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Doug Van Meter - 3 Feb 2019

Is Nothing Sacred? (Mark 6:14–29)

The holocaust of abortion is a worldwide problem, for which South Africa will not escape with impunity. Since February 1997, hundreds of thousands of children have been put to death in their mother’s wombs all under legal protection. This fact is mourned by Christians every year on Sanctity of Life Sunday. But the issues pertaining to the sanctity of life are not limited to abortion, judicial injustice, or racism. Rather when we think of sanctity of life, the fundamental concern relates to how we view people, which flows out of our view of God. In the text before us, the culprits have little regard for God, and therefore little regard for human life. We may shake our heads in disbelief at such a scene, but as we view what seems to be an increasing culture of death in our own society, we are moved to ask, “Is nothing sacred?”

Scripture References: Mark 6:14-29

From Series: "Mark Exposition"

An exposition of the Gospel of Mark by Doug Van Meter.

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I recently read Just Mercyby Bryan Stevenson, which has been hailed as a modern To Kill A Mockingbird. Since that is my favourite novel, I was a bit sceptical, but the critics are right.

Stevenson’s book, unlike that of Harper Lee, is not fiction. It is the true account of his experience working as a lawyer for thirty years fighting for the release of people unjustly convicted of crimes. Many are either serving life sentences without parole or have been sentenced to death by execution.

The major story that runs through all the others concerns a black man named Walter McMillian who, in 1989, was falsely charged with the murder of a young white woman. The sheriff of the Alabama town where the murder occurred knew that McMillian was innocent, as did several other key witnesses. The judge presiding over the case blatantly miscarried justice. As a result, McMillian was sentenced to death by electric chair. To make a long and troubling story short, McMillian was finally acquitted of all charges and released. He died in 2011, but his story of injustice lives on. I recently googled the name of the sheriff and was deeply troubled to see that his community continues to elect him term after term. The judge who presided over the travesty only recently retired.

Stevenson’s book disturbed me. To realise that such racially-motivated injustice is still occurring in the land of my birth—the Land of Lincoln, where the constitution proclaims “all men are created equal”—is deeply disconcerting. It brought home once again the reality that we live in a world in which human beings are not seen as made in the image of God. The result is injustice. But this is not only a racial issue, for the atrocity of abortion is another bloody example of a society’s disregard for human life. And this is because of a disregard for God, the giver of life. When surveying our own societal landscape, we might ask, is nothing sacred?

The holocaust of abortion is a worldwide problem for which South Africa will not escape with impunity. Since February 1997, hundreds of thousands of children have been put to death in their mother’s wombs—all under legal protection. In a tragic irony, Desmond Tutu endorsed Bryan Stevenson’s book calling for a more just penal system. And yet he also advocates abortion on demand. In other words, though Tutu is opposed to the state putting people to death, he supports the right for a child to be put to death.

What is behind such immoral inconsistency? A failure to take God’s word seriously. If his word is not sacred, then nothing is.

For several years now, Brackenhurst Baptist Church has deliberately observed Sanctity of (Human) Life Sunday. This has helped us as a congregation to be better scripturally grounded in the matter of the sanctity of life. It has helped us to appreciate the value of every human life. It has helped us to combat the evil of racism in our own hearts. It has helped us to grow a culture of adoption and orphan care. It has helped us, I trust, to be better equipped to defend the right to life of every human being—including those who are unseen and among the most vulnerable: children in their mother’s womb.

The Fundamental Principle

The issues pertaining to the sanctity of life are not limited to abortion, or judicial injustice, or racism. Rather when we think of the sanctity of life, the fundamental concern relates to how we view people, which flows out of our view of God. A classic biblical and historical example of this is the account of Abel and Cain in Genesis 4.

Cain hated Abel because Cain hated God. He was envious of his younger brother because he was angry at God. He murdered his brother because Abel was the closest that he could get to God. For Cain, nothing was sacred.

