What’s the worst sound you can ever hear?
• It’s not Fingernails on a Chalkboard;
• OR a Poorly Played Violin
Here it is, can you hear it?
It’s the sound of silence.
And for those of you who’s kids have recently gone back to school – you’re probably thinking: “What?! Silence is a good thing, not a bad thing! Finally I can get some work done! Finally I can get some peace and quiet!”
And if you were trying to serve out a set at Wimbledon; or were settling down over a 10-foot putt to win the Masters at Augusta – (neither of which I’ve ever done incidentally!) – BUT there are some situations – like those 2 – where silence is crucial.
AND I’m sure you can think of many other situations in which silence is – as the old saying goes – “Golden”.
BUT what about when God… goes silent? What about when God stops speaking to you?
The Bible shows us time and time again that that can never be a good thing.
• It happens to King Saul, Eli the Priest and his sons, and even Abraham – for 13 whole years because of their stubborn pride and impatient disobedience.
• AND one day in Amos 8 – God’s own people, the people of Israel find that as a result of their sin they are going to experience: “…a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
AND so it shouldn’t be surprising, but it’s no less striking in this little handful of verses in Luke 23 we’re looking at this morning – that we find King Herod – with Jesus, “the Word of God become flesh” standing in front of him –AND though in verse 9: “He questioned him at some length…” – Jesus says nothing – “…he made NO answer.”
The happiest life a person can live is according to God’s voice. But here… God won’t speak. What is going on?
Well those of you who know your Bible well will instantly be thinking of Isaiah 53 verse 7: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
God prophesied this silence centuries before. Jesus would go to his death without putting up a defence – because he goes there to fulfil a purpose: To die for sinners like us.
That’s what’s happening here.
BUT there’s more than that happening here. I mean this is Jesus’ third trial of the day – and his answers to the Jewish Council and to Pilate may have been pretty curt, but at least he said something.
Yet all the noise that we hear in this little section is coming from somebody other than Jesus:
• The noise of Herod’s questions – verse 9.
• The accusations from the chief priests and the teachers of the law – verse 10
• Then ridiculing and mocking of Herod and the soldiers – verse 11.
• And yet the most deafening sound of all is... the sound of silence.
Jesus says nothing.
AND to find out why – we need to do a bit of time travel. Back to when Herod first heard the word of the Lord. To a time when his conscience was open to hearing the word of the Lord.
1. An Open Conscience
This Herod by the way – is not the one who killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He’s his son. AND in Mark chapter 6 we learn that Herod had seduced and stolen his brother Philip’s wife – Herodias.
BUT out of the wilderness comes John the Baptist – this strange man who has been sent by God to announce the coming of the Christ – and he disturbs and terrifies the king. He comes preaching that all had to repent – to confess their sin and turn from it to live God’s way, in God’s world.
AND he fronts up to Herod in Mark’s gospel and says: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Talk about speaking truth to power!
AND unsurprisingly Herodias didn’t like what he was saying – so Herod had him seized and locked up. AND though Herodias wanted John put to death Mark then tells us that: “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.”
God has planted within each one of us a conscience – This God given witness to what’s right and wrong. AND Herod’s was cut to the core by John the Baptist’s preaching.
He didn’t just listen and say like many do:
• “I’m sorry, that’s not my cup of tea – I’m just not interested.”
• OR “How dare you! How dare you question my lifestyle choices you silly little man!”
For after all we can be sure that straight-talking John would NOT have held back! Can you imagine it?! “You must turn from your sin and adultery King Herod. God has given you this wonderful gift of sexuality – who are you to misuse it in this way?! You must seek God’s forgiveness, his cleansing – do it now! For there is another King coming and you will be judged by him. In his mercy I am here before you now pleading with you to turn to him.”
And day after day this goes on. This man in chains comes up from the dungeon and causes a king to tremble.
AND when it says he was “perplexed” – it doesn’t mean intellectually perplexed – the word in the original language more means morally perplexed.
