Queen Herodias doesn't like being called a tramp. And that's what starts happening in the gossip circles when John rebukes her husband for marrying her.
But this chick knows how to get revenge. She gets her daughter to do a strip tease before the drunk King and his buddies (yes, his stepdaughter) and uses that whole daytime talk show scenario to manipulate her husband into getting John topless in the worst possible way.
We might hear the pundits of the day commenting, ‘If only John had stuck to that nice, charitable “share what you have” sermon and left people’s sex lives alone, he might’ve been ok. Why did have to go there?’
Sermonising Sexual Sin?
We might ask a similar question about the church today: Is speaking out on sexual sin central to our mission? Is it a small thing we can sweep under the rug, keep for closed room conversations, or agree to disagree on?
Many say, ‘yes’. They reason that people need a new heart more than controlled genitalia. They rightly point out that huge amount of social and political controversy that has circled marriage and sexual related issues over the last many decades: no fault divorce, unmarried couples living together, abortion, trans issues, ‘gay marriage’, etc. Wading into these waters will only distract from the simple message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. And we want to be known for what we’re for rather than what we’re against. Right?
The reasoning makes sense. We don’t want to distract from the gospel. But this begs the question: what is our gospel?
Repent of Wot?
Jesus said that the gospel was one of ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins.’ If that is the case, our first question must be, what are we calling people to repent of and seek forgiveness for?’
And this is where preachers get into holy trouble. They stop speaking in milquetoast platitudes and start getting specific about sin. John gave out specific advice to specific people about what they needed to repent of. There was no, ‘Everyone just stop being selfish and grumpy’ type preaching.
John told the soldiers to repent of abusing their authority. He told the rich to share. He told the non-rich to be content with their wages (an affront to both capitalist and socialist narratives). And to the King who was living openly and unrepentantly in the tolerated sexual sin of the day?
'Yes, you too must repent your highness.'
The early church preached a confrontational message to its surrounding culture. What was one of the chief social sins of the day? It was Emperor worship. People were allowed to worship other gods, as long as they also burned incense to Caesar and say, ‘Caesar is Lord’.
But the message of the early church was that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and Jesus was preached as Lord as the gospel spread outside of the Roman Empire and he is still Lord now that the reign of the Caesars has ended. Jesus wasn't 'anti-Empire' any more than he was pro-Empire in that political sense.
But in the context of Roman culture, the Lordship of Caesar was an idol that was particularly opposed to the gospel. The apostles knew that if repentance were to be real in their context, they must confront that idol.
And yes, there were other cultural idols as well. The other big sins of Roman culture were greed and sexual immorality and they were addressed in the apostle's letters.
And what are the big cultural idols of our day? We have more than one. Money is certainly up there. Politics too. But they are not alone. The idol of unfettered orgasm drives us as a culture. The perceived right to have sex with who I want and when I want – in a consensual relationship – is taken for granted.
John’s Gospel (the other John) tells us that ‘Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light’. When light shines down on that which is shameful in our culture, we hate it, and do all we can to argue and reason against it. This is why Jezebel wielded all her manipulative trickery with Ahab – even to the point of pimping out her own daughter.
The result of John’s preaching was his death. Very few sermons on Sunday ever get near the point of being dangerous. Why is that? Is our culture less wicked than that of the Romans? Have we found a nicer way to present the gospel than John and the martyred apostles?
When preaching gets specific, things get intense; people then get defensive, and prophets lose their heads.
(see part one)
(see part one)