Engage the Word: Power Play
As Engage the Word presses on we meet John (the baptizer), son of Zechariah the priest. His dad was a priest in the temple. But that just wasn’t his style. (Think: Billy Graham’s son smuggling Bibles into Turkey). A bit more brash. Having a bit of a problem with stuffed-shirt bureaucrats and hypocrites. We learned earlier that John was Jesus’ “cousin” through his earthly mother. Quite a pair these two. Born 6 months apart. Probably not your typical play dates when they got together. It says John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Everyone told the story of his father’s vision and the special joy surrounding his birth. He didn’t have a self-esteem problem. More importantly he saw God’s vision for a new kind of Kingdom. One where nobody’s good enough but everybody’s welcome on their knees. Repent! Get right with God because he’s about to show up big time! He was an outsider who wasn’t caught up in the system. This blew everyone’s mind. So they listened. What he said made sense. Lots of people came out. Lots of people repented. John still gave people a hard time and said this better not be for show! “it’s not how wet you get, it’s how straight you walk on land!” (slight paraphrase!) He had spiritual authority and people listened.
But Herod Antipas had power. And he got it the old-fashioned way. His father, Herod the “Great”, paid for it! A weasel of the highest degree, Herod the “Great” was not fully Jewish and had bribed and betrayed his way to earthly power. He completely dismantled the true 2nd Temple and replaced it with a monstrosity larger than Solomon’s, with a nice Roman seal over the entrance. (He also built pagan temples in other towns.) So the true believers who were poor saw themselves excluded more and more from what their religion was becoming: a channel of Roman power and control…
Herod Antipas (the son) took his living brother’s wife. (The two deserved each other.) He had most of the negative qualities of his father and was quite bold in his disobedience to spiritual laws.
So what happens when true spiritual authority meets corrupt earthly power? Herod Antipas couldn’t corrupt John, so he put him in prison. This just made him more heroic to the masses and a continuing embarrassment.
You see, spiritual authority comes from God. You can’t buy it. If you oppose it by running away or trying to silence it, you’re only dealing with the messenger. You can’t avoid God. God is everywhere and will not stop trying to get through to you.
When Herod Antipas had John killed he thought it was the end of his spiritual conviction. But John was just the forerunner, paving the way for the ultimate authority: Jesus. Herod the great had tried to slaughter all the Bethlehem male babies. (Missed by that much.) He eventually allowed a crowd of people to call him a god. And then he got to meet God. Just when he’d finally gotten the ultimate thing he’d been chasing his whole life: god-like power. He forgot that every breath was a gift. (From God). That all earthly power is on loan. (From God). That justice is the reason earthly power exists. (Again, from God). And that all of us one day will answer to…you guessed it, God.
Jesus then returned to his homeland, safe from the power-crazy Herod the Great. But still under the immoral and self-indulgent authority of Herod Antipas, killer of John. John’s followers sensed even more of the same authority in Jesus and quickly followed. Suddenly Herod Antipas had an even bigger problem on his hands. He thought it was John back from the dead to haunt him. But it was God showing up again.
“God called. He wants his power back.”
Jesus went on to be the Messiah who saved the world and ascended to heaven.
In a bitter irony, perhaps the only ruler more corrupt and perverted, Emperor Caligula, banished Herod Antipas to exile. He had to live out his days in obscurity while the Good News about Jesus simply spread to the whole world…
Are you resisting God’s will, God’s way in your life? It’s not worth it. Submit to Him and find lasting peace. Are you struggling under earthly oppression right now? Stay tuned. The last line has not yet been written. God and His true servants are the ones to watch. Commit yourself fully to God’s mission today. It’s Good News for the poor and the poor in Spirit as we shall see…