Sermon Notes – July 15, 2018

Every Prophet’s Hope – Mark 6:14-15

   In February of last year Nebraska state senator Burke Harr began a campaign to redesign the Nebraska state flag.  His interest in changing it was sparked when it was discovered that the flag had been flying upside down over the capitol for ten days and no one noticed it.  The flag has a blacksmith working with a hammer, a steamboat on a river and a train chugging along.  It also has mountains, trees, a little house and the state’s motto, “Equality before the law.”  All of those things, any of those things, would look odd upside down, but no one was paying attention.

   Our Gospel for today (Mark 6:14-29) relates the sad and horrible story of the martyrdom of John the Baptist.  In the opening sentences, however, there is, as it were, a flag flying upside down that many don’t notice because they are distracted by the gory trickery of Herodias’ daughter.  Listen as some try to identify who Jesus is: “Some said, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead…’ But others said, ‘He is Elijah.’  And others said, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’” (Mk 6:14-15)

   Some people said Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.  John the Baptist would be the most annoyed by that misconception.  John had been the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord…” (Lk 3:4, Is 40:3)  John the Baptist’s job was to let people know who Jesus was.  “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mk 1:7)  John knew that his work was done when he identified Jesus for his followers: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me.’” (Jn 1:29-30)  Prior to his arrest by King Herod, John declared, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30)  [Tom Canty and Prince Edward in The Prince and the Pauper]

   To mistake the Christ for John the Baptist or to mistake John the Baptist for the Christ blurred the precise line the Baptist himself kept clear.  When priests and Levites from Jerusalem came out to ask John, “Who are you?”  “He confessed and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” (Jn 1:20)  John, most assuredly, would not have claimed to take away anybody’s sins through his execution.  Taking away the sins of the world and being raised from death belonged solely to the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

    Some people said that Jesus was Elijah.  Certainly, the expectations of the Hebrew faith were that Elijah would return.  In Malachi 4:5, the Lord says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”  The expectation was (and for orthodox Jews remains) that Elijah would return to introduce the Messiah and judgment.  At the annual Passover Seder a place is still set for the prophet Elijah as a sign of expecting his return.  [After the transfiguration Jesus reasserts that John the Baptist fulfilled the Elijah prophecy, Mark 9:11-13]  Elijah did some magnificent miracles  and he departed for heaven in splendid fashion—but he did not personally provide forgiveness for a single sin or prepare the way to heaven for others.  Those chores would be completed by the One to whom the prophets gave testimony.  [Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, Tom Krattenmaker]

   To confuse Jesus for one of the prophets or for just a prophet is a topsy-turvy, fly your flag upside down world which is not the kingdom of God.  Jesus was not John the Baptist raised from the dead.  He was not Elijah.  He was not just a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.  He was every prophet’s hope.  He was the One proclaimed by those prophets as Christ and Savior of the world who would establish an eternal Kingdom.  [Peter would be given the blessed knowledge of who Jesus really was, Mk 8:27-29; Jesus would give the blessed knowledge of what that really meant, 8:31]  Jesus, not John the Baptist, would be raised from the dead.  Jesus, not Elijah, would usher in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, not just any prophet, would save us through His death and resurrection.



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