In my last post I addressed the question of whether followers of Jesus should vote. That brings up another important question. Who should we vote for?
I remember reading through the statewide voter guide before the 2003 special election for California Governor. Among the many candidate statements was one from Kevin Richter of Manteca, who described his qualifications as simply, “I breathe.” As bad as that was, it was better than the statement from candidate Trek Thunder Kelly of Venice, California, which began, “Dear Voters, Please vote for me, thus breaking the Seventh Seal and incurring Armageddon.” No, I didn’t vote for either of these guys, though 1,505 other people did.
It’s not always so easy to know who or what to vote for or against. Here are some simple suggestions to consider if you haven’t already cast your ballot:
- An online search will yield lots of information about candidates. Just enter their name in a search engine or on Youtube.
- Focus on a candidate’s proven values and character.
- Check out their leadership history and how they’ve voted or spoken on important issues.
- Don’t believe any campaign advertisements or mailers until you’ve checked their accuracy. And if they contain twists of the truth, what does that say about the person or group who made the ad or mailer?
- If there are election races or propositions that you don’t know anything about (which is probably the case on today’s long ballot) it’s better to skip them than to cast haphazard votes.
We would be especially wise to follow the advice that Moses received regarding the appointment of leaders to assist in governing the Israelites:
Exodus 18:21 “You shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”
Notice that these leaders were to be:
- out of all the people – Common people who understand common issues.
- able – Proven to be qualified for the task.
- fear God – Humbly submitted to God and His word.
- of truth – Completely honest, all the time.
- hate dishonest gain – Without a hint of corruption or greed.
- leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, of tens – Fit for this particular position.
Hmmm, … do you suppose that rules out Trek Thunder Kelly?
As we approach another election day, I have heard from some friends that they will definitely vote, and from others who say they won’t even bother. This brings up an important question: “Are we, as followers of Jesus, obligated to vote in public elections?”
The Bible does not directly address the question of voting, probably because voting as we know it was unheard of in biblical times. Nevertheless, some today would say that it is our obligation as Christians to vote since we live in a representative republic where voting is a civic duty, and so we must vote because God commands us to submit to our government leaders (Romans 13:1-2). Others would say that they feel free before God to abstain from voting, or maybe even a conviction to not participate in worldly government. Since there is no explicit biblical command regarding voting, and since our government makes it optional, I consider this decision to ultimately be a matter of personal conscience between each person and God.
At the same time, I believe it is foolish for us to not vote whenever we can. Here are six reasons:
First, God has blessed us with a unique and wonderful privilege. No people in history have had the opportunity to participate in their government as we can. Why would we neglect such a gift?
Second, the decisions our elected officials make can have an enormous impact on many people for good or for bad. Our vote is a way for us to uphold justice and righteousness, which God calls us to (Proverbs 21:3, Galatians 6:10).
Third, who in this world is in a better position to select good leaders than those who humbly and prayerfully submit to God and seek His wisdom (James 3:13-18)?
Fourth, for God’s people to abstain from voting is to invite tyranny, especially in a culture that seems to be increasingly hostile to people who follow Christ.
Fifth, just as Paul claimed his rights of Roman citizenship to avoid unjust punishment and advance the Gospel, so we would be wise to take advantage of all our rights to further God’s work in the world (Acts 16:35-40, Acts 22:25-29, Acts 25:6-12).
Finally, someone who does not vote does not have any right to ever complain about or criticize any decisions our elected officials make. This alone should be enough to drive many to the polling place!
What do you think? Can you think of any other reasons to vote … or not?
What do you do when a brother or sister in Christ starts to stumble in their relationship with the Lord? Galatians 6:1-10 has the answer.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load. 6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:1-10, ESV.)
(Message given by Frank Erb at Creekside Church in Rocklin, California on Sunday, September 14, 2014.)
Mark 6:14-32 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. 21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.
There were many leaders of Israel who were named “Herod,” several of whom are mentioned in the New Testament. The Herod of today’s passage is Herod Antipas. He ruled over the regions of Galilee and Perea from 6AD-39 AD, a time period that covered all but the first few years of Jesus’ earthly life.
HEROD ANTIPAS’ STRENGTHS:
Any leader who stays in one position for forty-two years must have some positive qualities, and Antipas was no exception.
- He was a capable economic leader. Archaeological excavations show that his region prospered during his reign, even in the rural areas where one might expect poverty.
