Friday, July 10, 2015

John the Baptist and Lawful Marriage

It been years since I preached from the lectionary, but I can't help but notice that this week's lectionary text from the gospel of Mark is about the beheading of John the Baptist. The text is Mark 6:14-29.

One of the crucial exegetical questions that comes from this text is this: Why did Herod imprison John? The text gives a straightforward answer:
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. (Mark 6:17-20 ESV)
Herod was of a divided mind about John. He "heard John gladly," but whenever he heard him, he was "greatly perplexed," no doubt because John kept bringing up the matter of Herod's illegitimate marriage to his brother Philip's wife, Herodias. Why was the marriage illegitimate? Such marriages were a violation of the Old Testament law, specifically Leviticus 18:16:
You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness.
And also Leviticus 20:21
If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless.
So the marriage to Herodias wasn't a lawful marriage.

Another interesting fact in this text is that Herod Antipas wasn't actually a Jew. Even so, John tells Herod that he has violated the moral law of the Old Testament. Because Herod was the titular leader of the Jewish people, and was already disliked because he wasn't a Jew himself, the imprisonment of John served the political end of silencing a very unhelpful critic.

So what is the takeaway here? It is this: John the Baptist was imprisoned and killed for preaching what God's Word says about real marriage.

And why is this important today, Christian? You know why. The faithful preaching of God's Word can be costly. It starts with fines and gag orders and goes from there. But take heart! Jesus has overcome the world, and your inheritance is awaiting.