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Witnesses in death as in life

Mark 6:14-29

Pastor David Ernst

Martyrdom of John the Baptist
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

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Sun, Aug 29, 2021 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior.

Each of the four gospels begins the story of the public ministry of Jesus Christ by recounting the ministry of John the Baptist. The three synopic gospels also relate the death of John the Baptist.

In Matthew 11, our Lord says this about John the Baptist, "He is that Elijah who was to come." John was not the prophet Elijah in a literal sense, but he fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 4:15,

"Behold, I sent you the prophet Elijah, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. In the Smalcald Articles, Article III of Part III, concerning repentance, Martin Luther described John the Baptist as a preacher of repentance, to prepare the people to receive the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins.

John began baptizing people in the Jordan River as an expression of their repentance. Jesus began his public ministry with his baptism from John. When Jesus approached him, John said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." John was a relative of Jesus, son of the priest Zacharias and Elizabeth of the family of the virgin Mary, but at that moment he recognized Jesus as something else. Our Lord also said about him, “Among those born of women never rose another greater than John the Baptist; but he who is lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. "Which means, those who receive the baptism of Jesus receive more than the baptism of John offered. Not only the preparation for grace, but the new life and complete forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ.

How did John the Baptist die? With the courage that should characterize every preacher of repentance, he severely rebuked even the most powerful man in his region for his adultery and suffered the consequences.

The Herod of our story was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who ordered the massacre of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem, but he was not really king. While his father ruled the entire land of Israel, Herod Antipas ruled only the provinces of Galilee and Perea. He had married Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas of Arabia, but he had rejected her in favor of Herodias, then the wife of Philip, her half-brother.

John upset Herod greatly; and Herodias even more. She would have liked to kill him, but she couldn't. Herod would have gladly done it too, but he was afraid, as he saw the praise that the people had for John. Since John did not give up rebuking Herod, he was imprisoned in Machaerus, a strong fortress east of the Dead Sea.

“But when an opportune day came, when Herod, on his birthday, made a supper for his princes and tribunes and for the leaders of Galilee; when the daughter of Herodias entered, she danced, and pleased Herod and those who were with him at table. "

On his birthday, Herod appropriately celebrated the one he hoped to soon bear the title of king, with the permission of the Emperor and the Roman Senate. On her side, Herodias had trained her own daughter in voluptuous dances, and she entered the banquet hall and danced with reckless abandon and shamelessness.

"And the king said to the girl: Ask me for whatever you want, and I will give it to you. And he swore to him: Everything you ask of me I will give you, up to half of my kingdom. And leaving her she, he said to her mother: What shall I ask? And she said: The head of John the Baptist."

Herod immediately made an extravagant promise to the young woman. It may be that her mother had told him beforehand what she should ask, as Matthew's account implies, although she does not expressly say so, and now she needed more insistence. Anyway, he rushes to her mother, who immediately instills in him the need to ask and insist on only one thing.

When the girl made her horrible request, there may have been some gasps at the round table, and Herod himself may have been sober from the unexpected turn of events. But it was too late to back down. After the execution in jail, John's head was brought on a tray, at the request of the dancer, and she, having received it formally, took it to her mother. John's disciples could do nothing but come and lay his body in a tomb, meanwhile bitterly mourning the untimely end of one of the greatest prophets who ever spoke the Word of God.

"And King Herod heard the fame of Jesus, because his name had become known, and he said: John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and therefore miracles work in him."

Herod, learning of the wonders of Jesus, proposed that John the Baptist had risen from the dead and that therefore supernatural powers were manifested in him. This superstitious fear was the result of Herod's guilty conscience. Later, during the week of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, this same Herod demanded a miracle of Jesus, but the Lord refused him.

Of course, as John called the people of repentance for their sins, so too did Jesus, a called and ordained preacher by Christ and his church, should first proclaim God's law that condemns sin, even to rich and powerful men. To receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ, everyone must acknowledge their sins and the need for Jesus as Savior. Today the upper classes in many countries promote abortion and "gay marriage", but these things are not in accordance with God's law, whether civil law allows them or not.

However, not only faithful preachers, but also ordinary Christians who bear witness to Christ in their daily lives can suffer or even die for their faith. Saint Paul says this in 2 Timothy 3:12, "All who want to live a godly life in Christ will suffer persecution."

In Revelation 6: 9-11, our first reading, there were revealed before the eyes of the Apostle John all the souls of those who had been martyred for their confession of the Word of God, the Gospel of their salvation, for the testimony they gave to the Redeemer of he. Martyred souls are shown here in the act of crying out to God for vengeance, for a vindication of his holiness and truth.

But notice the answer: “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

So there will be more martyrs before the final judgment. But it will seem only a short time before the enemies of Christ and the Gospel, who have shed the blood of Christians like water, will be found by the justice and vengeful justice of God. God's patience seems to linger unduly in punishing crimes against his children, but in his due time, he will vindicate his holiness and truth.

The word "martyr" in Greek means witness. John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus Christ in his life, also in his death. Our epistle (Romans 6: 1-5) read like this, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? Because we are buried with Him in death through baptism; so that as Christ rose from the dead for the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life."

The cross and suffering is the only way by which one arrives at the inheritance and the kingdom of Christ; and all the saints, and Christ himself, have gone this way.

When we live and die in the hope of eternal life, we should not expect to live and die in comfort, but rather to show the truth of the Gospel in our manner of life and death.

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