Herod and Jesus (Luke 9:7-9)
After sending out the twelve apostles, before recording their return to Jesus, Luke informs us of an important development.
God is orchestrating the news about Jesus piquing the interest of the religious leaders and the popularity of his miracles among the people. Those threatened by his popularity will seek to sabotage his ministry, while others are drawn to follow him. The message of the kingdom is driving deeper into the culture so that it might crascendo on the day of Pentecost.
News about what Jesus is doing is beginning to spread, but there is still a great deal of confusion surrounding his person and purpose. The theories about Jesus recorded here are repeated in v.18. Herod’s response is the antithesis of Peter’s. Peter’s faith contrasts with Herod’s doubt.
Read Luke 9:7-9
I. The Death of John the Baptist
Luke is much more subtle with the details than Matthew and Mark (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29). Herod confesses to beheading John the Baptist, but the story surrounding this act is helpful to consider.
Herod was one of four rulers over various regions under Roman occupation. Specifically, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee (3:1). John the Baptist rebuked him for taking his brother’s wife, along with other evil things he was known for (3:19). So Herod, probably with some encouragement from his wife Herodias, threw John into prison (3:20).
Clearly, this was not a pleasant experience for John as he sent messengers to question Jesus about whether or not he was the Messiah (7:18-23). Although John had already testified about this (3:4-22), his frustration was mounting while languishing in prison. Hopefully, Jesus’s answer gave him the comfort and confidence he needed to face his death full of faith.
At Herod’s birthday party, Herodias had her daughter dance for the guests. Impressed by her performance Herod promised to give her whatever she asked for. With help from her mother, she requested the head of John the Baptist to be brought to her on a platter.
Herod was conflicted about John. Although Herod had wanted to put John to death (Matt. 14:5) he knew killing him would create more tension with the Jews who considered him a prophet. He was also aware that John “was a righteous and holy man,” so he feared doing any harm to him (Mark 6:20). John’s teaching left Herod perplexed, but he still enjoyed listening to him (Mark 6:20). For these various reasons, Herod was sorry to have to kill him (Matt. 14:9).
II. The Interest of Herod the Tetrarch
All of these details inform this brief parenthesis in Luke. Herod’s perplexity primarily stems from his fear that John the Baptist has risen from the dead and now has supernatural strength.
Herod was intrigued enough by the possibility that he wanted to see Jesus. He dismisses the view that Jesus was Elijah (fulfilling Mal. 4:5). Luke has already pointed out that this was fulfilled by John (Lk. 1:16-17; Mk. 9:11-13). Neither was Jesus some other prophet.
Herod’s interest in Jesus is realized near the end of the gospel. Herod is glad to see him when Pilate sends him for trial (Lk. 23:8). But when Jesus refused to respond to Herod’s questions, he and his soldiers mistreated him (Lk. 23:11).
Herod is a fickle ruler. His religious curiosity lasts for brief moments before giving way to his baser qualities of pride and cruel ambition.
Fascination with the latest news, inside or outside the Church, is rarely compelling enough to make much of a difference in our lives. Although news about Jesus gave Herod an impetus to seek him out, he never actually met him until Pilate provided the opportunity.
Short-lived interest in the gospel reveals a shallow understanding and a hollow faith. You might pray a prayer at a crusade and then carry on as if nothing happened the next day. This perspective was likely held by many who were in the crowd and witnessed Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes in the next passage.
Brief marginal participation in Kingdom work is worthless. You must persevere beyond the initial interest. There is a cost to following Jesus that includes giving your life. Christianity is not a side hobby. You won’t survive on an hour a week practice.
If the gospel has piqued your interest don’t let it fade! Follow up with someone tonight. Go to God in prayer even now, but don’t consider your task to be done when you say Amen. Keep pursuing God every day. If you do, you will continue the journey for all eternity.
Many people end their interest in Jesus shortly after their search began. Our days are filled with a thousand alternatives. Our minds are filled with countless competing thoughts.
All the wealth and authority in Rome couldn’t have assuaged Herod’s guilty conscience; but Christ could’ve cleansed it.
If your interest in Jesus Christ isn’t Spirit-wrought it will only be skin-deep. Let us evaluate ourselves, to see if we’re in the faith.
Has the gospel reached your heart? Is the gospel transforming how you think and act? Because if it isn’t, you’re no better off than Herod. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to begin the work, sustain the work, and complete the work of salvation.
The tenth chapter of The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks “Of Effectual Calling.” Those God predestined he effectually called “by his Word and Spirit” (2 Thess. 2:13-14). He rescued them out of the state of sin and death and brought them to a state of grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. God enlightens our minds “spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God.”
We receive a new heart and renewed wills so that we might desire what is good and pleasing to God – first and foremost, we’re drawn to Jesus Christ! Let us express our interest in Jesus with Spirit-wrought faith as we respond to God’s Word.