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Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-25

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Wednesday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Wed, Aug 31, 2016 

Here we have the example of a very wicked man, Herod Antipas.  We may think that we have little in common with him.  He seems to do horrid sin after horrid sin.  Especially we, who are so dedicated that we are here on a weekday night for Vespers, might feel that Herod is little warning to us.

Yet notice that Herod went gladly to hear the Word from Saint John the Baptist.  Although John’s message perplexed Herod, he nevertheless kept going to hear it, and did not want John killed.  Contrast that with much of America.  If a person hears the Word and it perplexes them, perhaps because some Law strikes them hard, or the doctrine is strange to them, then most likely that person will simply go to a different church.  Herod did not go out and find a better preacher.  There were many others available who would surely be happy to give him sermons to make him feel more comfortable.  Instead, he stuck to hearing John’s preaching.

We hear the Word gladly.  That is not enough.  We must also take it to heart and let it humble our proud spirits.

Yet Herod still had many areas of moral failing.  His marriage to his brother’s wife was clearly against the Law of God given through Moses.  Herod threw John into prison, in spite of the strange respect he had for John.  This was an offense against a true prophet, and therefore an offense against God.

Again, Americans follow Herod in this.  Divorce and remarriage are only symptoms of the deeper problem.  We have not held marriage in the esteem that it deserves as a precious gift of God.  So-called “homosexual marriage” is a bad enough perversion of God’s gift.  Yet even we heterosexual married couples have too often treated our vows negligently.  “Till death do us part,” is abandoned for any number of reasons.  Chief among them, I think, is the worship of our emotions.  Although they blow hot and cold, back and forth, here today and gone tomorrow, yet somehow we trust our emotions as if they were the very voice of truth.  In this way, many marriages are destroyed.

Then there is the matter of Herod’s poorly and hastily made vow.  Certainly aided by overuse of alcohol, likely aided by sexual feelings toward the young dancer, Herod wrote a blank check, so to speak.  This led directly to the death of John by way of the evil request for his head.  At this point, Herod might have broken his vow, which probably was preferable to taking the life of a holy man of God.  Better yet, he should not have made a hasty and rash vow in the first place.  But of course he both made and carried through on his ill-considered promise.

Here we should also consider how dangerous alcohol can be when abused, to the point of loss of life.  Herod apparently engaged in a “party all the time” attitude, which is, again, all-too-common in America.  We, on the other hand, should resist the temptation to overindulge.

Sexuality is also a destroyer.  America has copied people like Herod in the realm of immorality.  It is so easy to sell our lives cheaply for a feeling of attraction.  Or we can destroy the lives of others, as Herod did.

We as the people of God should have the wisdom and discipline to keep ourselves under control.  We have been taught God’s will for a chaste and pure life.  Let us not be found acting like the multitude of Herods that live around us.

Most of all, we should repent.  This is where Herod particularly seemed to fall short.  Although he gladly listened to John, Herod showed no sign of repentance for his many sins.  His troubled mind reflected his internal struggle.  He knew that he had done wrong but could not bring himself to fall upon his knees before God.

Our knees, also, are often stubborn.  We may justify or ignore rather than face the seriousness of our trespasses.  We are slow to feel the rightful sorrow that should follow our knowledge of our sins.

We may also be slow to correct what we have done.  Herod, of course, seems to have never corrected anything.  A hasty vow and his reputation among his people seemed more important to him than stopping the murder of a prophet of God.  An unlawful marriage should have been dealt with, at least by a public admission of guilt.

Similarly, we may look at our sins and say, “Oh, well, I am forgiven, so no big deal.” If we do not face up to the seriousness of our iniquity, we may fall into the same sin repeatedly.  Or worse, we may think that there is no harm living in a continuous lifestyle of sin because we are forgiven.

May we never fall into such a wicked state.  Yet many around us do just such a thing.  The Gospel for them has become an excuse for sin.  Many people have lost forgiveness and salvation this way.  May the Lord preserve us from the same fate.

May He lead us instead to stand up like John.  John spoke the word boldly, in spite of the consequences.  He spoke against marital immorality to a world and government that supported immorality.  He was willing to go to jail rather than compromise the truth.

We, on the other hand, are often too timid to speak up.  Or we speak up only amongst our small group of like-minded friends.  Are we willing to be on public record saying that homosexual marriage is a sin?  Or are we afraid of the consequences?  Whom do we respect more, the world, or the Lord?

Too often we are afraid of offending others.  Too often we are afraid that we will be seen as unloving.  But we should consider what genuine love is.  Genuine love does not allow a person to blindly stumble toward destruction in unrepentant sin.  Genuine love warns a person and holds out to them the only hope for sinners in the Gospel of Christ.

In this way, John the Baptist was the only one who truly showed love to Herod.  John was willing to be put into prison and eventually executed for the sake of calling Herod to repentance.  John was trying to save a man who acted as his mortal enemy.  That is love.

But the world wants us to prove our love by affirming their actions and teachings, no matter how sinful.  That is not really love, of course.  Yet that is the only kind that they will accept.

Rather than bow to their wickedness, may we stand firm as John did.  By the Spirit’s power, may we hold out to them the warning of their danger and the offer of eternal life in the Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

For Christ stood up in love for sinful mankind.  He was not only willing to die for the chance to call them to repentance and life.  He also gave His life in suffering and humiliation as payment for their sins, even for the sins of those who would still reject Him.  He stood up for us, to show us the greatest, most genuine love.  He was lifted up upon the Cross of agony because He did not want to let us go off into destruction.  He upheld the law of God, compromising nothing.  Then He died for our wickedness.  Therefore we know that our sentence of eternal death has been removed.  The penalty is paid, and we need never go to the prison house of hell.  Because Christ stood up for us to the point of death, we need not fear death.

His story, and John’s story, and ours, do not end with the event that we call death.  John’s decapitation was not the last we shall hear from him.  He is now seated in glory with saints and angels, where we also shall sit.  Christ has proven and shown this by His Resurrection from death.  We are immortal beings who need not fear martyrdom.  We can stand up for the Gospel and lose our lives because our dear Lord has given us life that transcends death.  No earthly Herods can take this from us.  No axe or sword or gun or knife can take away the gift of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Whatever we lose for Him shall be restored at the Resurrection, even our bodies.

Therefore we have boldness to confess this Name that is above every name.  To Him alone be all the glory, with the Father and the Spirit, one God forever.  Amen.

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