Monday, July 13, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:14-29, for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, "Misidentified"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we’ve gone through the chapters of Mark these last weeks, it continues to hit me how the experiences of the community in Jesus’ day mirrors in many ways our present day world. Even the grisly executions done by ISIS echo and multiply the violent death of John the Baptist for standing for the truth. This Gospel reading is marked by rejection and misidentification of Jesus—so that right from the first verse, King Herod and the community are mistaking the miracles and works of Jesus and His disciples, for John the Baptist risen from the dead. With misidentification, superstition, scandal, incest, a prophet speaking the truth and righteousness, a conflicted conscience, a murderous grudge, rash vow, persecution, and gory ending, this story has all the elements of a modern movie drama.
The reading explains through a flashback, that Herod had recently killed John, and he and the people were frightened that this was John the Baptist back from the dead. Perhaps John was coming back to haunt Herod and judge him for his innocent death. So right from the start, Herod and others mistake the works of Jesus for John the Baptist. Apparently Herod’s troubled conscience wouldn’t leave him alone for what he had done, and Jesus’ teaching and miracles were a painful reminder of what he’d done to John.
Herod wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the last person to hear the Word of God through a prophet or from Christ Himself, and be fascinated by it, and troubled at the same time. Herod heard the prophetic words of John the Baptist, calling him to truth and repentance, to leave behind his adulterous relationship with his sister in law, and it says he was “greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” He recognized that John was a “righteous and holy man”, and for a time at least, “he kept him safe.” Herod is a picture for us of the person who is wrapped in the midst of serious sins, and is unwilling or unable to leave them behind and repent, yet is intrigued by God’s Word of Truth. Herod ignored or suppressed the voice of his conscience, to his own hurt and ruin. Today we do much the same when sin is too pleasing or enticing, or when we simply give up and fear it’s too late for us.
This story also reminds you of the saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger”. Herod’s partner in sin, Herodias, his sister-in-law, vented her murderous grudge against John by asking for his head. Her hatred and Herod’s fear were not ultimately about John, the messenger, but God’s truth that exposed their sinful pleasure as evil. She was not going to let this messenger get in the way of what she wanted. Likewise, John standing for the truth, even in the face of death, is a little picture and foreshadowing of Jesus’ unflinching stand for truth before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate and all the rest, at His own trial, crucifixion, and death. God’s Truth has an amazing power to stir and challenge us to our very core, making for fear and perplexity mixed with gladness like Herod, or hatred and animosity like Herodias, or joy and gladness from those who hear the Word, are humbled and moved to repentance, and receive Christ’s free gift.
We are seeing an increase around the world in persecution and hatred against the Truth, and against Christians who stand for it. ISIS and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East is just one small, and very advanced example of it. The point is, that when sin and defiance of God’s Word increases, if you stand for God’s Truth, you can expect resistance. John the Baptist had no physical, legal, or military power over Herod, yet it is amazing that Herod feared him. It was the Truth, that deep down Herod could not deny, that made him fear John, and ultimately resist God. Likewise, Christians who still believe and confess God’s Truth are a painful thorn in the side to those who can’t bear to hear it. We are quickly approaching a time where people are going to be penalized for holding to biblical marriage between a man and a woman. It’s already happened to some in our country, photographers, cake artists, florists, etc, who have refused to act against their conscience and their belief in God’s Word have been sued and lost businesses. Standing for the truth when the truth is unpopular or even hated, requires great courage.
Jesus told His disciples, and would tell us the same, that the courage and the ability to speak the truth in the face of opposition comes from His Holy Spirit. Pray that God open your mouth to speak the truth in love, and to speak it winsomely, and that the Holy Spirit would give you the words and the opportunities to speak whenever you are called to answer for the hope you have. Sometimes we tell ourselves that “we’re not made of the same stuff” and that only some great heroic people can have this courage. But God promises to use even weak and lowly people to put to shame the strong and powerful (1 Cor. 1:27-28). If we believe in Jesus, we are “made of the same stuff”—as every gift we have, we have received from God in His grace and mercy.