The same is true in our day, and it was the same principle at work during the days of Jesus’ sojourn on earth. We see this in Mark 6:14–29 which records “the sordid injustice of an oriental court” (France). That “sordid injustice” continues to characterise much of society, where nothing is deemed sacred.

In this passage, the culprits have little regard for God, and therefore little regard for human life. This is what lay behind the flagrant violation of God’s marriage covenant, the objectifying (if not prostituting) of a daughter, and the murder of a righteous, legally innocent man. We shake our heads in disbelief at such a scene, but as we view what seems to be an increasing culture of death in our own day, we are moved to ask, is nothing sacred?

We will study this sordid story with a view to being further grounded in the biblical teaching concerning the sanctity of life and our responsibility to speak up for it. In other words, for the Christian, there is plenty that is sacred.

Herod’s Guilt

The story opens by recounting Herod’s guilt:

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for 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.

(Mark 6:14–20)

Mark has informed his readers that, at about the time Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, John the Baptist had been arrested and imprisoned by King Herod (1:14). Until now, however, we have not been told told the reason for John’s arrest.

Herod, or Antipas, was the son of Herod the Great. He was half Idumean and yet he was considered an ethnic Jew. But he was a Jew who paid little heed to God’s law. This is clear by the fact that he married his sister-in-law. She was also his niece. Old covenant law prohibited such a marriage (Leviticus 18:13, 16, 20). Further, he had built his palace on Tiberias, an ancient cemetery. This would have made him, as well as any guests in his palace, ceremonially unclean. He didn’t care anything for the law of God. He was on a slippery slope to disaster. His conscience was atrophying.

Herod was technically not a king. Augustus had refused him this title and so perhaps Mark was taking a literary jab that his Roman readers would appreciate. You see, Herod was infatuated with Roman culture and was constantly trying to mimic it. Mark’s readers would have loved the ironic appellation, “the king who wasn’t a king”!

Herod had heard about Jesus’ ministry, perhaps through the extension of his  disciples’ ministry (vv. 12–13). Like many in those days, he was confused about Jesus’ identity. Whereas some identified Jesus as Elijah revived, others identified Jesus with some other resurrected prophet of old. Herod, however, was convinced that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead. To put it mildly, Herod was terrified that John, whom he had murdered, had returned to haunt him. As Edwards notes, “The growing reputation of Jesus was an uneasy reminder to Antipas that he had not silenced John’s message by severing his head.”

Herod was plagued with a guilty conscience—and with good reason. Too bad that he did not listen to and repent when John confronted him with his sin. Too bad that he chose to listen to his counsellors rather than to his Creator. Too bad that this is still the case for many people. Is this the case with you?

We read in v. 20 that there had been a time when Herod had listened intently and with interest John’s preaching. Though he would find himself deeply disturbed (“greatly perplexed”) by John’s fearless denunciation of his sin, and no doubt about the coming Messenger (Malachi 3:1), nevertheless, “he heard him gladly.”

John the Baptist took seriously his ministry, which was to prepare the way of the Lord by calling men and women to repentance (1:1–5). This message of repentance was not confined to a limited stratum of society. Rather, it was to be heard and to be heeded by everyone, including this king.“With a boldness appropriate to his office … not even the royal house was exempt from the call to radical repentance” (Lane).

Herod’s sins, no doubt, were many. Yet the one highlighted by Mark and confronted fearlessly by John was that of adultery (v. 18).

James Edwards helps us to understand just how morally messy this episode was. He writes,

The Herodian family tree was as twisted as the trunk of an olive tree…. Antipas being son of the fourth wife of Herod the Great, Maltase. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, Antipas’s half-brother who was murdered by his father Herod. Herodias was thus a granddaughter of Herod the Great through his second wife, Mariamne I, and hence a niece of Herod Antipas.

This was ugly. John the Baptist had good reason to rebuke this man!

Herod and Herodias had both divorced their spouses and then married. As noted, their marriage violated God’s law and hence John confronted Herod with his sin. It should be noted that though Herodias was equally guilty, in accord with biblical principles, John held Herod primarily accountable. But of course, Herodias hated John because of his uncompromising, prophetic denunciation of their sin. We should note that “John understood that the proclamation of God’s word included moral responsibility. There were no sacred cows in his herds; he did not read the polls before speaking and acting; he protected no special interest; nor did he predicate what he said and did on chances of success” (Edwards).

