Herod Liked a Good Sermon

“When Herod heard him he would be very perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20)

What was it like to hear John the Baptist preach? We don’t know exactly what he sounded like, but the gospels record some of what he said:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 3:2)

“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7)

“The axe is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)

John was no ear-tickler or people-pleaser. He was bold, uncompromising, fearless. A case in point: he rebuked Herod for his unlawful relationship with Herodias, his brother’s wife, “and all the evil things he had done” (Luke 3:19).

Maybe Herod liked to listen to John because not many people had the courage to speak to Herod the way John did. Presumably, that kind of honesty would have been rare in Herod’s court. We can imagine Herod surrounded by an entourage who flattered him and fawned on him and tiptoed around him. Then, like a thunderclap at a picnic, John arrives and tells it like it is.

To hear John speak would have been a novelty at a time in history when there were no sermon podcasts, conference recordings, or YouTube channels to speak of. How different from our opportunity to hear the best and boldest preachers on earth with a few taps on a phone.

What did Herod like so much about John’s preaching? Was it his conviction? His simplicity? His sincerity? His pithy use of metaphor? We don’t know exactly. But we do know Herod liked to listen to him.

But he didn’t like it enough to repent. That much became clear when, after having locked John up in prison for a while, Herod had him put to death as a result of a foolish vow he made at his own birthday party (Matt. 14:6-12).

I’d like to think I’m more like John the Baptist than Herod. But, I confess, it’s often easier to like a sermon from one of my “preacher heroes” than it is to live it out. But listening to and liking the message is not enough:

“But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)

Those who, like me, like listening, remember this: Herod liked a good sermon.

More importantly, remember the words of Jesus, the one whose sandals John said he was not worthy to untie:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
(Matthew 7:24)
Pastor Jonathan Kroeker