The story of Herod and Herodias is an example of how bad sin and its consequences can become, if left unchecked, and if God’s Truth and conscience are continually ignored. It’s a picture of the evil that human kingdoms and power that protects corruption and falsehood can become. Jesus’ kingdom, power, and glory stands in stark contrast. John was a herald or messenger of that kingdom. Jesus, though misidentified again and again, is the true King of that Kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom show us righteousness and the power of God’s Truth to confront evil and lies. Not in this passage, but in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we also see that even killing the messenger, can’t silence the Word of Truth. Jesus’ rose in His body from the grave, showing that He is the bona fide King of the Kingdom of God—that sin, death, and the devil are no match for the Truth. And the amazing thing about the Kingdom of God is that Jesus is constantly seeking to win converts and believers from the kingdom of His enemy. His Word of Truth is that powerful, that it can even shake enemies of God out of their resistance, and make them see the light. While sin, its consequences, and the kingdoms of this world careen toward death—Jesus’ kingdom is the only way to light, life, and truth.
Jesus’ kingdom is the only way out of the sin that traps us, willingly or unwillingly. Whether we are wrestling and fighting against sin that we don’t want, or whether we’ve willingly chosen or given into sin, the only way to freedom is Jesus. Jesus said, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34, 36). There was a hard way out of Herod’s sin, but he didn’t want to take it. Jesus sets us free from our sins, and only He has the power to change our desires and begin to mold them after Him, in His image. We may be frustrated at times with our seeming lack of progress, but the same God promises that He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has to see the job through to completion because He has committed to you and pledged His Holy Spirit to you by faith and in baptism. If you are still wrestling with sin in your life, you know who to take it to—to Jesus—and that He is faithful to save you.
If this whole Bible passage began as a misidentification of Jesus, we can come to a correct identification of who Jesus is. But we can’t come to it on our own. No person will come to the right conclusion about Jesus on his or her own. But God can bring us to that conclusion. He did it for the disciple Peter, who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”, Jesus answered (Matthew 16:16, 17). He did it for Thomas, who confessed Jesus as “My Lord and my God!”, after he saw the risen Lord Jesus. He did it for Saul, who was persecuting Christians, before he was struck blind on the road to Damascus, and converted. Saul, later known as the apostle Paul, confessed after his conversion and baptism, that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). If you believe and confess the same about Jesus as the Son of God—that is, if you correctly identify Jesus as Lord and Savior—this too comes from God. God has given you the correct faith to believe and trust in Jesus for your salvation.
Jesus would persist with misidentifications and rejections, right up to His death on the cross. The misidentifications and hostility to Jesus’ truth continues till today, with those who still hold to Jesus’ Word. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. His kingdom is the One that is built and bound to last for eternity. The kingdom of Herod has long since gone by the wayside. Kingdoms and thrones will continue to rise and fall, but Jesus’ throne will never pass away. It stands and grows forever, until the day when every knee shall bow, and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And we can still hear and still echo the call of John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. God’s Word makes it’s inroads in difficult and mountainous terrain, and through the crooked road. Jesus traveled those roads to His cross and glory. He calls us to follow the same. One day the Truth will be plain to all, whether they received it or not. May God prepare our hearts for a glad reception of His Word, and an eagerness to follow Jesus in faith, and boldly confess the Truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Mark 6:14-29 begins and continues with a misidentification of Jesus. Who did Herod and the others think that Jesus was, and why? How does this reflect Herod’s state of mind (and conscience)? See also Mark 6:20.
  2. How does God’s Word and truth affect a troubled conscience? 2 Corinthians 7:10-13. What is the result when we listen to God’s Law and repent and receive His free gifts? 1 Peter 3:21-22. What is the result when we ignore it and harden our hearts? Hebrews 3:12-15; 4:2.
  3. Herod made a foolish vow or oath to the young girl, that he later regretted, but foolishly kept. What does Scripture urge us to do with regards to making vows, etc? Matthew 5:33-37. What propelled his sin further down a road of destruction?
  4. Who alone is able to get us out of our trouble and sin? What does it cost us? Revelation 22:14-17. Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness is the only way out of sin, no matter how horrible or enslaving it is. Had Jesus not suffered the same fate (innocent death) as John the Baptist, we would still be dead in our trespasses and sins. But because Christ is alive, we can have new life and be a new creation also!
  5. The right “identification” of who Jesus is, comes from whom? Matthew 16:15-17. Putting our trust or faith in Him to save, is a gift from whom? Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:17. New life in Jesus Christ is a gift from whom? Galatians 3:2-11.
  6. Where does the courage come from to stand up for the truth? Philippians 1:19-21; Romans 1:16. John the Baptist stood for the truth and died for it, Jesus did the same. How was Jesus’ death more than just an example for us, but accomplished something for us?

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