Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
Sunday, May 2, 2021
If You Stand for Nothing, What’ll You Fall For?
On Tuesday mornings, the elders and deacons get together to pray for the church at 7AM. When we met last Tuesday, I was running late, so I didn’t have time to make my coffee. So after our prayer meeting, I decided to go to Starbucks on Main Street on my way back home.
I pulled into the drive-through…and there was a massive line of 15-20 cars! I figured it was worth the wait. I’ll just listen to a podcast. The line moved slowly, with each person taking around 2 minutes at the drive-through speaker. What were they ordering? I just like my coffee black. Were all these people ordering foo-foo drinks that take forever to prepare? Why was this taking so long?
Fifteen minutes later, I’m 1 car away from ordering. Behind me, the line was 15-20 cars. I watched the person in front of me and realized she wasn’t speaking to anyone over the speaker. She was just waiting.
I thought, “this doesn’t seem right.” I got out of my car and asked, “Have they taken your order yet?” She said, “No.” I walked around the side of the building to the pickup window…only to discover nobody was there! All the lights were off! The shop was closed!
Each person in that line waited 15 minutes; when they finally got to the speaker to order, they waited another 2 minutes. When they realized that nobody was going to take their order, they just drove off and it just kept repeating itself.
We were all just waiting forever in line for a big cup of nothing!
I went down the line and told everyone, “There is nothing at the end of this line.”
This passage asks the question: What line are you in with your life? What direction are you headed? What do you think will be at the end when you get there. And beware! Because it’s possible that the line you are in—the direction you are heading—is not going to give you the reward that you seek.
Walk Through the Passage
Act 1: v.14-16:
In the previous passage, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples to preach and heal. Word about this spreads as if people were Tweeting about it and posting it on Facebook. Act 1 describes what happens when Herod hears about Jesus. Two things stand out in Act 1:
- Mark refers to Herod as a King
In v.14 Mark writes, King Herod heard about this (about the preaching and healing of Jesus and his disciples). Herod is a ruler over the area of Galilee, but he is emphatically not a king. He wanted to be one. He even requested that the Emperor give him the title—and it led to him being dismissed and exiled.
Mark mockingly refers to Herod as “King Herod” as a reminder that Herod was waiting in line, living for something, that was never going to be delivered.
- Nobody seems to know what to make of Jesus.
As word spread about Jesus, people asked, “Who is this?” Some people thought he was Elijah from the OT returned. Others thought he was some kind of prophet. And finally, others, including Herod, believed that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.
This is a segue to Act 2 where we learn how it is the John the Baptist died.
Act 2: v.17-20
In this part of the story, we’re told that Herod had married his brother’s wife—a woman by the name of Herodias. John the Baptist called them out on this.
John the Baptist did this because Herod wanted people to think he was not only King of the Jews but also their Messiah. John is pointing out—I don’t think the Messiah would marry his brother’s wife. After all this is expressly forbidden in the OT (Lev 20:21).
As a result, Herod arrests John and puts him in prison. This is the beginning of a long tradition. Today almost 3000 followers of Christ are arrested every year without trial simply because they are followers of Christ. More than that are put to death each year.
Even so, Herod is intrigued by John. He was one of these people who likes to listen to sermons, but never acted on them. He enjoyed listening to John and therefore protected him.
But Herod’s wife, Herodias, hated John for saying that their marriage was wrong. When I think of Herodias, I think of the wicked step-mother in Cinderella and Snow-White. She fits the archetype. Self-interested, ulterior motives, and unloving. She wants John the Baptist dead.
This leads to the third and final act.
Act 3: v.21-25
In the final act, Herod throws a party. And to the Jewish reader hearing about this—it might as well be a party at Bohemian Grove or a Satanic ritual. Because everything about this party is pagan.
Herod invites all the social elites from the area to his birthday party. Jews did not celebrate birthdays since they were pagan. It’s assumed that they are all getting drunk. Herod brings in his niece/step-daughter to basically do a strip-tease act for his guests. And if that’s not messed up enough, the night ends with John’s head on a platter.
Herod, probably drunk, was so pleased by his niece’s seductive dance, he says, I’ll give you anything you want—up to half my kingdom. Just an expression—the kingdom is not his to give away.
Even so, Herodias encourages her daughter to ask for the head of John on a platter. Herod, distressed, but not wanting to be the bad host, has John beheaded.
Act 3 ends with John being buried by his disciples.
What’s the point of this story?
To understand this story, it’s important to take a step back and look at the context. Right before it, in v.6-13, Jesus sends out his 12 disciples to the surrounding towns to preach the message of the kingdom and healed sick people. And then, right after the story of John the Baptists death, in v.30, we are told that the disciples return to Jesus and report to them everything that happened on their missions trip.
