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HEROD AND JOHN

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, November 12, 2017

“For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20).


The story of King Herod and John the Baptist is one of the great tragedies in the Bible and in history. John the Baptist, an electrifying young evangelist – is pitted against King Herod – a vacillating, weak-willed monarch. He wanted to obey John. He wanted to have peace with God. But his weakness and indecision led to his ruin – and to the murder of John the Baptist.

When I read about King Herod I always feel sorry for him. But then I am angry with him. He was such a sorry fool. He came so close to being saved. And yet he never was. He was so close to being converted. And yet he went to Hell. When I think of Herod the hymn Mr. Griffith sang always chills my soul,

Almost persuaded now to believe;
Almost persuaded Christ to receive;
Almost cannot avail, Almost is but to fail!
Sad, sad that bitter wail, Almost but lost!
   (“Almost Persuaded” by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).

Almost persuaded! Sad, sad that bitter wail –
Almost but lost!

The saga of Herod and John the Baptist shows us several great Christian truths.

First, the message of salvation always calls you to make a decision. To us the word “decision” seems bad – as in “decisionism.” But “decisionism” is only bad because most people make the wrong decision! Herod could have made the right decision. But instead he wavered back and forth – and never took a stand for the truth that John the Baptist preached to him. The most outstanding thing about John’s preaching was his challenge to make a decision. He preached repentance and demanded a decision from those who heard him preach. He preached so powerfully that people cried out, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10). When Christ came He preached the same way. He gave the people only two choices. It was Heaven or Hell, the broad road to destruction or the narrow road to life. The house on sand or the house on a rock. God or Mammon. The people had to take sides, either for Christ or against Him. Christ’s preaching demanded that they make a decision for or against Him. It was the same way Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. Peter demanded that they make a decision. And the people responded, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). In the last chapter of Acts Paul’s preaching divided the people into two groups. “And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not” (Acts 28:24). They had to make a decision! And in every revival throughout Christian history godly men preached like that too. Those who heard them had to make a decision!

Today we hear a different kind of preaching. No demands are made. Some of them sweetly call people to be healed. Some give them soft and comforting stories. And other men give them dry-as-dust Bible expositions with no Blood atonement. Where is the fire? Where is the challenge? No wonder young people are fleeing from our churches in droves! Most preaching today isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit – to quote Vice President John Nance Garner (1933-1941) in speaking of his office under President Roosevelt. The story of Herod and John the Baptist shows us the utter worthlessness of that. It reminds us that Christ calls for a decision. By the way, have you made your decision? Has it affected your life? Has it changed you?

Herod “heard him gladly.” Herod liked the preacher. He even enjoyed hearing him preach. But it had no effect on him. I for one never like to hear people tell me what a great sermon I preached. I get no joy from that at all. I only rejoice when I see someone decide to repent of their sin and throw themselves on the mercy and grace of Jesus. The only thing that pleases me is when someone makes a definite decision to trust Jesus in a real conversion and change of life. That is the one true test of whether my preaching has been blessed by God! It is not whether you enjoy it. It’s not whether you are even disturbed by it, nor whether you like me and are pleased with my preaching. The test is this – has it led you to a decision, a definite act of trusting Christ with your whole heart and your whole life?

But there is something sad about people like Herod. He almost decided. He was almost persuaded to trust Christ and become a real Christian. How sad and pathetic are people like Herod. You come to church. You hear us preach. And you are moved emotionally. You feel that you should trust Jesus. You say you want to trust Him. But you never do. Instead of trusting Jesus you look for a feeling to prove you trusted Him. It will never happen! Never! Never! Why not? How could you possibly have a “feeling” that you trusted Him before you trust Him? It is nonsense! The only way you can trust Jesus is by trusting Him instead of a feeling. You are just one step away from trusting Jesus. But you never do. What a strange kind of person you are. You come Sunday after Sunday. But you refuse to trust the Saviour. You even come to see us after the service – but you have no intention of trusting him. I ask you, “Did you trust Him?” You say, “no.” You say “no” quite strongly – as though you are very sure you didn’t. Why are you so sure? It has to be because you are looking for some feeling or other! That has to be the reason! But let me be brutally honest with you. You see, that “feeling” you want is a demon! The Devil dangles that demon in front of your mind. “I must have that feeling! I want it so badly! I will never be satisfied without that demon of feeling!” When the Devil has you under his spell, and you are captivated by it – he will give you a feeling! You will then be so enchanted and charmed by it that you will never be saved! That demon of “feeling” will be your sweetheart, your lover, your idol. When that happens you will be under such a strong, hypnotic spell that you will never be able to trust Jesus, who died on the Cross to save you! And the demon of “feeling” will drag you down, captivated, enslaved, into the very bowels of Hell. I can almost hear the “feeling” demon laughing at you! “Got you now! Got you now! You’re my slave in Hell forever now!” Don’t smile. Millions of people think they have the Holy Spirit – when what they really have is a devil. Instead of being Spirit-filled, they are demon possessed! I caution every one of you who is looking for a feeling to prove you are saved – I caution you! You are playing with the occult! You are playing with fire! Get rid of the “feeling” demon and throw yourself on Jesus, the Son of God, who bled and died on the Cross to save you!

There are certain preachers that become sources of enslavement. I have known preachers who attract people to them, and promise them salvation, while what they are doing is quite demonic. They are binding their followers to themselves rather than Christ. Under no circumstances do I put John the Baptist in that category.

