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In the new series, Profiles in Courage, Pastor Philip explores the lives of biblical figures who exemplify God-given courage. From Genesis to Revelation, these profiles of courage will inspire us to take a stand for righteousness and unwavering faith.
Courage is not limited to a select few; it is a quality all believers must cultivate. It involves putting ourselves at risk, sacrificing comfort, and persevering in the face of opposition. It demands a firm commitment to truth and an unwavering determination to do what others cannot or will not do.
More From This Series
Well, we’re in a series, Profiles in Courage. I invite you to take your Bible and turn to Mark 6:14–29. I’m not going to read the text, because we’ll work our way through it as we make reference to it.
If you’re visiting with us, as I said, we’re glad you’re here. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it enough to come back next month and join us for our retreat.
We’re looking at men in the Bible who displayed courage, because this is not a day for cowards, and we need to be courageous as men. We looked at the courage of Elijah, taking sides. We looked at the courage of Joshua, stepping up and embracing a responsibility. We looked at the courage of Nehemiah, keeping going in the face of opposition. We looked at Joseph, with the courage to say “no” to sexual temptation. We looked at the apostles in the book of Acts and their courage to bravely defy government overreach. We saw Stephen bravely dying for Christ. Last month, we saw Paul taking bold risks for the gospel.
This morning we’re going to look at John the Baptist, who was willing and courageous enough to name sin, sexual sin. Because in the passage we’re about to look at, John the Baptist loses his life over confronting sexual sin in the life of Herod, who was in a marriage that was unlawful. For making that statement—“This marriage, this relationship is insipid, immoral, and unlawful”—John lost his life.
I’m kind of setting this up, given where our culture’s going. Will we have the courage, given the cancel culture that’s swallowing up our culture, to name sin—sins such as adultery; unlawful divorce; sexual immorality, outside, inside, and before marriage; homosexuality; transgenderism. It’s going to take courage to name sin.
So, keep your Bible open. Mark 6:14–29, a message I’ve called “Calling Out Sin.”
There’s a great story regarding President Calvin Coolidge. He returned home one Sunday afternoon, having attended morning worship services at his local church. His wife was unable to attend, so naturally she asked him what the lesson was about, what the sermon focus was. Silent Cal, not known for his lengthy conversations, responded pretty curtly: “Sin.” That’s what the lesson was about: sin. That’s what the sermon was about: sin. But his wife wasn’t satisfied, right? And she proceeded to inquire what the content of the sermon was, to which he replied, “Well, I think he was against it.” Any minister of the gospel worth his salt is against sin—against sin in his own life because God has called him to holiness; against sin in the church because the church is one holy apostolic catholic church; against sin in the larger society.
The reason any man of God is against sin is because sin works against what’s best for God’s glory and works against what’s best for man’s ultimate good. It’s bad on the vertical axis, and it’s bad on the horizontal axis. Think about it. Sin murders the life of God in a man, bringing spiritual, physical, and ultimately eternal death if it’s unrepented of. Sin robs us of God’s rich favor and benediction within life and, if unrepented of, in the life to come. Sin is a false salesman. It lies. It promises but doesn’t deliver. It promises life; delivers death. Promises fulfillment; delivers boredom. Promises joy; delivers tears. Sin is always better in prospect than it is in retrospect. Sin unchecked, sin unrepented of kills, robs, and deceives. No wonder we should be against it.
And, since that’s true, speaking against it and standing against it is the right thing to do. It’s more than the right thing to do. It’s the kind thing to do. And it’s something even more than that. It’s the best thing to do.
Jesus was a friend of sinners. Do you agree with that? And, as a friend of sinners, he calls sinners to repent. Friends of sinners call sinners to repent. In Luke 5:32, Jesus said about His own ministry, “I didn’t come to call the righteous, those who think they don’t have any sin. I came to call those who know they’re sinners to repentance. And I’m about to offer a sacrifice for sin that will allow that sin confessed to be forgiven.” How wonderful.
