, a case could also be made that she is too close in kinship to be lawful to marry.  Thus, John the Baptist calls out Herod Antipas for an illegitimate marriage.

People in power do not like religious prophets calling them out for their sin.  It is a personal affront, but also a political threat that can undermine their authority.  John had multitudes of people listening to his words and responding in repentance, which leads Herod Antipas to have him arrested and thrown in prison.

Herod Antipas had enough of his father in him to imprison John, but not so much as to have him executed.  He not only feared John as a holy prophet, but he also feared what the people would do if they heard he had killed John (Matthew’s Gospel specifically mentions this).  Yet, we are told that Herodias, his unlawful wife, wanted John the Baptist dead.  She could not do so because her husband stood in the way. 

This sets up the scene, that Matthew and Luke both describe, wherein John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  Of all the people in Israel, John the Baptist seemed the most confident in who Jesus was.  Yet, after he had spent weeks and months in prison, it is clear that he began to wonder if he had missed something.  How could the Messiah be in Israel, and I am in prison under threat of death?  Surely, he will take power and set me free any day now.  In those passages, Jesus tells the disciples of John, “Go tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.  And Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matthew 11:5-6 NKJV).  The word “offended” here is the Greek word Skandalizo, and literally means “to cause to stumble.”  It comes from the concept of a stumbling block or stone in the Old Testament.  Basically, Jesus is telling John to hang on to his faith.  He is right and Jesus was doing all he was supposed to do.  Sometimes we think God should be doing things that the word never says that He must do.  In those times, we must trust Him, even it means we will die.

Our text tells us that an “opportune day” came.  This is in reference to the evil desire that Herodias had for John.  Whatever we allow to grow in our hearts, will one day find an opportune time to be expressed.  This is why we are warned to guard our hearts, not from being wounded in love, but from sinful desires that rise up and consume our inner dialogue from day to day.  Herodias nurtured murder in her heart and finally an opportunity came and she fell headlong into the full expression of that sin.

The opportunity comes in the form of a party that Herod Antipas throws for his birthday.  All his nobles, chief men, and high officers of his lands are gathered.  Herodias has her daughter (Herod’s step-daughter) dance before the king and his assembly.  No doubt, this is a typical, sensual dance that stirs up the passions of the king and was no doubt set up by Herodias, knowing her husband very well.  Herod is so pleased by the dance that he offers the young girl anything up to half his kingdom as a reward.  She goes and asks her mother what she should say, and her mother tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist.  I would not think the young girl had such a gift in mind.  However, she does not seem to put up much of a protest.  When she asks Herod for John’s head on a platter, Herod is in a bind.  He had given his word by oath and would look weak, impulsive, and untrustworthy to his administers.

We are told that Herod is “exceedingly sorrowful” at this reply.  This is the same word that is used of the rich young ruler who Jesus told to sell everything and come follow him.  That young man was exceedingly sorrowful because he wanted to follow Jesus, but he also had a large amount of wealth that he did not want to give up.  It is also the word used for Jesus in the garden on the night he was betrayed.  As he prayed that night, he was exceedingly sorrowful unto death.  This is part of the tragedy of sin.  Most people are not as completely evil as they can be.  However, we can become so tightly entangled in a great web of sin that it traps us into descending further.  Many wicked things are done by unwilling people who feel that they are trapped and have no other choice.  Yet, remember the message of John the Baptist.  Repent.  Herod was only trapped because he continued to refuse a place in his heart for repentance.  We too are only as trapped as we are insistent on resisting the call to repentance.

Herod’s fears about Jesus

This leads us back to the beginning of our passage.  Herod had executed John and it bothered him enough to be superstitious, but not enough to repent.  You see, when word of the exploits of Jesus reach him, he concludes that John the Baptist has come back to life and is going to cause him even more trouble.  It is interesting that there is no statement of a fear of God, only of John.  This scene is a reversal of the scene where Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying he is.  There too we are told that a common theory of who Jesus was said that he was Elijah.  This is not as strange as it may seem to us.  Elijah had been taken up into the heavens by a heavenly chariot.  Also, Malachi 4:5 prophesied that Elijah would appear before the great and dreadful Day of the Lord, and he would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers.  This is a beautiful picture of what wholesale repentance can do in a society.  We know that this theory was not true.

The second theory was that Jesus was The Prophet or at least just one of the prophets.  This is a reference to an interesting prophecy that Moses himself had given in Deuteronomy 18:15. He said that a particular prophet would come in the future that would be like him.  This seems to mean that he would be on the same order and magnitude of Moses.  Thus, many prophets had arisen since Moses, but none of them with such deliverance from bondage, and establishing a completely, new order within Israel.  “The Prophet” was seen as either the same as the Messiah, or another who would work with the Messiah to reform Israel.

I take time to go through this because, in our flesh, we come up with religious speculation and superstitious conspiracy theories.  Even today, many Christians exist in a kind of Herodian sphere where they have enough religion to speculate and respond in fear to the things ahead of us.  However, the Holy Spirit of God is working to reveal to us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Herod put to death the very one who testified the truth about Jesus.  If Herod had only listened then he would know exactly who Jesus is.  He is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Our passage ends at this point.  In Luke 13:31-33, we are told that Herod Antipas sought to kill Jesus.  When the Pharisees bring this up to Jesus, he basically tells them to go tell “that fox,” I will do what I am going to do and he can’t stop it.  Herod Antipas, or Caesar for that matter, had no power over Jesus.  He had to go to Jerusalem and die there because that was the prophesied plan.

Herod Antipas received one more chance and gracious witness of the truth from God when Pilate was determining what to do with Jesus.  He sends Jesus to Herod Antipas because Jesus was from Nazareth, which was in his territory.  We are told that Herod was excited because he wanted to hear what things Jesus would have to say.  However, Jesus refused to play his game and so Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate and deferred to his judgment.  There was no place for repentance in his heart.  Religion was only a fun game to play or a fine sounding instrument to play, and that was all.

Within ten years of the death of Jesus, Herod Antipas and Herodias are caught up in a political maneuver that causes them to be exiled to Gaul, where they later died.  If only he had responded to the tremendous people who witnessed to him of the truth of God’s Word.

John the Baptist is not recorded as the first Christian martyr because Jesus stated that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and rightly belonged to the era of Israel under the Law of Moses.  With Jesus, a new era was beginning.  The remnant of Israel was called out in order to become the Church of Jesus, wherein both Jews and Gentiles would become one people of faith upon the foundation of Jesus and his apostles. 

We too can find ourselves in a position much like John the Baptist.  The difficulties and sufferings that we face in this life at the hands of selfish and even wicked people can cause us to question Jesus.  Precious, few believers in America need to really fear martyrdom, dying for our faith and testimony in Jesus.  However, this is part of the condemnation that comes upon this world.  God has sent us prophets and righteous people speaking the truth, and we have persecuted them and put them to death.  More people have died in this last century than all the previous centuries combined.  Part of that is because of the increase in population, but part of it is because the world hates the message of Jesus, and thus hates those who truly follow him.  Yet, such hatred, persecution, and even martyring, will not destroy us.  The work of John was not destroyed by his death and the work of Jesus was not destroyed by his death.  May we always remember that the things we do that are of God cannot be destroyed, but will only produce a harvest at thirty, sixty, even a hundred-fold!

Martyrdom audio

Tuesday
Nov082016

Society under Siege: Christian Persecution

John 15:18-20; 16:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 6, 2016. 

In A.D. 1560 English preacher and historian John Foxe published a book called Book of Martyrs.  He felt that it was important for Christians to understand the history of persecution and those who had given their lives for the sake of serving Jesus.  Let me quote from the first paragraphs of this book.

“By the time the apostle John put the finishing touches on the book of Revelation, he alone among the original disciples remained alive.  All of them suffered for Christ, with most dying violently for His sake.  The witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ willingly exchanged their lives for the high privilege of declaring that life-transforming miracle.  As has often been pointed out, people don’t usually endure torture and painful death for something they know to be a lie.  Those who told the world, “He is risen!” stood by their claim in the face of threats, suffering, and death.  Their examples in dying left a lasting legacy.  They set a high bar of faithfulness for generations to come...  Make no mistake; the shoot that grew from the root of Jesse was abundantly watered by the blood of the martyrs, some whose names we are honored to know; others whose stories wait to be told in the great account of God’s ways in the throne room of heaven.”

Starting with Stephen, John Foxe described many stories down through the centuries up to his current time in the 1500’s.  The Christian martyrs were only stepping into a long line of righteous people down through the ages (starting with Abel) who paid with their lives for believing and living for God.  They were hated without a cause.  If you are going to try and follow Jesus then you need to come to grips with the reality that those who have chosen wickedness have always sought to shut up and kill the righteous.  This has not changed in the “modern age” of today.

