And so a young woman dances before a mob of men and a king offers up at most half his kingdom in delight… a grudge finally kills a man – the greatest man ever born of woman. When all the world was cursed, Saint John the Baptist came to men who fear reputation and honor with their friends above faithfulness to God and to people of grudges gone wild, terribly, angrily, and sinfully wild. He comes with a pointing finger (preached Law always accuses, the Law of God holds its hearts in contempt), but it wasn’t his finger that got him in trouble.
There is a statue of John in Houston… that I just love. He is crouching low and gazing up into the heights of the room. I always wish that his finger were pointing, but it isn’t so, he just looks. He points with his eyes and with his Word. He gazes up above the altar at the crucifix hung there from the ceiling rafters. John’s purpose, his charge? It is to prepare you the way of the Lord. A voice, shouting, calling in the wilderness…. Speaking into your ear, into the ear of Herod and Herodias and all the people from the countryside gathered at pulpits and preaching stations around the globe.
The most dangerous place in all the earth is the pulpit. Whether it be the swords of men, executioners, or the darts of Satan’s archers, the enemies of God would have the Word of God stopped up. The Word of God makes hearts uncomfortable and the works of men seen as they really are. And so John is locked up: “kept safe in the prison of Herod,” safe that is because Herod feared John. He knew that John was a righteous man… and so he feared him… but he feared him just a little less than he feared the recourse of a vow denied and friends who always remember the man that made a promise he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep. Instead of fearing God, his friends put him in his place… every man fears his friends. We tear down reputations and we do stupid things and we lie and we cheat all to make ourselves look good and our neighbors and our coworkers look stupid. You’ve done it… maybe even today.
And then there’s the grudge. Maybe the young woman could have asked for a diamond or half the kingdom, but a grudge stood in the way of that. Hate and anger melded itself to the heart of Herodias. Do not so quickly dismiss her. The Word of God has called us out in our sin and we are mad. People have wronged us and we have carried and kindled and strengthened that anger and we have murdered men with our hearts. Stop up not the Word of God, his Law and his Gospel, but your own mouth, your own heart. Repent.
Saint John once started a sermon with a word meant to jar the people out of their comatose state… to make them listen. He said, “ID DO.” In English, that’s “Behold.” Not just “look!”, or just “truly truly I say unto thee”… NO, stop what you’re doing and move your body and fix your eyes and your ears for something great and spectacular. And I would have thought he pointed… but maybe he just fixed his own eyes as he spoke…
“The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” What?! That’s no Lamb, John! It’s just another rabbi. That’s just a Nazarene. All those locusts have made you crazy. It’s just Jesus. Yes! Just God come down from his throne to your place. Your God has become a man to die on the cross to save you from your sins. John was preparing the way for Jesus. He preached Jesus’ sermon, he was persecuted, and he was martyred – his head chopped off to point you to the head of the church: Jesus. And so it is that a king, the Greatest King ever to be born of Woman, completed his Father’s Will perfectly to be your head and your death… and your life. Upon a cross, he was killed to give you life. Upon a cross he has become your life and your salvation. Behold, the sacrifice is complete. Your sins are forgiven and you are alive. Behold, the Lamb of God has come near.
(Preached at the International Center – August 29, 2013 – Daily Chapel + Mark 6)