Guys, being against sin, of necessity, means calling it out and calling man out of it through repentance. You see what Jesus started in the apostolic church in Acts 17:30? Just one verse, but it’s a summary statement of the preaching of the apostles. Paul says what God has commanded: for “all men everywhere to repent.” Repent of what? Sin. Calling men out of sin and calling out sin is part of the gospel presentation, part of the gospel proclamation, and it will require courage. I’ll tell you this. It will require courage in a culture like ours that increasingly overlooks evil, permits evil, legalizes evil, promotes evil, celebrates evil, and then, ironically, persecutes those who call it evil.
Al Mohler gives an example of this. This is striking. The incident took place in Lee University, which is a school under the auspices of the Church of God. And as a chapel speaker was addressing the LGBTQ issues, they did so without resolving the issues; they planted their feet in midair. So, this led the president of Lee University, a man of the name of Mark Walker, to clarify the issue in a subsequent chapel, where he identified that kind of lifestyle as sinful. He called it what it was: sinful. He was willing to call sin out and call people out of sin in a call to repentance. In fact, Dr. Walker said this: “Without repentance, there is no salvation or forgiveness of sins in the Christian faith. We wanted to make sure that wasn’t any ambiguity there.”
Within hours, he got pushback from the school’s alumni who wanted to make their alma mater more LGBTQ friendly. They accused the president of targeting LGBTQ students by calling for repentance.
In a report on the controversy, which appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, here’s what was said: “The idea Walker outlined in his talk that Christians need to call others to repentance worried some alumni who said it could provide cover for students to harass or bully people in the LGBTQ community.” Did you catch that? To call people to repentance concerning sin is now bullying.
Al Mohler says this: “This is actually the argument that calling sinners to repentance is in itself, a form of bullying.” The alumni were making this issue, that calling people to repentance was a tool of abuse. My friend, calling people to repentance is at the heart of the gospel presentation and proclamation.
I just want to give you a flavor of where you’re at. To call out sin and call men out of sin will take bravery going forward, courage going forward.
Although it’s always been true that men and ministries who call sin out and call men out of sin will be bullied themselves. Old Joseph Parker, a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon, said this: “The man whose little sermon is ‘repent’ sets himself against his age, and will for the time being be battered mercilessly by the age whose moral tone he challenges. There is but one end for such a man—‘off with his head!’ You had better not try to preach repentance until you have pledged your head to heaven.” AKA, John the Baptist.
But that’s where we’re at. In case you haven’t noticed it, in the United States along with the wider, larger Western world—Europe, Australia, Canada—the culture now calls good “evil,” and evil “good” (Isa. 5:20). Ours is a society, and it says we have no sin.
Remember what John warned us? He who says he has no sin deceives himself. But that’s where we’re at. We have no sin. There’s no sin to confess. There’s no wrongs to repent of, because we’re all living our own truth. What’s wrong with that? See, when you allow someone to define what’s right and wrong, then there is no right or wrong. There’s only what that person perceives to be true for them. And in that kind of culture, our culture, there’s no such a thing as sin. If there’s no such a thing as sin, then there’s no need for repentance. You’re just a religious nuisance and bully, bigot, and a relic of times of superstition that we left far behind us.
Judges 21:25: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” When you have a culture where everybody does what’s right in their own eyes, then there is no wrong. And no wrong means no need to repent. We live in a culture where sin is being relabeled, removed, and we need to just be aware of that.
Let me just kind of remind you of what’s going on. Drunkenness and alcoholism is now a disease. Homosexuality is now a lifestyle choice. Abortion is simply the termination of an undesired pregnancy. Adultery is a mistake based on irresistible circumstances. Marriage to a same-sex partner is only an expression of love. Divorce is acknowledging that differences exist and cannot be resolved. Gambling is an overextension of a desire to be wealthy and successful. Viewing pornography is nothing more than an appreciation for art and the human body. Isn’t it natural? Doing drugs for a high is the way to reduce stress. Do I need to go on? It’s just how you gauge a flavor of what’s going on.
So, when we come to John the Baptist here in a moment, we realize, yes, you do have to pledge your head to heaven. Remember the old Keith Green song, “I Pledge My Head to Heaven”? All of God’s true servants have had to do that.
