Fearing the Prophet, Fearing the King

Fearing the Prophet, Fearing the King

mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jordan’s banks the Baptist’s cry is heard no more, for John’s
body lay in the filthy bowels of Herod’s prison; his bloody head perched
upon a platter, severed by the executioner’s blade.

the final prophet to Israel and the forerunner of the Savior now revealed,
is martyred at the request of a teenage tart. Her lascivious dance makes
Herod a fool for lust, even for his own stepdaughter. While the
king does his thinking with everything but his brain, his illegitimate
and manipulative wife Herodias cunningly convinces her child to assist
in some prophetic extermination. Repentance is not in her vocabulary.

historian Flavius Josephus tells us the young woman’s name is Salome,
born about 14 A.D. to Herodias and her prior husband. She would
have been in her mid-teens about this time, perhaps the age of a high
school sophomore or junior. Yet, 19 centuries before sex, drugs,
and rock and roll, Salome and her mother used sex, wine, and the bump-and-grind
to maneuver Herod into ending the annoyance of John’s criticism.

continual reminders that the marriage of Herod and Herodias violated
Jewish law was irksome and embarrassing, and if there’s anything a
politically-minded, ambitious woman like Herodias didn’t like, it
was having her dirty laundry brought to the attention of the populace
time and time again. She was looking for any excuse she could
find to do away with John, but her husband had other ideas, the weak

actually respected John and shielded him from his wife’s wrath, listening
to John’s preaching frequently even though he couldn’t grasp or
accept what was taught.

when Herod’s banquet loosened his mind and his tongue, Herodias wasted
no time in taking advantage of his reckless promise to grant young Salome
whatever she wished. Painted into a corner with his own words,
and with his honor at stake in front of his many guests, Herod had no
choice but to send for John’s head. The sentinel of salvation
is prematurely silenced, but not before he has accomplished what he
had been called and ordained to do: To proclaim repentance of
sins, and to preach the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand.

entire lesson today seems somewhat out of place in Mark’s account
of the Gospel—almost as if someone got the sheets of papyrus out of
order when they were organizing the pages. If you jumped right
from the verse immediately before this text to the verse immediately
following, you wouldn’t really lose a beat. The things about
which King Herod had heard in the beginning verse of the lesson are
the preaching and healing being done by Jesus and His disciples.

immediately after the account of John’s death, the prior story continues,
as Jesus’ disciples return from their journeys and begin to tell Him
all they had done and taught. We learn from the opening verses
of the lesson, however, that John had actually been killed earlier,
for upon hearing of the things that are being done by Jesus and His
disciples, Herod speculates that John had been raised from the dead.
Only then do we get the “flashback” which recounts the reasons behind
Herodias’ resentment toward John, which led to his arrest and eventual

are the dangers of confronting the sins of others. You don’t
make many friends by pointing out how they’ve violated God’s Law,
and placed themselves in danger of His condemnation and punishment.
People would much rather have you tell them that it’s perfectly OK
to do whatever pleases and satisfies them.

win more friends and influence more people by smoothing over, looking
past, and whitewashing their sins than by calling them out on their
sins. “Live and let live” is the motto of the damned, but
the truth is that letting others live comfortably in their sins, happy
and oblivious, is really nothing more than “Smile and let die.”

since sin first corrupted the human nature, and as long as sins have
been done on this earth, God has sent His John the Baptists to the Herods
and Herodiases of the world. Pharaoh had his Moses, Saul his Samuel.
David had his Nathan, and Ahab and Jezebel their Elijah.

yes, when you and I forget who the true King is, and coronate ourselves
as the rulers of all we survey, God continues to send His prophets to
us to proclaim His word and confront us. We need this, for we
are no better than the sinners of old. We are still a ‘brood
of vipers.’ We remain an adulterous generation. We do
what is not lawful, frequently and much.

resentment at being challenged on our sin does not negate the truth
of the challenge or the reality of our sin. We can hide from it;
we can lock up our sin behind closed doors; we can even try to silence
the voices of those who point at us and shout, “Repent! Turn
from your sin and live! Flee from the wrath to come!”

if no one confronts us with God’s Word of warning and repentance;
if those voices fall silent or are just simply avoided, we will convince
ourselves that everything is just fine. I’ve got it all under
control, we think. Nobody knows my sin, and even if they do, it’s
nobody’s business but mine. The party continues. The dance
goes on. We’d docey-dough right through the door of death, and
hustle our way into hell.

God doesn’t let that happen. Even after Herod had sliced off
John’s head, the word comes to him that there’s more of the same
being taught and done. More proclamation, more baptisms, more
divinely-given meals, miracles at every turn.

Lamb of God whom John pointed toward as the Redeemer of the world is
on the move, and He’s coming your way, all you Herods and Herodiases.
He brings His Word of warning and repentance, too. If you fail
to listen, you’ll be just as dead as John, but your suffering will
just be starting.

the Lamb comes with other words, too—words that comfort and assure;
words that heal and lift up and satisfy our every need. What John’s
baptism started, Jesus’ baptism made complete. Where John’s
proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins changed a generation
for a time, Jesus’ declaration of repentance and forgiveness changed
the world forever. The breaking of John’s body and the spilling
of John’s blood brought guilt and condemnation upon a king and His
household and his dinner guests, but the breaking of Jesus’ body and
the spilling of His blood brings innocence and amnesty to all who receive
it in faith. It brings the true King’s banquet to you, and assures
you a place in the King’s household forever.

much horrible irony in the martyrdom of John the Baptist. He spoke
truth, and fell into the hands of pretenders and deceivers. He
brought the rough-yet-simple words of the heavenly King to Herod’s
family, and fell victim on account of their smooth words and complex
plotting. He conveyed a solution of love, and was met with hate
and bitterness. His mission to bring life to others brought death
upon himself.

John was the forerunner of the Christ, all right. Everything he
did, from his own miraculous birth to his captivity and execution to
satisfy the discomfort of the powerful and the comfortable in sin, foreshadows
what Jesus Himself would later do and fulfill in much greater measure,
and with infinitely greater implications.

we observe his martyrdom this day, rejoice that the straight path for
the Lord was prepared in the wilderness by John the Baptist. Heed
his warning to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Remember
his constant dedication to God’s task. Admire his life of self-denial
and the acceptance of his place of humility even as the Lord’s prominence
increased. And thank the Lord for John’s faithfulness unto death.

of all, though, remember the One to whom John always pointed, the Lamb
of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is He, Jesus Christ,
who has put your feet on the straight and narrow path to eternal life.
It is Jesus who brings the kingdom of God to you who repent. It
is Jesus who kept His eyes firmly on the cross laid before Him, who
denied Himself, and took up that cross after taking the humility of
human flesh upon His divine being. It is Jesus whose resurrection
from the dead ensured John’s rising from the dead, just as it assures
your rising, too.

words of Jesus tell us that there is no one born of woman who is greater
than John the Baptist. But on account of Jesus, the name that
is above every other name, you have been brought into God’s kingdom,
where even the very least of us is greater than John. Jesus has
won the battle, that you might wear the crown. Amen.

now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep
your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.