Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Of two kings, their women, and death on a platter

What the unconverted heart wants is so different from what the converted heart wants. As James Smith said in 1859, the state of the unconverted is-
They are in a state of misery. They do not enjoy the favor of God, nor taste the sweetness of his blessing. Have what they may, they are never satisfied, for their immortal nature is always craving for something higher and better. ... They are in opposition to God.
As John Murray said of the converted heart,
It is the Holy Spirit working directly, efficaciously and irresistibly upon man’s heart and mind, making the man over again, and creating him anew after the image of Christ in holiness and righteousness of the truth. A revolution, a reconstruction takes place at the center of man’s moral and spiritual being: sin and pollution are dethroned in the citadel of man’s being, and righteousness takes its place. (source)
Our desires align with God's, our desire is for hatred of sin, pursuit of holiness, our neighbor's good, service, forgiveness, mercy, righteousness and more.

The two hearts (converted vs. unconverted) were never more starkly contrasted as in Salome and Esther's.

Esther Before King Ahasuerus with Haman Being Sent to the Gallows,1577
(studio of) Claeissens, Anthuenis (1536-1613)

According to Mark 6:21-29 a daughter of Herodias danced before Herod and her mother Herodias at the occasion of his birthday, and in doing so gave her mother the opportunity to obtain the head of John the Baptist. Even though the New Testament accounts do not mention a name for the girl, this daughter of Herodias is often identified with Salome. According to Mark's gospel Herodias bore a grudge against John for stating that Herod's marriage to her was unlawful; she encouraged her daughter to demand that John be executed. (source)

and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you." 23And he swore to her, "Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom." 24And she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." (Mark 6:22-25).


Deadly desire: Aubrey Beardsley's illustration
for Wilde's play (Getty Images) Source

Why does the unconverted heart want death on a platter? Because John the Baptist had spoken against the King's unlawful marriage. Nobody likes it when their sin is pointed out, least of all the one with an unconverted heart. The daughter, which through history we know is named Salome, sided with her mother in wanting the burr in their side dead. Silencing the voice of God used through His people never silences the conscience though, nor does it destroy coming judgment for their sins. The sinner may gain temporary relief, but it is only temporary.

King Ahasuerus of Persia ruled from Ethiopia to Iran, over 127 districts. When he saw kind and gentle Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her.

Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. 3And the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” 4And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” (Esther 5:2b-4)

Both kings had asked the women in their lives what request they had and promised to fulfill it up to half their respective kingdoms. What power! What an important moment! If you were given such a powerful promise, what would you ask for? Each woman instantly knew what she wanted.

Esther famously was concerned with doing God's will, even to the risk of her own life. She spoke up on behalf of her people, who were under threat of genocide. Esther wanted life for her people because they were God's people, Salome wanted death to John the Baptist to silence the convicting voice. The two hearts could not be more starkly different.

Pray to the Spirit to continue softening your heart so that given an opportunity to ask a favor the King of Kings, you will ask in a way that is aligned with His will. What tragedy it was for Salome to ask for something so fleeting so as to gain temporary relief from the conviction of her sin, only to discover in the end that punishment is forever. Even more so is the tragedy when they have available the gracious and eternal relief from sin's burden of guilt and shame through Jesus Christ- and spurn it.

"Up to half my kingdom" the promise was even more ironic. Those with a converted heart will share as co-heirs the entire kingdom, wealth beyond imagining, peace and joy and treasure of the highest kind: Jesus. (Galatians 4:7).


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