Herod had no disagreements with John – he just couldn’t bring himself to act on what he heard.
• He was prepared to listen to John.
• He was prepared to acknowledge John as a righteous and holy man.
• He was prepared to protect him even.
BUT there was one thing he would not do – He would not cease his adultery… and repent.
And I have to stop here and ask: Can you relate to that?
You like to listen to God’s word, to read it even – but there’s something that is holding you back in your walk with the Lord and you won’t give it up. Despite the fact you know it’s God’s world – and that there will be a day of reckoning for how we’ve used his gifts and what we’ve done with our lives – you won’t change.
Sinclair Ferguson the pastor and theologian writes in one of his books: “Unless we silence sin, sin will silence conscience. Unless we pay attention to God’s word the day may come when we may despise God’s son and reject him. And then God will have nothing more to say to us.”
Well sadly, Herod chose to suppress his conscience…
2. A Supressed Conscience
As one day: “Herod on his birthday, gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee…” And “when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests.”
You’ve got to try to get the picture here – This is more of a Stag Do than a Birthday Party. If you think Herodias’ daughter was a ballet dancer, you’re not getting the picture at all. We’re in the Playboy Mansion here.
And the King consumed by lust and alcohol utters this ridiculous drunken promise to his step-daughter: “’Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you – up to half of my kingdom.’”
AND doubtless as he made this promise all of his mates would have been slapping him on the back saying: “You’re the man! You’re the man!”
BUT imagine how the colour would have drained from his face as the girl came hurrying back in having consulted with her mother: “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
He is in the valley of decision folks. It is THE key moment of his life. There is a choice to be made. What will he do?
• He knows that John is a righteous and holy man.
• He knows as he preaches – his preaching is from God the creator.
Surely he must declare, “I won’t kill him. This evening must end NOW! Salome put some clothes on. Gentlemen go home. We’re done tonight.”
BUT instead Mark tells us: “And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.”
Folks, we are the choices that we make. We are the choices that we make.
It is interesting how Herod wanted to sit on the fence… listening to John, but going on living as he pleased. BUT the party, the people, his pride, the promise with an oath – the combination was more than he could handle.
Herod was supposed to be such a powerful man – BUT he finds himself enslaved by other people’s opinions and behaviours.
AND the facts remains that many, many of us will:
• deny our consciences,
• deny what we know is right,
• deny God’s teaching,
• deny the fact that there is a judgement to come –proved by the resurrection of Jesus –
• all because of what our friends think.
In the valley of decision – it is amazing what we will do… because of what friends or colleagues or family will think.
BUT maybe you can live with that. Maybe Herod – now that has had John killed – can have some peace of mind.
Well no. Because rumour of another Holy man roaming the countryside preaching repentance and gathering a following reached the Palace. And this time he’s performing miracles that grab the attention and fire the imagination!
It’s Jesus. He’s come. Just as John had predicted.
AND Herod’s conscience is troubled.
3. A Troubled Conscience
As back in Luke now – chapter 9 we are told that when Herod heard what was going on: “…he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?”
Now do you reckon that’s a conscience at work or not? The word “I” is emphatic in the Greek: “I am the one – I took off his head. I did it!”
He he’s got John’s blood on his hands – he’s like Lady McBeth! “Out damned spot – out!”
We all do evils that we naturally put away from our conscience as if they never happened. We push them deep down and refuse to confess them to God or man. Then some trivial incident or hook tossed at random brings up a memory we mistakenly suppose was lost in the ocean of oblivion.
AND we must listen! As such an event is meant to call us to repentance and forgiveness.
That is what Herod’s conscience was furtively doing.
• Surely now having heard of Jesus’ coming – he’ll seize the day!
• Surely he will now give up Herodias, humble himself – and cleanse his restless, restless conscience.
I mean it says in Luke 9 that Herod “sought to see Jesus.”
BUT clearly he didn’t go. It’s amazing – he won’t change, he won’t repent, he won’t listen to his conscience!