- He led some large infrastructure projects. He was not much of a builder compared to his father, Herod the Great, but Antipas did restore the city of Sepphoris located three miles from Nazareth. He also built a new capital for Galilee on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, named Tiberias in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius had a palace, a stadium, and hot baths, but it was reportedly built over a cemetery and so many devout Jews refused to enter the city.
- He was politically astute. Unlike his brother and co-tetrarch, Herod Philip, Antipas took care not to offend his Jewish subjects with graven images and pictures of pagan temples on the coins he had minted.
- He was religious. He recognized that John the Baptist was close to God and he enjoyed listening to him teach (Mark 6:20).
HEROD ANTIPAS’ WEAKNESSES:
Though Antipas had some obvious strengths, today’s passage shows that he was also a man with many serious character flaws.
- He was overly-ambitious (6:14). In Mark 6:14, Antipas is called “King Herod,” since this is how he liked to be addressed, but this was a title he never actually held. His father, Herod the Great, had made it clear before he died that he wanted future leadership in Israel to be divided among his sons. Since Israel was a client state of Rome, Antipas and his brothers traveled there after their father’s death to receive their commissions. Antipas argued that he ought to inherit the whole kingdom, but his brothers maintained that their father’s will ought to be honored. The Emperor upheld Herod the Great’s wishes, and Antipas was appointed as a tetrarch (a ruler of a fourth) under Roman control (Luke 3:1). Years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Antipas traveled to Rome again, this time to request the right to use the title King. His request was denied by the Emperor. Furthermore, his brother, Agrippa, accused Antipas of stashing weapons and conspiring against Rome, upon which the Emperor removed him entirely from office.
- He was Guilt-ridden (6:14-16). Antipas thought Jesus was John the Baptist who had come back to life. This was a manifestation of his guilty conscience. He knew he had sinned against God by marrying Herodias and murdering John the Baptist. Instead of confessing his sin to the loving and merciful God, he tried unsuccessfully to repress his guilt.
As one commentator explains, “Whenever a man does an evil thing the whole world becomes his enemy. Inwardly, he cannot command his thoughts; and, whenever he allows himself to think, his thoughts return to the wicked thing that he has done. No man can avoid living with himself; and when his inward self is an accusing self, life becomes intolerable. Outwardly, he lives in the fear that he will be found out and that someday the consequences of his evil deed will catch up on him, in the uncertainty as to who knows what he has done. … Because the sinning life is the haunted life, sin is never worth the cost.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Mark 6:14-15, p 147.)
- He was immoral (6:17-18, 22). He divorced his wife and stole his brother’s wife (6:17-18), which was clearly against God’s law (Lev 18:16, 20:21). He also approved of his teenage step-daughter dancing seductively before his guests.
- He was impulsive (6:23). He made an outrageous public promise that he should never have made.
- He was Insecure and controlled by others (26). Antipas wanted desperately to be regarded as a great man and strong leader, but he was actually controlled by the opinions of others, especially that of his evil “wife,” Herodias. This explains why he made an impossible promise to Herodias’ daughter (“I will give you up to half of my kingdom”), when as a leader under Rome he had no authority to do so. It is also why he would not renege on this outrageous vow and lose face in front of those assembled at his birthday banquet. The historian Josephus adds that Antipas also feared that John was so popular with the people that he had the potential to raise a rebellion against him.
- He was persistently unrepentant. God is always merciful. About eighteen months after Antipas killed John the Baptist, the Messiah Jesus himself stood before him, giving him one more chance to repent. Had Antipas learned any lessons after his transgressions regarding John? Unfortunately, he had not. Luke 23:11 says, “And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Jesus with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.”
LIFE LESSONS FOR TODAY:
Jesus once warned his followers, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Perhaps by this he meant that all leaders could be tempted to follow the hypocritical and self-centered path of Antipas. Antipas certainly serves as a model for how some people function today. They compromise doing what is right whenever they fear that doing so might interfere with their personal or political ambitions. They may feel a tinge of guilt for their ungodly choices, but they quickly justify their behavior by saying they were backed into a corner by the expectations and demands of this or that person or group. In truth, they foolishly fear the rejection of men more than they fear the judgment of the holy God.
© 2014 Frank Erb
Mark 6:12-32 12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. 14 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. 21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.30 The apostles *gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He *said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
Today’s passage is a vivid example of the clash between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of heaven.
