SERMON TITLE: Unexpected Death
TEXT: Mark 6:14-29 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
This is our seventh week in a series we’re calling Unexpected. And we’ve titled this series Unexpected because — in the gospel of Mark — we’re finding Jesus doing and saying things that are surprising — they’re unexpected.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So if you have your Bible please turn with me to Mark chapter 6. We’ll be looking at verses 14-29.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it into the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
When you preach through books of the Bible — as I often do — inevitably you’ll come to a passage that wouldn’t make your top ten lists of passages to preach on — welcome to today’s passage. So let me warn you — this is a heavy passage — it’s shocking. In many ways — it’s unexpected.
And if you wouldn’t be quick to call yourself a Christian — today’s sermon isn’t going to be very attractive to you. It’s going to seem pretty extreme — but it’s going to be very honest. And out of my love for you, I wouldn’t want you to buy into a religion that isn’t honest about the costliness of it because a faith that doesn’t cost you anything isn’t a faith worth believing in.
Now for some quick context — last week we left off with Jesus sending out the twelve disciples to go and expand his ministry —so they’re off on their own in pairs. And it’s no coincidence that between the disciples being sent out and their return — which we’ll look at next week — is the story of John the Baptist’s death because there’s a cost to following Jesus — there’s a cost to obeying his command to take the news about him to the whole world. That’s what we learn from our story — but life teaches us this as well.
In August of 2015, twelve Christians in Syria — including a twelve-year-old boy — were murdered for refusing to abandon their Christian faith. The young boy's finger tips were cut off as they beat him in front of his father in order to get his dad to give up the Christian faith. The boy’s father had started nine churches in the area as he obeyed Christ’s commission to tell people about God’s Good News.
When the father refused, he and two other ministry workers were tortured and beaten before being crucified — along with his young son — ultimately dying in the same way their Savior had died.
Other Christians were beheaded. According to eyewitnesses, some of their last breaths were spent praying — some praying the Lord’s Prayer out loud while the sword came bearing down on their neck. Others simply said the name “Jesus” over and over again — one woman smiling as the sword came down on her as she said her Savior’s name.
Now what I just described is a world foreign to most of us — a world where following Jesus can cost you your life. But when you live in a place like Syria — one thing you can be sure of is this: Only the real Jesus is worth following because only the real Jesus is worth dying for.
A fake Jesus won’t do.
A Jesus you let ride shotgun in your life — maybe you let him put a hand on the wheel during a crisis — well he’s not worth dying for.
No other Jesus can pass this life or death test — only the real Jesus — one you trust in — so much so — that you can smile at the man who’s about to behead you as you say the most beautiful name ever to cross your lips.
And though we may never face the reality of being murdered because of our faith in Jesus, all of us are to weigh the costliness of our faith — for following Jesus has a cost to it. And for every Christian, the cost of following Jesus is your life. Even if we’re blessed with never having to stare down the man who’s about to behead us — the Bible is clear — following Jesus costs us our life.
But something else the Bible makes equally clear is this: Not following Jesus will cost you your life. And I know that neither of these ideas are popular today. Many people who call themselves a Christian don’t live as if following Jesus is costly and non-Christians don’t want to hear that not following Jesus will cost them something. You see both Christians and non-Christians have been deceived into believing that this life is yours to live for you. But if there is a God — and if you’re not him — then why would you think your life is yours to live for you?
We understand that teams don’t win when all of the players are playing for themselves.
Marriages won’t last when the husband and wife are living for themselves.
Businesses won’t be profitable if every employee is only concerned about him or herself.
But how do we miss the fact that the church will not accomplish the Great Commission when individual Christians are living their lives for themselves instead of living for the glory of God and the accomplishment of his Great Commission?
You see, both following Jesus and not following him will cost you your life — that’s what we learn in our story about the death of John the Baptist. We learn that following Jesus will cost us our life, so we better know for certain that we’re following the real Jesus and not some figment of our religious imagination. But not following Jesus will also cost you your life, so you better know for certain who you’re rejecting at the cost of your eternity.
So no one gets off the hook today — Christians and non-Christians are both in the crosshairs of our story.
And here’s the first thing we see. Misunderstanding who Jesus is will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is. Misunderstanding who Jesus is will cost you your life.
Let’s look in verse 14.
“King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."” (Mark 6:14-16 ESV)
Misunderstanding who Jesus is will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is.
So we’ve got a bunch of names here. The first one is King Herod — who isn’t really a king. He’s a tetrarch, which was a government position in charge of a fourth of a region — Herod oversaw the region of Galilee. We’ll learn more about him in a moment.
