These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
God has given you a conscience. Your conscience is a God-given internal compass that senses right and wrong with a desire to do right. Your conscience was given to you to protect and guide you in the matters of what’s right and wrong.
- Romans 2:14-15 captures this idea, “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it.15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (NLT). You are born with a conscience. Whether you or a believer or not, you have a God-given conscience that knows the universal right and wrongs. This conscience is instinctive. You and your children were given this moral compass when they were born.
- We are given a warning in 1 Timothy 1:19 regarding our conscience, “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked” (NLT). As a believer, when you start ignoring your conscience you run the risk of shipwrecking your faith. This does not mean you lose your salvation, but as you continue to violate your conscience you will discover that you start doubting God more, not trusting His word like you used to, and find yourself dropping out of church, not reading the Bible, and not thinking like a follower of Christ. You will find your faith shipwrecked.
God has given you a conscience that acts like a compass. God will often use your conscience to guide you and navigate you through the right and wrongs of life. Someone once asked, “What’s the difference between the words conscience and conscious?” Conscious is when you are aware of something and conscience is when you wish you weren’t!” Your conscience is that red warning light in your soul. It’s a moral beeper that goes off when you have done wrong.
Another way to look at it is, your conscience is a square peg inside the heart that turns when you do something wrong. As it turns, the sharp edges give you the sensation that you need to stop. But if you ignore the warning over time then the edges wear off, and it can freely turn without you feeling anything anymore.
God has a lot to say about our conscience.
- Our conscience can be dead (1 Tim. 4:2). These people have no moral compass. Right is wrong and wrong is right and that can change based on their desires. Their moral compass is broken.
- Our conscience can be clear (Acts 23:1; 24:16; Rom. 13:5). These people have done the right thing, regardless of the consequences and they know it.
- Our conscience can be weak (1 Cor. 8:7, 9). These people want to do what’s right, but their moral compass is based on wrong information. If they have been taught that its wrong for your hair to be a certain length, to read certain Bible translations, or to play with a deck of cards they may feel guilty. They want to do what’s right, but their conscience is weak because they have wrong information guiding their moral compass. It’s a weak conscience.
- Our conscience can also be guilty (Heb. 10:22). This is where we know we have done wrong or about to do wrong.
The world will say, “Let your conscience be your guide.” That’s not always a good idea. Your conscience may be dead or it may be weak. If you let your conscience be your guide you are letting your conscience set the standard of right and wrong. However, your conscience only applies the standards that you have been taught. The true standard of right and wrong is God’s Word and to have a good conscience you must be taught God’s Word.
I’ve said all of this because we are going to take a close look at Herod’s conscience. He lived with a guilty conscience when it came to John the Baptist. From this we can learn a lot about our own conscience when facing right and wrong decisions in our life.
Troubled Conscience (vs. 14-16)
Let’s start with Herod’s troubled conscience. Verse 14 says, Herod Antipas, the king, soon heard about Jesus, because everyone was talking about him. Some were saying, “This must be John the Baptist raised from the dead. That is why he can do such miracles.” 15 Others said, “He’s the prophet Elijah.” Still others said, “He’s a prophet like the other great prophets of the past.” 16 When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.”
- We are told that Herod “soon heard about Jesus, because everyone was talking about him.” People were saying all kinds of things about Jesus. Some were saying that He was “the prophet Elijah” or a new prophet like the “prophets of the past.” But one of the theories about Jesus was that He was “John the Baptist raised from the dead.” That was the theory that started scratching on the conscience of Herod. These rumors and conversations about Jesus began to cause Herod’s conscience to become troubled once again.
- The odd thing about your conscience is that it can lie dormant for a while and it doesn’t bother you and is silent. Then, suddenly, the sight of a certain face, a picture of a specific place, the sound of a voice, the mention of a certain name and suddenly your conscience becomes wide awake and is knocking on the mind of your soul and it doesn’t go away and it follows you from room to room, to work, to school. You cannot run from your conscience.
- This is what was happening to Herod. He had murdered John in prison. He knew that John was a good and holy man and had several good conversations with Him about the kingdom of God and repentance. Whatever was going on with Herod’s mind and conscience, his conclusion was this Jesus was “John the Baptist raised from the dead.” Even though that was not true, the rumors about Jesus was starting to bother His conscience and what He had done.
People with a troubled conscience will often think things like, “This bad thing that is happening to me now is because of what I did back then.” A troubled conscience can cause a person to think crazy things like someone being raised from the dead to return to torment them. Herod is a great example of people believing in the spiritual, but not the gospel. Some people will believe in reincarnation, but will not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. They will believe the power of the devil over their life, but not the power of God over their life. Herod was both confused and troubled.
Trapped Conscience (vs. 17-28)
Herod goes from a troubled conscience to a trapped conscience. Verse 17 begins a flashback of the event that was eating at Herod’s conscience. In this flashback we see that Herod felt trapped by His wife, His step-daughter, and by his own words. Take a look at verse 17, For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. 18 John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, 20 for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him. 21 Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. 22 Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” 23 He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!” 24 She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!” 25 So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!” 26 Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, 28 brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.
Sin is like a spider web that weaves one strand at a time. Before long you discover you are caught in a web of sin. For Herod one sin led to another. At act of selfishness led to pride and pride led to murder. He committed adultery with Herodias. He lusted after his step-daughter to the point he offered up to half his kingdom in front of everyone at the party, and his pride kept him from doing the right thing and instead had John beheaded in prison which was an act of murder.
He was feeling trapped by his sin. Someone once said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Herod was trapped by his sin and his conscience.
Tormented Conscience (vs. 26)
Herod conscience was troubling him and he also felt trapped by his conscience, but he was also tormented by his conscience. We are told in verse 26, Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her.
We are told that Herod “deeply regretted” what he had said to his step-daughter. He was “very sorry” (NASB), “greatly distressed” (NIV), and “deeply grieved” (AMP) over what he had promised. Listen carefully, remorse is not repentance and neither is regret repentance. Pay close attention to 2 Corinthians 7:10 which says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death” (CSB). Worldly grief says, “I feel bad for the decisions I have made and how they have ruined by life.” Godly grief says, “I feel bad for the decisions I have made because they have dishonored God and ruined my life.” One is self-focused and the other is God-focused. One leads to “repentance that leads to salvation without regret” and the other leads to more “death,” more regret, and more pain.
Before we begin wrapping this up I want to point out something interesting in Luke 23:8 that deals with an encounter between Jesus and Herod. We are told, “Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer” (vs. 8-9, NLT). Remember, we have already been told that Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Herod actually murdered twice. He murdered John the Baptist, but he also murdered his conscience. I think God never spoke to Herod again after the murder of John the Baptist, not out of vengeance but out of judgement. Even with God in the flesh, Jesus Christ himself, standing in front of Herod, God refused to answer any of his questions. God had gone silent toward Herod (see Romans 1:24).
God has given every person a conscience to know right from wrong. The reason we often feel guilty about sin is because we are guilty of sin. But you don’t have to live with a guilty conscience. The good news is that the Bible says in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (NLT). You can be forgiven by God for what you have done. God is faithful to do this. He wants to do this for you. When God forgives you of your sin, He removes them as far as the East is from the West. He cast them into the depths of the sea. Part of “cleansing us from all wickedness” involves clearing our conscience.
Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT).