The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (Aug. 29, 2010)

On the occasion of the baptism of Luke

Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

The head of John the Baptist on a platter.  That’s what Salome, the daughter of Herodias, asked for when her sick step-father offered to give her anything, up to half of his kingdom.  I can think of a lot better ways to use that kind of genie-like wish.  What good was the dead head of John going to do her?

She was probably about twelve years old, a child by most people standards, except for twelve year olds.  Certainly she was a pawn in the very adult games that adulterous Herod and his new wife were playing.  I’m sure their behavior made sense to them.  All of our sins make sense to us at some level.  We call it rationalizing.  We might also call it willful ignorance or even rebellion.  But every one of us here has done things we aren’t proud of.  Things that make us fit right in with the crazy games of Herod, his wife and stepdaughter.  While we may step back at their actions, it’s not that far off from many of the things that we do every day.

That’s what got John the Baptist in trouble.  God’s Word isn’t a game, and John was in no humor to set aside or ignore their sinful behavior.  And for John’s fearless and faithful preaching, he lost his head.

At first glance, this seems like a pretty tragic ending to the forerunner of Christ.  Dying because he made a half-rate king mad for speaking the truth that everyone already knew?  What kind of a death is that?  And if we were to take even a cursory look at the martyrs, those Christians that died  for confessing the faith to an unbelieving world, we would probably find that many of their stories were not exactly movie material, either.

Being faithful in the Christian faith isn’t about what it looks like on the outside.  That’s what John the Baptist understood.  If it is, then he was in big trouble.  Crazy clothes, crazy food, and an even more crazy message.  Repent, John cried.  Repent, turn around from your sinful ways, for the King of Glory is near!

What John understood is that our lives are not about outward appearances.  What makes the difference, what changes things for sinners like you and me, is not what we look like, what we wear, how much money we have (or don’t have).  No, what makes the difference is the life and death and life again of Jesus Christ.  St. Paul put it this way:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4 ESV)

What that means for you and me and little Luke, who was baptized this morning, is that you are already dead.  You died with Jesus almost two thousand years ago.  It doesn’t look like it.  You’re all holding up pretty well for being dead.  But it is true nonetheless.  You died when you were baptized.  Your baptism, which on the surface didn’t look like much, was the event that changed everything for you.  Your baptism means that Jesus death was your death, and even more importantly, His resurrection was your resurrection as well.  He is the first-fruits of them that sleep, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians.

For John, this meant he could preach without fear, knowing that he was already dead.  For little Luke, it means that no matter what turns his life takes, no matter the ups or downs, no matter what may come for him, he is baptized, and that means that he is in Jesus and Jesus is in him.

On the Last Day, Luke, and you and me and John the Baptist and all of God’s baptized children, will be reunited around the Lamb who was slain for us.  It begins here, at the font, but this life in God never ends.  Some of us may be martyred for the faith, some may live a long life reflecting Christ’s love to the world, but no matter the path our Lord takes you on, the end is the same.  You are in Him.  The tombs will be opened, the dead will be raised, and there will be life eternal to all who trust in Him.  Believe it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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