What Is To Be Done About This Unpopular Invading Word?

Painting by Steve Dawson
Text: Mark 6:14-29

To Him who loves us and has washed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

John the Baptist is a unique character.  He offends our modern sensibilities.   He is difficult to label.  Every time that we read about him, it is apparent that we cannot tame him.  

John the Baptist’s attire of camel hair and a leather belt definitely communicate a wild-man prophet.  His diet of locusts and wild honey are not found on most lunch menus as the daily special. 

His message of repentance and baptism echoes off of the wildness and collides with our political correctness.  His message cannot be sugar coated, no matter how many layers of frosted sugar are applied to it. 

Thus, John the Baptist and his message offend.  The offense then fuels anger. 

Yet, in the midst of this offense, there is a peculiar draw to him, for apart from everything that is undomesticated about him, deep down his message and straight forwardness hits our conscious and we find ourselves confessing that he is a righteous and holy man. 

As for being offended and also intrigued by John the Baptist, we actually find that this mixture of offense and intrigue is the current situation in our Gospel reading from St. Mark.  Otherwise stated, there are two main characters in our Gospel reading from this morning – Herod and his wife Herodias.  They are intrigued and outraged by John the Baptist. 

Herodias, on the one hand, was irritated by John and his message.  In fact she was so furious about John and his message that she wanted to have him tortured and killed.

Herod, on the other hand, found himself strangely attracted to John and his message; John the Baptist had a soft-spot in Herod’s heart.  In other words, Herod was perplexed by John’s message, yet he enjoyed listening to him. Therefore, he protected John the Baptist from Herodias, that is to say, until he buckled under the pressure to have John killed, resulting on John’s head being placed upon a platter. 

Even though we can be fascinated with the drama of today’s Gospel reading, this troubling story is actually a vivid reminder of what happens when the Word of God is proclaimed.  Indeed, there is no more dangerous place on earth than a pulpit or when you proclaim the Word of God.  The reason being, when the Word goes forth, the message of the Lord not only has a way of perplexing and interesting individuals, but also offending.  This is so, because the Word of God is truth.  The truth resonates with and pricks the conscience; it offends the sinful nature.  

You see, the Word of God is living and active—sharper than any two-edged sword.  The Word “breaks through and wounds. It takes away every ground of trust and ascribes redemption solely to the blood of Christ; it pricks and wounds the soul.”[1]  What this means is that God’s Word has aim. “God’s word is not a reference book in a library that we pull off the shelf when we want information. There is nothing inert or bookish in these words. God’s words, creating and saving words every one, hit us where we live. . . . These words get inside us and work their meaning in us.”[2]  The Word of God works us over in order to show us our sin and show us Christ crucified for sin.  The Word grants us repentance and gifts us faith.  Simply put, “the Word of God invades the world of sinners,”[3] because “we are unfinished creatures requiring complex and extensive assistance in every part of our being….”[4]  Indeed “the Bible is not content to leave modern people as they are. It wants to convert and change”[5] –you and me.

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit through the Word ‘must’ invade; the Word must continually function as the only source, rule, and standard of the church’s faith and practice, for apart from God’s Word the world is left in despair with counterfeit words and can do nothing.[6]  “The Holy Spirit must always work in us through the Word, granting us daily forgiveness.”[7]  It is undeniably needed.

Regarding all of what was just stated, like Herodias and Herod, you and I and our neighbors resist this invasion of the Word.  As church going folks, many times we listen to the Word like it was any other triviality and we keep coming back to church out of custom.  Otherwise stated, after the pronouncement of the Benediction by the pastor, the Word rolls off us like water off a duck’s back, and then we rush out the doors to watch football at home.  We are like little Herod’s who hear, but really don’t listen.  We can hear the Word and it entertains us from time to time, but we resist it taking root. 

We are also like a little Herodias, who actually fights against this Word, wanting to have it our own way.  The Word is preached, it offends us; therefore, we end up criticizing the Word and demanding that it be stated in a more politically correct way to suit our own fancy.  We will even decapitate the Word in order to diminish potential blowback.  When confronted by portions of the Word that we disagree with, we say that we can’t take the whole Bible serious, or we do what Thomas Jefferson did, start cutting out the portions of the Bible that go against our modern eyes.

Fear of persecution, the lure to place harmonious fellowship above truth, the yearning not to upset numerical church growth, and the narrative of tolerance all encroach upon us, tempting all of us to either shrug our shoulders at the Word of God, like Herod, or eliminate portions of it, like Herodias, in order to satisfy the mantras of the day.

