The Beheading of St. John the Baptist
August 29 – 30, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Tetrarch in an incestuous marriage was full of disgusting perversion and lust. Thus He vainly boasted that he'd give that craven woman anything. And then, when she asked for the head of the prophet, when she asked that John be executed without charge, without trial, simply for having offended her mother by speaking the truth, mighty Herod was afraid. For that fiery desert preacher was unquestionably a man of God, a man from God, a man for God. Killing him to please her would surely bring down God's wrath. Even Herod could see that. But the weak and wicked Herod, like his father, the murderer of the boy martyrs from Bethlehem, was more afraid of looking bad in front of his guests than he was of God's wrath. Driven by lusty pride and in the false name of honor, as though he were a man of his word, he unjustly and illegally executed John to please the daughter of a harlot who was not his wife.
The world could not bear John, even as they could not bear his companions, Zechariah, Jeremiah, or Isaiah, before him. Nor would they bear the One He foreran, the One who saves His people by His own unjust martyrdom. The fact is John was mercifully removed from this shallow world of lies and vanity. He was brought early to the joy and bliss that Christ won for him. He who leaped for joy in his mother's womb at the Word of the Lord, now leaps in heaven where that Word is ever before his face and the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world removes his tears.
But what of us? Are we on the side of John, calling down the world's wrath by our intolerance of immorality, warning everyone of the coming Day of Judgment, and fearlessly pointing to the living Lamb slain from the foundation of the world to make men His again? Or are we on the side of Herod, hiding in the shadows of pretend respectability, turning a blind eye for convenience sake, washing the charger stained with the prophet's blood and meekly protesting about our given "vocation?" Repent!
Above all other sins we've been lukewarm, afraid to commit, without conviction, weak-kneed cowards watching for the signs of the times and desiring to hang out with the winners. Oh, that the urgency for joy that John felt would infect us once more! That we would be the beacon of Truth in the midst of the ecumenical prostitutes who peddle Satan's doctrines to line their own pockets and make themselves famous with men. That we would turn our backs upon the institutions, the bank accounts, the beautiful things and be satisfied with locusts and camel's hair coats for purity of Doctrine and the presence of the Triune God's actual forgiving love.
Repent. Synod, Congregations, buildings, and people have meant more than Church. The Kingdom of God is here, not in the cloth or the gold or the brick but in the simple bread and wine. These things are nice. They advance the faith so long as they are counted beautiful because of what they hold and represent the best we can offer. But they are not proof of anything. The Mormons have fancy buildings, too. Herod's Temple was held to be the most beautiful building in all the ancient world. It was burned to the ground and will not be rebuilt. The true Temple, the One that other was to foreshow, was glorified when He was crucified. He rebuilt Himself and deigns to dwell in the hearts of those who believe in Him. That is what matters. That is what lasts. The hour of salvation is now. Rejoice and be glad in it.
Let the world hate us, mock us, kill us. It harms us none. The One whom John anointed in the Jordan, the One upon whom the Holy Spirit descended, and about whom the Father spoke from heaven, "This is My Son in whom I am well-pleased," He has made us sons in whom He is well-pleased. He is our Advocate, our Protector, our Benefactor. So what of bank accounts and buildings and campuses? He tells the Truth and His words will never pass away. He tells the Truth of the Sacrifice made, the ransom paid, and the Blood He shed for Justice sake, that has purged us of our lying sins. He feeds us with that martyred, risen Flesh which cannot lie, and brings us into Him in eternity where moth and rust do not destroy.
This is the joy that John knew on earth and knows now perfectly in heaven. It was enough for him to face his death without flinching. He knew what was to come. Forgiven men who know the Grace of God in Christ Jesus have nothing to lose, they have everything to die for, and nothing to fear. That is why he was so stouthearted, so unbending, so courageous, and so gallant. May God give us the strength of conviction, the courage born of compassion, the zeal forged in the reality of this same Grace to follow in John's example, that Zealous Preacher of repentance, that pointing Forerunner, who points not to our many sins, but who points to our Redeemer, the Lamb of God, the Messiah who saves His people. May He fix our eyes there and let them never be moved.
In + Jesus' Name. Amen.