Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-29, Romans 6:1-5

Let’s be honest, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Often you can look back, recognize a mistake, laugh about, learn from, and no lasting damage is done. Or if there is at least you can go and talk it through, apologize, forgive, and make amends. After a night of partying, listening not to the voice of the Word of God but the desires of his body, with yet another wife, not satisfied by her and moving on to the suggestive dance of her younger daughter, sin abounds for Herdo and leads to death. Sin and self-indulgence, living a life that sought to fulfill physical desires left no time for making amends. No second chance was given.

Herod was a slave to sin. He may have lived his life with the mantra, you only live once. He may have had a nice house, feasted on all the food he wanted, and partied whenever he wanted. That’s his slavery. He was a slave to his own desires, they ruled his life. He was living not as a free man, but a man who is a slave to the master of his flesh. What makes me feel good? What does my body crave? What is it that takes control of my daily life? There is your master, there you see the slavery.

John the baptizer was just the opposite. He was shackled and bound and yet he was free. It’s a freedom we often crave and look for and struggle to receive. From the time he was a little six month old baby in his mother’s womb, he was a free.  Already there the Holy Spirit had filled him and he had confessed by his leaping the presence of his Lord.  At his circumcision, his father Zachariah had said of him:  “You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way; to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.  Through the tender mercy of our God when the Day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

A free man with whom there is a lot of intrigue. But for most of us the intrigue ends like Herod, when it interferes with our desires of the flesh. Intrigued and interested by this man who lives in wilderness, clothed himself with camel’s hair, ate grasshoppers, ate wild honey. Many liked him. Except those that society liked and those we strive and work hard to be, which is why the intrigue often ends there. He called the people of Israel to repent. Not the message we want to hear.

Repent. Turn from your thinking and your living, because it’s full of sin. Repent and turn to the work of mercy. To those who have two tunics, don’t worry that one might get torn or dirty, just share it now with those have none. To those who work was the highly sought after job of tax collectors, stop thieving even though it was perfectly legal and only take what was due. 

It’s compelling, until our shackles interfere. When it comes to giving our money away, with nothing in return, not even always a tax deduction.  John is intriguing until that message of repentance calls us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. When it comes to our own money, our own bodies and what we think is our private business of thoughts and actions with the sexual desire, when it comes to getting rid of things in our life that priority over the Word of God we’d just as soon rather behead the baptizer or anyone else that calls us to repent.

John’s call of repentance was to show where freedom may be found, “behold, look here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In all these things of the world, you are bound. Slaves to cravings of our bodies, slaves to the euphoria of fun, is to be a slave that leads to death. But the sinful flesh would kill and behead to keep its own version of fun and excitement rather the receive everlasting joy in Christ.

Dear Christians, John had incredible freedom in that the cares of this world, the things that we strive after or are anxious towards did not consume his life. His knew his life was unworthy to stand before the Lord which is why he confessed at the Lord’s baptism, “I need to baptized by you.” He knew he was a sinner in need of mercy and forgiveness. He preached that others may receive the same freedom.

Freedom that sees the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Freedom that comes as God becomes flesh, to take upon Himself the desires of the flesh and the death and hell it brings. There is no man so free as the man who knows his sin is forgiven, his death is destroyed, and that he is beloved child of God. 

It’s not all fun and games and you can’t have it both ways. In your confrontation with the preaching of John the Baptist, it’s kill or be killed. Kill and reject the freedom the Gospel of the cross of Christ brings and be killed forever with the devil and his wicked angels. To repent and be baptized is to kill that Old Adam, to have your head on the chopping block and bear the sword, the sword of the Spirit, to lose life for the sake of Christ and His Word which saves and frees you for eternity. 

Everything about John was to proclaim Christ. From his miraculous conception, to his baptizing in the Jordan, to the depths of Herod’s dungeon, to his burial, everything about John is tied up in Jesus. To prepare the way of the Lord is to prepare the way of suffering and death. So it is that when Herod heard of the work of Jesus the Christ he thought it was John the Baptist raised from the dead. That sin and living only for his own desires still haunted Herod. The message of repentance for the Kingdom of God was present resonated as the Kingdom of God in the flesh sounded and acted like the one who preached to prepare His Way. It was John preparing Herod for Christ. 

Herod declined. He chose to stay in the prison house of his own sinful desires, the prison house lives for the moment, the next high, the next feeling of fun, the next thing that makes our bodies feel good that lead to John’s death.

Today, the same Christ comes for you. He brings you to freedom, the freedom enjoyed by John. Freedom that is given as Son of God brings the Kingdom of God to fulfillment and buries you with Christ. In baptism you receive your white robe of Christ’s righteousness and the death that frees you from sin and the shadows of death. Bid farewell to ways of Herod, for it dies in Christ as you are made and declared people of God. Receive His shed body and blood as He comes to you risen from the grave to deliver to you freedom of the forgiveness of sin. He comes to you today, frees from your sin, so that you are no longer a slave to sin but buried and raised with Christ. 

Come, feast, with angels and archangels, with John the Baptist, and the whole company of heaven, of Him whom death has no power, who gives life, Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lamb who provides the feast of victory, to Him be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

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