So, the question is: Why is the story of John the Baptist inserted right in the middle of this story? Why is the story of Jesus sending out his disciples wrapped around the story of John the Baptist’s death? Two reasons:
- This is a story about mission. About meaning. About purpose.
In v.6-13, right before the story of Herod and John the Baptist, Jesus sends his disciples on a mission. Go! Don’t take an extra bag! Don’t be tied to material things! Share the gospel! Bring healing and restoration! Jesus gives their lives a direction, a meaning, a purpose. This mission, this purpose comes from outside of them.
This is directly contrasted with the characters in the story about Herod. They have a different mission and purpose.
- Herod’s mission is status. He wants to be King!
- Herodias lives for power. She is a social climber—hopping from one husband to another—to be married to the man with the most clout.
- Her daughter lives to please the crowd. She dances to please the audience. She wants to please her mom, even if it means asking for the death of a man.
- The all-male audience is on a mission for pleasure. They just want to have a good time, have the honor of being at Herod’s Who’s Who of Galilee party, and to get drunk and watch girls dance.
Everyone in this story has a mission. They all have a purpose. The difference is that the disciples have their purpose given to them. The people at the party all pursue their own personal mission in life. One they came up with for themselves.
Philosophers sometimes refer to this as inherent meaning vs assigned meaning. I call them Created meaning vs Given meaning.
- Created meaning is a meaning that you come up with on your own.
- Given meaning is meaning that has been given to you from outside of yourself.
This is a major difference between Christianity and non-religious people. If you don’t believe that there is a God, that everything that exists happened by chance, then there is no meaning.
Your life has no more meaning that a pile of rocks on the ground. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagal writes: “Eventually the solar system will cool or the universe will wind down and collapse and all trace of your efforts will vanish. It wouldn’t matter if you never existed. And after you have gone out of existence, it won’t matter that you did exist.”
In the end, your life, what you do—it doesn’t matter. There is no meaning. There is no difference. If you want meaning, you just need to make it up for yourself, and pretend that it exists for a little while.
Even though, in the end you know that you are just waiting in line at the Cosmic Starbucks with nothing at the end of the line.
By contrast, the disciples are given their mission, their purpose from Jesus. Build the kingdom of God, share the good news, bring healing to the world. At the end of the story, they come back and celebrate what God accomplished through them. What they did mattered. It made a difference.
Hamilton in the musical says to Aaron Burr: If you stand for nothing Burr what will you fall for? Meaning, if you don’t live for something true—you don’t have anything to live for or to die for. And it will be your downfall.
Poet Mary Oliver: Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?
Jesus invites you: Don’t just make up some pretend purpose in a world that leads to nothing. Let me give your life meaning and purpose. Live for something real!
One—this is a story about purpose.
- This is a story about death and resurrection
The other reason that the story of John the Baptists death is inserted in the middle of the story about Jesus sending out the disciples is because it is intended to be a picture of what will happen to them.
One on level it’s a picture of how must of Jesus’ disciples will face the same fate. For them, to carry out the mission of Christ is to face the same fate as John the Baptist. They too will arrested, stand before kings, and put to death (Mk 13:9-11).
But on another level, it’s a picture of the death all Christians must face if they intend to carry out the mission of Christ. Your own personal, created purpose for your life must die in order to live for Christ. Jesus says, in order to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.
Why? Because that is the only road, the only line that leads to life. Only those who lose their life will find it.
And that is ultimately what this passage is about. John the Baptist foreshadows Jesus. Notice the similarities in language and actions:
- V.17 John is “arrested,” (literally “Handed over”) Later in Mark (10:33; 14:46) Jesus is “handed over” and arrested.
- John is executed by a reluctant politician because of a plot that was hatched behind the scenes. Later Jesus is executed by a reluctant politician because of a plot that was hatched behind the scenes.
- In v.21 Herodias seizes an “opportune time” to kill John. In Mark 14:11 Judas waits for an “opportune time” to betray and kill Jesus.
- In v.22 Herod made an offer (I’ll give you half my kingdom!) and was caught off guard by the response (Kill John!), Later, Pilate makes an offer (I’ll release a prisoner to you!) and was caught off guard by the response (Kill Jesus!).
- And finally, in v.29, John’s disciples take his dead body and bury him in a tomb, just as Jesus’ disciple take his body down from the cross and lays him in the tomb (15:46).
You see, the message of this story is that you can surrender the mission, the purpose of your life to Jesus because Jesus surrendered his life for you.
And Herod seems to intuitively know what comes next: In v.16 Herod says, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead.”
You’re close, Herod. Jesus is not John the Baptist resurrected. But Jesus will rise from the dead. And Jesus will resurrect John the Baptist, along with all who put their faith in Christ.