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.” 17 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 lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 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. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
III. Sin is devastating because it forces you to violate you conscience. (vv. 19-26)
We have seen that sin is devastating, first of all, because it distorts your thinking. Secondly, sin is devastating because it leads you to do disgusting things. Now, in verses 19-26, we are going to see that sin is devastating because it forces you to violate your conscience. We are going to see this principle as the story of John’s death progresses.
In vv. 19-20 Mark makes it clear that Herodias and Herod had differing opinions when it came to John the Baptist. V. 19 tells us that Herodias held a significant grudge against John. In fact, the phrase literally means that “she had it out” for John. In fact, she held such a grudge against John that she was not satisfied with him simply being imprisoned. She wanted him to be put to death. Her only problem was that “she could not,” and v. 20 tells us why. It was because Herod feared John. As Mark puts it, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe.” From this we see that in some since Herod feared John. As one commentator put it, “Herod is pictured as superstitiously fearing John because he knew that John’s life was holy and his was wicked.” His fear did not lead him to act upon John’s message, nor did it prevent him from arresting John. However, he did fear John because he recognized that John was righteous and holy. Here there are two words used to describe John, “the first describes his blameless relations toward his fellow men; the second portrays his character of total separation unto God.”
Not only did Herod have a superstitious fear of John, but he was also entertained by John. At the end of v. 20 Mark says that “when he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” In other words, he did not understand what John was talking about but he got a “kick” out of hearing him speak. Mark does not tell us why this was, but I don’t think that it is a stretch to assume that Herod was entertained by John because John was such an unusual character. Herod was used to the high society of palace life, and John was certainly not a part of that world! Additionally, Herod was used to being surrounded by “yes men,” and John certainly was not that! In fact, Herod had never seen anything quite like John before, and this was intriguing to Herod.
Because of Herod’s fear of and interest in John he would not have John put to death. No matter what Herodias did she apparently was not able to convince Herod to change his mind on this matter. However, v. 21 tells us that “an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and leading men of Galilee.” In other words, there was a big party with a lot of powerful men in attendance, and this was going to give Herodias the opportunity to get what she wanted. In v. 22 the plot thickens when “Herodias’s daughter came in and danced.”
With respect to the identity of this girl, this was Herod’s step-daughter. Her name was probably Salome, and at this time she was probably in her late teens. With respect to the dance, the exact nature of the dance is left to our imaginations. But it is certainly the kind of “low class” act that would have pleased a group of drunken males, for Mark tells us that the dance “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.’” (This, by the way, is another example of sin leading you to do disgusting things.)
Apparently the girl hesitated for a moment when Herod extended this offer, so in v. 23 “he vowed to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give to you, up to half of my kingdom.” This vow is ludicrous, and it is another example of Herod’s sin. First of all, Herod was a vassal of the Roman Emperor. His kingdom was not even really his own, and he certainly did not have the right to give any part of that kingdom to someone else. But that didn’t really matter to Herod because he had no intention of giving this girl a part of his kingdom. Herod was just trying to impress his guest. This was all about pride, and he had no idea of the trap that he was falling into.
A trap is exactly what Mark describes in vv. 24-25, “And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 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.” Herod had taken the bait, and now Herodias was finally going to get what she wanted.
It is interesting to see how Herod responded when he realized that he had been fooled. V. 26 tells us that he was “exceedingly sorry.” This is a word that speaks of a deep grief. Jesus used this word in Mark 14:34 right before his betrayal when he said to his disciples “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” By using this word Mark clearly indicates that Herod was deeply troubled at the prospect of killing John. You might even say that his conscience was telling him not to kill John. This is, in fact, how our consciences work. As one professor of mine put it, “the conscience is like the warning light for the soul.” Unfortunately Herod ignored this warning light. The rest of v. 26 tells us that “because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.” In other words, he did not want to be embarrassed in front of all his guests. His sin had gotten him into this situation, and now was forcing him to violate his conscience.
Sin will do the same thing to our consciences. Over time sin will dull our conscience. You have seen this happen before. You do something that you know is wrong, and after the first time you feel extremely guilty. But then the second time the guilt is not as great. And slowly over time you don’t feel guilty at all. This is how it works. Sin dulls our conscience, and a life pattern of sin leads to us violating our conscience over and over. This is a big deal because God has given us a conscience as an aid to help us obey Him. If we are ignoring our conscience then we are not properly using the aid that God has given us.
Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” This was certainly the case with Herod. His sin forced him to violate his conscience, and it will do the same thing do us. In fact, Hebrews 10:22-23 tells us that the only way we can be cleansed of an evil conscience is through the work of Jesus:
and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
James A. Brooks, vol. 23, Mark, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1991), 105.
 Hiebert, 167.