17For Herod had sent and seized John and bound him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18Because John told Herod that it was wrong to take his brother’s wife. 19And Herodias hated him, and wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. 20For Herod was afraid of John, because he knew that he was a righteous and holy man. But he kept John locked up, and listened to him, even though he was deeply troubled by what John said. — Mark 6:17-20
For the last couple of days we’ve talked about listening when God has a message for us. Today’s text gives us an example of listening, but not a good one!
People who have come to me for prayer or have Bible questions very often are looking for guidance from God. They want God to tell them what to do. But I’ve noticed that while some genuinely don’t know what the right thing to do is, with a little discussion and thinking, most actually do know, but they’re hoping to hear something else. I remember once myself that I was diligently seeking guidance from the Lord. I knew I hadn’t heard anything, not so much as a vague impression. Then suddenly one morning in my time of prayer it hit me. There was a right thing to do and a wrong thing, and I needed no other guidance. I simply hadn’t looked at the problem from the proper angle to see that one of the options I was considering was wrong.
Herod is in a situation that is troubling to him. He’s done something wrong and John the Baptist has called him on it. As a powerful ruler, Herod didn’t have to put up with such things. He could call for the accuser’s head and thus deal with the accusation. But Herod does what we often do. He sets it aside and doesn’t take action. Herodias wants John dead, but Herod won’t do it. Why?
I think it’s clear that Herod knows that John the Baptist is right. He knows that John is a godly man. So he compromises. He doesn’t act on what John has said to him, but he also doesn’t execute him. He goes and listens to him, even though he’s troubled by what he hears. By keeping the messenger locked up he keeps the message locked up, and he doesn’t have to act. So he toy’s with God’s messenger and God’s message.
Now there’s such a thing as (patiently?) waiting on God’s timing, but there’s also procrastinating when you know what is right. While you procrastinate, you may be thinking that you haven’t rejected God’s message. No, you’ve just set it aside to think about. You’ll do the right thing, but you’ll do it later.
Beware of Herod’s trap. Somewhere, sometime, you are going to act on the message. You may just let it slide into oblivion, or you may be trapped, like Herod, into forcefully rejecting both message and messenger. God’s word doesn’t go back to him empty, but accomplishes what he sent it to do (Isaiah 55:11). That doesn’t mean that you get the blessing, however. God’s word may accomplish its mission through somebody else.
Do you have any of God’s messages or messengers held in prison? No, I know you don’t have a jail to lock them up physically. But are you procrastinating about things that you know are right? Let the word out of prison before you are manipulated into carrying out an execution!