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The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

St. Mark 6.14-29


The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
Lutheran Senior Services at Meramec Bluffs  
Ballwin, Missouri

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Today we remember the death of St. John the Baptist—prophet of God and forerunner of Christ.  As we heard in the gospel, John preached God's Law to Herod and convicted him of adultery before God and the people. 

[St. Mark 6.18]

. . . It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife,

he said.  By such preaching John earned the scorn of Herodias, Herod's new bride.  Herodias happened still to be Herod's brother's wife, and so their marriage was unlawful.  Threatened by John's preaching, Herodias plotted to have John murdered, and used her daughter to manipulate Herod into beheading John.  And thus John entered into heavenly rest.

2 His fate really should come as no surprise.  Like many prophets before him, he died, baptized in his own blood.  And yet, before his death, he faithfully fulfilled the mission for which he'd been ordained by God.  At his circumcision, on his eighth day of life, John's father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about his son:

[St. Luke 1.76]

And thou child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.

3 As Zacharias prophesied, so had Malachi proclaimed God's word before him.

[Malachi 3.1]

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. 

4 From his miracle conception within the womb of his mother Elisabeth, St. John the Baptist was ordained by God to prepare the way of the Lord.  Thus all four evangelists record that John himself used the words of the prophet Isaiah as he preached and prophesied, and made ready the way of the coming Messiah.

[St. John 1.23]

I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.

5 In faithfulness to God's call on his life, John prepared the way for Christ.  By preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin, John made ready the way for the Messiah.  By preaching his own unworthiness and the holding up the worthiness of Christ, John went before the face of the Lord and made ready his way.  By revealing Christ to be the sacrificial Lamb of God who would die in our place to free us from our sins, John fulfilled his role as prophet of God and readied the hearts of all who heard him to receive Jesus as he came.

6 Hear these words of John, and hear him preach Christ.

[St. Mark 1.7-8]

There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.  I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

[St. John 3.30, 35-36]

He must increase, but I must decrease.  He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. . . The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

[St. John 1.29-30]

Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.  this is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.

7 Whenever he preaches John preaches Christ.  Whatever he preaches, John preaches Christ.  Everything John does, he does to prepare the way for Christ.  He goes out into the desert to prepare the way for Christ—who does battle with the devil in the desert.  John baptizes people to prepare them for Christ—who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  John preaches the coming of Christ the King—who comes and establishes his kingdom in the hearts of all who hear him.  Even when he preaches to Herod and Herodias, as he condemns their unlawful marriage, he does so for the sake of Christ, for John knows that Christ has come for the Herods and Herodiases of the world, too. 

8 For such preaching of Christ John faces opposition from religious authorities of his day.  For preaching Christ, John endures the suspicion and doubt and confusion of his own disciples.  For preaching Christ, John ultimately loses his freedom, his dignity, and even his head.

9 And yet John's mission does not go unfulfilled, for his mission is ordained by God.  God has promised that his when word goes forth from his mouth it accomplishes that for which he sends it.  So by John's preaching, hearts were prepared for the coming of Christ, and when Christ came, they followed him.  And today-right here and right now—the Baptist's word—God's word of preparation prepares us.  By the Holy Spirit, John's preaching prepares us to receive Christ as he comes to us in Word and Sacrament.  John's preaching prepares us to follow Christ all our life.  John's teaching prepares us to see Christ and recognize him as our Savior and Lord.  John's prophetic revelation shows us the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, and the sin of the entire world.  Even in death, John's prophetic word does its work on us, because it is God's word, after all, that he proclaims.

10 Herod heard God's word from John and, St. Mark says:

[St. Mark 6.20]

Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and an holy, and observed him and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

But hearing John and observing him isn't enough.  When his new wife and step-daughter asked him for John's head, Herod delivered it.  His wife, his step-daughter, his reputation in the presence of his lords, and captains, and noblemen, won the day in the heart of Herod—and in the hardness of his heart he murdered the prophet of God.

11 The same sin stalks us and puts our lives in danger.  Just as it wasn't enough for Herod to hear and observe John, hearing and observing John isn't enough for us, either.  Yes, we hear John preach Christ as he prepares the way of the Lord.  Yes, we observe John through the scriptures and witness his prophetic work.  Yes, we know John is a just and holy man of God.  But the cares and pressures of this world press upon us, just as they did Herod.  Others compete for our attention and devotion and we turn from the Word of God.  The threat of a damaged reputation blinds our eyes to John's holy work, and blinds us to the presence of Christ in our midst.  Hardness of heart leads us away from justice and holiness and into sin.  Maybe not adultery.  Maybe not murder.  But certainly we are tempted to ignore God's Law as Herod did.  We indulge in selfishness, as Herod did.  We are guilty of yielding to the lusts of the flesh, as Herod did.  So hearing and observing John isn't enough.  We must also hear and observe the one whose way John prepared—Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Jesus is justice and holiness in the flesh.  Jesus is the Word of God incarnate for our salvation.  Jesus is our Savior from the sin that enslaves us, and he is our God.  By his preaching, St. John the Baptist calls us to follow in his footsteps and put our faith in Christ and in no other.

12 Such faith in Christ may cost us our reputation in eyes of the world—as it did John.  Such faith in Christ may bring division and opposition and suffering in this life—as it did John.  Such faith in Christ may even cost you your head—as it did John.  But by such faith in Christ we receive our white robe of righteousness along with John the Baptist, the robe St. John the apostle speaks of in Revelation 6.  By faith in Christ we receive our heavenly rest with Christ our Lord, and with all the saints who peacefully wait with Christ for the end of the tribulation and for the end of the spilling of the blood of all the martyrs.  By faith in Christ, we receive at our death our welcome to the gathering of the saints before God—and on the last day the promised resurrection to the life of the world to come.  St. John the Baptist has prepared us for these blessings, for he has prepared the way for Christ to come to us.  And Christ our Lord has secured these blessings for us by his life, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, and grants them to us by his grace.  God grant we hold fast to them in this earthly life, and come to know them fully in the life of the world to come. 

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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