“What will my friends think?” This pressing question is constantly swirling in the head of one known as a people pleaser. The clothes they wear, who they sit with at lunch, the college they attend, the person they marry – in short, almost everything they do, every decision they make is calculated to please other people, with the ultimate desire…to have their approval and praise.
Herod, of course, is one of the great people-pleasers of history, and his antics are on full display in Matthew 14. He was called Herod Antipas, or just Antipas, and was the Roman ruler over Galilee and Perea for most of Jesus’ life and ministry. One of three sons of Herod the Great, Antipas shared the rule of Palestine with his two brothers.
And undoubtedly he had very poor relations with one of these, his brother Phillip, for on a trip to Rome, Antipas met Phillip’s wife Herodias and “fell in love.” He subsequently divorced his own wife and married her.
But unfortunately for Herod, John the Baptist didn’t have a people-pleasing bone in his body, and the prophet of the Jordan River did not hesitate to call him on it:
…John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.
Matthew 14:4-5 (ESV)
John said a loud “No!” to this union, and Herod locked him up for it, but he feared the people…so he didn’t put him to death. That motive worked for a time, until as the story relates, another desire to please people took over, and through a series of events including a sultry dance and a foolish promise, he heeded the request of an adolescent girl:
Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.
Matthew 14:8-9 (ESV)
Behold Ladies and Gentlemen: Herod the not-so-great, refraining from killing a man because he wanted to make the people happy, and then killing the same man, because…he wanted to make the people happy. Talk about a buffeted life. You might call Herod a pinball, and the people around him? They controlled the flippers.
But as we sit in judgment of Herod, don’t we have to admit that we’ve all been there to one degree or another? We’ve all been there because all of us have had the sense that if only our friends approved, or the “important” people liked what we did, all would be well, and we would be finally happy. And our search for pleasure in the opinions of others has repeatedly ended only in pain. So into our foolishness, the great prophet Isaiah warned,
“Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils, for why should he be esteemed?”
Isaiah 2:22 (NASB)
Herod would eventually be exiled, punished by Emperor Gaius – the one man he would apparently not be able to please. But before that, this same Herod Antipas would encounter another Prophet…at the kangaroo court of the Son of God (Luke 23:6 – 12). Herod would question Jesus at length, and receive only silence. Of course we know better, but you might almost wonder if the conversation lagged because they really had nothing to talk about. For the one who could only ask, “What will make the people happy?” had nothing at all in common with the One who could only ask…“What will please my Heavenly Father?”
Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 21: Matthew 15