The great figure of Advent is John the Baptist. We think of him as that harsh, say-it-like-it-is prophet who ate insects. But what he preached was repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Which he conveyed by baptism. [Read more…]
We had another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite on the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). A sampling:
John the Baptist never was at home in this world. He was an interloper. A stranger. A misfit.
It began with his birth which was not the usual way. He was born miraculously to a couple who could not have children because they were too old and she was barren.
He was given the wrong name (in the opinion of all who were there when he was born). Everybody wanted him named Zechariah, after his father. That was how it was done; that was the tradition – to name the first born son after the father. But no. His name would be John.
He didn’t wear what everyone else was wearing. If he was around today, he’d be one of those people you notice walking down the street that everyone points to and snickers and says “really?” A camel’s hair shirt with a leather belt around your waste?
Then there was his diet. John went primal before it became a fad diet! Locusts and wild honey.
He did his preaching out in the wilderness. And he didn’t pander to the crowd – he was a fiery preacher of repentance. And if you got into his crosshairs, he wouldn’t let you out. He didn’t care who you were – Pharisee, Sadducee, Scribe, King. And he’d keep after you, even from prison . . . he didn’t care. He just didn’t care.
John was like a bizarre visitor from another place and time. The world was not his home. It never would be. . . .
Truth is, Christians do have a little John in them; a little bit of weird in them. Because like John, we have a whole lot of Jesus in us.
Think about it. Like John, you too were miraculously born – born from above by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.
Like John, you too wear different clothes – the robe of righteousness given to you by Christ.
Like John, you too eat strange food – the Body and Blood of the Lord in His Supper here.
Like John, your thinking and values and loves are different.
And so as a Christian, like John, you’re never quite at home in this world and life. Just a bit out of step.
Then again, we are also like Herod:
King Herod, on the other hand, was a man of the world. He lived large. He saw what he wanted and took it. And he made no apologies for it. Yet even so, though Herod gets what he wants, he never seems to get what he wants. He’s never satisfied. Never at peace. But that’s the way of the world. That’s the way of it with sin. It never leaves you satisfied, but always wanting more. It enslaves in that way.
And it enslaved Herod on his birthday. A lustful king made a foolish promised and an angry wife took advantage of the situation. And Herod, who didn’t want to disappoint his guests or look out of step with the world, is trapped. Sin isn’t as harmless as it looks. A dancing girl, a little lust, what’s the harm? . . . But Herod’s hand is forced. He’s not as free as he thinks. So he sadly gives the order, and John loses his head. . .
To confess that we’ve played the Herod and played the Herodias and listen to John, who though he was beheaded so many years ago is still preaching to us today. Preaching to us to repent – but not only that! But even more, preaching us to the cross. To behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
To see Jesus there on the cross as the one who became enslaved for you and bound to the cross with the chains of your sin, in order to set you free. For that’s what forgiveness is. The word for forgiveness in the Greek is the same word for being released, for being set free. And so forgiveness is to be set free from your sin, from your slavery to sin, from the condemnation of sin – free to be a child of God. And that is what you are. In Jesus. . . .
And so Jesus, in your place, enters the prison of sin, death, and the grave. He puts His neck on the chopping block for your foolishness, your lusts, your murder and anger and pride and hate and rebellion . . . and as the blade is coming down says: Father, forgive them. Set them free. And He does. And you are.
Yet another good sermon from our Pastor Douthwaite, preaching from Matthew 11:
So hear what Jesus has to say to you, in answer to your questions: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
What does this mean?
There is no question that John was great. He was the last and greatest Old Testament prophet. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord. Yet there is one greater than John. Who is it? Who is it who is least in the kingdom of heaven? . . .
Well, don’t feel bad – the disciple didn’t understand all this either, and so a little later they are arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest, and they ask Jesus: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Do you remember how He answered them? He called a little child over and put him in the middle of them and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:1-4). Now, that doesn’t mean those who are cute and innocent. Rather, children then were seen as those who couldn’t offer anything, who needed care, and were a burden because they couldn’t contribute to the support of the family. This, Jesus says, is a picture of greatness in the kingdom of heaven.
So putting two and two together here . . . who are those who are greater than the great John? It is those who are the least in this world. Those who have nothing to offer, those who need care, those who are a burden; those we heard of earlier: the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead – can’t get much more helpless than that! – and the poor. Not the materially poor, but the spiritually poor, for they have the good news preached to them. They are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for they receive the service and gifts and greatness of the king.
And we could add one more to that list today: you. You in the dundgeon of despair and sadness; you in confusion and pain; you who are lonely; you who are heavy laden by the cares and concerns of the world; you who are a poor, miserable sinner. Yes, Jesus is the coming one, for He has come for you. For in you and for you He is doing His kingly work, serving you with His forgiveness and life, washing away your sins, and making you His child. You who have nothing to offer Him but your burdens and sins. But these are the very things He wants! To set you free. And that is exactly what He has done in His death and resurrection. He is never more King for you than He is for you there – on the cross, and on that morning three days later.
My newest grandson, John Peter Hensley, was baptized yesterday. It happened to be on the commemoration of the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Pastor Douthwaite preached a remarkably good sermon, tying both of those events together, linking John the Baptizer with John the Baptized. Finally, he announced that just as we have St. John the Baptist, we now have, by virtue of his baptism, St. John the Hensley.
And as if that were not enough, throughout the sermon, he also tied everything into vocation. A sampling (Adam and Joanna being his parents; Johnno being the Australian nickname for John):
Not all heard John’s preaching as good news. And Adam and Joanna, I can fairly surely say that you will not hear all of little Johnno’s preaching to you as good news – especially when he calls out to you at 3 am, calling you to your vocation as father or mother to come and feed him, or to change his diaper. But he will call out, whether you like it or not, because that’s his vocation right now, calling you to your vocation, and so being God’s gift to you. That you may serve as you have been served. That you may love as you have been loved.
You won’t believe how good this sermon is. You have got to read the whole thing, which has more insights than I can summarize. The sermon is posted here: St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist Sermon.