17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus expected His apostles to understand His warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, but they were only thinking about physical bread (Mark 8:14-16). He said their hearts were “still hardened” because they could not perceive (understand) the meaning of His warning. They needed to comprehend the corrupting influence of their error, immorality, and hypocrisy (Matt. 16:11-12; Luke 12:1). Here is a lesson on being distinctive hearers. It matters how we hear Christ’s word. Jesus said, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). The Pharisees disputed with Jesus and rejected His signs (Mark 8:11-12). Like their forefathers, they were “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51-52). We must have open hearts to receive the gospel of Christ, lest the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians corrupt us. (Demanding preaching that scratches itching ears still happens, 2 Tim. 4:3-4.) When we resist the word of Christ, we are disputing with and testing Jesus just like the unbelieving Pharisees (Mark 8:11). May we humbly, reverently, and obediently accept the word of Christ. We understand Christ’s teachings when our will is to do the will of God (John 7:16-17; Eph. 3:3-4; Heb. 5:12-14). Open your heart to the gospel of Christ, and you will be blessed (Acts 17:11-12).
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28–29, NKJV).
Roman authorities had already imprisoned Paul for more than two years (Acts 24:27). Now, before the Roman governor Festus and King Herod Agrippa II, Paul defended his faith and the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 25:21-26:23). His compelling rehearsal of Christ’s appearance, appointment, and commission of Paul as an apostle, coupled with his obedient preaching to the Gentiles, supported his conclusion that the gospel fulfilled Moses and the prophets. Festus rejected the gospel out of hand, but Herod, who believed the prophets and had witnessed the events of which Paul spoke, was almost persuaded by the apostle’s words of “truth and reason” (Acts 26:24-28). Although imprisoned, Paul was genuinely free while his audience was in sin’s bondage (John 8:32, 34, 36). Paul was not vindictive, bitter, and hateful over his false imprisonment. He did not rail at Festus and Agrippa. Instead, he desired their salvation. Paul’s defense became an opportunity to preach the saving gospel for their benefit. Even so, may we not be blinded by the injustices of others. Our desire must ever be their salvation in Christ. We must continue to “speak the truth in love” as Paul did that day (Eph. 4:15). Some will be persuaded, obey the gospel, and be saved from sin (Acts 28:30-31; Phil. 1:13; 4:22).
16 But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. 18 Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:16–18, NKJV).
Herod thought John had risen from the dead when he heard about the healing powers of Jesus. John was a fearless preacher of righteousness who lost his head, literally. Would your preacher do what John did? (1) John lost his head because he dared to condemn adultery (Mark 6:18). Because of his rebuke, Herodias was enraged and wanted to kill him (Mark 6:19-20). Today, many preachers approve or accommodate adulterous marriages with preaching that sanctions divorce for any reason and remarriage with impunity (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-6, 9). Like John, we must condemn adultery (including sinful remarriages), not comfort those practicing it (Heb. 13:4). (2) John lost his head because of a rash vow (Mark 6:21-26). Herod swore up to half of his kingdom to Herodias’s daughter, driven by fleshly pleasure when he saw her dance. John’s head was on the line. Herod was sorry, but he was too proud to recant. Tongue control still begins with heart control (Matt. 12:35-37). (3) John lost his head because of a dancing daughter (Mark 6:22). Please note, Herod did not dance, but he watched it. Modern dances still incite lustful thoughts leading to lewd conduct (Gal. 5:19; Rom. 13:13). If you don’t go into a burning house to watch the flames, then don’t go to the dance floor (or turn on the TV) just to watch it (Job 31:1-4). How many preachers today would lose their heads in Herod’s court?
15 Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” 16 Thus says the Lord: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come back to their own border.” (Jeremiah 31:15–17, NKJV)
The horrors of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.) and exile were followed by a remnant of the people returning to their land (Ezra 1-2). God gave hope to the exiled people through Jeremiah, assuring them their “work shall be rewarded” and “your children shall come back to their own border.” It is telling the Lord said their “work” would be rewarded. (See Jeremiah 29:1-11 for a description of their “work” and God’s promised reward.) Many teach any rewarded work of man is meritorious and against the purpose of God. This verse teaches otherwise. So, the “faith only” people have a problem because Jeremiah said God would reward their work. There are Messianic undertones to the passage. Matthew applied verse 15 directly to Herod’s slaughter of the young male children in Bethlehem and its districts (Matt. 2:16-18). Jesus survived that horrific event, and our hope is redemption from sin’s captivity in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-2, 8-11). Works of faith do not merit the reward God promises us any more than the remnant’s faith earned their return to the land. Works of obedience show our faith in God and the hope we have in Jesus (Jas. 2:17-18; Heb. 10:36-11:1). Remember, God rewards the faithful (Heb. 11:6).
22 And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” 23 He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” 24 So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” (Mark 6:22–24, NKJV)
John the Baptist was a preacher who lost his head because he dared to speak truth to powerful sinners. I wonder how many preachers would lose their heads under similar circumstances today. 1) John lost his head because he preached against adultery (Mk. 6:17-18). It was a sin for Herod and Herodias to be married. Both of them had previous spouses whom they divorced, then married each other (Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, 18.5.1, 4). Today, many preachers encourage churches to receive into fellowship those who are in adulterous remarriages in violation of Matthew 19:9. 2) John lost his head because of a rash vow (Mk. 6:23). Rash promises often lead to foolish actions (Matt. 14:9). We should think before we speak (Jas. 1:19-20). 3) John lost his head because of a dancing daughter (Mk. 6:22). Dancing continues to stir sinful lusts of the flesh and eye (Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5; 1 Jno. 2:15-16). Herodias’ parental permission precipitated passion in Herod, leading to his rash oath and John’s death. Dancing still incites lusts in participants and those who watch it. Yet, many Christians approve of it. Would our head be on a platter next to John’s for preaching God’s truth to powerful sinners (Mk. 6:27-28)?