Let me go back to something just by way of further introduction, and I think it bears repeating. Did you notice the kind of direction of the culture? Society overlooks evil, then permits evil, then legalizes evil, then promotes evil, then celebrates evil, and then—and here’s where we’re at—persecutes those who call it evil. That’s the times we have entered upon. The good guys are the bad guys, and the bad guys are the good guys. That’s what goes on in a crumbling society.
Sounds familiar? Defend traditional marriage, critique transgenderism as transgressive, laugh at the idea that men can get pregnant, oppose same-sex marriage, cry foul at the thought of drag queens reading to your children in the local library—and you will be called names, hounded, censored online, taken to court by woke prosecutors both locally and federally, hauled before the HR department at work, or even fired for not wearing a pin or a badge celebrating all of that kind of goings on. Ours is a society persecuting those who still call bad behavior bad.
Just this week, I got Erwin Lutzer’s new book; I commend it to you: No Reason to Hide. If you read his first book We Will Not Be Silenced, you’ll want to read this one. It just came as I was kind of working through this message, and in it he reminds us of what we’re dealing with. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, taking aim at Christian schools that adhere to biblical morality. Specifically, 25 different schools are targeted in the lawsuit. The ACLU objects to a religious exemption that allows schools that receive federal dollars, schools such as Moody Bible Institute, to unconstitutionally discriminate against LGBTQ students. So much for freedom of religion. ACLU doesn’t believe that anymore. In other words, Christian schools should not be allowed to teach Christianity and insist on their biblical morality.
In the book, he talks about talking to a friend of his who’s representing two employees from a retail store who refused to wear a combined BLM and LGBTQ rainbow pin on their uniforms. Despite 20 years of faithful service, they were fired for being unwilling to support the moral revolution imposed on them by the progressive culture. Faithfulness, competency, integrity no longer cuts it in the workforce. No, you’ve got to conform to woke political values and worldviews.
Five Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and players faced that, didn’t they? When recently they didn’t wear the rainbow-themed insignias on their hats and their jerseys for Pride night, they were called “bigots” by liberal commentators. Nancy Armour said, “Oh for God’s sake”—her words, not mine. “These folks who bastardize religion to suit their bigotry would do well to actually READ the New Testament. I’d recommend starting with Matthew.” And so would I, where Jesus says, for this reason shall a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. So was it from the beginning. But that’s another story for another day.
Sarah Spain, ESPN: “That religious exemption BS.” Has she read the Constitution lately? Freedom to exercise religion—she calls it BS. “The religious exemption BS is used in sports and otherwise also allows for people to be denied health care, jobs, apartments, children, prescriptions, and all sorts of rights. We have to stop tiptoeing around it because we’re trying to protect people who are trying to be bigoted from asking for them to be exempt from it, when the very people that they are bigoted against are suffering the consequences.”
One other example. Forgive me, but we just got to get a sense of what’s going on so that we can rise up in this call to holiness we’ll see in a moment here with John the Baptist. Staying with sports teams. In 2021, Oral Roberts University’s men’s basketball team from Oklahoma unexpectedly toppled Ohio State and thus moved on to the NCAA basketball playoffs, the Sweet 16. Now, you would’ve thought that would’ve been a Cinderella story. Oh no, because that’s a Christian university that has a biblical view of morality. So, what happened? The university was condemned, not celebrated. The school was vilified for its pledge that students will not engage in homosexual activity and for affirming that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman. How radical is that? The radical left could not celebrate the team’s entry into the Sweet 16.
Columnist Hemal Jhaveri wrote that some things are up for debate, but, “What is not up for debate however is their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, which is nothing short of discriminatory and should expressly be condemned by the NCAA.” So, it’s the rule of the NCAA now to attack Christian universities for standing for something that’s stood for millennia. Crazy.
She goes on: “The fact is, any and all anti-LGBTQ+ language in any school’s policies should ban them from NCAA competition.” So, if you’ve got a biblical theology, if you’ve got a code of conduct for your students that resembles Judeo-Christian philosophy, you ought to be banned from NCAA. Crazy.
