Tag Archives: immorality

God’s People, part 193: Antipas

Read Matthew 14:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done.”  (Luke 3:19, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

AntipasPart 192: Antipas. While we have already discussed John the Baptist in part 147, as well as his execution under the order of Herod Antipas, it is important for us to look at Herod Antipas. Who was he, aside from him being one of the sons of King Herod the Great? What made him tick? Why would he choose to execute John the Baptist and what made him arrest the Baptist to begin with?

Herod Antipas, unlike his father, was not a king despite people mistakenly referring to him that way. There can be little doubt that he aspired to become king like his father once was; however, that Roman emperor would never have entertained that. Instead of being a monarch, he was given by Rome the title of tetrarch, meaning ruler of a quarter because they had divided up Herod’s kingdom into 4 quarters and placed each of Herod’s sons as a ruler of those regions. Herod was ruler over Galilee and Perea.

The other tetrarchs were Antipas’ brothers Herod Archelaus, Philip the Tetrarch, and his sister Salome I. Eventually, Archelaus was deposed and Rome turned his provinces (which included Jerusalem) into the Roman Province of Judaea. Their father originally planned for Herod II to his successor; however, to make a long story short, following Herod’s death the Roman government did chose to divide the kingdom into a tetrarchy and did not choose Herod II. He actually became a private citizen in Rome along with his wife, who was his half-niece, Herodias.

It is here where we find out why Antipas was so opposed to the Baptist. As it turned out, Antipas ended up taking Herodias for his own wife, despite her marriage to Herod II. This, in the eyes of any devout Jew would have been considered adultery. It was immoral to take someone else’s wife as his own wife; therefore, according to the Gospel accounts, John the Baptist had been calling Antipas and Herodias our for their wickedness.

This, of course, led to John’s eventual arrest and execution. According to the Gospels, Antipas respected John and saw him as a great prophet; however, Herodias was deeply offended by John’s very public denouncement of their marriage. Let’s be honest, I am sure Antipas was none-to-pleased by it either. As such, he had John arrested and thrown into Machaerus Fortress in Perea, which is now modern day Jordan.

Eventually, at the urging of his wife and step-daughter Salome, Antipas had the Baptist executed and his head delivered to Salome on a silver platter. One can imagine the horror of that scene; however, it also goes to show the level of depravity in the Herodian family. These were a people who saw themselves as being above the law, including God’s Law, and thus they did as they pleased with little concern toward the loss of human life.

The challenge for us is to reflect on Herod Antipas and the Herodian family. How do we fit in with them. Are we like them in any way? Before you answer “no” to that question, let’s broaden the horizon a bit. Do you you see yourself as being right with God, all the while finding fault in others? Do you even consider what God thinks of how you live your life or whether or not you should behave or think the way you do? It is easy for any one of us to put ourselves above God’s Law, all the while holding the law above other’s heads. Let us be a people who seek to do what is right, who love mercy and humble ourselves before God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband, while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother by the father’s side.” – Flavius Jospehus in Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 1.

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Show me the ways in which I err and help guide me back onto the straight and narrow path you’ve set before me. Amen.

The Sermon, part 8: Second Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:27-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You must not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 NLT)

  Here, once again, Jesus starts off by affirming the law, “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14 NLT). Before we go any further than the law itself, it is vital that people understand what is meant by adultery. Typically, adultery is defined in modern culture as being any extramarital, sexual realtionship. In other words, if someone is married and has sex with someone other than his or her spouse, that person is committing adultery. Thus, this Biblical law is often interpreted as meaning, “you must not have extramarital sex.”

While that understanding is not entirely incorrect, it is also lacking in what is fully meant by the term “adultery”. What’s more, without the fullest understanding of the term adultery, one misses the significance of Jesus’ antithesis to this Biblical law. I have heard some Christians, most famously Kirk Cameron, use Jesus’ antithesis to show that ALL humans are adulterers; however, that is not what Jesus is doing at all and such an understanding betrays a MISUNDERSTANDING of context and Biblical Law.

In the Torah, and in the ancient Jewish context, adultery (μοιχεύω, see Matthew 5:27) should not be confused with fornication ( πορνεία, see ). The latter is reference to any and all illicit sex outside of the marital covenant. Fornication is most definitely considered to be immoral, and those who commit adultery are fornicating (by definition); however, not all fornicators are committing adultery. Fornication does not equal adultery.