In other words, as William Lane comments, “John’s preaching was politically explosive.” He wasn’t concerned about what was politically correct. Rather, he was concerned about what God deemed sacred.

The Call to Courageously Call

The church of our day is often conflicted about denouncing sin, particularly denouncing sins of society. In many evangelical circles, we hear the refrain, “Just preach the gospel. The church is not called to reform society but rather to rescue the perishing.” Though there is some truth to this, it is not the whole truth. After all, the church is to call people to repentance and faith. And just as faith has a specific reference—the Lord Jesus Christ—so repentance has a specific reference—whatever sin is enslaving you from believing on Jesus—whether that sin is racism, oppression, abortion, sexual perversion, or whatever.

I say this to make the point that the church corporately, and the church individually, has the responsibility to speak to a society about its sins.

Now, many will argue that it was one thing for Jewish prophets to denounce sins among the chosen nation of Israel and by her leaders. But, they argue, it is quite another to denounce sins of a society that is not in covenant relationship with God. But that is wrongheaded. Under the old covenant, the prophets of Israel denounced pagan nations as well as their own nation (e.g. Assyria, Babylon, Edom, Egypt, etc.). In other words, Christians have a responsibility before God to point out when people and institutions—including governments—are breaking God’s law.

Of course, we are to do more than denounce; we are also to announce. That is, we are to announce the Gospel of God as the way of forgiveness for breaking the law of God. But confronting people, and a Government, and a culture with their guilt is our responsibility. For if people are not confronted with their guilt, there can be no gospel.

Those who are racist in their behaviour need to be told so. On a couple of occasions, I have watched the film clip at the Apartheid Museum where Hendrik Verwoerd infamously proclaimed, “Our policy is one, which is called by an Afrikaans word ‘Apartheid.’ And I’m afraid that has been misunderstood so often. It could just as easily, and, perhaps, much better be described as a policy of good neighbourliness.” I am always amazed that he said that with a straight face. Racism is a sin and therefore, in whatever shape or form, is repulsive to God. It needs to be repented of. As we will see, without repentance, the breaking of God’s law in one area will lead to the breaking of God’s law in other areas (see Romans 13:8–13). But thank God that racists can be forgiven. Each of us who has been guilty of racism can be forgiven. But first, we must acknowledge our sin.

Those who have had a part in abortion need to repent. And thank God, they can! Thank God that many who have been involved in abortion, in one form or another, have repented.

No Argument

You will find no argument with me when it is said that the church needs to focus on the gospel. The Great Commission is all about making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and this is grounded in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, the Great Commission is grounded in the gospel of God. However, the good news assumes bad news and we must point out the bad news of God’s holy condemnation if one will receive God’s holy salvation.

So preach the law of God, which includes, “You shall not commit adultery.” It also includes, “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour,” and, “You shall not murder.” Each of these laws is grounded in the principle of the sanctity of human life. Each is grounded in the creation principle that every human being is made in the image of God. We are to respect this; we are to respect each other.

When you violate God’s laws of sexuality you are neither reverencing God nor respecting the other person. When you steal from someone you are neither revering God nor respecting the one you are defrauding (James 5:1–6). When you lie about someone, you are neither reverencing God nor respecting the one you are slandering. When you take the life of the innocent, including the most vulnerable (unborn children), you are neither fearing God nor acknowledging the value of the murdered.

Therefore, Christian—therefore church—sometimes a way to show God- honouring respect for human life involves speaking out and pointing out. Just like John did to Herod and to his wife. The March for Life can be a good thing for Christians to be involved in. There is a place for protesting and petitioning. Voices make a difference. Voters make a difference. Speak up for the marginalised.

