马太福音 14:1-12 那时，分封的王希律听见耶稣的名声， 就对臣仆说：“这是施洗的约翰从死里复活，所以这些异能从他里面发出来。” 起先，希律为他兄弟腓力的妻子希罗底的缘故，把约翰拿住，锁在监里。 因为约翰曾对他说：“你娶这妇人是不合理的。” 希律就想要杀他，只是怕百姓，因为他们以约翰为先知。 到了希律的生日，希罗底的女儿在众人面前跳舞，使希律欢喜。 希律就起誓，应许随她所求的给她。 女儿被母亲所使，就说：“请把施洗约翰的头放在盘子里，拿来给我。” 王便忧愁，但因他所起的誓，又因同席的人，就吩咐给她； 于是打发人去，在监里斩了约翰， 把头放在盘子里，拿来给了女子；女子拿去给她母亲。 约翰的门徒来，把尸首领去埋葬了，就去告诉耶稣。
为什么马太要记录这个故事呢?它能够帮助我们看到那个时代耶稣的生活、传道……和死亡的潜在文化背景。难道约翰做了什么该死的事? 答案是没有。那耶稣又做了什么该死的事吗? 没有人比耶稣过着更敬虔的生活。他的生活充满了善举。为什么他必须死呢? 我们是知道原因的。耶稣必须在神面前为我们的罪付上代价。无辜的神的儿子被交在彼拉多和希律这样的人手下，好叫他为我们受苦，为我们的罪死亡。
Matthew 14: 1-12: At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. 6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
What a sad story! The brutality of it is almost too much to hear. It reminds us of the sins we see in the world. Power and corruption. Drinking and lewd behavior. Oaths taken carelessly. Personal “honor” elevated about what is right and wrong. No respect for human life. Disregard for marriage vows. Religion considered a nuisance. It seems that the world was not that different in Jesus’ day as it is in our day. Just another episode in Games of Thrones.
So why does Matthew record this story? It helps us see the underlying culture in which Jesus lived and preached … and died. What did John do to deserve death? Nothing. What did Jesus do to deserve death? Nothing. There was never a person who lived a more godly life than Jesus did. His life was filled with acts of kindness. Why did he have to die? We know the reason. Jesus had to answer for our sins before God. The innocent Son of God was handed over to men like Pilate and Herod so that he could suffer and die for us.
The story also gives us a warning. The Christian faith is no more acceptable in our culture today then it was in Jesus’ day. We will always be at odds with the world. There are many today who are dying for their faith. There were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in the last two thousand years since Jesus rose. Is it worth it to believe in Jesus and to be unashamed of our faith? To coin an expression, “It’s worth dying for.”
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I am thankful for all those who have gone before me who have risked and gave their lives to proclaim the gospel. Make me strong in my generation to be unashamed of my faith and to be bold in proclaiming the good news of your salvation to the world. Amen.