972) Two Johns (part two of two)

Mark 6:17-28–  Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison.  He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married.  For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him.  But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.  When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

     Finally the opportune time came.  On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.  When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.  The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”  And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

     She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

     “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

     At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request:  “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

     The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.  So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head.  The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter.  He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.

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The Daughter of Herodias

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     (…continued)  King Herod had John put into prison and eventually ordered his execution, but even he was impressed by the faith, courage, and message of John.  Mark 6:20 says, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.  When Herod heard John, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”  

     Herod had every reason to dislike John.  John called everyone to repentance, no matter how powerful they were, and that included Herod.  John publicly criticized Herod for marrying the wife of his brother, Philip.  Herod was not a holy man, but he admired John’s holiness.  Herod had some interest in the Jewish faith of his ancestors, and he seemed to respect the strong, confident faith of John.  As King, Herod was the wealthiest and most powerful man in the country and a friend of Caesar.  John the Baptist had no wealth and no power, but he had an abundance of faith and courage.  Herod’s hand was forced by a foolish oath, and he reluctantly had John beheaded.

     Almost four hundred years after John’s death, there was a similar confrontation between a fiery and fearless preacher, and, a man of great power and wealth.  John Chrysostom, sometimes called the greatest preacher of the early church, often used his eloquence to criticize the injustices of the Roman government.  He was summoned to appear before Emperor Arcadius who demanded that he stop his bold preaching.  Chrysostom told the emperor that he would continue to say whatever he wanted to say in his sermons, and that he answered to God and not to any earthly ruler.

     The emperor threatened Chrysostom with banishment from the kingdom if he would not stop his preaching.  Chrysostom said, “Sir, you cannot banish me, for the whole world is my heavenly Father’s kingdom.”

     “Well then,” said Emperor Arcadius, “I will confiscate everything you own.”  

     “Sir,” replied Chrysostom, “that you cannot do either, for my treasures are in heaven, where no one can break in and steal.”

     “Well then,” sputtered the emperor, “I will put you in solitary confinement and you will never see your friends again.”

     “Sir,” replied the preacher, “you cannot do that either, for I have a friend in heaven who has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

     “Well then,” thundered the emperor, “I will kill you.”

     “Do whatever you want, Sir,” said Chrysostom, “for my life is hid with God in Christ my Lord, who has promised me that I will not perish but will have everlasting life.”

     The emperor Arcadius did banish Chrysostom to a remote outpost at the edge of the empire, and the old preacher died on the way there.  But even now, sixteen centuries later, his fearless testimony joins with John the Baptist and countless others in bearing witness to the strength and confidence one may have by faith in Christ Jesus.

     John the Baptist died as a young man, probably only about 31 years old.  He died preparing the way for another man who would also die young.  But that other young man, Jesus, was a visitor from another kingdom, a kingdom beyond this world, a kingdom in which no one dies young; in fact, no one dies there at all.  God so loved this world that he had sent his son Jesus here in order to tell us about that other kingdom, so that by believing in him, we would not perish, but have everlasting life.  That promise gives courage and confidence and strength.

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1549 Book of Common Prayer, Prayer for the Feast of St. John the Baptist:

ALMIGHTIE God, by whose providence thy servaunte John Baptiste was wonderfully borne, and sente to prepare the way of thy sonne our saviour, by preaching of penaunce; make us so to folowe his doctrine and holy lyfe, that we may truely repent accordyng to his preachyng; and after his example constantly speake the trueth, boldly rebuke vice, and paciently suffre for the truethes sake; through Jesus Christ our Lorde.  Amen.