The World Hates Followers of Jesus

In John 15 we are given an account in which Jesus described what was lying ahead for his followers.  In it Jesus refers to “the world.”  Though we don’t have time to do a deep study on this term, suffice it to say that sometimes the word can refer to the globe itself and sometimes it can refer to most of the people of the earth.  However, in the New Testament the phrase is often used in a different way as Jesus does in this chapter.  Here Jesus uses it to describe a global system of thinking and living in this world that has been developed and is controlled by wicked, spiritual beings that are in league with Satan.  Thus there is a spiritual dynamic that has caused the shape of the world’s governments, cultures, economies, and people.  All of these are by in large under the sway of these spiritual beings.  They are able to do it through their twisted teachings and ideas.  When persecution comes to believers, it is always at the hand of an individual or group of humans.  But, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are merely the tip of the spear. 

It has always been understood that the Gospel of Jesus is a light to those who have been living in the darkness of ignorance created by these spiritual forces.  By the Gospel’s light, humans can be called out of bondage and slavery to this world system and brought into the kingdom of Christ.  Thus the Church is a divine rescue mission, much like that of Desmond Doss portrayed in the new movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”  Though his battalion had been obliterated by the Japanese, he continued to go back into danger to save the wounded.  He stated that he kept praying each time he went back out, “Lord, help me get one more, just one more!”  Jesus is not telling us that the world hates us in order to make us hate people.  Rather, he wants us to understand completely what we will run into while we try to save people.  It will be a war-zone.  Thus Jesus commands His followers, “Love your enemies.”  May we have the same heart of courage that Desmond Doss had as we go back into this world system each day.

Why does Jesus use the conditional “if” in verse 18?  It can’t be because he is not sure that there will be persecution.  He makes that abundantly clear later.  It seems that the conditional is used because not all believers will have the same experience.  The hatred of this world is not in question.  What is in question, is the how and degree of hatred we will encounter.  Depending on your time and place of living, you will encounter resistance that goes from mild, passive aggression all the way to an in-your-face brutal attack.  Here in the United States of America we have been very sheltered.  But across the world Christians suffer severe brutality at the hands of people who are caught up in this world system.  It would be easy to think of ourselves as the blessed ones.  But, the truth is that the Church is always most dangerous to the spiritual enemy when it is being persecuted.  It is always more vibrant and capable of displaying Christ when it is openly attacked.  Much like Samson, we can find ourselves without power and blinded.  But the grace of God will always work powerfully through the repentant one.

The hatred of the world system is not really against Christians. Jesus highlights that the source of the hatred is because Jesus has chosen us out of the world.  The choice of Jesus marks believers.  They become targets to those spiritual beings that hate Christ and any who would dare follow Him.  Jesus was the first man to live perfectly outside of this world system.  He began a divine rescue mission in Israel that has gone to the ends of the earth.  This counter attack has raised the hackles of these wicked, spiritual powers.  Their precious system of bondage and control is threatened by those who follow Jesus.  Many persecutors don’t even understand their own hatred because it has a spiritual source.  That is why the unswerving faith of many martyrs has led to the conversion of some who tormented them.  It is only through Christ that we can tell someone who threatens our life, “You can cut me into a million pieces.  But, each one of them will cry out, “Jesus loves you!”  Thus Jesus reminds us that we cannot be greater than our master.  If we truly follow Jesus then we will be mistreated by most and only loved by some.  If we make avoiding persecution our goal then we will veer off the path that Jesus has blazed before us.  Thus His words, “Pick up your cross and follow me!” are a statement that implies that there is a certain amount of persecution ahead of all who dare follow him.

The World Hates God the Father

The world not only hates Jesus, but in verse 21 and following we see that it actually hates God the Father too.  This is a critical point.  The Pharisees claimed that they loved the Father and that was why they put Jesus to death.  Of course this same excuse has been used down through history.  Religious people often persecute others in the name of God.  This doesn’t make it right.  Nor does it make Christianity (following Jesus) wrong, either.  Jesus tells us that the world actually doesn’t know the Father.  Now that would be one thing if Jesus were just talking about the Romans and other nations outside of Israel.  But Jesus is talking even about the leaders of Israel.  For all of God’s revelation through Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, Israel still had no clue what God was really like.  The problem does not lie in God.  The problem lies in us.

