First Lesson: Isaiah 40: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
Second Lesson: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”- Malachi 3:1
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”- Isaiah 40:3
I want to begin this morning by having you picture a couple of people. The people that I describe might even sound like people that you know.
There was once a man who seemingly had it all. This man lived in a home that some might even dare call a “palace.” This man was clean-cut and good-looking. This man wore the finest clothes. His meals consisted of only the finest foods. This man was super-smooth, and he had the people skills of the most successful of politicians. This man had nearly unlimited power. This man seemingly had everything. He was so charismatic that people flocked to him figuring they were better off being seen with him. This man was the George Clooney of his day. This man had an ego, but very few with his success in life don’t have one.
This man had a rival. This man’s rival would have seemed far from his equal. These two men being considered rivals would be like a high school football team calling another team its rival having not lost to the other team for decades. If you put these two men side by side together, this would seemingly convince you that life isn’t fair.
This man’s rival was unkept. If you saw him walking down the street, you’d think he looked like a homeless person. This man lived off the grid, far away from civilization. Whenever people would see him, he always dresses in a funny costume. People would snicker behind his back that he looked like a “fool”. The rival ate bugs, locusts to be in fact. When this man opened his mouth, he was super-awkward. He made people uncomfortable whenever he talked. He was the like the type of guy; people wished would leave them alone at the lunch table. People would call him all sorts of names “nerd” “spas” “geek” “freak”.
These two men played life out like a high school movie with the popular jock versus the anti-social weirdo.
Who are these two men? The first man, the cool dude, is Herod Antipas (Ruler of Galilee). The second man is the loner preacher and baptizer John the Baptist. Herod had everything; John had nothing.
These two men are the key figures in our Gospel lesson for today from Mark the 1st Chapter.
As soon as we hear these two men’s names, we instantly recognize something. We don’t know all that much about Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was merely a cookie-cutter big shot. Herod Antipas was successful don’t get me wrong, just like the guy who drives the nice car with a nice home and above average wife is successful. Herod’s dad had been a real big shot. Herod’s Dad was so power hungry that he ordered all boys born in the vicinity of the town of Bethlehem under the age of 2 to be put to death fearing a move on his throne. His dad even went by the name “Herod the Great”.
Herod Antipas gave people nothing they hadn’t encountered before. Herod Antipas was merely a ruler that no one cared enough in the end to die.
What we know about John the Baptist is as odd as he may have been; he got people ready for the Messiah (the Son of God) in Christ Jesus. Why did John the Baptist’s message catch on whereas Herod’s didn’t’?
I think there’s something worth noting as you consider John the Baptist’s story. Consider the place where John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. John the Baptist was a preacher on the farthest reaches of Herod’s territory. Think of the type of place in Lake County where there are more moose than people. When you get way to the middle of nowhere, this was the type of remote place where John the Baptist preached.
The wilderness was where people were actually going to encounter God, not inside Herod’s palace. The wilderness causes people to think about the important things in life: sin, forgiveness, heaven, and hell.
Funny thing about John, people traveled in droves to hear John’s message. People traveled from as far away from Jerusalem to receive John’s baptism. There was no fancy music bringing them to hear John. John wasn’t one of those preachers who was a great natural story teller. John wasn’t very good with jokes, nor did he have a popular brand of humor. John’s preaching didn’t sell “unlocking your inner potential”. John could have cared less about applause or compliments within the receiving line.
John was just going to deal with the meat and potato issues of life. John was going to speak the truth of God as it was revealed to him.
John wasn’t going to need any elaborate lighting. It was almost as if some unexplainable spirit was pulling people in John’s direction. John’s Baptism was the means to get people ready for Christ’s coming.
There might be truth to the saying that only when we go where John is, do we see that the Messiah is on his way. God’s intention is to come into the muck of life of his people.
John lived at the Jordan River famous throughout the Old Testament as being the boundary to enter into the Promised Land. When God’s people crossed the Jordan River after forty years in the desert, it served as a reminder to them that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled. The coming of John the Baptist spoke to this spiritual truth more than anything else.