It really makes sense why such preaching of the Word put Jeremiah in the stocks, resulted in Isaiah being sawn in two, and resulted in John the Baptist losing his head.  This is the way that it has always been and always will be with the Word of God.  When the Word of God goes forth, whether from pastors or laypersons, it confronts and collides with the lies that we believe, lies formed by sin and lies whispered into our ears by the devil.  Truly, proclaiming the Word of God results in receiving a bull’s-eye upon the forehead so that the evil one and the world have something to shoot at. 

This is the way that it was for John the Baptist.  Herodias was offended by John calling out her sin against the sixth commandment.  As a result, Herod, not wanting to appear bad in front of his friends and not wanting the bull’s-eye placed upon him, honored a request from a frivolous promise that he made, and had John the Baptist killed.  This appeased Herodias and relieved Herod of embarrassment.    

The convicting message from the man with the breath of sweet honey and locusts: slaughtered.  Herodias got her wish, a head dripping with the preacher’s blood.  Slaughtered so that her conscious would not be offended; slaughtered so that she might obtain the feeling of being whole.  Herod got his way too.  Even though he was sad to see John dead, Herod was no longer in an awkward position of looking bad in front of Herodias and fellow company.

This is the way that typically goes, the Word never achieves popularity in a world full of people who love lies and love the dark.  Don’t be surprised dear friends, the world is hostile to the God’s Word and your sinful nature is too.  Indeed, the Word is foolishness to those who are perishing and foolishness to our old sinful flesh, that is, our old Adam.

And so it goes, John was preparing the way, giving his head for the head of the Church, the one, Lord Jesus Christ, who would soon be dead by another ruler’s decree.” 

And so it goes with Jesus Christ as well.  Like John the Baptist, Jesus experienced the same fate.  The Lord Jesus continually revealed that He was Israel’s true shepherd.  Through His ministry and teaching, He essentially triggers the conflict as His teaching and actions rubbed against the establishment and undercut their sense of control. 

The world, the evil one, and our flesh simply can’t handle the Word… so we kill Jesus and those who profess Him. 

Beaten, bloodied, and crucified—because of you and me.

A decapitated dead body taken and placed in a tomb, because his message was too much to handle: the death of John.

A crucified dead body taken and placed in a tomb, because His message and Words were too much to handle: the death of Jesus. 

This is where the path of the Christian faith leads, my friends.  All roads lead to death.  All roads lead to the cross for John, for Jesus, for you, and for me.  

Listen, Christ didn’t suffer so that you wouldn’t suffer; He wasn’t crucified so that you would be spared the cross; He did not die so that you wouldn’t die.

Oh, but hear the good news of the Gospel that is for each and every one of you!  Christ was beaten, bloodied, and crucified—for you.  Beaten for you who, like Herod, don’t take the Word of God to heart.  Bloodied for you who, like Herodias, fight against and hold a grudge against the Word of God.  Crucified for you who, like John the Baptist, suffer persecution from the attacks of the world.  Otherwise stated, Christ Jesus was beaten, was bloodied, “was crucified, and died so that in Him—welded to His flesh in the heat of [your] baptism—you might be plunged into the same death and emerge alive again in His resurrection.”[8] 

Dear friends, the kingdom of God is at hand.  Listen to the Word today, drop your defenses, welcome the Word that breaks through and takes away every ground of trust and ascribes salvation solely to Christ, fear God and not man; flee to Christ who is not dead, but alive and who is the head of the Church. 

Hear today: Christ was beaten, bloodied, crucified, ‘and’ resurrected—for you.  

Do not doubt, do not fear, you are forgiven. 

You are not a little Herod or a little Herodias, but you are a baptized saint, covered in the forgiving blood that dripped from Jesus’ head. 

Yes, your sin will put you in a tomb, but the Gospel places you in Jesus’ tomb, where God has raised up for you a mighty Savior, a Savior not confined to death, but a Savior who lives and reigns today with you and for you as your Lord. 

With John the Baptist, do not fear the guillotine, but recline at the table of the life giving Lord, for the resurrected Lord is with you in this life, through death, and unto eternity. 

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther's works, vol. 12: Selected Psalms eds. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 225.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms As Tools For Prayer (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1991), 25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Peterson, Answering God, 35.

[5] William H. Willomon, Shaped by the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), 63.

[6] See John 15:1-ff.

[7] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, eds. Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 438.

[8] Chad L. Bird, Christ Alone: Sermons and Meditations (Chad Bird Copyright 2014), 100.

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