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Truth versus Popularity

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Mark 6:14-29
6th Sunday after Trinity
(15.7.12)

John the Baptist was a radical believer - he gave his all for God. He didn’t allow comfort, popularity or needs to stand in the way of pointing people to Jesus. His dedication to Christ cost him his freedom and his life. I’m sure there were many who thought him to be a fanatic but Jesus said, "Of those born of a woman there is no one greater."

John is a superb example of someone who is energized by his faith and listens to what God wants.

The story of his death reads like a modern day soap opera, full of inter-tangled marriages, lustful passion, political intrigue, lust-filled decisions, violent murder, unresolved guilt. Told in “flashback” style reviewing the events that lead to John’s death, it’s a true, historical account written for our instruction.

Herod had imprisoned John when he had courageously told him his relationship with Herodias was adultery. Herod himself had mixed emotions about John. He didn’t like being told he was a sinner, but simultaneously was enthralled by him: interested in his message and impressed by his courage and sincerity. Matthew 14:20 “Herod was in awe of John. Convinced that he was a holy man, he gave him special treatment. Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt - and yet he couldn’t stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back.”

Herodias, however, was enraged by him. She hated hearing him and wanted to silence him - for good. How dare this country bumpkin have the audacity to criticize her lifestyle! Herod was between a rock and a hard place, not want to reprimand his vindictive wife, but neither wanting to kill the man who troubled his conscience. Seeking a happy medium, he kept John in prison to appease Herodias, yet alive to appease the people and soothe his conscience

All fine until his birthday party. As the wine flowed, his treacherous and conniving wife arranges for her daughter, Herod’s niece (by her previous husband, Herod’s brother) to dance a seductive dance that would make him vulnerable to irrational behaviour. Carried away by lust, and wanting to impress his important guests, promised her anything she desires.

Conferring with her mother, she requests John’s head on a silver platter. Herod knew it wasn’t fair, but everyone was looking at him. He’d promised ’anything’. Personally, he’d nothing against the country preacher but he valued the opinion polls more than John’s life. Herod had under estimated his wife’s cunning. A man of God died: a wicked Queen got her way. Herod, tortured by his guilt is convinced that Jesus is John come back to haunt him.

If there was an epitaph on John’s tombstone it should have been that which Jesus said: "Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." A great man, one who expressed his uniqueness by accepting his role, courageously. He confronted sin, was radical in his belief and willing to give anything for Jesus.

Now then, I can imagine many of us thinking that we wouldn’t want to go down the same route as John did. So consumed by his faith in Christ that he just had to stand up and speak out boldly and passionately against sin. Look where it got him: not death but eternal life. Happy in eternity. Thousands who have lived nice, good, untroubled lives are not reaping the same such benefit.

There are two ways to live: by God’s authority or our own. Our own is, like it or not, sin and that sin is a slippery slope. Satan knows he won’t have much luck getting us to commit big sins straightaway. He starts us on small compromises. They actually sound virtuous, such as, family comes before God. Before we know it we’ve totally forgotten that God said He should be our number one, that Christ said leave everything to follow Him. We believe what we’ve allowed to happen Is right. That’s why the Universalist theology "all will be saved" is so popular.

BUT living by our own authority leads to us not obtaining the promise of eternal life. If we want to go all out for Jesus, we must recognize the seriousness of this sin of living for ourselves. Jesus hates it so much that He died because of it. A prime reason for not being all-consumed by Jesus is that we don’t hate sin like John the Baptist did; we don’t want to believe sin is that bad. That’s why people call for tolerance rather than repentance. But John knew that being outside the will of God has serious consequences and would cost him eternity!

There were two sides in this incident with John, the good and the evil. The same spiritual battle goes on for our souls today. Two conflicting spirits: Satan and God. Two sets of beliefs: Humanism (man can save himself, no need of God) and Christianity (our only hope is in Jesus). Two sets of guidelines: man’s decisions made by the sliding scale of relativism where there are no absolutes, versus the Bible where God sets the standard for right and wrong. Two destinies: Hell, reserved for those not covered by Christ’s death versus Heaven, where those who accept Jesus live with Him forever. The Christian life is not a playground but a battle-ground.

Jesus calls us into an intense relationship. We are called to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Too many think of following Christ as a supplement to life not all of life. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life"; we want to make Him the jam (Juan Carlos Ortiz). A few years ago, a Christian satirical magazine suggested the “Lite Church” with 24% fewer commitments and only 8 Commandments of your choice. Everything you want in a church and less!”

God never said following Jesus would make us feel happy, warm and fuzzy. No. Following Christ brings conviction and sorrow for sin, an understanding that this world can be tough, and that circumstances don’t always work to our benefit – as they didn’t for John. BUT authentic Christianity is worth it. It’s the challenge we’ve been looking for. Making Jesus the primary purpose of our life no matter what life brings. If Christianity is true, that Christ died for our sins and by His Grace made a way for us to go to heaven, then it is worth everything!

Look back at the heritage of those with intense faith. Hebrews 11 "others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God - knowing that they would rise to a better life afterwards." John beheaded, James killed by sword, Stephen stoned, Peter crucified upside down.

Why were they willing to sacrifice so much? They were so convinced that Christ was the source of their eternal hope that they surrendered everything. According to statistics, since the time of Christ, 40 million Christians have been martyred. Jesus calls us to believe in Him and His promises with such intensity, that we are willing to sacrifice everything for Him if necessary.

What’s the consuming passion that energises and drives your life? What are you willing to give up for Jesus? In calling us to a life of total allegiance He doesn’t call us to something He wasn’t willing to give Himself: He gave His life for us.

Whilst imprisoned, John the Baptist got despondent and sent a message to Jesus asking if He was the one or should he be waiting for another? This wasn’t because he didn’t have enough faith: rather because he SO wanted the people he preached to come to know Jesus. To have the reassurance of eternal life that could be theirs through faith in Christ. A good, albeit tough, role-model for us. However low he was, however he suffered in a dark, damp underground prison, unlike Herod, he spoke the truth and never once went for the popular vote.

Christ should be the consuming passion of our lives. To day that might sound fanatical but that’s what He calls us to. He said:
"Those who love their father or mother more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers. Those who love their son or daughter more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?"

He is no fool, who exchanges that which he cannot keep, for that which he cannot lose.

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