4. A Silenced Conscience
And so in Luke 23 – as Jesus is brought before Herod we are told that – verse 8: “…he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him…” – BUT not because he wanted to hear more of the powerful preaching he’d heard from John 3 years previously. But… “…because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.”
Herod was thrilled to see Jesus – BUT for all the wrong reasons.
• He didn’t want a Lord.
• He didn’t even want a Saviour.
• He just wanted Jesus to put on a show.
“Come on Jesus perform a miracle! Turn a rod into a serpent. Do the water into wine thing. Make it rain Haribo!”
BUT Jesus is NOT the Greatest Showman. He is not our Genie from the lamp that we can rub with our prayers and get whatever we wish.
AND so Herod: “…questioned him at some length – BUT he made NO answer.”
AND yet Herod still doesn’t respond by tearing his robe and throwing himself on the floor crying out: “Lord Jesus, I know why it is that you’re not answering me! BUT please forgive me and have mercy on my soul!”
The silence of Jesus does not convict Herod’s conscience – it only infuriates him. AND so when he doesn’t get what he wants – his true colours are revealed.
As in verse 11 – he joins his soldiers in mocking and ridiculing Jesus – before dressing him up in a shiny robe and sending him packing.
Folks, let me wrap this up, my time is almost gone…
I hope you can see that there is a terrible, chilling warning for us here. It is as though God is saying:
• “Herod, when you silenced John –
• When you wouldn’t then listen to your conscience as Christ came –
• when you refused to repent and just wanted miracles –
• you silenced ME.”
And we see Herod go to Hell clutching Herodias and his friends and his pride and his power to his chest.
AND sadly what happened to Herod could happen to any one of us.
So if you’ve been tuning in to these services over this last year…
• And you’ve enjoyed listening to God’s word…
• Do not be content to simply go on hearing his words. Do what his word calls you to do! Repent and believe!
Maybe whenever we’ve mentioned the Christianity Explored course or our Something Better evenings – you’ve been intrigued – but you’ve not felt quite ready, or that you’ve got the time, to make that next step. Don’t keep putting it off – NOW is the time. So make the time.
Cos if you go on hearing the gospel, but don’t do anything about it – you invite a fog over your eyes that in time will shut out all the light. Respond now while it still grips you – for a day may come when it no longer does.
AND let me say a word to any teenager watching this morning – and you’ve been sitting through these services and sermons regularly throughout the pandemic without kicking up too much of a fuss!
In fact, at many points you’ve been intrigued and you feel warm and open to the things of Christ – BUT you are tempted to put off the day of decision as you say to yourself: “I’m young, I’ve got plenty of time. I’ll get round to this when I’m older – but first I want to do this, or that – I want to have fun! And I don’t want this to get in my way. I’ll turn to Christ later.”
Maybe you are waiting for Jesus to put on a show – a display of power that will make everything much more obvious – before you put your trust in him.
Well I want to say to you: Later may never come! BUT he is speaking to you now!
So trust Christ while you hear his voice. Trust him while the going is good. Trust him today.
As the Bible says in a number of other places: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.”
AND folks, that same challenge is for all of us who already believe too. We may not mock and reject Christ – and we sincerely hope we never do! BUT we can still be resistant to his word, can’t we?
Maybe something in your Bible reading or Bible Study group or a sermon – weeks ago, months ago – really challenged you to…
• Get up earlier to start the day with the Lord;
• OR to finally sort out your stewardship;
• OR to start fasting to have more time to pray;
• OR to go see if the recently bereaved widow who lives at the end of the street needs anything.
BUT you said: “I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it once I’ve got this project out the way. I’ll do it when the kids are back at school.”
I suspect the reason many of us sometimes feel stale or apathetic in our Christian walk – is because we have weakened our consciences by continually suppressing the private appeals and suggestions of the Holy Spirit.
The happiest life a person can live is to live according to God’s voice. So do not take God’s word for granted… listen and obey what you read and hear!