Posted on August 29th, 2014
Matins, Immanuel Lutheran School Teacher Work Week
Friday, August 29, 10:00 a.m.
The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
Preparing to begin a new academic year, we would like an inspiring message, climbing mountaintops, slaying giants, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”! But that’s not what we get. We get John the Baptist, decapitated.
The world’s heart has not improved, but love has grown still colder, and our brethren across the globe are facing beheading.
In such a world, what are we to do? What is our mission, here in this Alexandrian outpost of the Lord’s Church? First, we learn from St. John to hold fast to the commandments of God. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” (Mark 6:18 ESV) The first thing we do every year is review the Decalog, instructing our students to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, to honor father and mother, to not kill, and to not commit adultery. That was the one that got John in trouble.
For us to teach the Word, we first must submit ourselves to it, and that begins with repentance. While John was bold in confessing the truth of God’s Word, his personal confession was this: I am not worthy to loose the sandal strap of Jesus. He must increase, I must decrease. As the world, so it seemed, flocked to hear him speak; as his popularity went viral, he instead proclaimed the virus that is in the human heart, the contagion of concupiscence, and pointed everyone to Jesus. Follow Him!
But “Herodias had a grudge against him” (Mark 6:19 ESV) Setting aside the reason for a moment, is there anything of Herodias in you? Do you bear grudges against anyone? Do you remember how others have treated you, and keep it in a bitter place? God’s Word should have driven Herodias to repentance, but instead it drove her to greater sin.
Meanwhile, King Herod was eager to listen to John, but “When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed” (Mark 6:20 ESV). We will encounter parents and students and a culture that is greatly perplexed by what we teach. St. Irenaeus, in speaking about false teachers, likens them to a person who reassembles a beautiful mosaic that depicts a king so that the tiles now form an image of a fox. Our task in this new year is to put the pieces into place, the passages of Holy Scripture but also the glory and beauty of God inscribed in trees and flowers, the laws of science and the harmony of music, showing how all these tiles, assembled and viewed properly, show us the King of the Universe, who made heaven and earth and proclaimed it good.
Not everyone will view that image of the King. Some prefer the fox: the distorted, the corrupt, the perverted, the pornographic. Still others, like Herod, are caught between the Word and the world. For some time, Herod sought to have it both ways. Imprison John, but keep him safe and listen to him. That’s what we would like to do with the Word. Keep it in a safe place, where it cannot do too much damage. It is tempting to hold the Word captive, imprison it so that we can visit it from time to time, let it out of its cage for awhile, but not giving it free course.
Like Herod, we are eventually compelled to choose, for no man can serve two masters. Eventually, a pseudo-princess will force our hand: go the easy road that allows us to save face, or travel the hard road that leads to life. St. Mark describes the inner conflict of Herod: “The king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.” (Mark 6:26 ESV)
And so John the Baptist was beheaded. Yet he did not lose his life. He had it already in the One of whom he testified, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
This day of John the Baptist’s beheading is thus the perfect day to finish our preparations for the new year. For we are not only preparing our students to make a living, but to make a dying. And in Jesus, “dying, we live.” +INJ+