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.
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.