1. A Worldly King’s Reign (6:14 -16)
An identity problem: There were seven leaders named “Herod” mentioned in the Bible. All of them were part of the same family dynasty that ruled Israel for four generations. The ruler in today’s story is Herod Antipas. Antipas was obviously an insecure man, a weakness probably fueled by his desire to make a name for himself in a family that included so many powerful government leaders, especially his now deceased father, the famous “Herod the Great.”
An insecurity problem: In 6:14 he is referred to as “King Herod” because that was his self-designated title, but Antipas was not really a king. He was, in fact, a “tetrarch” (Matthew 14:1), which means a ruler over a fourth of the country. He and his brothers divided the rule of Israel, under the leadership of Rome. His territory included the regions of Galilee (northern part of Israel) and Perea (east of the Jordan river).
A moral problem: First-century historian Josephus explains that Herod Antipas visited his brother Phillip and his wife Herodias. Herodius, though married to Phillip, was actually Philip’s and Anitipas’s niece. Antipas and Herodius developed a relationship, and so Herodius left her husband/uncle Phillip and Antipas left his wife Phasaelis, and they married.
A fear problem: Antipas was controlled by his fear. He was afraid of his evil and power-hungry “wife” and afraid of his political reputation. If only he were more afraid of God.
2. A Heavenly Kingdom’s Response (6:17-18)
John the Baptist was the greatest man to ever live up to that day (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28). As such, we can learn much about how to serve God from his example.
Some people today say that John the Baptist’s speaking out about Herod’s sin shows that all Christians have a responsibility to engage in political activism against immoral leaders and laws, but a careful look at this passage shows that John was busy with something very different than that. He was instead engaged in personal pastoral ministry.
a. John called ALL Jews in Israel, not just Herod, to repent and follow God (Mark 1:5) If we are going to address the sins of government leaders, we should do the same regarding the sins of others too.
b. John was not giving speeches about Herod’s sin. He spoke “to” Herod (6:18, Matthew 14:4), not about Herod. When we have a concern about someone, we should speak to that person personally if possible, even if they are a powerful leader (Galatians 6:1).
c. John did not lambast Herod’s corrupt leadership Instead, he focused on personal repentance before God, probably referencing scriptures like Lev 18:16, 20:21 and others that addressed Herod’s specific sins.
d. John focused his ministry on the Jews, who were God’s chosen people entrusted with His word. There is no mention of him rebuking the well known atrocities of the Roman Emperor or the other Gentiles leaders and citizens in Israel, some of whom were far more immoral and corrupt than Antipas. In a similar way, we are today to address unrepentant sins in the lives of those who profess to follow Christ (1 Corinthians 5:9-13), but proclaim the Good News of salvation to unbelieving sinners.
e. Jesus did not speak to or about Herod at all. One time, Jesus implied that he was going to ignore him (Luke 13:31-32), which is exactly what he did later (Luke 23:8-9). Jesus knew that John had already preached to Herod, so to do so again would have been as pointless as “throwing pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6).
3. A Worldly King’s Reaction (6:19-28)
Antipas submitted to the demands of Herodias and had John arrested. He was then able to hear from John often (6:20), This was his big opportunity! The greatest prophet ever other than Christ was preaching to him! What a privilege! As Charles Spurgeon said, “Alas! the gospel seldom climbs the high places of rank and dignity. It is a great act of mercy towards nobles and princes, when they have the opportunity of hearing a faithful gospel discourse.”
Instead, Herod had John killed. Why? Pride: His ego was too big to admit his sin. Politics: He was too worried about appearing to be a weak leader if he confessed he had made a bad public promise. Cowardice: He was too fearful of Herodius’ to do the right thing.
God, in his mercy, gave Herod one more chance to repent. About eighteen months later, the Messiah Himself stood before Herod (Luke 23). Sadly, Herod on this day made friends with the Roman prefect of Judea, Pilot, as they united in their mutual rejection of Jesus (Luke 23:12).
4. A Heavenly Kingdom’s Reward (6:29-32)
Years later, Herod Antipas and Herodius traveled to Rome to request the right for him to be officially titled “King” over his territory. Instead, the Emperor removed him from office. Antipas and Herodius moved out of their country and into historical obscurity. As far as we know, they never did submit to God.
And what of John the Baptist? No sane person desires martyrdom, but moments after his head was removed from his body he entered into the glorious presence of the Lord where he lives now and where he will enjoy a rich future forever.