John the Baptist’s tale isn’t necessarily an inspirational story; John didn’t pick himself up by the both straps then achieve all sorts of great success. The story doesn’t end well for John.
Herod eventually wins the rivalry by executing John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s big mouth did him in. He had enough of Herod’s shenanigans. John the Baptist was sickened by Herod’s behavior. Herod had it all his whole life, so now he wanted a much younger wife who had impressed him merely by putting her body on display at his raucous birthday party.
See in the end, Herod Antipas was nothing really but an insecure guy, willing to put a guy like John to death, all for the sake of impressing some woman.
In John the Baptist’s execution something funny made itself known. John went forward to death with confidence because he truly believed that God comes to us when we are at our lowest and our weakest. God had come into the world as a little, baby boy. “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” -Mark 1:8
Whereas the big, strong, pretty boy Herod faced death differently, Herod as he goes by in years becomes consumed with a crippling unconfidence. After John the Baptist is put to death, Herod becomes convinced that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead in the form of Jesus from Nazareth. Herod got the story wrong at first, but eventually he would get it right.
Luke’s Gospel has Herod involved in the plot to take Jesus’ life. Jesus merely laughed Herod off. Jesus called Herod a “fox”.
An old washed- up ladies' man. Herod’s hair didn’t look quite like it once did. Herod by this time probably had a gut. His clothes were beginning to fade of color. No one was running to be by Herod’s side as he was at his boldest.
Jesus merely responded to Herod’s threats by proclaiming “"Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”- Luke 13:32
When Jesus finally appears before Herod’s presence, Herod put up his own arrogance as a shield. Herod clamored for Jesus to do a “magic trick” to entertain him like so many others before. Herod had salvation standing before him, yet Herod’s mind could only be consumed with earthly things.
Jesus merely responded to Herod’s last desperate grasp for attention, with the same silence and grace that he displayed marching to his own cross hours later.
Herod’s story ends like many a high school jock where glory eventually fades. Everybody’s eventually not as good as they once was.
Herod eventually does fall. Past jealousies rear their ugly head over his past quarreling with his younger, even more ambitious nephew Agrippa. Someone younger and wiser came to knock the former king off the throne, where as history marched on, rest assured that there will never be another John the Baptist.
Why does Mark’s Gospel begin with the tale of John the Baptist? The author wanted to make an important point.
God is here in this day. One day, God will be victorious. God will reign in the halls of the never-ending high-school that is life.
God will reign in the lives of the uncool; God will reign in the lives of the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind. God will reign in the lives of the drunkard, the divorcee, and the screw-up. God will reign in the lives of the broke and the lonely. God is in places like Ferguson; God is seeking to reach people like Eric Garner’s family as they mourn his death.
God will reign even in situations where people cannot even begin to fathom his presence.
God doesn’t come to us in high society; God comes to us around the margins of society. God doesn’t come to us at awards banquets; God comes to us at 2 AM when we have nowhere else to turn. What John the Baptist’s story reminds us is that there is no place or no person to whom God will not go to or go through to reach others.
I leave you this morning with perhaps John the Baptist’s most famous words. These were the words that he spoke to many a people who traveled out to the wilderness to get baptized by him. “Repent and Believe the Good News!”- Mark 1:5.
The call to repentance speaks to something important. God is going to do new things in a new way. God’s intention is to come into the lives of his people. God himself is going to The Cross and coming back again. Believe that Jesus is coming soon! Amen
 Think the Gophers vs Wisconsin in College Football.
 Mark 1:6
 Mark 1:6
 Mark 1:1-8
 Matthew 2:16
 This point is well made by Karoline Lewis at her commentary on Mark 1:1-8 written at workingpreacher.com and published on December 4th, 2011.
 The tale of John the Baptist’s execution takes place in Matthew 14: 1-12 and Mark 6:14-29
 Matthew 14:1-2
 Luke 13:31
 The encounter between Jesus and Herod Antipas takes place in Luke 23:7-12.
 This wording is inspired by lyrics to the Toby Keith song “As Good As I Once Was”.
 This section is inspired by Rachel Held Evans who wrote a blog post entitled “Blessed are the un-cool” in 2010 over at rachelheldevans.com