The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (Trinity 14)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
August 28, 2016
Central Passage
Mark 6:14-29

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

After having been wrongfully thrown in prison, the Lord Jesus’ cousin, John, son of Zachariah the priest and Elizabeth, cousin of the Blessed Virgin, was executed by the removal of his head. Not because of any law he had broken but because of the hatred of another toward him. Hatred always kills. Love gives life.

A husband and wife love one another and the result is the life of a child. A father loves his children and the result is a happy life. A brother loves his brother and the result is a fulfilled and shared life.

But a husband who hates his wife murders their unity, their life dies. And his prayers are hindered. A father who hates his children gives them no life and they will not have the fear and instruction of the Lord. A brother who hates his brother rises up and kills him as Cain did to Abel.

The Lord loves you. The Lord gives you life. The Lord loves the world. The Lord gives the world life. In fact, He is the life of the world. There is no room in Him for hatred. There is no death in Him. Why, then, are all the stories about His saints and about His church, the whole Bible, filled with death and hatred? His own life was marked most conspicuously with hatred and abuse, torture and finally death. Why is there nearly always a morose sense of death in every sermon, in every service, in every Bible study and prayer? Why? Because the world hates Him who is the Truth. And the truth is that we are at war. And war is violent. So our Lord said of the kingdom of heaven that from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force (St. Matthew 11:12).

The world, embodied in King Herod and his wife, Herodias, hated St. John the Baptist because he was on the side of Truth and so listened to Him who said, “I am the Truth”. That’s why John was murdered. That’s not why John died. Death is the wage sin and John, for all his glory, was a sinner. John didn’t die because of Herodias’ hatred. He died because death entered the world and through sin death spread to all men. He didn’t die because of hatred, but he was murdered because of hatred. For he was not merely the Forerunner in his preaching and baptizing but also, and perhaps most pointedly, in his martyrdom.

St. John preceded the Lord in his death. He prepared the way of the Lord by his death as much as by his preaching. He made the hills level and the rough places smooth and the crooked ways straight by his death. How so? By clinging to the truth even in death. As it is for all God’s saints, St. John’s was a fight between truth and lies, between light and darkness. He told the truth to the adulterous king: “It is not lawful for a man to have his brother’s wife.” That’s the truth. But Herod loved the lie. So John was murdered. Surely St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of every person who has told the truth and been hated for it.

Jesus said, “I Am the Son of God.” That is the truth but the Jews and Pilate loved the lie. So Jesus was murdered. Surely Jesus is the Lord of everyone who has loved the truth and been murdered – in body or in reputation – by those who hate the truth. To that our Lord say, “Blessed are you when they revile you and say all manner of evil against you, even killing you, for My Name’s sake, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

So take heart, dear Christian! Your Christ has overcome the world! Because you can’t kill the truth. You can kill the messenger but the Truth remains. That is why Jesus rose from the dead, because death could not hold Him for He is the Truth and there is no shadow in Him due to change or falsehood. There is no lie in Him for death to enter in.

But you can kill a lie. You kill a lie with the Truth. Like light to darkness is the truth to lies. But know that light doesn’t sit down and argue with the darkness, trying to convince the darkness to become light. Light simply burns the darkness away. And darkness cannot remain where light shines. So truth doesn’t argue with lies, trying to make the lie into truth. The truth silences the lie. That is why the gates of hell cannot prevail against the onslaught of the Church of God. The Church of Christ is the Truth because she is the body of the Head who is Christ, who is the Truth. Hell is lies and full of lies, prepared for the father of lies and his angels, and so cannot stand up against the weight of the truth. So the kingdom of heaven marches on, crushing down and trampling down the gates of hell and the serpent that lives therein, preaching the Truth in face of lies. The Lord Himself descended into hell and set the captives free, because that what the Truth does. It sets you free.

But our age likes to ask the question, “What is truth?” By “our age,” of course, I mean the age of mortal men, as this is the very question put to the Lord by the man who would condemn Him to die. Pilate, the quintessential mortal man, afraid of the crowds, afraid of those in authority, afraid of his legacy, afraid of everything, even the authority he had been given. Lies breed fear. He was afraid the Man who stood before him and asked Him “What is truth?”

But the Man who stood before Pilate, before the world, was not the quintessential mortal man but is in fact the Man. And He replied to Pilate: “I Am the Truth.”

Mortal men, that is, men of death, don’t like that answer. They prefer the answer to the question “What is truth” to be “whatever you think is true is the truth.” So there are liars who are honored as prophets and murderers who are championed as defenders of life, such as Planned Parenthood and those that defend them. There are those like King Herod who gladly hear the truth but chaff at being formed and fashioned by and in the image of the truth. There are those like Herodias who outright hate the truth and seek to kill it.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? We are being made and fashioned in the image of the Truth, which is Christ. That is why there will be no liars and cheats, gluttons and idol worshipers in heaven. That is also why there will be no pain or tears of loss and regret in heaven, either. Your sicknesses and diseases, even your heart-aches, your depression and your loneliness, they are all lies. Even your sins and your grave are lies. That is not to say that they don’t hurt. John felt the sting of lies when the executioner’s  blade touched his neck. Lies hurt. But they are not the truth and they will be washed away.

Indeed, they have been washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. For there you died your death to sin, being buried with Christ. And there you are raised with Him who is risen from the dead never to die again; in Him you move and live and have your being. You live and move and have your being in the Truth. Not a truth but the Truth. The Truth that ascended into the heavenly places and sits at the right hand of the Father. The Truth that holds your life in His hands from which nothing can pluck it or tear it away. The Truth that fills the whole earth in the services and on the altars of His Church. The Truth that heals your diseases and carries your sorrows. The Truth that gives you His body and blood to eat and drink, fashioning you in His image as you pass from one glory to another, even greater glory; a heavenly glory. For you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

St. John the Baptist sat in prison, not just of bars and walls but the prison of lies. The Truth set him free and will raise him up on the Last Day. You, too, sit in prison. Not one of bars and walls but one of lies. But the Truth has set you free and will raise you up on the Last Day.

+ In Nomie Iesu +