Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It would be easy to spend a lot of time talking about Herod and his cowardice, how he can’t seem to do anything right. Under pressure from Herodias, his half-brother’s wife whom he married, Herod had John put in prison. He liked to listen to John; apparently, John said some interesting and entertaining things. So he kept him there, even though he didn’t understand everything John said. Of course, Herod didn’t do anything because of what John said. He didn’t repent of his adultery. He didn’t confess his sin. He didn’t free John from prison.
And then, one year, he has a birthday party and invites all the very important people, and Herodias’ daughter danced for them. Herod, enslaved to his appetites, makes a foolish vow, like Jephthah in the book of Judges, to give her whatever she wants, even up to half his kingdom. Of course, there are a thousand ways that vow could go wrong, but Herod apparently didn’t think them through. The daughter, whom Mark declines to name, goes and asks her mom what she should ask her step-father for, and she says the head of John the Baptist. So that’s what she asks for. Will Herod finally do what is right? No, because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of important people. He doesn’t want to go back on his word. His concern for his own word is more important to him than the life of John.
But this isn’t as much about Herod’s cowardice as it is about Herodias wanting to finally silence the accusing word of God. She can’t get John’s voice out of her head, and now she can finally silence him by taking his head off. She doesn’t want to hear any more about her sin. So she kills the messenger. Now, finally, she can get some rest from that accusing voice.
But the Word of God can’t be silenced. It comes back to Herod’s house in the form of the works of Jesus. He sent His disciples out, as we heard last week, to preach repentance—the same sermon both John and Jesus preach—and to cast out demons and to heal the sick. And they do. And that’s what Herod hears. And though all of those things are good news things, Gospel things, signs of the fact that Jesus is making a new creation in the ruins of the old one, all Herod can hear is accusation: You killed John! You killed the prophet of God! “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” You can’t silence the Word of God.
Doesn’t stop us from trying. Jesus hasn’t come to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through Him. Doesn’t stop people from hearing Jesus’ words as a threat, an all-encompassing demand, an unavoidable claim on everything we have and are. And so they make plans to kill Jesus, too. Kill the messenger! Crucify Him! Silence the Word of God. And they do. His corpse is laid in a tomb, just as John’s is. Not even God kept His righteous and holy Son safe. But the silence is short-lived. On the third day, He rises. Herod thought John had been raised, but Jesus actually is.
And now what? If Jesus has been raised from the dead, then He cannot die any more. Death has no more power over Him at all. How do you silence the undying Word? Doesn’t stop us from trying. Turn the page. Close the book. Stop listening. We make our excuses and rationalize our behavior. We get angry and defensive. We say things like, “Well, what about them?! What about what she did? What about what he said?” Our sin isn’t sin because of these extenuating circumstances. Though the Spirit is willing, the flesh is threatened.
And it is an actual threat. Jesus has risen from the dead and now He’s going to do some killing. Kill and silence every voice that is opposed to Him as Lord. Too late to escape; He’s already started. He put your flesh and mine up there with Him on the cross. Or don’t you know, St. Paul says, that every one of us who was baptized into Christ was baptized into His death? No resurrection without death, not Jesus’ and not yours. So the threat continues, and the cycle goes on: dying, rising. Old Adam put to death, new Adam raised from the dead.
And Jesus is going to finish what He started. He’s going to hold that sinful flesh under the dirt until it stops kicking, stops screaming, stops excusing, stops sinning. And then the struggle will be over. And when my physical body dies, when your physical body dies, then our sinful flesh will be dead. And then, the next words we hear with our physical ears will be the only voice left: the voice of Life, the voice of Jesus, calling us from our graves and to Himself. And there will be no more objection from our sinful natures, no more defensiveness; simply the quiet joy of perfect happiness.
And He will say to you, “You are Mine, My righteous and holy son; My righteous and holy daughter. I will keep you safe from death forever.” Because He is no coward like Herod, but the Lord of heaven and earth. He is, in fact, the resurrection of John, because He is Life and Resurrection itself. Though John was not raised back then, he will be, and you and me with him. And the only voice that will come from our hearts and from our lips will be the voice of eternal rejoicing in the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/13/18