By John Frye.
Beheaded. Not a pleasant word; not a pleasant reality. It is barbaric in the minds of most, if not all of us. Yet, the word has worked its way into news headlines as Middle Eastern terrorists stalk the planet with a view to world-wide domination. The Roman Empire’s crude means of execution by crucifixion is also making a comeback. That it is reported that Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian Christians are dying by these resurrected methods should not be a surprise to us. These methods of death are as old as the Gospel itself. Being civilized, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
“But when Herod heard this, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’” Mark writes these words and reports for us the ghastly story of John the Baptist’s demise (Mark 6:14-29). John the Baptist was not only Jesus’ cousin and forerunner; John’s arrest was the trigger for starting Jesus’ public ministry (Mark 1: 14).
Rumors irritate paranoid people. Herod Antipas was a wishy-washy paranoid man. As Jesus’ fame was becoming more widespread through the kingdom mission of the Twelve (Mark 6:7-13), popular opinions about just who was behind all this fame-getting work were spreading as well. One opinion was that John the Baptist was alive from the dead and doing wonders. This struck a bone-chilling nerve in Herod A who reasoned, “John the Baptist, whom I beheaded, has come back to life!” Herod was as pathetic as he was weak. Only 1/4 the ruler his father, Herod the Great, was, Herod A, half Samaritan, half Jew, shared his dead father’s reign with his three brothers. One brother was Philip and Herod A had married Philip’s wife Herodias while Philip was still alive. A clear Torah no no. John the Baptist gave Herod A a good prophetic warning about that illicit marriage. Herodias did not take kindly to this finger-pointing, meddling prophet.
Many insulated American Christians react in fearful panic over the senseless killings of Christians in the Middle East. It use to be clever to recite “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” when talking about Christian deaths in the Book of Acts. Now Christian blood is televised on CNN.
When did the USAmerican church start worshiping security more than the Savior? Have jittery Americans never heard of the prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus? Speaking God’s truth to a wrecked world does not in itself guarantee success. Perhaps we need to dust off copies of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and read once again about what it means to be Jesus-followers in a world ruled by people the likes of Herod Antipas. Baptists and Antibaptists didn’t do too well either under some 16th century Reformers. There lurks, sadly, in the hearts of those claiming to be Christians a thirst for blood. It’s there in your heart and mine.
Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Peter the Apostle was crucified upside down. Paul the Apostle was beheaded because Roman citizens were not crucified. Rejection in his hometown didn’t stop Jesus from his mission. The beheading of John the Baptist only intensified Jesus’ passion for his mission. Perhaps carrying a cross daily prepares us for the final showdown if and when it comes. There is power in the blood. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.