Stories From The New Testament: Chapter 12 - A Birthday Party Ends in Tragedy
Shirley King Johnson
The 12 disciples might well have felt some apprehension, though they may not have said anything, when Jesus announced to them that He was going to visit His mother. It was in Nazareth, after all, that the leaders of the synagogue had wanted to kill Him. Jesus, however, seemed unworried about possible trouble, and set out for the village where He lived in His youth. The disciples followed, perhaps somewhat reluctantly. Walking along with Jesus in the lead, the disciples divided into little groups of twos and threes. Judas, the treasurer and keeper of the money bags, stayed in the middle of the procession for fear, he said, of lurking highway robbers. In Nazareth they found that the towns-people continued to be resentful. The majority scorned the man they disparagingly called "the carpenter's son." They knew that His mother, brothers and sisters lived among them. Jesus was a mere "nobody" to them. Jesus explained the attitude of the Nazarenes this way: "A prophet will be held in honor everywhere except in his own hometown, and by his own relatives" (Matt. 13:57, Mark 6:4). Moving on to other villages, Jesus announced to the common people the good news that God's government would be established on earth.
The disciples are sent forth
After spending much time in prayer, He sent His disciples out two by two. He gave them power over unclean spirits and instructed: "Go and preach the Gospel. Explain that the Kingdom of my Father is going to be set up on earth. Heal the sick and cast out demons. Don't take any money or food with you on the journey; certain of those to whom you give this message will care for your needs. And those who don't receive you - well, there is a day of judgment coming." Jesus told the disciples that He had not come to bring peace to earth, but that His Work would produce hostility. Family members would be turned against each other and households would be divided as some were called to this way of life and others were not. The disciples listened in apprehension. Each doubted his own ability to work such miracles as Jesus described. But Jesus spoke confidently to them. "Don't worry," He added, sensing their anxiety. "The Spirit of my Father will speak through you. When the time comes, you'll be given the right words to speak. You have freely received this truth. Now give of it freely." Inspired by His positive attitude, the disciples paired off and went away to preach as He had preached and to heal as they had seen Him heal (Mark 6:12-13, Luke 9:1-2). After the disciples departed, Jesus went on to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee where the disciples had lived (Matt. 11:1). The disciples were on His mind all the while and He spent much time in prayer for them.
The king plans a party
Herod Antipas, governor of Galilee, was the son of Herod the Great, who had ordered all the boy babies killed at the time of Jesus' birth. Herod Antipas also ruled the nearby district of Peraea, which was south and east of Galilee across the Jordan River. When he had been in Rome he had met Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip. Desiring to have her for his own wife, Herod soon brought her back to Galilee. John the Baptist had at once denounced the adulterous marriage, and vindictive Herodias influenced Herod to put John in prison (Matt. 14:3, Mark 6:17). When Herod's birthday came, he held a party in honor of himself. He invited a great many government and military officials from throughout the area.
Herodias' daughter began to dance.... Dazzled by her beauty, his brain dulled with drink, Herod beckoned for her... "I'll give you anything your heart desires," he told her.
Herod grew more exhilarated and puffed up as plans for his party were put into action. A central room was decorated with imported plants and lighted with hanging oil lamps. Musicians arrived and struck up lively music. When the banqueting began the many tables were lined with important people. Wine flowed freely. In the midst of the reveling, Herodias's daughter began to dance, twirling and gliding with great skill. Soon every eye was upon her. Dazzled by her beauty, his brain dulled with drink, Herod beckoned for her to come to his table when she had concluded the dance. "I'll give you anything your heart desires," he told her, leaning across the table. "What will it be?"
A deadly request
The girl hesitated. "Let me have a moment to think about it." Whirling, she flitted to her mother's table and she and her mother had a quiet conversation. She glided back to Herod. "I've decided what I want to ask for."
The girl lowered her eyes. "Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter"... Herod's face changed.... "You promised!" Herod looked left and right.... "Yes. I did promise."
"Speak, child. Whatever you ask is yours, even to half of my kingdom." The girl lowered her eyes. "Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter" (Matt. 14:8, Mark 6:25). A quick gasp came from the listeners at the tables. Herod's face changed. His mouth dropped and his eyes opened wider. He leaned forward, staring into her face to see if she were joking. She was not. "You don't — you can't mean that! He is a holy man!" Herod had enjoyed listening to John and felt that John's message made a certain amount of sense, though much of it confused him. "I want his head!" She flung her hair back from her shoulders in a haughty gesture. "You promised!" Herod looked left and right. Every guest's attention was fastened on him. What could he say? "Yes. I did promise." He signaled to an attendant. The servant hurried over and listened as Herod gave a lengthy order that concerned the chief executioner. The servant nodded and went on out. His hands trembling, Herod raised a cup to his lips. He tried to appear nonchalant — after all, he was in charge here! But his eyes were on his wife Herodias. She had put her daughter up to this — he saw that in her sullen eyes. And now he had to carry out the foolish promise he had made. As he ground his teeth together in helpless remorse, Herodias raised her cup toward him and smiled. "Happy birthday, m'lord!" she called out. The birthday banquet went on. The guests went back to their reveling. Talking and laughter grew louder as more food and wine were brought in. A large roast was served, along with melons filled with nuts and berries. Herod felt a sudden draft on his feet as an outside door opened. The servant had returned and he carried a platter. On the platter... Herod lunged to his feet. "Don't bring that to me," he commanded, barely concealing his disgust and a growing nausea inside him. "It's hers." He pointed to his wife's daughter. "Give that to her." Herod left the banquet hall soon thereafter, feeling a strange but overwhelming sense of sadness and loss.