Jhaveri goes on: “However accomplished its young student athletes are, the school is a hotbed of institutional transphobia, homophobia with regressive, sexist policies. There is no way to separate their men’s basketball team from the dangers of their religious dogma.” Scary, isn’t it? Frightening. They’re attaching that kind of language to a school that’s simply being what it’s been. That’s where we’re at.
Calling out sin and calling men out of sin is not an easy thing. That’s why I want to look for a few minutes . . . Yeah, I haven’t forgot—John the Baptist, Mark 6. But, with that backdrop, now we come to this text, which is living—make no mistake about it—inspired and inerrant. But I think it brings a certain weightiness to where we are when we read about this ancient story regarding John the Baptist—this flesh and blood example of godly, virile, and courageous masculinity. Another profile in courage.
Here’s a man who calls strikes without fear and favor. Here’s a voice crying in the cultural wilderness to repent. The context is that Jesus’ ministry is spreading; his fame is spreading along with that. In verse 14: “Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, ‘John the Baptist is risen from the dead.’” Herod now has his guilty conscience about killing John, beheading John the Baptist, the last prophet, first martyr—causes him to think that maybe this figure they call Jesus is actually a man channeling the spirit of John the Baptist. John the Baptist, back from the dead. It’s a guilty conscience speaking. That sets us up here in Mark 6 to go back over the story of how John the Baptist lost his head because he called out sin and he called man out of sin, and that was unacceptable then, as it is now.
Four things quickly. Notice the courage, the courage of John the Baptist. Verses 17 and 18: “For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” That took moral moxie to stand before King Herod and tell him that the relationship was insipid, illegal, and immoral, and he needed to repent. And he did that knowing full well the potential penalty. He could easily lose his life before a king.
The last of the prophets, John—just like Daniel—was willing to enter the lion’s den and put his head in the mouth of the lion. There’s no tiptoeing through the tulips for John. He was a prophet, not a diplomat. He was like Moses confronting Pharaoh. He was like Elijah confronting Ahab, like Nathan confronting David. In fact, the tense of the verb in verse 18 is that he repeatedly rebuked Herod. He said this to him more than once and maybe on more than one occasion. John had given Herod a moral dubbing and drubbing. He was a godless man who was in an unlawful relationship. John called out sexual sin.
I want to let the MacArthur Study Bible just tell us why it was unlawful. Herodias, who is now Herod’s wife, was once his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias was the daughter of another son of Herod the Great, so when she married Philip, she was marrying her own father’s brother. What precipitated the arrest of John the Baptist was that Herod Antipas, another of Herodias’ uncles, talked Herodias into leaving her husband, his brother, in order to marry him—thus compounding the incest as well as violating Leviticus 18:16.
John was outraged that a ruler in Israel would commit such a sin openly, and so, in the kind of tradition of the prophets, he rebuked Herod severely. And for this, he was imprisoned. That’s where we’re at. And he had courage to do it.
Remember what Jesus said? “What did you go out . . . to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” That’s how He spoke of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7. Jesus was taking this beautiful picture of reeds that grew alongside the Jordan River, bending before every breeze. He said, John’s not that kind of guy. There are those kind of guys. And there are those kind of preachers who lick their finger and put it up to see where the prevailing wind of the culture’s going, and then they tailor their message to suit the hour. Not John Baptist. What did you go out to see? A reed blowing in the wind? No, this is a man of courage and conviction, like Daniel the prophet, unbowed and unbent.
He was an uncompromising voice, a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord”—an uncompromising voice that said to a generation of Israelites to repent because they were a brood of vipers. I love his courage.
Guys, in a world where you’ll be called a hater of women for challenging abortion; in a world where you’ll be labeled a bigot for opposing same-sex marriage; in a world where you’ll be called transphobic for denying that men can be women and get pregnant; in a world where you’ll be put in the same category as the Taliban for claiming Jesus is Lord; in a world where your own government will label you a terrorist for questioning the right of a teacher to indoctrinate your kid in CRT and gender theory; in that world, you’re going to need to show some Spirit-supplied courage. You’re going to be committed to preaching the Word of God boldly. We don’t have time. We’ve studied it before: Acts 4:13, 29:31, 19:8, 18:26. There’s many others, where we read about the early disciples being bold.