Herodias’ Grudge

Herodias responded to John with violence:

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 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. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

(Mark 6:21–29)

Mark has informed us that Herod admired John the Baptist. Though he did not respond to his message, he nevertheless seemed to hold John in respectful regard. Unlike his wife.

Perhaps Herod imprisoned John because he saw him as a threat to his rule. It is possible that he wanted to silence John by incarcerating him. We can make a legitimate case that faithfulness to God and his word will make the church a thorn in the side of a godless culture and a godless government.

However, it seems that we can also read this text as indicating that it was Herod’s illegitimate wife that instigated John’s unjust imprisonment, and certainly his death. So Herod committed what he deemed a lesser injustice. Yet it would continue to metastasise into a much greater injustice—not only for John the Baptist, but also, as we will see, for Jesus.

Beware the moral slippery slope. Herod played fast and loose with his conscience and innocent people suffered. Beware. What starts as small compromises (e.g. abortion ins certain “extreme” cases) can quickly spiral out of control.

We are told in v. 19 that Herodias “had a grudge” against  John. She “wanted to put him to death.” Her motive was hatred of God and those who spoke for him. What she lacked was opportunity—until, Herod’s birthday.

Most scholars believe that, in keeping with Herod’s mimicking of Roman culture, this party would have been similar in Roman fashion, albeit with the presence of a dancer. In Roman times, public dancing was one of the few things that the Romans had a moral aversion to. Roman statesman Cicero recorded, “To dance a man must be intoxicated or insane.”This was most likely a very sordid scene. It takes little imagination to paint the debauched picture of what was taking place. It is perverse, and it is pathetic.

It is pathetic on several levels, not the least which is that the word used to describe Herodias’ daughter: “Girl” (v. 22) refers to a young girl, perhaps no older than twelve or thirteen. This mother could perhaps be compared to Jezebel of old, and Herod was akin in character to Ahab.

Herodias plotted that, amid the drunken party, she would parade and expose her daughter to a group of lustful men, including her step-father, Herod. This is sick. This sinfully sick sensuality would lead to murder.

Guarding Girls

Let me pause to observe that Herodias had no respect for the principle that her daughter was made in the image of God. If she had, she would have shielded her daughter from the objectifying and lustful gaze of men. But since Herodias could not think beyond her own navel, she had no qualms about her daughter enticing men with her navel. Mothers, fathers, take care and take courage. Guard your daughters. And guard the daughters of others. Modesty is still a biblical responsibility.

The daughter so danced that Herod was pleased as punch and he made a rash, testosterone-fuelled promise, “I will give to you anything you want, even up to the half of my kingdom.” What would this teenage girl desire? A ticket to see Beyoncé? A sports car? What should she ask for?

Salome (as most scholars assume) turned to her mother, who no doubt was behind this entire scheme. You can almost hear the bloodthirsty excitement in Herodias’s voice as she said, “Tell the ‘king’ that you want the head of John the Baptist” (v. 24). This is sick. What perversity that a mother would involve her own daughter in a murderous conspiracy.

Whatever her motive, she complied. In her dialogue with Herod, she perhaps added the words “on a platter” (v. 25). This young girl, it appears, was as gruesomely perverse and murderous as her mother. The poisoned apple apparently didn’t fall far from the tree.

Parents, what are you teaching your children about the sanctity of life? Are your words promoting the hatred that fuels racism, the arrogance of class-distinction, and the cheapening of human life?

When Herod heard her response, he was mortified. Despite most likely being intoxicated, he realised his predicament. He had made a promise to her, and in the presence of his “nobles, military commanders and the leading men of Galilee” (v. 21). Rather than recant of an illegitimate and irresponsible vow, he caved to peer pressure.

Herod caved to the fear of man and so we are told, “The king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her” (v. 26). Ferguson comments, “The cost was too high. He would rather lose John than his own pride and desire for influence.”As someone has noted, John kept his conscience and lost his head while Herod lost his conscience and took John’s head.

Herod sent to the prison with orders to execute John. John’s severed head was then brought on a platter and given to Salome, who then gave it to her mother. What a way to end a banquet!