Think about Noah and his family after the flood.  They all know the truth about the ancient world and what God has said and done.  But within 100 years their grandchildren are being led by Nimrod to try and connect to the wicked “gods” of the pre-flood era at Babel (Babel means Gate of God in their language).  Nimrod led his generation to rebel against the God of heaven and join in league with Satan.  Why?  He had been spiritually deceived by those evil spirits.  They always get into people’s minds and lie about the Creator in order to get humans to leave the freedom of Christ and come into the system of bondage and slavery that Jesus called “the world.”  Thus the Jews in the days of Jesus had the truth at one time, and yet, little by little, they had rejected the heart of what the Bible was saying and instead recreated God in their own image.  Thus multitudes had grown up in a system of ignorance and darkness.  Their actions proved that they didn’t really know God.  Otherwise they would act like Him and not like Satan. 

A part of you may protest that there isn’t just one system in this world.  It is true that there are many different cultures, religions, philosophies, etc. in this world.  On the surface they may all look vastly different.  Yet, they do have one thing in common; they all reject the truth of God and supplant it with wisdom supplied by these fallen, wicked, spiritual powers.  The deception is that you think you are different.  The Pharisees thought they were different than the Romans.  When in fact, they were connected to the same deceiving, lying spirits.  Jesus was a divine litmus test to show Israel and the rest of the world this principle.  Litmus paper has a property that it will change colors to show whether the solution you put it in is acidic, basic, or water.  All of the solutions look the same.  But when you dip in the litmus paper, the truth is known.  Thus God sent Jesus into a “Holier than thou” culture to show it that they were just as acidic as the Romans.  In His grace, God gives moments of clarity to a nation so that they can see the truth of what they have been choosing.  Don’t choose the world.  Choose to follow Jesus regardless of the fall-out.  The cross itself is proof of God’s love for sinners who are in bondage.  It is proof of the righteousness of Jesus, and the way that we should go.  Whose side are you on?

In verse 24 Jesus points out that because of what he did, they would be without excuse. God does not hold us accountable for what we do not know.  But He is faithful to put truth in front of us throughout our life.  In that case, we know far more than we would like to be accountable for.  If we reject God’s truth then we become accountable.  Today the world has had nearly 2000 years of the grace of Jesus demonstrated to it.  As we approach the Day of Judgment, we must see that the world is without excuse.  That is why in Acts 2:40 the apostle Peter proclaimed, “Save yourself from this crooked generation!”  Are we not just as perverse and twisted as they?  Is not the nature of mankind becoming more and more twisted every day?  Instead of becoming like this world we must learn to flee the destruction and run into Jesus.  Put your trust in Him today.  Otherwise, you will only perish under judgment without excuse.

The World has been Deceived

I will finish by looking at the first part of John chapter 16.  There Jesus reveals the deception that the people of the world are under.  Jesus tells them that the day will come that they will be kicked out of the synagogues (that is the Jewish version of a church) and they will be put to death, all in the name of God.  You see the leaders of the Jewish religion were deceived.  Do you not see that even Christianity itself is just another useless religion if it doesn’t actually follow Jesus?  Religion that is not connected to God can only destroy your soul.  Why?  It does so because at its root we are deceived away from Christ by those Spiritual Powers that rule this world.  Yes, the Pharisees were “good” Jews by the definitions of their “world.”  Many Christian leaders are “good” by the definitions of the Church system today.  I tell you that Jesus knows these problems.  He has true leaders and true Churches that are following Him.  It is only by following the ways of Jesus and the Spirit of God that we can be saved from this world system.  Otherwise, you will be sucked into a delusion that has been tailor-made for you.

If you are a Christian today, you need to stop playing any games with God.  It is not about your denomination.  It is not about everybody having to believe everything that you do.  Yet, at the same time we have to quit playing the game of “Don’t say anything to disturb my precious beliefs, or I’ll kill you.”  We may not actually say that last part, but it describes what is often in the heart of people who have become religious instead of becoming like Jesus.

Am I following the true Jesus, or am I following a cardboard cut-out Jesus?  Maybe I am following a bobble-head Jesus that smiles and always gives the thumbs up sign.  These “false” Christs cannot save us.  When you are in the middle of severe persecution, you will need something far more substantial than that.  Thus Jesus warned us ahead of time, so that we could know that we are on the right path when persecution comes our way.  It may not be what we want, and we should never romanticize persecution.  Christians in the Middle East are at the ends of themselves and what is happening to them is grossly evil.  Yet, when we find ourselves in the face of great persecution, may we pray, “Lord, help me save one more, just one more!”

Christian Persecution audio