You know what? Let me tell you where we’re at in the culture. 2 Timothy 3: difficult times, for “men will be lovers of themselves . . . rather than lovers of God.” They’ll be violent, arrogant, their children disobedient.
Let me tell you where we’re at in the church: “They will not endure sound doctrine,” and they will “heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3, KJV)—teachers who won’t call sinners “sinners,” teachers who won’t preach on hell, teachers who won’t call people to repentance. Are we going to be brave enough to endure the insults, the isolation, and the imprisonment that might come in such an hour? I hope so. I hope we’re going to be brave and courageous like John the Baptist.
You know what Charles Haddon Spurgeon said? I love this quote. “As the profane take the liberty to force their irreligion upon you . . .” Don’t they? Read the newspapers. Turn the television on. Listen to the newscast. Just dive into social media for a minute, and you’ll see that the profane take liberty to force their irreligion on you. Spurgeon says, “. . . so you take the liberty to force your religion upon them!” Call them to repentance in the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We’re losing our nerve.
I’ve appreciated the writings of Max Lucado. They’ve been a blessing to many. But he lost his nerve recently. I don’t know if you know the story, but in 2021, he was invited to speak at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But an LGBTQ group objected because of his “active harm” concerning his views. And the reason for their objection was a sermon he preached in 2004, in which he rejected same sex marriage and affirmed that marriage is a union of a man and a woman in a covenant relationship.
Now, while the National Cathedral didn’t withdraw their invitation and Lucado spoke, the National Cathedral leader apologized to the LGBTQ community, saying that he had “failed to appreciate the depth of injury his words have had,” concerning Lucado’s message.
Four days later, Max Lucado offers an apology. I’ll give you it: “In 2004 I preached a sermon on the topic of same-sex marriage. I now see that, in that sermon, I was disrespectful. I was hurtful. I wounded people in ways that were devastating. I should have done better. It grieves me that my words have hurt or been used to hurt the LGBTQ community. I apologize to you and I ask forgiveness of Christ. Faithful people may disagree about what the Bible says about homosexuality . . .” That in itself is a bizarre statement. If you’re faithful, you’ve only got one view in homosexuality: the Bible’s view. It’s condemned. It’s damning, and you need to repent of it. But back to his quote: “Faithful people may disagree about what the Bible says about homosexuality, but we agree that God’s holy Word must never be used as a weapon to wound others.”
Yeah, you get it. That’s bizarre. If you read Max Lucado, at no point is this guy a raving fundamentalist. So, I don’t know what he spoke on in 2004, but if he’s anything like the Max Lucado you meet in a book, I would guess it was balanced and fair. But this apology’s unacceptable—bowing to the culture, apologizing for the Word of God.
Let me tell you what Paul said about homosexuality in Romans 1:25, that it’s an expression of people worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. He goes on to talk about it being a dishonorable passion.
Talk about wounding people. Well, what did Jeremiah 6:14 say? God takes issues with prophets who heal the wound of My people slightly. Of course the Word of God wounds people. That’s the point. It wounds us and heals us all at the same time. It’s a sword that cuts, and then it’s medicine that heals.
Whenever the truth is told, whenever the gospel is preached, someone is inconvenienced. Just understand that. That’s the courage.
Then we’ve got the conviction. John the Baptist’s courage was underwritten and undergirded by conviction, theological and biblical. He understood Leviticus 18:16. He understood Leviticus 18:20–21, that this marriage, this relationship, this contract and compact that Herodias and Herod had entered upon was unlawful, was against everything God understood to be marriage. John had strong beliefs, and it made him strong. That’s my simple point, guys.
