The Devastating Nature of Sin (Mk 6:14-29)

*Audio from this sermon will be available here.*


I. Sin is devastating because it distorts your view of Jesus. (vv. 14-16)

a. Popular distorted views of Jesus

1. “He is John the Baptist”

2. “He is Elijah”

3. “He is a prophet”

b. Herod’s distorted view of Jesus

II. Sin is devastating because it leads you to do disgusting things. (vv. 17-18)

a. Herod’s disgusting immorality with Herodias

b. Herod’s disgusting imprisonment of John

III. Sin is devastating because it dulls your conscience. (vv.19-26)

a. The conflict with Herod’s conscience

b. The violation of Herod’s conscience

IV. Sin is devastating because it has disastrous results. (vv. 27-28)

a. Herod’s disastrous command

b. John’s disastrous death


Sin is devastating.  The bible is full of examples that illustrate this very point.  From the very beginning sin has had an awful effect on this world (Genesis 3:14-19).   That is because sin, by its very nature, is devastating.  Our problem is that we usually forget just how devastating sin is.  We ignore it.  We excuse it.  We forget about it.  Ultimately, we take sin far too lightly.

This is very dangerous because if we allow it, sin will take over our lives and lead us into places that we never intended to go.  This was exactly the point that God was making in Genesis 4:7 when He told Cain, “sin is crouching at that door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  If we do not rule over the sin in our life then Romans 1:18ff tells us what will happen to our lives.  This is a graphic reminder of just how devastating sin is, and as we look at Mark 6:14-39 we are going to see a living example of this very thing.

As we prepare to look at this passage we need to understand a little bit of what is going on.  This passage is right in the middle of a section of Mark’s gospel that is about the popularity of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (note the connection between v. 13 and v. 30).  It almost seems strange that Mark would place this account right here.  However, if we think about the people to whom he was writing it makes a little bit more sense.  Mark was writing to Roman Christian undergoing intense persecution.  As they were reading Mark’s gospel it would have been easy to wonder why so many people were rejecting the gospel in Rome.  That is why Mark included this passage in his gospel account.

Mark wrote this passage to his Roman readers to help them understand how people could violently oppose the power of the Gospel.  He uses the example of Herod, a Roman figure who martyred a Christian, to show them that rejection of the gospel is the natural result of sin.  The very first words of this passage reveal that Herod’s thinking about Jesus was flawed, and the rest of the passage reveals how it became so flawed.  As we trace these steps it will become clear that sin is what caused Herod to reject Jesus.  In fact, Herod’s response to Christ in Mark 6:14-29 illustrates 4 reasons why sin is devastating:

  1. Sin is devastating because it distorts your thinking. (vv. 14-16)
  2. Sin is devastating because it leads you to do disgusting things. (vv. 17-18)
  3. Sin is devastating because it forces you to violate you conscience. (vv.19-26)
  4. Sin is devastating because it has horrible results. (vv. 27-29) 

I. Sin is devastating because it distorts your thinking. (vv. 14-16)

The first principle that reveals that devastating mature of sin is that sin is devastating because it distorts your thinking.  We see this in vv. 14-16.  Here Mark turns his attention to King Herod.  Just for clarification, this is Herod Antipas who was the ruler of Galilee.  In reality, he was not really a king, but just a ruler.

The beginning of v. 14 says that “King Herod had heard of it, for his name had become known.”  What was it exactly that he heard of?  Clearly it was the excitement that was building over Jesus’ ministry as the 12 disciples were going out and preaching in Galilee.

a. Popular distorted thoughts about Jesus

As word spread about Jesus and these miracles people began forming opinions concerning the identity of Jesus and the source of His power.  In vv. 14-15 we learn of three of theses theories about Jesus:

  1. John the Baptist – This is the first that we hear of John’s death…
  2. Elijah – This was based on the Jewish expectation that Elijah would return as a forerunner (Mal 4:5).
  3. Another one of the Prophets – Possibly as prophet to come and deliver the people from Roman oppression.

There are significant problems with each one of these theories about Jesus, however the most ridiculous theory is clearly that Jesus was some kind of reincarnation of John the Baptist.  This theory was ridiculous for at least 4 reasons:

  1. John and Jesus were alive at the same time.
  2. John didn’t do miracles.
  3. John pointed to Jesus, and even taught that Jesus had more power.
  4. Reincarnation?????

b. Herod’s distorted thoughts about Jesus

Quite frankly, it was idiotic to think that Jesus was John or that in some way Jesus had the power of John’s reincarnate spirit.  And yet, this was the very position that Herod emphatically held to.  As you read v. 16 you can almost envision Herod interrupting a conversation about Jesus to make his position clear.  He was certain that this was John raised from the dead, and as we look closely at this verse we see why.  He was the one who had John beheaded.  As one commentator put it, “It is by no means impossible that a guilty conscience working on a superstitious nature should have convinced him that John had really returned.”

I don’t think that there is any doubt that Herod’s guilty conscience was behind him ignoring all the facts about Jesus and looking to the reincarnation of John for the answers.  In other words, sin distorted his thinking.  And if it distorted Herod’s thinking it will distort ours as well.

In general the bible teaches us that sin separates us from God.  This is what Paul meant in Romans 6:23.  But even more specifically than this, the bible teaches that sin distorts our thinking.  We already looked at Romans 1:18-32.  This passage outlines some of the ways that sin will distort our thinking.  Herod was certainly an example of this, and his view of Jesus shows us just how devastating sin can be in our lives.

Sin will affect your thinking.  Even if it is just one sin that you are holding onto this sin will begin to multiply.  Pretty soon, if you don’t snuff out this sin you will start lying even to yourself to justify this sin.  Before you know it, that sin has distorted your thinking and most importantly that sin has distorted your view of Jesus.  This is what happened with king Herod, and as we will see in the rest of the passage it all started with one sin that ended up taking over his life.

