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A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
and given by Jack Ngann, Pastor
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, July 7, 2024

Today I am going to give you an evangelistic sermon which is adapted from one given by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1933. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. A great revival accompanied his preaching in the early 1930s. I have abbreviated the sermon and adapted it to twenty-first century thought.

“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; p. 1052 Scofield).

I never read these verses about King Herod without feeling that this is one of the saddest and most terrible passages in the New Testament. As I read about Herod my emotions constantly change. At one moment, I feel sorry for him in his difficulties. The next moment he makes me angry and I think he is one of the greatest fools spoken of in Scripture. But there is always one main feeling I have when I read about Herod. That feeling is one of amazement that it is possible for a person to come so close to being right and yet missing the mark. That is the main part of the story of Herod, full as it is of dramatic power and intensity. And it is to that point that I would draw your attention today. You may come very close to being right and yet miss the mark. Without any further introduction I will bring out that point, which seems to me inevitably true in view of what we read here in the sixth chapter of Mark.

I. First, you must make a clear-cut choice to become a Christian.

Christ calls you to make up your mind and take a definite stand regarding the gospel. That is the key to understanding this whole sad and sordid story. Herod wavered back and forth and never really decided what to do. But John the Baptist’s preaching demanded that people make a clear choice. John the Baptist gave a clear-cut message and he called for a definite response. His preaching was so forceful and convincing that people actually cried out, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10). John the Baptist’s preaching forced them to make a choice. When Christ came, you find that He preached the same way. He gave the people a clear choice. He told them they were either on the broad way to Hell or the narrow way to Heaven. He said they were either building on sand or on the rock. He said they were either trusting God or Mammon, and He called on them to either trust Him or reject Him. And as you read about His ministry you will notice that the people were forced to take sides, either for Him or against Him. His preaching forced people to make a clear-cut choice.

And as you read the Book of Acts you find the same thing. Do you remember how 3,000 men changed sides on the day of Pentecost? They were forced to say, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Yes! And all the way through the Book of Acts you find people compelled to make a clear choice. In the very last chapter of Acts we see that Paul’s preaching in Rome divided the people into two groups – those who believed and those who did not believe. And as you read the history of Christianity through the centuries, you will find that, during every period of power and strength, the preaching has driven people to make a choice.

This is a weakness in modern preaching. Many people are infuriated today if the preaching tells them to make a clear-cut choice. They seem to think that the purpose of preaching is to teach them a few facts from the Bible, or make them feel good. They think that preaching should tell what God does for us, without us having to do anything at all, something that gives all and demands nothing in return.

But this story of Herod and John the Baptist shows us the utter falseness of that kind of preaching, and reminds us that the gospel demands that we choose sides. May I ask you a simple question before we go any farther? Has the gospel led to a change in the way you live? Has it affected you and moved you to definite action? Has there been any change in your life? Remember, you must make a clear-cut choice to become a real Christian.

II. Second, nothing short of a clear-cut choice has any value.

This is evident and clear in the case of Herod. He was a man who enjoyed the preaching and liked the preacher. He listened carefully to John the Baptist’s preaching. And he liked John the Baptist. And yet the whole point of this story is that none of this did Herod any good. In the end he was in the same position as the bitterest of enemies of John. The preaching did him no good. His life was not changed.

The same thing has happened today, in the life of our nation. In the past several years there have been great meetings, stadiums filled to hear preachers, super churches broadcasting around-the-clock. Yet during this time the moral tone of our country has descended to its lowest point and Christianity has become its weakest in the life of the nation. Why is this? Surely there is only one answer. The effect of all this preaching has not led to true conversions. And therefore it has all been quite useless and ineffectual. In fact, it has been harmful.

There is only one true test which we can apply to preaching and Bible teaching. It is not whether I enjoy it, nor whether I like it and agree with it. Oh, no! The real test is this – has it led me to make a choice? Have I been converted by it? Has it led to action that affected my whole life? If that hasn’t happened, then all this preaching and Bible teaching is quite useless. Nothing short of a clear-cut choice has any value.

III. Third, there is something unusually sad and pathetic about
people who have “almost decided” to become Christians.

Some people actively oppose the gospel. Others are indifferent when they hear it. But people who are like Herod are different. When they hear the gospel, they are moved and affected. They feel they should give in to it and are almost ready to do so. And yet they never quite get there. They always seem to be wavering, at the edge of conversion. Just a little more and they would get there. But it never happens. What a strange type of person this is, and how sad and pathetic! I sometimes feel these are the most miserable type of all. Since there are probably many people like that here today, I want us to think about this strange position and show its terrible falsehoods and hopeless unreasonableness. What was it that brought Herod so near to salvation? Precisely the same reasons account for the fact that so many are “almost Christians,” but remain lost. What are they?