Then we have John the Baptist — a name you may be familiar with. John’s the cousin of Jesus and we’ve met him a few times in Mark’s gospel. John came proclaiming a message of repentance to the Jewish people as he prepared them for the arrival of Jesus and — for that — he’s in prison.
Elijah is mentioned. He’s an Old Testament prophet who you can read about in the books of First and Second Kings. Now one of the interesting things about Elijah is how his life ended — he didn’t die — instead — he was taken up to Heaven on a chariot of fire. And there’s a prophecy about Elijah that comes near the end of the Old Testament that says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5 ESV)
The Jewish people believed that when the day of the Lord arrived — a day when there would be miraculous things occurring like people being healed of diseases and the dead being raised — things Jesus has been doing — that Elijah would return. But they misunderstood Jesus to not be the LORD of Malachi’s prophecy — they thought he was Elijah.
Other Jews didn’t think Jesus was Elijah, they thought he might be a prophet — like the prophets of old — as they held on to promises like this one spoken by Moses. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen...I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 ESV)
And others think that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead — we’ll get to John’s death in a moment. But the point is that people have all kinds of misunderstandings about who Jesus is. In the gospels we see people speculating about who Jesus is — some even use the Bible to justify their theories about him — but few recognize Jesus for who he really is.
And this goes on today. A lot of people speculate about who Jesus is — some use parts of the Bible to justify their theories about him — and what we’ve ended up with — especially in our country — is that everyone’s got their own personalized Jesus. Kanye has got his Jesus. Oprah has her Jesus. Muslims have their version of Jesus. Mormons do too.
But what’s not popular today is to allow the Bible to correct our speculation and tell us who the real Jesus is. And this is true for non-Christians AND Christians. But here’s what we Christians tend to do: We won’t deny what the Bible says about Jesus with our words — but we’ll do so with how we live.
One quick example — and I’m talking as much to myself as I am to all of you — but here’s who the Bible says the real Jesus is. Speaking to his disciple — Thomas — Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NLT)
Now we Christians say we believe this about Jesus, but do we live as if this is true? Meaning if we really believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, how desperate should we be to share this news with our unbelieving family members and friends? And not giving up after the first, second, tenth, or hundredth time they’ve rejected the news.
This truth — about Jesus — is directly tied to our obedience of the Great Commission — what Jesus just sent out the twelve to do — to go out and proclaim the Good News about him to the world. I mean it’s easy — isn’t it — to say believing Jesus is the only way a person will experience God’s presence for all eternity — but for many of us — we don’t act like it’s true because we never share the gospel with anyone.
But the real Jesus has commanded his followers to go and proclaim the gospel and one way you know if you’re believing in the real Jesus is that you’re a goer and proclaimer of his Good News.
We’ve got a team in Cuba — right now — doing this.
We’ve got a team we’re sending out next weekend to do this in another state in the US.
At the end of this month, a team will be in the Detroit area among the Bangladeshi Muslims to share with them who the real Jesus is.
This is why we started our North Main campus — to go to that part of our community — taking the gospel to those who don’t believe it.
And — hot off the press — it’s why we’ll be starting a new campus — Lord willing later this year — in Bowling Green. This past week, the elders — in discerning the will of God for Gateway — said it’s time to go again. And with the connections the Lord has given us in Bowling Green, we believe this is where we’re to start our next worshipping community. More to come and I hope you’ll be praying for the Lord to bless this work as we continue to be a going church.
And let me encourage you. If you’re not going, go to our website and find a missions trip you can be part of so you’re acting on what you say you believe in.
Now for any non-Christian here —here’s what Jesus said about Himself: “I’m the way, the truth, and the life.”
Not a way.
Not one of many religious truths.
Not one path to eternal life.
Jesus said “the.” I’m the way, the truth, and the life.
And I know you’ve been taught to dismiss such dogmatism — but don’t you owe it to yourself to find out if the real Jesus said this? And if you dismiss these words of Jesus — without investigating if they’re true or not — how can you say you believe in Jesus? Based on what? Your opinion? Your “I didn’t do any research or investigate the claims of the Bible, but I’m going on a hunch — a gut feeling — that what I believe about Jesus is true.” Come on.
Some of us spend more time investigating what the specials are at a restaurant than we do in what we believe about Jesus. But misunderstanding who Jesus is will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is.
Here’s a second thing we learn. Fearing man instead of Jesus will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is. Fearing man instead of Jesus will cost you your life. Look with me in verse 19.
“And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 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. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." 23 And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." 24 And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.” (Mark 6:19-28 ESV)
Fearing man instead of Jesus will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is.
