No Accident
Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
29 August 2019
Several of the members of my parish have been deployed to war zones around the world. Before leaving for Iraq one of these people, an Air Force officer, expressed some dismay about the political indecision about Afghanistan and the rules of engagement imposed on troops there. I suggested to him that if we are going to send troops to war, we should let them make war. He readily concurred. That's what they are trained to do. If we don't want them to conduct war, we should stop training them to do it. As unfortunate as it is, the military is trained to kill our enemies. It's a kind of necessary evil. The office of the military is to protect the people of the United States from foreign enemies. Military personnel have to kill people to do it. That is their proper office.
 
Often, however, the U. S. military gets involved in humanitarian projects around the world, both inside and out of combat zones. A dear friend is a chaplain in the U. S. Army. He preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments for an institution whose office is not gospel, but law. So, sometimes the military does things that are not directly part of its primary mission or office. This is accidental to its mission. The military often builds homes and schools, provides medical care and relief supplies in combat zones. But that isn't the military's primary office or calling.
 
Christ came bearing the office of "gospel-er." He comes to proclaim the good news about God's gracious attitude about us. He comes to fill the gospel with His own righteousness. He comes to be the very content of the gospel. So He does more than just tell us about it, He is it. He also does other things in His earthly ministry; including to heal the sick and to care for the poor. These acts are closely related to His mission to save the world from its sin, but they are not the mission itself. They are accidental to His office. Indeed, they are things that the prophets before Him had already accomplished as signs of His coming.
 
Christ also reiterated the law, often clarifying for His hearers that the law was far more fearsome than they had presumed. Much of the Sermon on the Mount ratchets up the intensity of the law. Jesus shows it to be a spiritual foe (Rm 7:14) that destroys our pretensions to external piety at the expense of a heart that truly fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things. This remains a necessary, but alien function of Christ. The true office of God's Son is to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10). Commanding that we do good works is right; it just does not save, it does not make right in God's sight. Only the righteousness of Christ will suffice in the sight of God. The giving of that righteousness is Christ's proper office. Such righteousness is no accident.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"When Christ issues commandments in a Gospel and teaches, or rather interprets, the law, this belongs, not to the topic of justification but to good works. Besides, teaching the law is not the proper office of Christ on account of which He came into the world; it is an accidental function, just as when He healed the sick, raised the dead, helped the poor, and comforted the afflicted. These are glorious and divine works and blessings, of course; but they are not peculiar to Christ. For the prophets taught the law too, and performed miracles. But Christ is true God and man, who while battling with the law suffered its extreme severity and tyranny. By performing and bearing the law He conquered it in Himself. And then, when He rose from the dead, He condemned the law, our most hostile enemy, and took it from our shoulders, so that it can no longer condemn or kill believers. Therefore the true and proper office of Christ is to struggle with the law, sin, and death of the entire world, and to struggle in such a way that He undergoes them, but, by undergoing them, conquers them and abolishes them in Himself, thus liberating believers from the law and from every evil. Therefore teaching the law and performing miracles are special benefits of Christ, which were not the chief reason for His coming. For the prophets and especially the apostles did greater miracles than Christ Himself did (Jn 14:12)."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.5
Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (ESV)
Collect
O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist should go ahead of Your Son both in his birth and in his death, grant, as he died a martyr for the truth, that we, too, might fight hard for the confession of Your teaching; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 
For the family of James Pilli, whom the Lord took to Himself, that they would grieve in the hope of the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
 
For Pr. Matthew Heise of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, that the Lord would strengthen and uphold him in his work of proclaiming Christ throughout the world
 
For the families of deployed military personnel, that the Lord Jesus would strengthen and encourage them during the time that they are separated from their loved ones
Art: CARAVAGGIO, Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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