First, Herod was impressed with John the Baptist, “For he feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and an holy.” Whatever we might think about Herod we must give him full credit for that. He recognized that John the Baptist was a just and holy man. Many had failed to recognize that, but Herod had seen it. He felt that a man like John could not be brushed off and ignored. Herod’s wife had not realized that, and she had often pleaded with Herod to kill John. I think it is clear that she had often tried to destroy John in spite of Herod. For we read that Herod “observed him” which means “looked after him” or “kept him safely.” Herod saw clearly that John was a man of God, and he respected him and even went to visit him in prison. Something like that happens today with those who are “almost” Christians. They are charmed by the Christian character. They see certain Christians and they admit they are the best people they know. More than that, they admire these Christians. And when they read the life-stories of great Christians like Hudson Taylor, Wesley and Whitefield, Bunyan, John Knox, Luther and Calvin, Augustine and others, why, they feel that these men are the greatest people the world has ever known. And when they read their biographies they feel they would like to be like them. Their hearts are warmed and moved, a thrill passes through them, and they feel that this is the kind of life they should also lead. And when they come to the New Testament and confront the heroic figures of Peter and Paul they are simply overwhelmed. And when, beyond these, they look at Jesus of Nazareth, and they observe His kindness and gentleness, His mighty power, His complete obedience to God, and when they see Him dying on the Cross, without any complaint, for a world of sinners that abused Him, why, they cannot help feeling great emotion. Let that be said to Herod’s credit – he realized the greatness of John the Baptist and that fact alone had influenced him.

Furthermore, Herod knew that what John said was true and right. He even agreed with John. And he liked to hear John preach. Here is the phrase, “And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20). Every time he sat and listened to John he felt that what he said was right and true. Obviously what the man said was absolutely true, and having heard him, Herod “did many things.” Haven’t you experienced something like that? Don’t you agree that the gospel is essentially true and right? Is there anything to be said against it? What can you really say against a gospel which offers you pardon and forgiveness – and offers you a new life? As Herod sat and listened to John, he knew John was right. A man like that is at least alive. He recognizes the truth of the gospel and admits that it is right, even though that means that he condemns himself.

But there is a clear indication that something else was working on Herod – and that was a definite spirit of conviction. There was something beyond liking the preacher and agreeing with him that affected Herod. “He heard him gladly.” Again and again Herod would go down to the prison to visit John and listen to him. He knew he was displeasing his wife and most of the members of his court. Yet he continued to go. There was a strange fascination for him in the prison with its remarkable prisoner and his extraordinary preaching. He felt himself drawn there. He knew what he would hear before he went, he knew the preaching would condemn him, nevertheless he went. He felt something drawing him there, something almost irresistible. He just couldn’t keep away. “He heard him gladly.” How are we to explain that? I think there is only one explanation – it was the work of the Spirit of God. Some of you here today feel the same thing when you hear gospel preaching. You are convicted of sin, you feel the truth of the gospel, you hear the sermons gladly, and you enjoy coming to church. Like Herod of old, you are listening to the gospel and feeling its effects upon your soul. Those then are some of the reasons which almost brought Herod to the point of conversion. And those are the reasons some of you are “almost” Christians – the Christian testimony and witness, the truth, and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. And yet, what is truly astonishing is that all this leads to nothing. So near and yet so far! It seems almost unbelievable that a man could experience so much and yet do what Herod did to John afterwards. He actually went on to behead John. Yet such was the case. Why was it? How do we explain him? How to we understand those who are like him?

IV. Fourth, there are several reasons indecisive people
are not converted.

The first is that they never think things through. Herod was a slave to his environment. He was too much controlled by what was happening to him at any given moment. While he was listening to John the Baptist he forgot about his wife Herodias. But while listening to Herodias he forgot what John had said. It is not enough to say that he was a shallow person, for that does not get at the root of his problem. There was something more than that. Herod had a spiritual laziness, a dislike of making decisions. He disliked making a decision which might lead to difficulties. So, he did not follow John’s argument all the way through to its logical conclusion. If he had done that it would have led to a definite action on his part. But he didn’t. Almost as soon as he left John in the prison, he forgot all about what he had heard John preach. And so it continued – until he came back to the prison and heard John again. And then he repeated the whole experience. He felt it deeply when he heard the sermon, but he never worked it out in his life. If he had thought it through, and worked it out, he would have said something like this, “John is right and I am wrong. What John says is true. What I have said and done is therefore wrong. The only way to be true to myself and my conscience is to make a clear-cut choice, even though it seems difficult.”

