Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and the New Castle area.

This Sunday’s Sermon

Peer Pressure – July 11, 2021 – Pastor Donna Doutt – Mark 6:14-29

True confession today – Once upon a time, I was 18 years old. It was the weekend before the final week of school. A Sunday afternoon, whiling away the time with a group of my peers down by the Ohio River. Someone said, “Let’s go get some beer!” Not wanting to be the one to say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said nothing and simply went along with the group. Know this…we only lived about 10 miles from the Ohio line, so we all jumped in the car and rode out to get the beer. As it turned out, when we got to Ohio to the little store that sold the beer said, “Hey Donna, you’re the only one in the car that’s 18. It’s legal to buy beer if you’re 18.” I was reluctant to make the purchase, so I gave my ID to someone else. They went in and purchased the beer.

Sure enough, we got pulled over by the police. When they asked who purchased the beer, even though I had NOT purchased it, I thought we would be in less trouble if I said I did, instead of implicating the person who used my ID. That was a mistake. All the others in the car were let off the hook because they were under 18.  I was charged with contributing to delinquency of minors. UGH! Then it get worse. I had to appear before a magistrate the following Monday, so I skipped school to go to my hearing. 

As luck would have it, that’s the day my mother stopped at the school to get MY car keys, and of course I wasn’t there. Oh what a tangled web we weave!

When I got home that evening, I was really in trouble, not only with my parents, but because I skipped school and got caught, I suffered detention the entire last week of school. But more devastating than that, was that I did not receive an award that I had been on target to receive during our awards assembly. I was devastated…all because I caved to peer pressure. It wasn’t worth it. It is something I’ll always regret.

How many of you can remember giving in to peer pressure?

Well that’s sort of what happened to Herod in our Gospel lesson today. Let’s take a look at how that all went down when he gave in to peer pressure and ended the life of John the Baptist right here in the Gospel of Mark.

So our writer, the apostle Mark, reported several of Jesus’ parables on the run up to this sixth chapter. Jesus is well into the beginning of his ministry when his predecessor and cousin, John the Baptist, is beheaded. Jesus said John fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament about Elijah returning to announce the coming of the Lord.

[1]Mark devotes fourteen verses that you’ve heard today, to the death of John but only five to his ministry.

In Matthew 17:11-13 we read that “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready for the Messiah. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him…Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.”

[2]Herod’s view—that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead—arose not so much from what he had heard about Jesus as from the prodding of a guilty conscience, since Herod had been directly responsible for John’s death. The mention of the death of John causes Mark to interrupt the account of the mission of the Twelve in order to tell the story of John’s murder.

I think it would be safe to say that we all know the story of John the Baptist recognizing Jesus and pointing him out as “someone greater” than he.

So when Jesus arrives, some of John’s disciples leave him and start following Jesus, and John ends up being arrested in his waning days of his ministry.

What did he do to get himself arrested you ask? Here’s what he did: he had publicly condemned the incestuous marriage of Galilee’s ruler Herod Antipas.

He married his own brother’s ex-wife Herodias. She had divorced her first husband. But Jewish law said it was wrong for a man to marry his brother’s wife if the brother was still alive.

Herodias doesn’t appreciate being called a sexual pervert. She was infuriated by John and wanted to kill him. She was thwarted in her design because Herod liked John the Baptist and tended to protect him. He was motivated by fear and recognition of John’s righteous and holy character. He knew there was more to John than met the human eye. It kind of makes him nervous to go up against a person as well-known as John. He’s not fully aware of the lengths Herodias will go to in seeking revenge.

So when Herodias sees a chance to get even, she strikes. Her daughter, the infamous Salome, dances for her stepfather on his birthday. It must be quite the dance since he promises to reward her with any she wants.

Salome consults her mom. Herodias’s quick reply betrayed the premeditated nature of her homicidal plan. Our Gospel lesson from Mark does not mention any surprise on the daughter’s part when her mother made the request.

In fact, when Salome returned to Herod to convey the request for the head of John the Baptist, the daughter added two things: she wanted John’s head “right now” and she wanted it “on a platter.”

Herod was in a quandary, “because of his oaths and his dinner guests,” he could hardly refuse the girl. Reluctantly he ordered an executioner to be sent to the prison to decapitate John.

Now we know that Herod respects John as a holy man who is loved by all. He doesn’t want to kill him. But Herod’s pride is on the line. He made a promise in public. Against his better judgement, he buckles to peer pressure. John’s head was brought to Herod, who presented it to Salome, who gave it to her mother Herodias. Folklore claims that when Herodias was presented with the head, that she kissed it. Whoooo! What a soap opera!

Mark ends the shocking story with John’s disciples coming for the body to give it proper burial. Herod no doubt thought that he was now finished with the righteous prophet John. But this was not to be. The ministry of Jesus stirred up Herod’s memories of John, and his fears returned.

John dies a violent death, the direct consequence of the way he lived. Herod was a ruler who had the power to save, but is moved more by guilt, self-interest, and pride than by justice and truth.

Peer pressure…we all experience it one time or another, in one way or another. Across our lifespan, we question how we should act as life pushes and pulls us in conflicting direction. As in this story, evil sometimes triumphs over good.

This story is part of the narrative that foreshadows the suffering and death of Jesus. Mark’s accounts of John’s death at the command of Herod Antipas and Jesus’ death by order of Pontius Pilate have much in common. Both rulers look favorably upon their holy prisoners, both prominent religious figures. Each ruler desires to spare the life of his prisoner. But unfortunately, both care more about pleasing others, buckling to peer pressure, than exercising justice. Both act against their own better judgement, influenced by others, and condemn to death innocent men. Finally both of the victim’s bodies are recovered by disciples and laid in tombs.

How about you? We often think about peer pressure as being relegated to kids or teenagers. Peers have a great deal of influence over them. But it’s not just kids. It’s us too. We sometimes come under influence of family members or friends.

I’m not going to ask you to put up your hand, but I’m going to ask a few questions for your thought: Do you have someone who negatively pressures you in regard to your religious beliefs or church activities?

A simple example would be someone saying, “You don’t need to go to church this week! You just went last week!” Here’s another one: “You don’t need to go church this week! Let’s go shopping/hunting/fishing/ instead… (fill in the blank)!”

That’s peer pressure. Do you let others make you an apologist, defending your faith? Do you let others make you feel small when you can’t defend yourself in an appropriate verbal battle?

It’s not about what others think. It’s about what you think. It’s up to you not to buckle under pressure…to do the right thing…not to act under undue influence….

The challenge of the 21st century is for the body of Christ to read our own decisions in light of that same story…good vs evil; darkness vs light. We need to ask ourselves whether the choices we make are self-protective. Do we let others influence our decisions, or do we do what is right in our heart? Do we follow Jesus or follow the whims and influence of our peers?

1 Corinthians 16:13 tells us, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be a person of courage; be strong.” Don’t give in to peer pressure. Do the right thing.

Amen.


[1] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Complete Set (OT & NT), 12 Volumes (Volumes 1-12)

[2] Ibid