Safe (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
July 18, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: Mark 6:19–6:20
PROPER 10/B (2018): Amos 7:7-15; Eph. 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Herodias had a grudge against [JB] and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly (vv. 19, 20).
Herod wanted to keep JB safe from his wife’s murderous rage even as Pilate would later try to save Jesus from Jewish leaders by scourging and putting him on shameful display before the crowd; thus Pilate pointed to Jesus, “Behold the man!” (Jn. 19:5).
Despite an apparent Gospel focus on JB, it is Jesus’ coming death; the conclusion of his Baptism into our death, and death into his, that is at point. JB is the end times Elijah (Mk. 9:13). He was seized, bound, imprisoned, and martyred by Herod and so directs us to behold Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) in his coming Passion.
“The sin of the world” is a singular reality; it is the sin of unbelief, in thought and deed, which alone condemns (Mk. 16:16). Today we pickup from last Sunday’s observation about Jesus’ visitation to Nazareth, that his teaching scandalized life long neighbors. Jesus was “dumbfounded” at their lack of faith (6:6), which is to say, Jesus, the incarnate speech of God, by unbelief was rendered mute. St. John says it this way, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn. 1:11).
Not only does today’s Gospel direct us to Jesus, it provides graphic visual silencing of the Lamb on account of unbelief in the mighty works of God in Christ. Today we behold the severed head of JB, forerunner and purveyor of God’s word, bloody mouth agape offered to sinners on a serving platter, a prequel of the cross.
Martyred Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, one time ally of king Henry II, by ordination held a higher allegiance to the church over the king. When Henry would impose his will over the church Becket opposed the king inducing Henry to complain, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent [or meddlesome] priest?” Some of Henry’s nobles took it to kill Becket.
In our OT Reading Amos was sent by God from Judah to the northern kingdom of Israel. He preached repentance on account of king Jeroboam’s autonomous and autocratic rule in the midst of God’s people. At perceived meddling in the royal affairs of Israel, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, threatened Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah…and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, it is a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:12, 13).
In our sin nature we are like Jeroboam, Herod, Henry, and the scandalized people of Nazareth. We prefer God’s silence to his “turbulent” and “meddlesome” proclamation, laying claim in Christ to absolute sovereignty in our lives.
Like Herod, who thought he was protecting JB by jailing him, or like Pilate thinking to save Jesus by public scourging, we too attempt to circumscribe and silence God’s word. We would re-size Jesus, choosing a notional “Jesus” that permits us to live lives of relative autonomy while still claiming citizenship in God’s kingdom.
We go to God’s church and listen to his word directing us to repentant faith and sacraments; but we are inattentive, distractible, and selective. Like supermarket shopping we pick from the aisles what is attractive and reject what is unpleasing to our tastes.
But Jesus is not the product of notional man. Preaching of the church’s reign and rule of God in Christ is effective precisely because it flows from Jesus’ rejection, suffering, and death; and calls us into his Baptism on the cross (Mk. 10:38, 39). Still many refuse the proffered Baptism of sacrificial suffering, assigning it to mere notional status rather than what it is, the obverse of saving faith.
Neither Herod nor Pilate could save JB or Jesus from death at the hands of men who desired “another” less authoritative “Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), the speech of God in their lives. In the end, you and I, by baptism are the soil into which the rejected and crucified Word is sown.
The hardened, pancake hearts of Herodias and Salome rejected JB’s Torah proclamation and so it was snatched away by Satan (Mk. 4:15). Herod heard John’s preaching and feared him, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, he intended to keep him safe from the wrath of his wife. When Herod heard John he was confused yet heard him gladly. Herod is like many who think ourselves rulers of our lives; ironically more often than not, we are out of control from within and from forces without.
Herod was hamstrung by a drunken promise to a teen party girl; he could either keep JB safe from Herodias’ malice, as intended, or he could lose face before his court nobles. He called himself “king” but was mastered by emotional swings; from awe and confusion at JB’s preaching, to dread, thinking the appearance of Jesus was JB reincarnated come to haunt him. Lust for his stepdaughter drove him from excitation to depression at being manipulated by conspiring women. Such is the role of sex in history.
Herod’s vaunted royal rule was pretense. JB denounced his marriage, yet he feared John and gladly heard his preaching. Herod is like one who receives with joy the word on rocky ground but lacks depth of soil, preventing the seed taking root and so falls away at the first tribulation or desire (4:16, 17).
Herod’s mind was divided, he must decide between saving face and saving JB, between the world’s respect and gaining his soul (8:36). Despite Herod’s initial attraction to the reign of God, the concerns and intrigues of the world, the thorns, brambles, and thistles of the field choke the seed, overcoming him in unbelief (4:18, 19).
St. Paul gives praise to God in Christ, the crucified Seed that germinates in the soil of hearts chosen from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). By God’s gracious election, we implanted with the Word hear and submit to the king; given by grace, faith by the Spirit’s circumcision of hearts (Rom. 2:29).
By the Word, the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), reigning in hearts we are continually brought to the Spirit’s sealing, our Baptism into Jesus’ death (1:13). His death is our death before the Father, and his resurrection ours as well. By Baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit (1 Jn. 5:6, 7) witness to God’s miraculous work, submitting our lives in all things to God by belief in Christ.
Our baptismal death in Christ transforms our autonomous and autocratic hearts. As our death is now Christ’s death we repentantly eschew sinful self-absorption. Now we now desire more and more Word from faith to faith, anticipating in joy the Lord’s Supper that keeps us safe to the end. Amen.