Now Herod’s fearful of a few people here. But something easy to miss is that Herod — and I find this interesting — Herod’s fearful of John. Did you catch that back in verse 20? Herod fears John because he knew John was a righteous and holy man. The very essence of who John is stirs fear in Herod. But it also stirred a curiosity as Herod kept bringing John in to talk with him — even though he feared him.
A pastor (R.C. Sproul) told a story of a friend who once played professional golf. One time his friend and another golfer — who’d been voted golfer of the year — played a round of golf with Billy Graham. And this “golfer of the year” guy had a terrible round. It was so bad that — after the eighteenth hole — he stormed off the green, went straight to the practice area, and started furiously hitting golf balls.
Someone asked him what was going on — why are you so mad? And the man said, “I don’t need to have Billy Graham forcing religion down my throat.” And then he went back to hammering more golf balls down range. When he’d finished, the other golfer said to him, “Billy must’ve really come on strong with his religion.” And to his surprise, the angry guy said, “No. Actually, Billy didn’t say a word about religion. I just had a bad round.”
And here’s what the pastor said. “Isn’t that fascinating? Dr. Graham said not one word about religion to this man, but he did not have to. Dr. Graham’s mere presence and what he represented to this golfer was enough to make him supremely uncomfortable. This golfer was like Herod in front of John the Baptist. He could not deny that John was a just man — he was a holy man. He was both fearful and fascinated [with him].”
OK — for all of us Christians — but especially for those of us who think something like, “I don’t need to share the gospel with my words — I can do so with my actions instead.” And there are many Christians who believe that — so here’s my question for us: Does your mere presence with someone stir in them both a fear and fascination because of your faith in Jesus?
John’s faith did to Herod.
Billy Graham’s faith did to the golfer.
What about the unbelievers around you? Does your faith make them uncomfortable in a — “I know I’m not right with God and everything in me doesn’t want to think about it but when I’m around you I can’t help but think about these things” — or does your faith stir neither fear nor fascination in them?
But John isn’t the only person Herod fears. He also fears what the crowd thinks of him. So who’s part of the crowd?
The nobles are high ranking government officials.
The military commanders are — you guessed it — military commanders.
And the “leading men” are wealthy and prominent men in the area.
So there are politicians, military generals, and wealthy businessmen at the party and Herod wants to save face in front of them because he’s fearful of their opinion.
Now the last time we see Herod in the Bible — we find a man who still fears people. Jesus has been arrested and is on trial for crimes he didn’t commit. And “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.” (Luke 23:8-11 ESV)
You don’t encounter the real Jesus and mock him.
The only people who mock Jesus are people who’ve not seen him for who he really is.
The only people who ridicule Jesus are his enemies.
But did you see that Herod was eager to see Jesus? And he’s delighted to finally meet him. Why? Because he wants to be entertained by Jesus — he wants Jesus to perform a miracle.
And when Jesus refuses to even speak to him, Herod decides to have some fun by putting a purple robe on the man who claimed to be king — yet — according to Herod — had no kingdom. All while Herod claimed to be a king — while having no kingdom himself.
Herod wants to entertain the crowd — he’s always worried about what others think of him — so he mocks the King of kings all while claiming to be a king — he uses Jesus for entertainment purposes at the cost of his own life.
But how do I know this cost Herod his life? Josephus was a historian — he lived from 37 to 100AD — so shortly after these events took place. And he records a commonly held view about Herod: People viewed Herod’s death as judgment from God. So how did Herod die?
Well here’s the twist — nobody knows. He died on an unknown date in history — which is strange — right — for someone who claimed to be a king? Here’s what happened. Eventually Herod lost all of his power and fame and he died as a nobody in history. Eventually, he and Herodias were sent into exile to be forgotten. Having worked so hard to make a name for himself — Herod ends up losing everything that mattered to him — which is the price everyone pays who rejects the real Jesus.
Because fearing man instead of Jesus will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is.
But John fears Jesus more than man. We see this in how unwavering he is in his message. Let me show you in verse 17.
STANDING WITH GOD’S WORD
“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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not (what? It’s not...) lawful for you to have your brother's wife."...(And in verse 29 we read...) 29 When his disciples heard of it (it being John’s death), they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” (Mark 6:17-18, 29 ESV)
What’s happening here? John keeps calling Herod and Herodias out because of their unlawful marriage. So how is their marriage unlawful? It’s unlawful according to God’s Word.
Leviticus chapter 18 says, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness.” (Leviticus 18:16 ESV)
And in chapter 20 we read, “If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless.” (Leviticus 20:21 ESV)
So even while in prison — we see John standing with God’s Word. The commands in the Old Testament — that Herod and Herodias were breaking — could not be ignored. John warned them of their rebellion against God. And knowing what I know about John — most likely — he’s hoping that Herod will listen to him — remember Herod’s both fearful and fascinated with John — and John’s hoping this will lead Herod to faith in Christ.