If you’re going to be strong, if you are going to be courageous and brave and put your head down against the prevailing wills of the culture and move forward according to God’s will in your life, you’ve got to have strong beliefs—which will require study, prayer, obedience in your life concerning the Word of God. And, as you grow strong in your belief, you’ll be strong when your beliefs are challenged. You won’t bend. You won’t budge. You won’t bow.
John was convinced that God had spoken, and God had clearly stated in the law and the prophets concerning marriage. Herod’s marriage fell short of that, and therefore John called him to repentance. He was unafraid and unapologetic about it because he went armed with this idea: “Thus says the Lord.” End of story. No more debate. The authority of Scripture made him authoritative.
There’s an old story. I tried to find the characters involved and couldn’t, but my memory serves me well. There’s an old story about a king who’s talking through a preacher’s sermon in the royal court. This preacher had the bravery to pause, and he said to all who were listening, “When the lion, who’s the king of the jungle, roars, all the other animals are silent. And if the lion of Judah and the King of kings speaks, then please be silent.” I think John went in with that kind of thinking, that kind of theology.
If you have misgivings about your Bible, if you don’t know it well, and you’re ignorant yourself, you’re going to be blown about by every wind of doctrine. You’re going to be a reed blowing in the wind. But if you’re like John—and you know your Bible, and you’re mastering it, and it’s mastering you, and you’re convinced of its authority and inerrancy and sufficiency—you’re going to be able to stand in the evil day because you’ve girded yourself about with the belt of truth and you’ve taken up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
It was a conviction about the Word that defined and directed the church and drove her forward into the world of competing voices with such boldness. The early church believed that Scripture is inspired by God. It’s God breathed. It’s divine in its origin. It’s authoritative. It’s inerrant. It’s pure. It’s trustworthy. It’s eternal. It’s sufficient. They were convinced of Hebrews 1:1–2. God has spoken. The lion roars. God has spoken in time past in various ways through the prophets. But in these last days, the channel of revelation, His Son, the Living Word, giving us the spoken word through Himself and His apostles. They were convinced of that. Are you?
Have you got conviction, biblical convictions? Do they hold you, and do you hold them? It’s going to require that in a world that Al Mohler described at a conference I attended in Toledo, Ohio, as suffering from logophobia. Logos being the Greek word for “word,” and phobia being the Greek word for “fear.” Al Mohler was saying that you live in a world that’s frightened of an authoritative word, the word that transcends every other voice. That’s what we have, and that’s what scares them. That’s why they want to silence us, cancel us.
Without this kind of dogma, without this kind of conviction, you won’t be able to stand in the evil day. Guys, you need to get ahold of the belt of truth and tighten it a couple of notches around your waist. John was courageous because he was convictional. This is no time for religious stammerers. You can’t persuade others of that which you are not persuaded yourself.
Paul was convictional. Romans 8:38–39: “For I am persuaded [convinced] that neither death nor life, nor angels nor powers [demons],” so on, so forth, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” Romans 14:14: “I know and am convinced [being fully persuaded] by the Lord Jesus.” 2 Corinthians 5:14–15: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus [are convinced]: that . . . One died for all.” 2 Timothy 1:11–12: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded [convinced] that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” What made Paul the force that he was, unbending, unbowed, unapologetic, unashamed? He was convinced.
You’ve heard me tell this story, but it’s appropriate to tell it here. David Hume, an 18th century British philosopher who rejected the Christian faith, once met a friend of his hurrying through a street in London on his way to hear George Whitefield. And when David Hume learned that, he said, “Surely you don’t believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?” And he said, “No, I don’t. But he does.” There’s something appealing, something attractive, in a culture where everything and anything goes, about meeting people who know right from wrong and what side is up. The character, courage. The conviction, the character.
Embedded in this story is an interesting little insight. Although Herod will be party to the death of John the Baptist—and he will feel guilty about it to his dying day—in the middle of the confrontation, he knew he was dealing with a just man and a righteous soul. Did you notice that? Mark 6:20. In fact, we’ll back up into verse 19. You see, when John confronts Herod and says, “This is not lawful,” Herodias, Herod’s wife, is bothered by this. She held it against him. Don’t be surprised that people hold things against you for your theology and your morality. Just take it on the chin, and wear it as a badge of honor. “Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man” (Mark 6:19–20). And, for a time, he protected him, until he was tricked. You know the story of the party, the dance, the alcohol, the bad behavior leading to John’s beheading.