Herod had put John in prison, because his wife hated John for calling her an adulteress. The Bible says that “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy.” He saw John as a holy man. So Herod went to see John time and again in prison. The text says he “observed him.” That means Herod “kept him safely.” Herod knew there was something holy and different about John. He “heard [John] gladly.” He was like many people who worship a saint. They know that the saint was a godly person, like St. Augustine. They may read and meditate on the words of the saint, but they never trust Christ, though men like Augustine tell them to do so. I think Herod looked upon John as Catholics look on a saint. “He heard him gladly.”

Herod would go down in the prison to visit John. He knew this displeased his wife. Yet he continued to go. He felt drawn there. He felt something drawing him there, something irresistible. When he went to hear John, “he heard him gladly.” The Holy Spirit was drawing him to hear the prophet. There are many people who come to church for the same reason. They like being in church, even though the sermon condemns them. But they do not yield to Christ. Herod came almost to the point of conversion. But he was never converted. And why did Herod later cut off the head of John the Baptist? How can we understand this man, Herod?

Under the preaching of John Herod felt the presence and power of God. He knew John was right. Yet he would not yield to Christ. He understood what John was preaching to him. But he would not trust Christ. He kept learning and learning, but he never decided definitely to trust Jesus. He didn’t want to change his life. He would have to separate from that evil woman Herodias. He would have to change many things in his life. Many Oriental young people are like that. Their parents let them come to our church, but they don’t fully agree with what we preach. They think we are too strict. Their children come to our church – but they are pulled. Is that true of you? Do your parents think we are too strict? They let you come, but they criticize us when they talk to you. They tell you not to spend so much time in church. They say things like, “Do you have to be here so much?” So you are torn between your parents and this church. You know we are right, but you want to please your parents. You are afraid to take a stand with us, against your non-Christian parents. They forget what Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Herod wanted to be a Christian, but he also wanted to please Herodias. The Bible says, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Dr. Charles C. Ryrie said, “A double-minded man [is] a man of divided allegiance” (Ryrie Study Bible). Isn’t that what was wrong with Herod? He wanted to be a Christian, yet he wanted to please Herodias. He was double minded. Therefore he could not become a real Christian.

We recently had an Oriental girl like that. She wanted to please her non-Christian parents. But she also wanted to be a Christian. She was torn apart until she finally saw she must come over to Jesus completely. She decided to go against her parents and come completely to Jesus. The moment she did that she was soundly converted. She decided to make Jesus the Lord of her life. All confusion was gone and she is now a lovely Christian. But Herod would not decide between John the Baptist and Herodias. Therefore he never became a real Christian. He died and went to Hell. The Bible says, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15). You must choose between your lost parents or Christ. There is no other way to be saved and have a clear testimony for Christ. Do not waver back and forth like Herod. Choose Christ and the church. Make a clear-cut decision. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

Then, too, Herod went to hear John preach and “when he heard him, he did many things.” Yes, he did many things. Yes, everything but the one thing that is most important. No doubt he gave up certain sins. Yes, “he did many things,” but he never did the one thing John asked him to do. Isn’t that the reason you are almost a Christian? Almost, but still lost! “Many things” are not enough. One young woman said, “What more do they want?” She should have said, “What more does God want?’ Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones originally preached this sermon, which I have adapted. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “What is it that’s holding you back? Examine yourself. Be wise and let it go! ‘Many things’ is not [enough]. God wants your entire submission, not [merely] giving up certain sins but your entire will,” your whole life must be given to Christ! (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., “Missing the Mark”).

There is only one other thing I want to say. In verse 24, Herodias told her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head. Herod was very sorry, but “for the sake of those which sat with him, he would not reject her” (Mark 6:26). Oh, there it is – concern for his own reputation and the good opinion of others. In his heart he knew these people were wrong. On the other hand, he admired John and knew he was right. Yet he gave in to the sinners and rejected the preaching of John. He gave up eternal salvation and went to Hell simply because he was afraid of what these people would think of him. Oh, the madness of it all! Though the whole world may laugh and make fun of you, though your whole family agrees that you have become a religious fanatic, though everyone calls you a fool, what difference does it make – as long as you are accepted by God? For He alone is the judge!

Do what God tells you. Trust Jesus His Son. And show your family and friends, and the whole world, that you have turned away from this vile world – and that you are totally giving your very life to Jesus Christ!

Once you know that Christ is right and true you will never have peace until you give yourself completely to Him. Poor Herod! How terrible his life was after he beheaded John! John haunted and tormented his life. When Herod heard of Jesus, he thought it was John, risen from the dead. John haunted and tormented his dreams in the night! He dreamed of the plate coming toward him with the head of John lying on it. Although you reject the truth you are not through with it. It will haunt you and condemn you for ever. It will give you no rest or peace. Herod dreamed wild nightmares about John – “Oh, John, why didn’t I listen to you? Oh, John, why did I throw my soul away? Oh, John, why was I so afraid of what they would think of me? Oh, what a fool I was.”

Picture Herod’s life after he beheaded John. That will be your life, and even more terrible if you do not decide to leave the world and trust Jesus Christ, and give yourself to Him. I am not afraid of being charged of trying to scare you. I am definitely trying to frighten you. If the wondrous love of Jesus Christ does not attract you, I will do my best to frighten you with the horrors of a Christless eternity. Eternal guilt, eternal misery, unspeakable torment. That is what waits for all of you who fail to forsake everything and embrace Christ wholeheartedly. May Christ save you from your sin, as He is waiting to do. Come to Christ by faith and trust Him no matter what – and you will be saved. There is no other way. Amen. John Cagan, please come and lead us in prayer for someone to give their whole life to Jesus.


WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.

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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Almost Persuaded” (by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).