Whenever I read through the book of Judges, I dread chapter 19, which contains the awful account about a man who gives his concubine to be sexually abused by a herd of men. In the morning, this calloused man told her to get up and come with him as he left town. He then discovered that she was dead. In a fit of hypocritical, self-righteous indignation, he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent pieces of her dissected body to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. He demanded justice (one wonders for whom!). We are told that things were so sordid in those days because there was no king in Israel and so everyone did that which was right in their own eyes (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Well, in John the Baptist’s day, there was a king, and sadly, he did that which was right in his own eyes—with murderous results. For Herod, nothing was sacred, and the people ran scared and scarred. So it is in so many places in our world—yes, in our own country.

Government, Do Your Duty

I have seen the video, The Silent Scream, which films an abortion. In it, the child—the human being, a person, an individual who was made in the image of God—recoils as the doctor of death comes for him. This happens daily in our country. The government, which should be protecting these children, is rather, like Herod, aiding and abetting these murderous procedures. Those whom God has entrusted with the safety and security of its citizens are actually complicit in threatening their safety and security. Like Herod, for many, nothing is sacred. While for others, they have chosen not to grow a spine. Rather, like Herod, political expediency and the desire for popular applause have tempted them to throw up their hands and allow the hands of killers to ply their trade while calling it “reproductive health.” How is this allowed?

Though I get that this is not the main point of this story, nevertheless, it is a valid observation and application to make. In fact, if Herod had taken seriously what it meant to be a ruler of God’s people (see Psalm 72; Proverbs 31; etc.) then not only would John’s life have been spared, but the travesty of injustice that was levelled against Jesus would have been, at the least, mitigated.

The point I am making is that Herod failed to use his authority righteously, and the sanctify of life was trampled. For Herod, it is clear, nothing was sacred.

When Marriage is not Sacred

John had been continually saying to Herod (v. 18) that his marriage to Herodias was unlawful. Herod had groundlessly divorced his first wife to marry his brothers’ ex-wife, which probably was preceded by an affair with her. Herod was married illegally, incestuously, and immorally. God’s laws of marriage meant nothing to him. Is it any wonder that murder lurked close behind?

Herod’s actions and this scene illustrate the spiritual and moral downgrade when God’s word is rejected in one area. Later, Herod would encounter Jesus Christ. But by that time, any spiritual interest had petrified into complete disinterest. As Ferguson comments, “Having rejected the preaching of John, he ended life ridiculing the One whom John had said was greater than himself. In the end, God had no more to say to Herod.”He then soberly observes, “Unless we silence sin, sin will silence conscience.” That is a tragic place to be. This is where many in our society are.

For example, we disregard God’s creation laws of sexuality and then we wonder why abortion on demand is considered a norm. If we abnormalise God’s norm, all other moral abnormalities are also on the table. In other words, nothing will be sacred. This is precisely what happened in Europe and in the United States. When God’s laws of sexual behaviour was disregarded by the “elite” in society, they were, over time, disregarded by the populace, and abortion rights were a logical consequence. After all, if marriage is not sacred, then neither is its intended fruit. If God is ignored in the bedroom, then why not ignore him in a doctor’s room?

Though I have great hope for the future, because I have faith in God’s promises, nevertheless, as we look around at our society, it’s clear that for many, nothing is sacred. There is a characteristic irreverence for both law and for life. I think that our roads are merely a microcosm of this general disregard for God and for his law. What then is the solution?

The solution lies in the message that led to the martyrdom of John the Baptist. You see, even though he was put to death, his all-important message was not. As the early church father Chrysostom said, Herod “cut off the head, but he did not cut off the voice. He curbed the tongue but he did not curb the accusation.” The voice continues to sound forth, “Repent!” (1:4, 15; 2:17; 6:12).

Only with a turning away from our sin, only with a mind changed by the Spirit of God to think God’s thoughts after him, will anything be viewed as sacred. God’s righteous law must be viewed as sacred and the lives of human beings must be valued as reflecting the image of God.