But — Herodias — well she heard John’s same warning and she hated him for it. So much so that she wants him dead. And seeing an opportunity to have John murdered, she takes full advantage and asks for John’s head to be served on a platter. And here’s what we learn — and this may feel like a punch to your soul if you’re a Christian.
But...standing with God’s Word will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is. Standing with God’s Word will cost you your life.
As our brothers and sisters in Syria have shown us, standing with God’s Word can cost you your life. But not only is this book — the Bible — God’s Word — Jesus is God’s Word.
The apostle John begins his gospel by calling Jesus the Word of God. And when you stand with God’s Word — Jesus Christ — you must know that it will cost you your life.
Listen to what is said about those who stand with God’s Word. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God...” (Galatians 2:20-21a ESV)
Though they were being crucified in their flesh, our Syrian brothers and sisters understood that their hope was in their old self having already been crucified with Christ on his cross. So they lived trusting in the Son of God — who loved them and gave himself for them — even as standing with him cost them their life. And in standing with Jesus — the Word of God — at the cost of their own life — they did not treat the grace of God as meaningless. They demonstrated that Christ lived in them.
Who lives in you? Does Jesus live in you or are you still living for yourself? As Paul says — are you treating the grace of God as meaningless by how you’re living?
Don’t be quick to answer because your answer has eternal consequences. As Paul tells the Christians in Philippi, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him...” (Philippians 3:8-9a ESV)
Standing with the Word of God will cost you your life — it will cost you everything. As Paul says, “Compared to knowing Christ — the Word of God — everything else in life is worthless.” And if that’s true for you — you joyfully discard everything else — you throw it all as far away from you as possible if it’s keeping you from becoming one with Christ — if it’s holding you back from growing in your love for — or obedience to — or joy in — Jesus — you gladly throw it far away.
And because standing with God’s Word will cost you your life, you better know who the real Jesus is because — and you know this and this is why you’re living the way you are right now — you know that your life isn’t worth living for some poor imitation of Jesus.
A false Jesus isn’t worth living for.
An imaginary Jesus isn’t worth crucifying yourself for.
A fake Jesus isn’t worth discarding everything else for.
Nothing but the real Jesus is worth the cost of your life.
FOLLOWING AND REJECTING JESUS ARE COSTLY
Here’s the bottom line: Both following and rejecting Jesus will cost you your life, so you better know who the real Jesus is. Because following Jesus and rejecting him will both cost you your life, you better know who the real Jesus is.
Friends, many people — some who claim to be a Christian — and others who don’t — all kinds of people live their lives believing in a fake Jesus. Many reject the real Jesus because he’s too demanding.
And you know what? The real Jesus is demanding. He asks for all of your life because he gave all of his life for you. And what’s crazy is that we hear that and think, “Well that’s not worth it. Sure he gave all of his life for me — but it’s unreasonable for him to expect me to give all of my life for him. No deal, Jesus, no deal.” How in the world do we think, “God came to earth and gave his life for me,” and at the same time think, “I think I’m getting jipped in this whole deal because God expects my full devotion in return.” How sick is that?
But Jesus — the real Jesus — is worth giving your life for — he’s worth discarding everything else for.
Because he is the way, the truth, and the life.
He is the one who offers eternal hope and salvation.
He is the one where joy is found.
And he says, “Following me will cost you your life, because now you live for me.”
But he also says, “Not following me will cost you your life.”
And the reason why Jesus — the real Jesus — can make such claims is because he is the only one who gave his life for you.
No other Jesus can make such claims.
No other Jesus died for your sins.
No other Jesus has the power to guarantee your eternal destination is Heaven.
No other Jesus is worth discarding everything else for, but the real Jesus is.
Following the real Jesus will cost you your life, but not following him will cost you your eternity, so you better know who the real Jesus is. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, remind us that both following Jesus and rejecting him will cost us our life, so we better know for certain who the real Jesus is. I ask you to help all of us to believe this Good News: Your Son — the real Jesus — gave his life so that everyone who believes in him can know they are forever secure in your love.
Spirit, help all of us to recognize any misunderstandings we have about Jesus. Give us a desire to investigate the claims Jesus made about himself and not simply believe whatever we want about him.
Finally — Father, Son, and Spirit — empower us to fear you more than we fear people. Help us to stand firmly with your Word — knowing that we’re able to stand with Jesus because he gave his life for us — and our life is no longer ours to live for ourselves — but is to be lived for you. And this is not a burden, but an infinite gift. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: Area of your life that you know you need to give to God; live for Jesus alone)
May you go believing in the real Jesus — living for him alone. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.