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John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2.15). There is a world’s system that opposes the things of God. We are told multiple times in God’s word to not align our lives with this system.
For example, the first Psalm instructs us to not walk along the path that is endorsed by the world’s system. Instead, we will be blessed and happy if we are directed by following God directions for living.
“Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1.1-2)
Today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel is a profound example of the dark character and nature of the power structures behind the world’s system.
Matthew writes, “At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’
“For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’
“Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’
“The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother.
“[John’s] disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus” (Matthew 14.1-12).
Herod was Rome’s designated ruler over Galilee, the primary area of Jesus’ ministry. He surely heard about Jesus’ healing and preaching activities. He also was familiar with John the Baptist.
John was critical of Herod’s marriage to his brother Philip’s wife for many reasons. First Herod divorced his wife, a daughter of the king of Petra, causing a war with that nation. Second, Herodias simply left her husband, which was a violation of Jewish law. Third, to marry a woman who was your brother’s wife was highly offensive.
When powerful people are confronted by prophets, the prophet suffers. Political prisoners throughout the centuries know how the power of the state is used to silence their voices.
Jesus said this about John, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11.11). Yet, to the ruling family in Galilee, John was an offensive nuisance and was illegally silenced in prison.
Two aspects of the fundamental evil nature of the world’s system is revealed as we observe Herod’s dinner party.
(1) The prophet was in prison and the nation was poor, but the powerful were able to party and play. Here are some current economic facts of our world’s system (from a recent article in the “Guardian”).
— The 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest 50% of the world’s population.
— One-third of the world’s wage earners make less than $2 a day.
— Just 1% of the fortune of Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, is equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
The world’s system is organized where wealth is concentrated among the privileged, while millions are barely subsisting. Women are dying for lack of maternal care and children are being denied an opportunity for education that could be a route out of poverty.
Please note, this system existed before Herod and will continue until the world experiences the new heaven and new earth that is part of God’s plan for the ages. However, according to the first Psalm, we don’t have to walk according the counsel of the system. We can learn and live by God’s principles.
(2) Pride is a central feature in the system that opposes God and oppresses people. Imagine a drunken party, where a young teenage girl inflames the passions of the crowd with her dance. The most powerful man in the region is trapped by an oath, but trapped even more so by his pride. His pride won’t let him back down on his oath, even if it means the death of John the Baptist.
Isaiah 14 contains a taunt against the king of Babylon, who horribly oppressed the people of God. Over the years, people have also found a reference to Satan in these words. They are certainly a picture of one of the key features of a world’s system that opposes God and injures people.
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
on the heights of Zaphon;
14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14.12-14)
Notice the pride in the words of the powerful. They can flaunt the principles of God, because they believe they are above God.
Most people today won’t claim to be above God, they just act like it. The pride of those who are allies with the world’s system causes them to commit to schemes that injure and oppress because they believe that they are above morality and justice.
Psalm 1 tells us that we are blessed if refuse to be influenced by the pride that is part of the world’s system. Our Lord is gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11.29) and we are to follow his example. As we meditate on his life and teaching, we will be like . . .
“. . . Trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.’“(Psalm 1.3)
The Narrow Way
Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7.14).
We hear, see, and even breathe the atmosphere of the world’s system. It is so easy to accept the values of a system, where athletes and entertainers can command multi-million dollar salaries and one-third of the world’s population tries to live on $2 a day. It is very difficult to escape adopting the world’s values as our own, while living blind to the bigger issues of life.
There is a narrow road that leads to life. The writer of Psalm 1 tells us to get off the path of following the bad advice of those who oppose God. Jesus invites us to get on the narrow path of following him. Let’s follow the directions of these who desire to draw us into their life.
Dear Jesus, I confess that I am captivated by the world’s system. I live in it and I have too frequently adopted its values and practices. I pray that you show me how to join you on your narrow road.