Sermon for the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, 2021

Text: Mark 6:14-29

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

What’s the best way to stay out of trouble? Keep your mouth shut and do as your told. To some extent, this is good and true and right. When parents and other authorities give us commands, we are to do them. When our parents or other authorities do or say things that we don’t agree with, we still honor them for the position or office that they hold. This is part of what it means to “Honor your father and your mother” as the Fourth Commandment instructs us to do.

There are also situations, however, when you have to say what is true even to those who are in authority. St. John the Baptist was presented with such a situation. King Herod was not a morally just and upright man. He was notorious for having people executed who he felt were a threat to his throne. It didn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter if they were closely related to him. If there was a chance that they might have their eye on his throne, they had to be eliminated. Herod clearly had a Fifth Commandment problem. That is, he didn’t value the God-given gift of life. But he had Tenth Commandment and Sixth Commandment issues, too. His brother Philip had a wife who the scriptures call Herodias. Herod desired Herodias to be his wife instead of his brother Philip’s wife, so Herodias divorced her husband and married Herod instead. The scriptures are very clear on this matter: it is not lawful to take another man’s wife. Jesus himself says that anyone who marries a divorced woman makes her an adulterer. Moses goes into great detail about how such relationships like that between Herod and Herodias are strictly forbidden.

Herod is the king, though. John certainly knew that. He no doubt knew how cruel of a king Herod was. It would have been most beneficial for John to simply keep his mouth shut. If he had, he never would have been put in prison and he never would have been sent to the executioner at the request of Herodias through her daughter. You can almost picture John’s disciples saying to him as he approached Herod to confront him on the unlawful marriage to Herodias… “Don’t do it John. He’ll kill you.”

John was faithful to his calling, though. He was the prophet of Most High going before the Lord to prepare His ways. He was sent to call people to repentance that they might have the forgiveness of sins. King Herod was no exception. John was to call Herod to repentance just as he was to call everyone else to repentance. To not do so would be against the calling that God had given him as a prophet. Was John walking into trouble when he approached Herod. Yes. And he knew it. He knew that his life on earth would likely be shortened by this action. But he did it anyway.

Would that we were so bold in proclaiming the truth! We are presented with plenty of opportunities to speak the Word of God boldly to those around us. Why do we shrink away when these situations arise? What do we fear? The answer is that we fear all the wrong things. We fear the negative reaction and perhaps even tense relationship we might create with our or daughter when they decide to pretend to be married instead of actually getting married. We fear that maybe we’ll chase them away from the Church if we keep telling them how important it is that they gladly hear and learn the Word of God by coming to the Divine Service as the Third Commandment bids us to do. We fear losing friends when we state what the Word of God says about sexuality and marriage. We may even fear losing our job over such things. We fear what people will think of us if they find out that our lives are shaped by the Word of God. So instead of boldly proclaiming God’s Word, we decide to keep our mouths shut for the sake of keeping the peace.

Remember why John was called by God to preach the fullness of God’s Word, though. It was not so that sinners would perish; it was so that they might repent and believe the Good News of salvation. The same is true for us. The Lord desires that we boldly confess what is contained in his Word – particularly here we’re talking about his word of Law here – that many will be led to repent of their sins and be receptive to the Gospel. That is, that they hear that Jesus has paid the price for their sins with his blood that he shed on the cross and that they will be raised on the Last Day just as he is risen from the dead. “As surely as I live, God said, I would not see the sinner dead. I want him turned from error’s ways, repentant, living endless days.”

John knew the cost of proclaiming this Word of Law to Herod. He knew it might get him killed. Eventually, it did. But he knew that life in this world was not the end goal. He knew that a far greater thing awaited him in paradise.

Their are Christians around the world today who face that same tough decision as John the Baptist. This past week, many Christians, in fact, lost their lives in Afghanistan because they refused to recant their faith in the One True God. Thanks be to God that we (for now, anyway) don’t face a similar threat. We do face discomfort, though, for speaking the truth. We do face potential trials in life for living as Christians. We have a choice. We can forsake the faith in the interest of living a comfortable life here and now, or we can live as God’s people knowing that it might cost us dearly in this world.

You know what the right choice is. We need not fear the things of this world. For we know that we have been baptized into the death of Christ Jesus. And if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united in a resurrection like his.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
    Perform thy duties faithfully,
And trust His Word; though undeserving,
    Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

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

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