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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6: 14–29

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 7, Proper 10, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Jul 12, 2015 

Todays reading from the Gospel comes immediately after last weeks reading that told us that [the twelve] went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mark 6:1213)

This kind of activity would draw a lot of attention and todays reading begins by informing us that even Herod heard about it.  Everyone was speculating about Jesus.  Some said, John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him. 15But others said, He is Elijah. And others said, He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old. (Mark 6:1415)

Marks Gospel account does not tell us whether Herod had genuine pangs of conscience or whether Herod was merely being superstitious.  Either way, King Herod seemed to be afraid that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead.  He was afraid because the history of Israel records many instances of bad things happening to people who kill Gods prophets, and he had killed John the Baptist.

Johns death came because one of the jobs of a prophet is to speak the truth to power.  This usually meant saying very unpleasant things to very powerful people.  In the case of Herod, this meant condemning his marriage.  The Herod in todays Gospel is actually Herod Antipas, and he was one of the sons of Herod the Great.  His wife, Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great.  She had been previously married to Herods half-brother Philip.  In other words, both of Herodiass husbands were also her uncles.  Herod had gotten an illegal divorce from his first wife to marry Herodias.  Herodias had also illegally divorced Philip in order to marry Herod.  It was a mess and John the Baptist condemned the whole thing.

The text sort of gives the impression that Herod himself would have left John alone if it were not for his wife.  Herod sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philips wife and Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. (Mark 6:1719) Herod, on the other hand, seemed to have a different attitude toward John.  Herodias wanted to put [John] to death.  But she could not, 20for 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 6:1920)

Herodias finally got a chance to execute John at Herods birthday party.  Her daughter provided entertainment for the party with a dance.  Most commentators say this dance was fairly provocative and that is the reason it pleased Herod and his guests.  At any rate, her dance pleased Herod so much that he made an extremely foolish promise.  The king said to the girl, Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you. 23And he vowed to her, Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom. 24And she went out and said to her mother, For what should I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25And 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. (Mark 6:2225) Herodias took advantage of Herods foolishness and got her wish.  That was the end of John.

As we hear this story, one of the many puzzling behaviors of Herod is his attitude toward John.  Biblical scholars have used a lot of ink trying to evaluate the contradictory behavior of Herod with regard to John.  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 6:20) These words indicate that Herod enjoyed listening to John.  Other words in the text indicate that Herod respected John as a prophet.  He even seemed to be concerned about the result of killing one Gods prophets.  Herod seemed to be afraid of some sort of curse or something if he killed John.  Never the less, Herod ordered Johns death anyway.  He was more concerned about his reputation before men than before God.

Jesus described John by saying, Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. (Matthew 11:11) So when God allowed John to get arrested, He placed the greatest prophet of all time in Herods dungeon, and Herod heard him.  Herod also met Jesus the night before the crucifixion.  Herod even interacted with the Apostles after Jesus rose from the dead.  Never the less, Herod rejected the message of salvation from all of them.

It is as Martin Luther preached about the Commandment, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

It is not only the people who greatly misuse and desecrate the holy day who sin against this commandment (those who neglect to hear Gods Word because of their greed or frivolity or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine). But even that other crowd sins. They listen to Gods Word like it was any other trifle and only come to preaching because of custom. They go away again, and at the end of the year they know as little of Gods Word as at the beginning. Up to this point the opinion prevailed that you had properly hallowed Sunday when you had heard a Mass or the Gospel read. But no one cared for Gods Word, and no one taught it. Now that we have Gods Word, we fail to correct the abuse. We allow ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we do not listen seriously and carefully. (Large Cat.: Third Commandment)

While it is definitely beneficial to make it a habit to attend Divine Service on the Lords Day and the other festival days, it does little good if the Word of God rolls off you like water off a ducks back.  When we hear the Word of God, but do not listen to it, we are little Herods hearing Gods Word, but not really listening.  We are like the rocky soil in the parable that Jesus explained and said, These are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:1617)

Martin Luther put it this way in his sermon: Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also about learning and retaining Gods Word in memory. Do not think that this is optional for you or of no great importance. Think that it is Gods commandment, who will require an account from you [Romans 14:12] about how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word. (Large Cat.: Third Commandment)

The mere fact that it is Gods Word should be enough all by itself to compel us to learn it.  Never the less, there is an even greater reason to learn, retain, and meditate on Gods Word.  It is Gods Word that communicates salvation to us.  It is Gods Word that the Holy Spirit uses to bring us into the family of God.  It is Gods Word that the Holy Spirit uses to keep us in the family of God.  It is Gods Word that gives us confidence in the salvation that Jesus earned for us on the cross.  It is Gods Word that constantly comforts and assures us with the eternal promises of God to take us to be His own forever.

Gods Word tells us about the love that God has for us in that He sent His only begotten son into this world to take up our human flesh and work salvation for us.  His Son fulfilled the law in our place with a holy, innocent life a life that began in the womb of the Virgin Mary and continued until His lifeless body lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  His Son also endured our punishment in His suffering and death on a cross.  In this way, He took our sin onto Himself and gave us His holiness to take its place.  God looks at you and sees the righteousness of His holy Son.

King Herod was concerned that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead.  John didnt come back from the dead, but Jesus did.  Death could not hold Him and He ascended to heaven to prepare a place for us.  On the Last Day, Jesus will raise all the dead including John the Baptist.  Then He will give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

King Herod was actually a historical participant in the salvation Jesus earned for us.  Had he listened to John, he would now be with Jesus waiting for the Last Day and the resurrection to eternal life.  Because he rejected the saving words of John, he has lost his salvation.  He has not lost his salvation because he killed John.  Jesus died in order to forgive that sin.  Herod is lost simply because he rejected the salvation contained in the words that John, Jesus, and the Apostles had for him.

God has given the facts of salvation in His Word.  God the Holy Spirit uses that Word to work salvation.  Through that Word, Jesus still calls and says, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15) That Gospel is Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins.  Unlike Herod and the other people in Marks Gospel account, you know who Jesus is.  He is your savior and He wants you to live with Him forever.  Amen

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