II. Sin is devastating because it leads you to do disgusting things. (vv. 17-18)

In addition to distorting your thinking, sin is devastating because it leads you to do disgusting things.  Look at vv. 17-18.  This is where Herod’s distorted view of Jesus began.  In these verses we see the events that led up to the death of John, and consequently we see the process by which Herod’s thinking became flawed.  It all started with a sinful lust that led him to do disgusting things.

a. Herod’s disgusting immorality with Herodias

Vv. 17-18 explain, “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.”

Herod had literally stolen his brother’s wife. One commentator explains:

For Herodias” sake, his brother Philip’s wife” – Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, a half-brother to Antipas, thus his niece.  She had married her uncle here called Philip, and they had had a daughter named Salome.  Philip had been disinherited by his father, Herod the Great, and lived with Herodias in Rome as a private citizen.  While visiting his brother in Rome, Antipas became enamored with Herodias, who, as an ambitious woman, agreed to marry Antipas on the condition that he would divorce his wife, a daughter of the Nabataean king Aretas IV.

This was a disgusting love triangle and it all started with Herod’s lust for his brother’s wife.

Herod’s actions were certainly sinful when he married Herodias.  In these verses we have an example of how sin leads you to do disgusting things.  It was Herod’s lust for Herodias led him to marry her.  So it all started with one little sin.  In his heart Herod’s lusted for her, and this is where that sin took him.  In Matthew 5:28 Jesus explains this in a bit more detail: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Herod did not deal with this and look at the disgusting things it led him to do.  He married his brother’s wife, and then unjustly imprisoned John when John revealed his sin.

b. Herod’s disgusting imprisonment of John 

This is why John was in prison.  It was because he had preached against Herod’s marriage to Herodias.  And rightfully so! This is why John preached against it.  Herod had claimed to be a convert to Judaism, for political reasons, and Leviticus 18:16 & 20:21 clearly prohibited this. Thus, it was politically damaging for Herod to have John out there preaching against his sin.  This is why Herod had John arrested.

This is how sin works.  If you do not deal with the sin in your lives it will lead us to do disgusting things.  When we understand this principle it is a little easier to understand why, in Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus went on to say,

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

At the very first hint of sin we must deal with it!  We must flee from it!  Because if we don’t it will lead us to do some disgusting things.

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 as the story of John’s death progresses.

a. the conflict with Herod’s conscience

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.

b. the violation of Herod’s conscience

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.

If we turn to Christ our consciences will be cleansed, but if we continue in sin we will continue to defile our consciences.

IV. Sin is devastating because it has disastrous results. (vv. 27-29) 

As we have observed the effects of sin in Herod’s life we can clearly see that sin is devastating.  It distorts your thinking.  It leads you to do disgusting things.  It forces you to violate your conscience.  Finally, in vv. 27-29, we will see that sin is devastating because it has disastrous results.  These verses tell us what happened after Herod violated his conscience, “And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”

a. The devastating gruesomeness of John’s Death

After being trapped by his wife, Herod sent his executioner to John’s cell with orders to bring back his head.  And this is exactly what happened.  The girl got John’s head on a platter and took it to her mother.  She finally had what she wanted.

It is important that we notice just how disastrous the result of Herod’s sin was.  First of all, it was a gruesome thing to cut of a man’s head.  Just think about how disgusting that would have been.

b. The devastating finality of John’s Death

Secondly, John was dead.  There was no taking back this sin.  Once Herod commissioned John’s death there is nothing that he could have done to take it back.  This is illustrated by the fact that John’s disciples came and laid his body in a tomb.  Even if Herod had felt guilty afterwards there was nothing that he could have done to change what happened.  John’s head was with Herodias, and his body was in a tomb.  Thus the results of Herod’s sin were gruesome and final.  It was disastrous.

This was true with Herod’s sin, and it is true with all sin.  So many times we get caught up in the lure of sin, and we forget about the results.  However, sin always has disastrous results.  There are numerous illustrations of this: King David; Killers in Prison.  Additionally, the bible teaches that sin ultimately leads to spiritual death (Romans 6:26; Ephesians 2:1).  In fact, the results of sin are so disastrous that Jesus had to come and die on a cross in order to redeem us.

Everything around us screams out that the results of sin are disastrous, and yet usually pay no attention.  We get so caught up in the sin that we forget about the disastrous result.  This is what happened to King Herod, and look at what happen.


Before we close out our look at the sin of King Herod I want to jump forward to an event that occurred a few years after the death of John the Baptist.  I want to look at the last time that this Herod is mentioned in the bible.  We find this reference in the book of Luke.  In Luke 23 Pilate sent Jesus over to Herod (because he did not want to deal with the problem).  Luke 23:8-11 tells us what happen when Jesus was brought before Herod:

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. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.

Here we see the ultimate proof of sin’s devastation.  Because of His sin Herod rejected the only One that could possible save him from his sins, Jesus.

Sin is clearly devastating:

  1. Sin is devastating because it distorts your thinking. (vv. 14-16)
  2. Sin is devastating because it leads you to do disgusting things. (vv. 17-18)
  3. Sin is devastating because it forces you to violate you conscience. (vv.19-26)
  4. Sin is devastating because it has disastrous results. (vv. 27-29) 

My prayer for all of you is that you will understand how devastating sin is, and you stay away from it.  If you are a Christian this means that you will continue to follow Jesus, and depend on the resources He has given you to gain victory over sin.  If you are not a Christian this means that you must turn to Christ to be forgiven of you sins, and consequently given the resources to battle sin.