Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist August 28, 2021
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
In the Name of Jesus.
John the Baptist: Everything about his life is for the sinner’s comfort.
Isaiah foretold it. Some 700 years before John was born, and Jesus too was born, Isaiah spoke of him, calling John a voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. Isaiah 40:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
Cry out to her that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
700 years after Isaiah, John shows up out in the wilderness. He’s calling sinners out to the banks of the Jordan. He’s proclaiming forgiveness to them.
His message couldn’t be clearer: he wears no fine clothing, he eats at no expensive hardwood table. He’s dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, and he’s eating the food you can pick up around you out in the wilderness, locusts and wild honey.
So no one is going to look at John to be impressed. No one is going to pattern their life after him. John makes sure of that. Because, he’s proclaiming not himself, but another. He’s baptizing with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [Mark 1:4]
Come to the water, hear the voice of John, let the prophet pour water over you and speak the Lord’s Name into your ears. That is to receive the gift of repentance and forgiveness of all sin.
It’s a strange thing this prophet is doing out there in the wilderness. But everything of John is toward the gift of life and the forgiveness of sins.
This is, of course, before Jesus later institutes the Baptism we are given for our families, the Baptism given at Matthew 28, where Jesus tells his Apostles to make disciples by baptizing into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching all which he has authorized the Church to teach.
John’s is a different Baptism. It is preparing the way of Jesus. It is a lone man gathering sinners to be cleansed out by the Jordan by the word of the Lord’s prophet. John’s baptism is new—none of the other prophets before John did it—and it is not seen after John. For it belonged to the task given to John.
And John’s task was to bring sinners to Jesus. To call them out of their life under the Law, bringing them into the life of repentance, forgiving their sin.
What a life John had! Everything was about the gift of life and comfort for the sinner.
And then Jesus came to the water. To be baptized? Why? Jesus has no sin. John prevented Jesus from being baptized: “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?,” said John.
Yes, Jesus comes to be baptized by John. He who has no sin, walks down to the water into which John has been washing sins. Jesus will have that water of sin poured onto his own head.
“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,”
Jesus said to John. [Matthew 3:15]
Righteousness is Jesus taking all sin upon himself in order to take those sins in his own body to the cross.
Jesus will be baptized. He will join himself with the sinners.
As they are forgiven their sin and clothed in righteousness in John’s baptism at the Jordan, Jesus will take their sin upon himself and be clothed in it. Our sin. Your sin and mine, our children’s sin and their children’s, the world’s sin. Jesus took it all upon himself. So that after he baptized Jesus, John called him the “Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world.” [John 1:29]
What a life John had. God used his voice and his hands to cleanse sinners as he baptized them in the Jordan. John saw Jesus, the Anointed One of God, join himself with all sinners at the waters of the Jordan. Their sin now belonged to Jesus.
John saw all that. And then, he was killed. Beheaded. Not for murder, not for insurrection, but for speaking the Lord’s Word. King Herod’s stepdaughter demanded the head of John just in order to make her mother, Herodias, happy. And Herod listened to his stepdaughter and sent an executioner, demanding John’s head. And the executioner beheaded John in prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to Herodias. [Mark 6:28]
What a life John lived. But then he was dead. Was it worth it?
Several years after John is murdered, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, telling them,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
[1 Corinthians 6:20]
John was not his own. He saw Jesus take the sin of the world upon himself, and that included John’s sin.
John did not live to see Jesus die on the cross, but John had, as prophet of God, proclaimed Jesus the atoning sacrifice bearing the sin of the world; when he baptized Jesus, John had heard the Father’s voice from Heaven announce Jesus the Father’s beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased [Mark 1:11]; and John had proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One of God to ransom all sinners, cleansing all their guilt.
So John is not his own. He belongs to Christ. His body, as the bodies of all who belong to the Lord, is Temple of the Holy Spirit. That executioner’s sword was no deathblow to John; it was a strike against the Holy Spirit and against Christ to whom John belongs.
John belongs to life. His disciples laid his body in a tomb. They shed tears, we can be sure. They rightly lamented the evil of death. They would’ve prayed Psalms of Lament, and Psalms of petition for the Lord’s comfort, and Psalms confessing the Lord’s gift of eternal life. His body was slain. But John isn’t dead.
No one who belongs to the Lord is dead. The body is slain. The old sinful flesh goes the way of the dust. But no one who belongs to the Lord is dead—not ever. For he is the God not of the dead, but of the living, said Jesus, for all who belong to him live to him. [Luke 20:38]
You are not your own. Your body, my body, they go the way of all sinful flesh. We will continue to lament the evil of our world. We will continue to shed tears in grief. But you are not your own, you belong to the Lord. And he is God not of the dead, but of the living—all who belong to him live to him.
Our sin, Jesus took it. He put it to death in his own body on the cross.
Our guilt, Jesus cancelled it, suffering our judgment in our place as he bore the sin of the world.
Our shame, Jesus covered it with his own holy blood, so that we stand in honor before his Father.
So we daily die to sin in repentance. And daily stand up to live before God in the righteousness and purity which is ours through faith in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:3:
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.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
In the Name of Jesus.