But I don’t want to miss this point, and it’s so important that we get it. John was no hollow hypocrite. See, if you’re going to call sin out and you’re going to call men out of sin, what you ask them to do, you better be doing it, or they’ll smell hypocrisy a mile away. But Herod knew that John was the real deal. That’s what put the fear of God in him. He wasn’t a hollow hypocrite, and that’s why his words didn’t ring hollow. John practiced what he preached, so when he preached repentance, there was a moral force with it.
Edmond Hiebert, in his commentary on Mark, tells us if there’s a distinction at all between the idea of John being righteous and just and a holy man, the idea of justice would mean that he had integrity and a moral reputation before man. And the idea of holiness would mean that he’s got a wonderful reputation before God because of his total separation unto God.
But this explains why Herod initially protects him. This explains his guilty conscience when he hears about Jesus’ ministry—because this man’s goodness was terrifying to this man’s wickedness. That’s the point, guys. Here’s the thing. Herod had not received the message of repentance, but he had not yet rejected the messenger because he was a just and a holy man, which certainly gave the message another chance. That would be a chance that Herod squandered as he silenced his conscience over time. But did you get that point? He hadn’t accepted John’s call to repentance, but neither had he rejected John. He feared him because there was something about his life he found both terrifying and attractive. May that be true of you and me.
As people around us haven’t yet accepted the message, maybe they won’t reject us as they look at the integrity of our lives, as they watch us walk the straight and narrow, as they see the benefits of that in our marriages and in our lives and in our children, in the way we run our business, in the way we conduct our relationships, and in how we treat others. Maybe we’ll give the message another chance, and we’ll leave the outcome of that to the providence of God.
Let me give you a verse and a quick story and move to our last thought. Titus 2. Remember, we studied the book of Titus—all about good works, all about the church’s witness in the community. Listen to verses 6 through 10: “Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” Like John the Baptist and Herod. “Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.”
It’s been well said that it’s always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live them, and that’s true of the gospel. I know it in my own heart, and I think you know it to be true. It’s easier to fight for the gospel than to live it. Let’s do both. And let one be the sounding board for the other.
William Wilberforce fought for righteousness, called out the barbaric sin of slavery in the British Empire. But he wasn’t just doing politics. He was doing Christian discipleship. And if you go to Westminster Abbey—amidst all those statues and memorials to luminaries like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, kings and queens of England—you’ll read a tribute to William Wilberforce: “He added the abiding eloquence of a Christian life.”
Guys, in calling you to call out sin and call out sinners, make sure you know the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. Make sure you’ve got a life that backs it up. Make sure you’re not a hollow hypocrite. Don’t come around people with a “holier than thou” spirit. Don’t make yourself a nuisance. What we’re talking about here, you’ll know when you’re in that circumstance. where truth must be defended and a word for Jesus Christ must be said. And at that point, you’re going to remember something of this story. I’ve got to be courageous, and I’ve got to have the courage of my convictions. And you know what? I’ve got character here to speak up and call sin out and call men out of sin.
Let’s finish. Very simple thought. The cost. We’ve kind of talked about it. Certainly, in our introduction, we went through some of the present implications. I was staggered a couple of weeks ago. I was in a major Baptist church in Orlando on a Sunday morning when I was on vacation, and the pastor got up and said, “You know what? There’s no persecution in America.” And I kind of go, “What planet are you living on?” Talk to your coaches. Talk to people who have been called into the HR department. Talk to baseball players who’ve been pilloried and persecuted in the public square for not wearing a pin on Pride night. What are you talking about? We may not be dying for Christ. Although, you might want to talk to Tony Perkins and the guys in Washington, D.C., when a gunman went in and tried to kill him a few years ago.