In ancient Jewish Law, adultery was the act of a man having sex with a woman married to another man. To do so was to strip the married man of his exclusive sexual right to his wife, as well as it was to deny him of the assurance that his children were his own. Thus, if a man (married or not) had sex with a woman married to another man), that act was considered to be adultery and both the man and the woman involved would be guilty of being adulterers. It was a crime punishable by death. Again, adultery hinges on the married woman. Thus, a married man having sex with an unmarried woman WOULD NOT be guilty of adultery. Conversely, and unmarried woman having sex with another man (married or not), WOULD NOT be guilty of committing adultery. They would considered immoral (which carried its own social consequences), but they would not be considered adulterers and necessarily subject to the penalty of death.

This law, obviously, comes out of a patriarchal society where a man has “rights” over a woman, but the woman does not have rights over the man. So a married man who has sex with another person is not guilty of committing adulter, whereas, a married woman fornicating with another person is. This may not sound like a just law to our twenty-first century ears; however, it is important to understand that law (without our own biased judgment upon it) in order to understand what Jesus does next.

Following affirming the law as it stands in the Torah, Jesus presents it’s antithesis (or it’s direct opposite). “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Notice what Jesus does here? He takes a patriarchal law and flips it on its proverbial head. Instead of it being focused on the woman (as the physical law is), Jesus focuses on the man who will face an eschatological (end time) judgment by God.

Again, Jesus affirms the Torah in that a woman or a man found to be adulterers will be subject to judgment (as a matter of fact in that ancient world); however, Jesus flips his command on men (as women were often considered to be the offenders in the ancient world). This is a remarkable and scandalous thing Jesus does here and, in doing so, he is letting men know that if they look at a married woman lustfully, they are guilty of committing adultery in their hearts (even though the woman is guilty of absolutely nothing).

To conclude, this antithesis should once again remind us that God is looking at our hearts. Are our hearts filled with love, or are we predators in our hearts? While humans can judge upon appearances, upon evidence, and upon circumstances, only God knows the hearts. It is the heart that God judges and none of us can hide our hearts from God. This dire reminder is not meant to scare us, but to humble us. This should give us a new understanding of Jesus’ words, which are to come a bit later in this sermon (Matthew 7:1-2). Let us avoid taking the judgment throne, which is God’s alone; rather, let us reconcile our own hearts with God so that we may be filled with mercy and righteousness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love is not predatory.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume VIII, pg. 190).

PRAYER

Lord, remove judgment from my heart and fill it with contrition and love. Love is not predatory in judgment or in any other manner. Steer me from being predatory as well. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Colossians 3:5 NRSV)

realistic-fiery-letters-and--numbers--fiery-font-letter-f--burning-aphabets--az--pictures-wallpapers-74110In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication. Oh boy, nothing like starting off the list of sinful works than with the biggie of fornication! Hey Paul, why don’t you just cut to the chase! We all know, or should know, what fornication is. It is the act of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of a marital covenant. Fornication is an umbrella word that houses more specific words underneath it; words such as adultery and promiscuity. For Paul, the idea of having sex in any context outside of the marital covenant was against his Jewish sensibilities; however, it was not necessarily outside the sensibilities of his Gentile audience. Paul was adamant that sex was meant to be shared between a LOVING and MARRIED couple.

In light of past history, as well as a more scientific understanding of human sexuality, fornication has become a loaded word for us in the twenty-first century. Since the time of Paul, we have 2,000 years of history that we need to be aware of. While we certainly want to honor and respect Paul’s warning against fornication, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming like one of the Puritanical finger pointers of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What’s more, while sexual immorality (aka promiscuity and adultery) is certainly what Paul is referring to, we all have participated in a fornication of a different kind at one point or another. And that is what I would like to focus on.

According to Christian theology, we Christians are in union (aka marriage) with Christ our Lord. What this means is that we are joined in a spiritually intimate relationship with Christ and, as it is within a marital covenant, we are called to remain faithful to Christ just as he is faithful to us. Faithfulness means that we will give of ourselves wholly to Christ just as spouses give of themselves to each other…meaning that we will live and breathe the risen Christ in all we do and/or say. We will feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, take care of the “least of these,” avoid judgment, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. When we fail to do these things, and are pulled away by the attitudes and behaviors of this world, we are d in a spiritual sense.

Just as God has been faithful to us, so to we are being called to remain faithful to God. Straying from our purpose of serving others to self-centered living is but one of the ways we end up fornicating in a world set on fornication. The word fornicate, I am sure, makes most of us squirm around uncomfortably…and it should. Let us strive to remain faithful to God and what God is calling us to do. Let us strive to model our lives after that of Jesus’ life. Let us all model a life of bold compassion, love, peacemaking, service, respect, stewardship, radical hospitality, and self-sacrifice. Then we will be sure to steer clear of the pitfall of spiritual fornication.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” – Jane Addams

PRAYER
Lord, purify and sanctify me. Keep me from straying from your all-encompassing love. Amen.