Isn’t that unquestionable? Yet that is the very thing some of you will not do! Have you ever thought it through like that? Have you ever thought through the gospel to its logical conclusion in your life? If not, do it now. Here is the argument. See how simple and how logical it is. There is a God, the eternal Judge. Here am I, a sinner. God demands certain things from me and has made them very clear in His law. My own conscience agrees with that. I must come before Him at the Last Judgment. No matter what I do, that cannot be avoided. And I am guilty, and I am told in the Bible that damnation and Hell await me. But now I have heard the gospel, which tells me that Christ died to pay for my sins, and that God is ready to pardon and forgive me, and that He calls on me to turn away from my sin and give myself definitely to Christ. It is the only way out, the only way to safety. Not only that, I believe it and believe it to be right. But the gospel asks me to give myself entirely to Christ, whatever that may involve. Refusal means eternal damnation. Acceptance means eternal life. I do not know how long I will live. I have no control over the length of my life. But the offer of salvation is open now, at this present moment. Surely the only sensible thing to do is to act at once, right now. Going home and forgetting all about it will not change the facts. The facts will remain the same. Oh! Be logical! Do the only sensible thing! Act on your convictions. If you feel that it is right now, then it will always be right. Right is right and wrong is wrong. If you feel that the gospel is true, if you want to be saved, do so and do so now, at once. See how inconsistent, how illogical, how unreasonable, how ridiculous it is to recognize what is right and then remain ambivalent, and persist in the wrong.

Another key to understanding Herod is his love of his favorite sin. I cannot but feel that his real stumblingblock was his illegal marriage to Herodias. I need not go farther into that. We are told that “when he heard him, he did many things.” Ah, yes, I can well believe it and easily understand it. “He did many things.” Yes! Everything but the one thing that was most important, and that he should have done above all others. Yes! He did many things, but he never did the one thing God wanted him to do. He never gave up the immoral life and illegal attachment to Herodias. Do I need to apply what I am trying to say? Is it not always the same with people who are almost Christians? You do this and that. You give up this and that. You are ready to do almost anything except give yourself up entirely to Christ, to put His finger on anything He likes in your life. And yet that is the condition. What is it that you are holding back? Examine yourself. Be wise and let it go! Are you going to risk your eternal future for one thing, something that you already know is wrong? “Many things” are not enough. Christ wants your entire submission, your entire will.

The only other thing I wish to refer to is found in verse 26, where we are told that “for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him,” he failed to reject Herodias’ daughter’s request for John the Baptist to be beheaded. Ah! There it is – he was worried about his own reputation and the opinion of others. He knew these people were wrong. He knew John was right. But He loved popularity so much that he sacrificed the right for the sake of the wrong. He refused Christ and eternal salvation out of fear of what others would think! Oh, the madness of it all! Even if the whole world laughs and jeers at you, even though everyone thinks you are insane, what does it matter as long as you are right with God? For He is the Judge!

Let me now draw some obvious conclusions from this story.

1. The first is that all the good feelings and actions you have are of no value unless you definitely choose Christ. Not to choose Him is to be against Him. Do what God tells you. Believe on His Son, and show the whole world that you have done so, no matter what happens.

2. The only other conclusion is a terrible one, and, in a sense, I would rather not mention it. But there it is in the Bible and it is true. Once a man has felt that the gospel is right and true he will never have rest or peace until he has given himself to Christ completely. Poor Herod! How terrible his life was after he beheaded John. The thought of John haunted and tormented his life. Awake and sleeping he always saw that charger coming toward him with the head of John the Baptist in it. Wherever he was, there it was in his mind. And when he heard of the mighty works of Jesus Christ, he was quite sure that it was John, risen again from the dead. Though you reject the truth you are not finished with it. It remains, and it will haunt you and condemn you for ever. It will give you no rest or peace. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and rose again to save you, but if you do not believe on Him, He will become your damnation. Try to picture Herod’s life after he beheaded John. That will be your life as well, but even worse and more terrible, if you do not choose Christ. I am not afraid of being charged with trying to frighten you – for I am definitely trying to do so. If the love of God in Christ Jesus is not enough to attract you, then I value your soul enough to alarm you with a sight of the terrors of Hell. Eternal remorse, eternal misery, eternal wretchedness, unchangeable torment – such is the lot of all who never embrace Christ with a whole heart. May He save you from it, as He is indeed waiting to do. For His name’s sake. Amen.