But neither John the Baptist, nor Jesus, nor his followers called for a merely moral reformation. Nor am I. Yes, we want to see a moral change, but we want to see this as the fruit of a heart change—hearts changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Sacred Worldview

It is man’s rebellion against God that feeds a disregard for others. Therefore, Jesus summed up all the law when he said that we are to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–40). So, love for God is the only way that we will ever see anything as sacred, at least as God defines sacred.

But in his reply to the Pharisees Jesus was laying down law. This is a command. And rebels both reject and are unable to keep God’s commands. What we need is grace from God that will then empower us to obey God. This is at the heart of the gospel of God.

Paul put it this way:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

(Romans 8:1–5)

Note that Paul highlights freedom from condemnation of the law, but he also highlights the glorious grace of God that empowers us to fulfil obligations of grace—that is, to obey the law of God.

You see, when we repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we are given the assurance that the Spirit of God indwells us. He gives us a new way to think and therefore a new desire to love the things that God loves—such as his holy law.

The Holy Spirit provides us with a new appreciation for the Law of God because we now have a love for God. We therefore want to obey him. And therefore everything becomes sacred. That is, all of life is viewed as being under the lordship of our Creator God. His laws become our delight, including laws about human sexuality. His values become ours, including the value of every human being. In other words, for the Christian, sanctity of life issues flow from a gospel-transformed worldview. And this must not—cannot—be treated as a secret. Rather, like John the Baptist, we will openly declare the Law of our holy and loving God. We will call on the world to repent, and to honour him with our lives. And when we do, the lives of others will not be under threat. For treating people with dignity will be embraced as being a sacred duty.

Jesus’ Grief

Mark does not record the response of Jesus as fully as Matthew does, but both writers refer to Jesus going to the sea side.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

(Mark 6:30–31)

Upon hearing the news of John’s death, Jesus grieved. And so, when his disciples returned from their first mission trip, they went away for some rest and reflection. Jesus needed to mourn.

No doubt, he the tragic death of John in addition to the normal grief accompanying the death of someone that he loved. But certainly, the death of John brought about grief due to the poignant awareness of the condition of Israel—grief at the awareness that, to leaders in Israel, nothing was considered sacred. Except self-gratification. Does that sound familiar?

Further, John’s death served as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own immanent arrest, mock trial, and execution by crucifixion. As Witherington puts it, “This tale then serves as an ominous warning about the fate of Jesus. The cross looms in the background from this point on in the narrative.”The cross will provide more evidence that, for Herod, truly nothing was sacred. Yet in a marvellous way it will also reveal the one who is fully sacred.

This grudge-bearing, wickedly-sensual, perverse-plotting, bloodthirsty event brought grief to the holy Son of God. It should do the same for us. Similar depravities in our day should bring grief to the Christian.

Yet, as we will see God-willing in our next study, this grief needs to be a Christlike one—that is, a compassionate grief (vv. 30–44).

I never cease to be amazed at the merciful response of Jesus to those who interrupt his grief! The multitudes crowded in on his mourning and yet how did he respond? He served them—spiritually and physically.

This is very helpful as we consider our response to a society where nothing is sacred. We need to couple conviction with compassion. Those who have been involved in abortion may be tempted to be too ashamed to admit it, but they need help for their guilt. They need the compassion of God as expressed and experienced by the God’s gospel. The church must offer this help.

Yes, we must hate what God hates (Psalm 97:10). But we must also love what he loves. He hates sin and he loves mercy (see Micah 6:8).

God loves sinners who repent. Let’s aim for this. Let’s hate the injustice of racism and abortion and oppression and perverted criminal justice systems. Let’s speak out against these and practically do what we can to bring about change. But let us do so humbly, and therefore compassionately. For apart from the grace of God, we would be guilty of the same. In other words, we need to continue to preach the gospel to ourselves, as we preach it to those to whom, at least at this point of time, nothing is sacred.

Finally, we need to do so with the biblical conviction that one day the new heaven and the new earth will arrive in their fullness. And when that happens, everything will be sacred. Even so, come Lord Jesus!