And so today, we each choose our path. Will we go Herod’s way, which is the way of this world? Or John the Baptist’s way, and enjoy a heavenly kingdom’s reward? Herod and John made their choices. Now it’s your turn.
(A printable formatted copy of this and other Capitol Bible Studies is available online at www.capitolcom.org/california/studies. Audio recordings of some Bible studies are also at www.frankerb.com or soundcloud.com/frankerb1.)
(c) 2014 Frank Erb
I enjoyed teaching last sunday at Grace Brethren Church of Chico, California, on the topic of “The Priority and Power of the Gospel.”
In Acts 25 we find the apostle Paul in Caesarea, called from prison, where he had been held for over two years, to appear before Festus, the new Roman governor of Judea; King Herod Agrippa; and an assortment of other influential and immoral Roman, Jewish, military, and civic leaders. In this message, we observe Paul’s priorities in this critical moment. We see that Paul understood his mission, and we ask ourselves whether we understand ours.
Mark 6:10-11 “And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.”
In first-century Jewish culture, shaking the dust off your feet was a commonly understood form of separation and renunciation. In fact, whenever Jewish people traveling outside of Israel returned to their country they would shake their feet and clothes free of Gentile dust as they crossed the border home, so as to not spiritually “pollute” their homeland.
Jesus was here instructing his disciples to denounce any in Israel that rejected their teaching, and in so doing to demonstrate to the hearers that, though they were Jewish, they were essentially pagan at heart, having heard the message of God but rejected it.
Matthew Henry in his famous 17th century commentary says that dusting feet off “was to signify that they were base and vile as dust, and that God would shake them off. The dust of the apostles’ feet, which they left behind them, would witness against them, and be brought in as evidence, that the gospel had been preached to them, … They who despise God and His gospel shall be lightly esteemed.”
Jesus himself often strongly pronounced God’s judgment on those who rejected his message, comparing unfavorably even to sinning Gentiles.
- Matthew 11:20-24 “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
The disciples took Christ’s instruction and example to heart, and we later see the Apostle Paul repeating it:
- Acts 13:50 “But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.”
- Acts 18:5-6 “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
APPLICATION FOR US:
More than one person who works in the Capitol has confessed to me that they dust their clothes off when they leave the building each day. Here are some other applications to consider:
1. As Listeners
It is a sobering thought to realize that God will ultimately “dust his feet” off towards those who rejects his offer of salvation through Christ, even if they are devout and religious. God is reaching out to us now, calling us to yield to Him. We will only get so many chances, and we should not toy with His patience. As Romans 11:22 warns, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off”
2. As Preachers
How do we know when to “dust off our feet,” so to speak towards a person or a place? Here are some biblical principles that might prove helpful:
- We stick to one message. We do not change the message to try to attract people. Rather, we stay true the Lord’s message of salvation through faith in Christ for all who believe and repent, as the Apostles did, and we leave the results to God.
- We offer the Good News to everyone. The disciples spread out to bring the good news to all. In the same way, we must not presume to know who will respond to the Gospel. Sometimes, those we would expect to be most interested are not and those who we would expect to have no interest do. Like the farmer who scattered seed widely (Matthew 13), so we tell everyone the good news.
- We force it on no one. Jesus made this point clear here and also in Matthew 7:6. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Wild dogs and swine were considered unclean and dangerous animals to be avoided. When we encounter people who violently reject the Gospel, we should not feel compelled to continue to preach to them. Doing so may only inflame their rage more and does neither them nor us any good.
- We can be patient. The apostles did not wait long to decide whether they would move on from a town. Since Jesus had instructed them to not take any money or food and to arrange no lodging, they were completely reliant upon a receptive household. If no one responded, their very survival prompted them to move immediately. On the other hand, God also demonstrates great patience to sinners. Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”, Isaiah 65:2 “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people.”, 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Some of the Old Testament Prophets spent years crying out to an unresponsive nation. So, we must seek God’s wisdom for when to dust off our feet in a particular place.
- We don’t judge preachers by responders. Jesus and the apostles found much receptivity in some towns, but no response at all in other places. So today, some minister in areas that are more spiritually receptive than others. Our job is only to faithfully and accurately convey his message, and entrust the results to the hearers and to God (1 Corinthians 3:6).
(A printable formatted copy of this and other Capitol Bible Studies is available online at http://www.capitolcom.org/california/studies.
(c) 2014 Frank Erb