DURING NEARLY all the year of Jesus’ teaching and preaching in Galilee, John the Baptist was Herod’s prison at a lonely place called Machaerus, on the east of the river Jordan, near the Dead Sea. You remember that John was put into prison because King Herod’s queen, Herodias,’ became angry against him, when John said’ to’ Herod that it was not right for him to take away his brother’s wife and have her as his own. Herodias hated John and tried many times to have him killed, but Herod held John in high respect and would not suffer him to be “slain.
But at last the chance came` for Herodias to carry out her purpose. On King Herod’s birthday, he held at Machaerus, which was not only a prison but a palace, a great feast to his lords, the captains of his army, and the chief men of his kingdom. At this feast the daughter of Herodias, a young girl, came in and danced before the company. Herod and the guests with him were so delighted with the girl’s dancing that the king made her a very foolish promise. He said to her:
“You may ask for anything that you please, and I will give it to you.” He went further and even swore with an oath to her, “I will give you whatever you choose, even to half of my kingdom.”
The girl went to her mother and said to her, “What shall I ask?”
And Herodias hissed out the words, “You ask for the head of John the Baptist.”
The girl went in haste to the king, and said, “I want you to give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was greatly displeased and very angry. He knew that his wife Herodias had led the girl to make this choice, and he would have liked to break his promise. But because he had given his word and was ashamed to call it back before all the nobles at his feast, he gave orders, very unwillingly, to his guards to have her will carried out. They went into the prison, and with a sharp sword cut off the head of John the Baptist, the best and noblest man in all his kingdom. The head was laid on a platter and given to the young girl, who carried it to her mother. So the man whom Jesus called “a prophet and more than a prophet” was slain to satisfy the whim of a dancing girl and her wicked mother !
The few followers who had still clung to John the Baptist, and visited him in his prison, took up his headless body and buried it. Then they went to Jesus and told him all the sad story of John’s death.
But Herod was not yet done with John the Baptist. Soon he began to hear wonderful stories of the new prophet, Jesus the Nazarene, who had risen up in John’s place. He heard that amazing powers were shown by Jesus, that the sick were cured, the lepers were made clean, the blind were made to see, and, most wonderful of all, the dead were raised to life.
People were saying to each other, “Who is this great Prophet that is working all these wonders?”
Some said, “This is the old prophet Elijah, who has come to earth again.”
Others said, “If he is not Elijah, it may be Jeremiah or some other prophet of the old times.”
But Herod was filled with a terrible fear, for his conscience troubled him on account of his wicked deeds. He said:
“I know who this is. It is John the Baptist, whose head I had cut off. He has come to life again. It is on his account that all these wonderful things are taking place!”
Thus the bloody head of John the Baptist, like a terrible ghost, rose before the sight of Herod the king !