A Tormented Conscience
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today’s gospel reading has the details of the imprisonment and murder of John the Baptist. We remember the joy that Zechariah and Elizabeth had when their son was born. Not only was John a special blessing to this couple, but his birth signaled the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a savior into the world.
An angel told Zechariah that his son would “go before the Lord … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” When John was born, the Holy Spirit gave Zechariah these words to speak about his son, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.” Lk. 1:76-77
John At The Jordan
These words about John were fulfilled when “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mk. 1:14 There is no other way to be prepared for Jesus Christ than to repent, confessing your sins and asking for his mercy.
John boldly proclaimed God’s law to those who needed to hear it. He did not back down or deny the need for God’s forgiveness. His boldness, his confession of faith, resulted in his imprisonment and murder at the hands of Herod.
This persecution of John is not an isolated incident. Herod and his wife Herodias eliminated one Christian from their lives. The same thing is happening today. Christians are being persecuted and murdered to eliminate them from the lives of those who don’t want to repent.
Christians are being persecuted and murdered because they believe that they are sinners and that Jesus is the only answer to their sin. In him there is forgiveness and in no other. They are not afraid to proclaim this to the world.
We need to pray for our fellow Christians around the world who are suffering for the sake of the gospel. We need to help financially so that food, clothing, and shelter can be provided to those who are being forced to leave their homes and their countries.
Amidst this persecution, there is one shining light. That light is that those who are being persecuted know the Light of the World. Those who are losing their homes, their loved ones, and their own lives, know that grace and mercy of God.
They know that Jesus Christ came into the world for them. Their faith is in the one who redeemed them. He gives them peace in the midst of suffering. They believe that neither suffering nor death can separate them from the love of Jesus Christ.
Love and Prayer
Herod did a horrible thing. Today’s persecutors are doing horrible things. What is the answer? Let me tell you the words of Jesus. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.””
Strange words indeed. According to these words of Jesus, John should have loved Herod and prayed for him. I believe that is exactly what John did. We hear that John confronted Herod about his adulterous life. John did this out of love for Herod.
John put Herod’s eternal life and salvation ahead of his own safety and earthly life. John could have simply ignored Herod. Then there would have been no reason to be arrested and ultimately beheaded.
John wanted Herod to see his sin and to repent. John wanted to prepare the heart of Herod to receive the Savior Jesus Christ. John preached the Law of God to Herod so that Herod’s conscience would feel the guilt and shame that comes from knowing one has sinned.
John was praying that Herod would repent of his sin so that John could tell him about God’s mercy and grace. John wanted to tell Herod the good news that the Lamb of God had come into the world to take away Herod’s sin, so that Herod’s sin could be forgiven.
Herod’s Troubled Conscience
John prayed in prison for his enemy Herod. He prayed that the Holy Spirit would working in the heart of Herod. There was no reason for Herod to continue to hear John’s words. He could have had John killed, but he didn’t. Instead he had John locked up. Still there was no reason for Heard to continue to hear John’s words, he could have just stayed away.
We read that Herod recognized John as a righteous and holy man. The words of John perplexed Herod. When he finally gave the order to have John executed we read that Herod “was exceedingly sorry.” The Word of God proclaimed by John had begun to work in the heart of Herod, but Herod shut it out.
His conscience was troubled by his sin, if only a little bit. Herod heard the Word of God, but stopped short of confessing his sin and asking God for mercy. Herod stopped short of wanting his life changed and turned in a new direction. He stopped short of wanting forgiveness for the way he had lived.
Herod may have wanted to be a more righteous man, but not at the cost of confessing his sins and asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Herod’s rejecting of God’s message led to a tragedy.
Our Gracious God
Our gracious heavenly Father loves us so much that he sacrificed his own son to die for us. His Son, Jesus, prayed that he was willing to do whatever it took to free us from sin and death. The Holy Spirit through the Word calls us to repent and trust in God’s mercy.
In today’s Epistle reading, Saint Paul reminds us of what Jesus did for us. “In [Jesus the Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of God’s grace.” Eph. 1:7 Jesus completed God’s plan to save us from our sins and to unite us with him and with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
When you repent you not only say to God, “I’m sorry for my sin,” but you place your faith in Jesus as the loving Lamb of God who takes away your sin. You give Jesus your sin and your guilt. You trust in his promises to remove your sin and guilt from you. You trust that he will comfort your troubled conscience.
When you ask Jesus for forgiveness you are also asking that he change your lives. You are saying that you know that you sin, but that you do not have the will or the power to change. You are trusting that he alone can forgive you and change you. He alone can remove from you the guilt and shame you carry around and the sentence of death that hangs over your head because of your sin.
We give thanks to Jesus that he has not left our sin and guilt unresolved, but that he has taken care of them for us on the cross. Herod missed the good news that John was proclaiming, but we have not.
Through the Word of God, Jesus calls each of us to repent. No sin is too small for God to notice. All sin is worthy of damnation, and we stand before a holy God troubled by our sin, our unresolved guilt. But Jesus came into the world to bear the punishment of God’s wrath for us. He suffered and died in our place. He rose from the dead to bring us new life.
In Jesus we see the wonder of God’s mercy and love. No matter what sin you and I have brought to the Lord’s house today, you and I have come to a place where the Word of Jesus proclaims to us “Your sins are forgiven!” There is no sin that can separate us from the work of Jesus which he did on our behalf.
Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria