This sermon was preached at Red Rocks Baptist Church (14711 W. Morrison Rd. Morrison, CO 80465) on July 1, 2012 by Pastor Les Heinze. These notes are provided as a recap and for further study into the message from God’s Word.
THE DEATH OF A CONSCIENCE
Is the conscience a valuable component of our non-physical makeup? Or is it a villain which we should fear and avoid? The conscience is often viewed negatively because, when properly trained, it challenges us about our thoughts, words, and actions which are counter-productive to spiritual growth and a Christ-like testimony. Large trucks and busses use an audible signal when backing up, which signals entry into possibly hazardous situations. The conscience works in a similar capacity. A biblically informed conscience is a red warning light that goes off in our soul.
Mark’s account of Herod Antipas reacting to word of Jesus’ powerful ministry indicates that he believed John the Baptist had been resurrected. This brought fear to his heart through conviction of conscience. A close reading of the record shows us the contrast of two consciences. John the Baptist illustrates actions arising from an internal, God-honoring conscience which operates properly and is heeded. Herod, on the other hand, shows an operative conscience which is ignored. His eventually becomes a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). It is still present, but like seared tissue, it has little sensitivity.
A Contrast of Two Consciences
Herod and John the Baptist each possessed a God-given conscience. The manner in which these men responded to their consciences, however, ultimately determined their legacy.
Herod wanted what Jewish law said he couldn’t have – another man’s wife. He ignored the law and his conscience by marrying Herodias. As time went on, this new wife became more influential in his decisions than his conscience. While Herod still ‘feared’ John, he kept him in prison because Herodias wanted him to.
At his own free-flowing (read morally-degraded) birthday party, over-indulgence in wine caused the suppression of Herod’s conscience (Proverbs 31:4 warns kings not to drink wine to the point that poor executive decisions result). Salome’s provocative dance swung his moral compass completely south. “I will give you anything”, was his response. Rampant hormones were ruling the day, not his conscience.
Matthew 14:1-9 also records this incident, noting that Herod himself wanted John dead, but that he feared the people. Apparently, without the hesitation caused by the people, he would have ignored his conscience and put John to death even sooner. Both Matthew and Mark mention that Herod was sorry that he had to fulfill Salome’s request. That sorrow was a function of his conscience, indicating that he knew it was wrong. In the face of competing interests and demands, he chose to ignore his conscience. It simply was not strong enough to rise to the top of list.
In contrast, John the Baptist not only listened to His God-given conscience, but also heeded it. As a prophet, like Elijah of old, John was charged with challenging what the king had done. His conscience would not have let him rest until he followed through.
John continued to follow his conscience by repeatedly objecting to Herod’s marriage. Verse 8 says he “had been saying”, indicating an ongoing process. His conscience knew what was right and he followed it. Still following his conscience, John realized that rebuking powerful people could have far-reaching consequences, even if it meant losing his head.
The Consequences of a Lost Conscience
Herod Antipas appears once more in the Gospels when Jesus is brought to him for trial (Luke 23:8-12). As he had with John, the King responded positively. But Jesus evidently realized the shallow nature of the response. The King’s conscience had deteriorated to the point that Jesus didn’t even respond and left Herod to his just desserts. A neglected conscience will suffer progressive desensitization to God so that he cannot be heard. Herod’s legacy – and ours – is constructed from the principles we embrace, the priorities we establish, and the philosophy we live out.