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Watch Out for the Thorns (Video) 

 July 11, 2021

By  Sam Stone

There is a Burmese proverb, “Only a stout stomach can keep the commandments.” It means, “A hungry person cannot maintain morality,” or “Spirituality is for the rich.” It’s often used as a sardonic excuse to postpone seeking spirituality. “Well, I can’t go to church because I have to make ends meet. Maybe one day I can seek spirituality when I am rich enough like you.”

Many people think they will be free to do God’s work when they are well off, but the truth is if they don’t do it now, it’s unlikely that they would do it then. If poverty keeps one busy making ends meet, wealth can make them even busier with excessive entertainment, hobbies, and social obligations. In fact, Jesus said that the poor have a better opportunity to enter the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20.

What it means is that there are some disadvantages of affluence when it comes to spirituality. The thorns of affluenza can chock us to death. There is a story of one of the richest men in Israel, who loved to listen to God’s prophets but missed the ample opportunity to change history because of his power and prosperity.

Today, we will look at how this man got trapped among the thorns and left a shameful legacy. This lesson is crucial for us living in an ever busier world. I have to warn you that the story is quite gory, but sometimes a sanguinary story can make the lesson memorable and spur us to escape similar mistakes.

[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]

The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Mark 6:14-29. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. (Mk 6:14–29).

[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]

Verse 20 has the key to the lesson,

for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” (v. 20).

This verse shows there was a seed of divinity in Herod. He fears John the Baptist and protected the righteous and holy man. He liked to listen to John, even though John’s words were harsh on him and convicting. Just imagine what it would be like for Herod to allow the seed of God’s word to grow and flourish. We would be reading a different history.

Herod could have used his power and prosperity to spread the good news to the entire kingdom of Israel. However, instead of overcoming the environment with his power and prosperity, he was overcome by it. That is a good example of a seed choked by the thorns.

Ever since Jesus told the Parable of the Sower in chapter 4, every story followed is an interpretation of the parable. This story is an example of the seed growing among thorns. Jesus said,

And others seeds are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Mk 4:18–19).

Don’t you think Jesus hit the nail right on the head with this parable? Herod heard the word, “but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing” in his life.

Now, let look at the thorns that can chock us and how to avoid giving in to evil.

1. Don’t Compromise Your Conviction

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her.” (Mk 6:17).

Even though Herod thought highly of John, he put him in prison because of his wife, Herodias, a very ambitious princess who divorced her lackluster husband and married his brother. The marriage was against the Jewish tradition and deemed adultery, so John spoke up against their illegitimate marriage and triggered Herodias’ resentment, and she wanted him dead. However, Herod would compromise and go only as far as imprisoning John.

And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.” (v. 19-20a).

Herod had already compromised his conviction by imprisoning John, a righteous and holy man. When you compromise with the devil against God’s servant, you open the door for them to take further steps. Herod might think imprisoning John would please his wife for the time being until her grudge fade away, but to use a Chinese saying, “If you give an inch to the devil, he will take a foot.” (得寸进尺).

Sometimes the devil will take advantage of your kindness. There is a fable about a rabbit who keeps himself warm in his little house during a cold winter day. A giraffe comes and asks for a refuge from the cold. The rabbit refuses politely, “My house is too small to fit you in. Please go and find somewhere big for your size.”

The giraffe says, “All I need is to keep my nose warm. If you let me stick my nose into your door, I will be happy and warm.” The rabbit feels sorry for the giraffe, so he opens the door and lets him stick his nose into his house.

After a moment, the giraffe says, “May I stick my head into your house because even though my nose is warm, my head is freezing.” Out of kindness, the rabbit allows his entire head inside his little house. It fills the whole place leaving just enough room for the rabbit to squeeze himself up at a corner.

Then the giraffe requests, “It’s great that my nose and head is warm, but my neck is freezing. Can I stick my neck into your house, please?” The rabbit says, “Oh, no, there is no more room, sir.”

But, the giraffe says, “You are a kind rabbit. Let me just tried a little bit.” As the giraffe pushes in, the house falls apart.

In a similar way, Herod’s first mistake was compromising with his wife in arresting John even though he believe he was a righteous and holy man.

2. Don’t Entertain Excessively

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” (v. 21-22).

It says, “Opportunity came.” Herodias must have been waiting for this opportunity all the time to intoxicate Herod with entertainment. The devil is always looking for the chance to take the next step of invasion. A moment of carelessness can expose your skin to the thorns. The Apostle Peter wrote,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).

The moment Herod wrote a blank check to his daughter, his future was sealed. He could have lived a fruitful life, listening to John’s teaching, and putting God’s word into practice, and transforming the nation. He could have been remembered like King David or King Solomon instead of a tyrant.

And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” (v. 23).

Herod was not sober-minded when he made this solemn promise. According to history, Herod Antipas was not even a king because the Roman Emperor had not yet officially enthrone him. He was just a tetrarch or a governor. Herodias married him, hoping he would formally become a king one day, but he never did. Mark mentioned him as King Herod (v. 14), maybe because he kept a lifestyle of a king.

That means his promised to give his daughter half of his kingdom was an empty promise. However, Herodias did not want half of his kingdom, but all she wanted was John’s head, so she asked for it. Herod was trapped in his own word. His excessive entertainment had caught him off-guard.

3. Don’t Please the Crowd

The moment he realized he was trapped by an evil intention, Herod could have retracted his promise, but he kept it to please the crowd.

Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. (v. 25-26)

Knowing the history, you can sense Mark’s sarcasm in repeatedly using “the king” instead of “Herod” as he did in previous verses. Herod treated his promise like that of a king and refused to retract even when he realized the request was unethical. He was weak-minded and could not handle the social pressure.

He would rather please the crowd than God. He protected his reputation over conviction. The thorns of his status had choked his spirit to death. He had to live his life haunted by his sin of compromise. When Jesus became popular, Herod thought John came back to haunt him.

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” (v. 14, 16).

Why was Herod so weak-minded? Why did he compromise his conviction, entertain excessively, and please the crowd? I think we found the clue when he met Jesus. When Herod eventually met Jesus, it was after Jesus was arrested by the chief priests. They took Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate, and Pilate referred Jesus to Herod because he was under his jurisdiction. The Bible said,

When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer … then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. (Lk 23:8–9, 11b).

Here we find Herod was not serious about God’s word. Like many ancient kings and nobility, they treat philosophers and preachers as a type of entertainment. Herod liked to hear John’s preaching because it was intriguing. In the same way, he wanted to see Jesus because he wanted Jesus to entertain him with signs and miracles.

Even though Herod knew John and Jesus were holy men, he treated them as nothing more than magicians or inspirational preachers. That’s why God’s words did not take root in Herod and bear fruit. In the same way, many people know the church is holy ground, but they treat it as nothing more than a theater. (Of course, we know that some churches do entertain like theaters, but that’s another subject.)

After reading about Herod, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we treating God’s word as mere intriguing entertainment that takes no roots and bears no fruit? Do we go to church like going to a theater or social gathering? Does God’s word fall on the good soil of our faith and become life-transforming actions? Do we have thorns around us that could choke our faith to death?”

Jesus summarized Herod’s life with these two verses,

And others seeds are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Mk 4:18–19).

Let us watch out of the thorns so that we won’t get choked by them because Jesus expects in us nothing less than a fruitful life. Peter’s warning of a roaring lion is also punchy,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).

So, let us be sober-minded and watchful!

Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest profound happiness!

Sam Stone


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