Baptized Grace
The Martyrdom of John the Baptizer
29 August 2017
John the Baptizer ends the Old Testament and inaugurates the New. He is the prophetic pivot upon which the door to the new world is opened to the gospel and shut upon the old world with its law, sacrifices, and temple. John draws up the curtain on the new regime of God in Christ, through the sacrament of Baptism. The sacred flood makes a new world, just as the Flood of Noah made the world again. Only this time it is led not by decrepit Noah, but God's Son. This time the world is made again not by the death of the world through drowning, but made anew by the death of God's Son on the cross. The flood swallows up the Son of God at Jordan, that it might return the world to God in the ark of baptism. In Noah's flood the many died to give a new world to the few. At the remaking of the world the One died that the many might live in the new world. John is God's agent in this transition to a world made new. No wonder Jesus calls him greater than all men born of women (Lk 7:28).
The transition also tells us of new tools in God's renovating activity. The wicked were rightly put to death in the Deluge of old. The law discovered them and their evil. "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Gn 6:5). That inclination was not snuffed out by death in that first flood. So the Lord Himself underwent the cleansing flood of baptism that in it there would be a death unto life in our own baptism. The new flood of our fonts now puts to death sin. The Baptist began the reign of the gospel at Jordan's flood, bringing righteousness, which the law ultimately failed to bring.
In the simple act of baptism, John brought the gospel to light in the person of Christ. Now the legal way only showed human wickedness and inclination to perversity. Only the gospel would bring life through the substitutionary work of the Son of God. Moses and his dicta were removed from the salvific arsenal. All that remained was the re-making Word of the gospel of God. No longer, lists of duties, priestly sacrifices, prescriptions, and regulations, provided the backbone of life in the church. Now the church would be made by the word of Christ proclaimed freely in the gospel for the forgiveness of sins. Jewish exclusivity was replaced by Christ's inclusivity. Prescription no longer reigned but instruction. The law was silenced for the gospel. Our work failed, God's prevailed. John baptized grace and with grace baptized.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"The beginning of the eternal kingdom of Christ and the New Testament are coincident with the time of John the Baptist. And simultaneously the regime of Moses, of the prophets, the priests, and the Levites terminated. Christ Himself tells us this in Matthew 11: 'All the prophets and the law prophesied until John' (Mt 11:13). And since Christ the Lord was now present, the mission of Moses, the priests, and the prophets, who had instructed the people of Israel and had governed in accordance with the law, was ended; for their time was not to extend beyond the advent of Christ. With His appearance Moses' rule was to come to a close, with its prescriptions regarding lawsuits, marriage, divorce, inheritance, penalties for various transgressions, church regulations for the temple, the priesthood, divine worship, church services, circumcision, feasts, sacrifices, and the like.
"The Ten Commandments, which deal with holy life and conduct toward God and man, cease too, in the sense that they cannot damn us believers in Christ. He became subject to the law in order to redeem us who were under the law (Gal 4:5). Yes, He became a curse for us to save us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). However, the Ten Commandments are still in force and do concern us Christians so far as obedience to them is concerned. For the righteousness demanded by the law is fulfilled in the believers through the grace and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whom they receive. Thus, all the admonitions of the prophets in the Old Testament, as well as of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament, concerning a godly life, are excellent sermons on, and expositions of, the Ten Commandments.
"Christ appeared precisely at the time specified by Jacob (Gn 49:10) and Daniel (Dan 9:25), which Isaiah (Is 49:8; 61:2) and subsequently St. Paul (2Co 6:2) termed a gracious or acceptable time, 'the acceptable year of the Lord' and 'the day of salvation.' It was evident that John had to precede the Lord Christ, when Christ had John baptize Him before He began His ministry of preaching and performing miracles. When the divine majesty manifested Himself over Him during His Baptism in the Jordan, this showed that He had not only an inner and private call into the office with which He had been invested before the foundation of the world but also a public and a visible call. The eternal Father made Himself known on that occasion with the words: 'This is My beloved Son' (Mt 3:17). The Son was standing in the water, and the Holy Spirit descended in the physical form of a dove, alighting on Him. This was to usher in a great and remarkable transformation, not unlike the transformation of the old world into a new one through the Flood. For the law, the Jewish priesthood, and the kingdom were to be abolished; and a new world was to be established through the gospel. Henceforth not only the Jews but all the nations on the face of the earth were to be people of God and were to be known as such. John was to initiate this new reign. God gave him command and office to preach and to baptize, as Luke the Evangelist relates at length (Lk 3:1-20): when the Word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias, then the change came. The Old Testament ends and the New begins with John. He no longer preaches the law of Moses; he proclaims the grace which is to come through Christ. And soon he began to baptize on the basis of this grace."

Martin Luther, Sermons on John's Gospel, 1.6
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. 
Collect for the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptizer
Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
For all those laboring under the burdens of catastrophic flooding in Houston and SE Texas, that they would be safe and kept from despair and that they would trust in the God who turns back the waters
For all church musicians, that they might continue to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and thereby instruct God's people in the new life in Christ

For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School, that they would be upheld in every good deed
Art: CARAVAGGIO, The Beheading of St. John the Baptizer (1608)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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