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Gospel of Jesus Series

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Death of a Conscience

Matthew 14:1-12



What a tragic story.  John the Baptist is murdered by King Herod Antipas in cold blood.  Jesus said John was the greatest man born of natural means, and yet he was snuffed out before his time.


But worse than murdering a good man is murdering your own conscience, which is what Herod did.  Some here may be dangerously close to doing the same thing.


Let’s add another character into the story.  Enter the king’s wife, Herodias.  You can equate these three, [Herod, Herodias and John] to three famous people in the Old Testament:  King Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophet Elijah.  There you have a wicked king, a she-devil wife, and the bold prophet of God.


The Herod family looms large in your New Testament.  First of all there was Herod the Great, who had at least 9 wives.  Too bad they didn’t each have 9 lives, because he thought nothing of killing them or his own children if they got in the way of his plans.  He is the one who slayed all the infants in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth.  Then there’s his son, Herod Antipas which we look at tonite.  His title was Herod the Tetrarch which means ‘ruler over the fourth part of the kingdom.’  He was well known for living in luxury and materialism.  Jesus once warned of the dangers of the ‘leaven of Herod’, which I believe is materialism and fleshly appetites.  This Herod was a drunken, depraved man.  His son was Herod Agrippa, who imprisoned Peter and killed James.  His son was Herod Agrippa II, who tried the Apostle Paul.  What a wicked family…the mafia of the 1st Century.


Back to this Herod in Mt. 14.  Jesus called him ‘that fox.’  He was crafty and cruel.


v. 1-2       You can tell that he is recounting from the past how he killed John, and that he now has a guilty conscience.


Every human is born w/ a conscience, tho’ many may need to get reacquainted w/ theirs if they haven’t spoken in a good while.  Conscience is hard to define/explain.


Joke—little boy said, “your conscience is what makes you tell your mom what happened before your sister does.”


What’s the difference between the words conscience and conscious?  “Conscious” is when you are aware of something, and “conscience” is when you wish you weren’t!


Conscience is that red warning light in your soul.  It’s a moral beeper that goes off when you have done wrong.


Ill.—an old Indian word picture:  conscience is a square peg inside the heart that turns when you do something wrong.  As it turns, the sharp edges give you the sensation that you need to stop.  But if you ignore the warning over time then the edges wear off, and it can freely turn w/out you feeling anything anymore.


Pain is our friend, and lets us know we need to be careful, or we’ll do greater damage…so it is w/ our conscience.


Many Christians have a dull conscience.


Romans 2:15
Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

The IRS has what is called a ‘conscience fund’, started way back in 1811 when someone in NYC sent in $6 because they had cheated on their taxes.  In 1950, $370,000 was brought in.  $14,000 was sent by one person.  They have received notes that say such things as:  “I’ll sleep better now,”  “I’d hate to burn in hell over a couple of bucks,” and my favorite, “I’m sending you this $175 because my conscience has been bothering me…if it continues to bother me I’ll send the rest!”


Don’t ignore your conscience, or you can destroy your conscience.


The world says, “let your conscience be your guide.”  But that’s not always a good idea.  You can’t always do that…because conscience doesn’t set the standard of right and wrong, it only applies the standards that you’ve been taught.  Conscience is like a thermostat…it can be set to operate at many different levels.


We can learn much from this passage about Herod’s conscience.


1.     Herod had a troubled conscience.

v. 3-5      

        a.     Because of the message of God

        b.     Because of the man of God


He felt guilty not only for killing John, but for what John had said to him, and he knew it was true…he was guilty of gross immorality.  It was on a trip to Rome that he became infatuated w/ his own brother’s wife, divorced his own, and took her from him.  He had coveted his neighbor’s wife and committed adultery.


John didn’t trim his message even for the king, and neither should we.


Mark 6:20
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

At that point his conscience is very much alive, but not for long.  His wife was leading him in the opposite direction as his conscience.  And you have differing influences in YOUR life as well.  Which way are you going?  “There’s only 2 choices on the shelf:  pleasing God and pleasing self.”


Troubled conscience…


2.     Herod had a trapped conscience.

v. 6-9       Sin is like a spider that weaves a web of guilt…one strand at a time, but oh what a tangled web we weave!  Herod was still doing wrong, now lusting after Herodias’ daughter.  And he steps into the trap.  [The lust of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life]  His passions led to pride, and he is trapped by his own pride.  He has to keep his promise.


Proverbs 29:25
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.

So true!  And many Christians today do foolish things because they are afraid what their friends will think if they don’t go along with them.


Ill.—Dr. H.A. Ironside was lost as a teenager, and his mom would beg him to be saved, but he would say, “what would my friends think?”  He later recalls that he got saved when he realized the truth in his mother’s reply, “Harry, your friends can laugh you into hell, but they can’t laugh you out!”


There’s no turning back now, and his conscience is trapped…he’s on a slippery slope of sin. 


Troubled conscience, trapped conscience…


3.     Herod had a tormented conscience.

Now just hearing about Jesus and wondering who he is is sure it’s John resurrected coming back for vengeance!  Now Herod was likely a Sadducee, and would not have believed in the resurrection of the dead.  Isn’t it interesting how desperate times can melt away bad theology.  We can make bold statements about what we believe or don’t believe, but when we hit bottom the truth comes to the surface.  There’s no atheists in foxholes, no, reality comes crashing home!  Many want a religion that’s good enough to live by, but facing death, you realize you need a belief that’s good enough to die by!


The Christian having money troubles suddenly thinks back to how he’s shorted God in the tithe, not obeying it, or only partially, and suddenly says, I need to make up for when we were out of town, or start tithing on all my household income, and not just this portion.  The lusting man realizes how wrong he has been when it starts affecting his marriage, hopefully not too late!  Some parents let their kids watch about anything on the TV, and they do themselves, until they see their kid becoming a hoodlum.  We think we can justify lenience in disciplining our kids, or in any area of our lives until suddenly we start seeing consequences for our actions.  Emergencies affect the clarity of our thinking!


Enjoy the benefits of living with a clear conscience, by heeding its warnings early, so you don’t have to hit bottom to come to your senses!


The story of Herod is not quite over…

Luke 23:8
And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.

No sincerity, just morbid curiosity.  He’s saying, Jesus, do a trick for me.

Luke 23:9
Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.

Why?  Because if Herod’s conscience was on a screen like a heart monitor then it’s not active, just a straight line w/ a flat tone. 


You can destroy your conscience, defile and sear it to the point that you can no longer hear it, and you can no longer hear the voice of God.



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