But persecution comes in all sizes and shapes. And, my friend, we are being persecuted. Mockery, isolation, the desire by the ACLU to take our rightful tax money from Christian organizations—all to say, there’s a cost to call out sin. And we must be willing to bear that cost. I’m going to pursue my rights before the law. I’m going to use the Constitution as a bulwark against the culture invading the church. I’ll do it until I can’t do it. Paul did it. “Hey, I’m a Roman citizen. You don’t get to do that.” But when all of that’s done, we must be willing to bear the costs of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We don’t have time to read verses 26 to 29, but you know that story. Herodias wanted to harm John. Herod protected him. Then, one night, under the influence, no doubt of alcohol, in a weak moment, having been titillated by a sexual dance from Herodias’ daughter, Herod makes a silly promise: “I’ll give you anything you want if you’ll dance for me, entertain me.” And she did. And what she asked for was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. That’s where we’re at. The last prophet, the first martyr.
And, as we close, John the Baptist in John 5:35 was called a burning and a shining light. Look it up. Let me say this, guys. You can’t be shining without burning. And you can’t burn without being consumed. And he was willing to be consumed to shine the light of the gospel. The pathway of faithful discipleship and sacrificial services depletion. In John’s case, decapitation.
If you’re going to buy the truth and sell it not, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny maintaining a biblical morality, Christ-centered gospel, a Christ-exalting worldview that the world hates. The world hates righteousness. It thinks that the cross is a silly idea. It considers Christ the small historical figure of the past. That kind of world will always require suffering on your part and my part: isolation, mockery, imprisonment, even martyrdom.
I’m going to let Joe Dallas, who’s a good voice in this issue in his book Christians in a Cancel Culture, just remind us where we’re at as we close:
The truths we hold are becoming lightning rods to an increasingly hostile environment.
If current trends continue, churches, Christian universities, and nonprofit religious organizations will face revocation of their tax-exempt status or of their state funding for student loans if they don’t change their policies on gender identity and sexual behavior. They’ll also face lawsuits from students, former members, or visitors who claim to have been harmed by the messages or practices the church adheres to.
Corporations may force their Christian employees to choose between attending training events that conflict with their conscience or losing their jobs. Students may find themselves disciplined or expelled for holding positions that are unacceptable to their schools. Parents may be classified as “abusive” for not confirming their children’s orientation or gender identity and might suffer their forcible removal from their homes.
Pastors, counselors, teachers, or leaders of any sort may be subject to a fine or jail time if they speak biblically on homosexuality or transgenderism. Churches, in fact, may eventually be subject to state licensing to determine their qualifications to hold services and their leader’s compliance with the government’s standards of doctrine.
If Christ tarries, there will soon be a high price to pay for sound doctrine. Collectively, we’ll need to strategize, inform, and equip each other, while continuing to pray we avoid raving or caving in the face of oppression.
Individually, some of us are already paying that price. We’ve been rejected by those we love the most, labeled “toxic” or “hateful,” discarded as infidels unworthy of love or friendship. It’s not just the pain of having a prodigal. It’s the pain of becoming, without your consent, your prodigal’s enemy.
That’s where we’re at, and it’s going to require courage on our part, conviction on our part, character on our part, and a willingness to pay a cost on our part to stay true to the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be like Martin Luther—have a conscience informed by Scripture and not be bullied by emperors or kings or religious authorities who have given the shop away. Let’s have the courage to say, “Here I stand. I can do no other. I’m against sin because sin is against all that’s good for man and all that glorifies God. Sin murders. Sin kills. Sin robs. Sin lies. I’m against it because it’s against God and against what’s good for my neighbor and for me and my family.”
Father, we thank You for our time in the Word—challenging, convicting. We thank You for the example of John the Baptist. We thank You for his bravery. Thank You for his belief in Your Word and his theological convictions that allowed him to be brave. He believed in an authoritative word from God that gave him an ability to be authoritative. Thank You that he had a holy life. He wasn’t a walking contradiction. He knew the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness, and he was willing to pledge his head to heaven. We thank You for his witness. May it help us to run the race with endurance, to fight the good fight, and to stand in the evil day. For we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.