A guilty conscience imagines all kinds of things, so it is no wonder that Herod, in our gospel text today, wonders if this Jesus is actually John the Baptist come back from the dead. If Herod only knew just how back from the dead this man called Jesus would eventually come!
Back from the dead: not to haunt the consciences of Herod and all of us who have ever lived only for ourselves – and who among us has not made decisions only for our own benefit? Back from the dead: not to take the reigns of worldly power and install himself as the new super power at the head of a super nuclear arsenal, toppling all who stand in his way.
This Jesus would come back from the dead to show all who believe where true power lies, and how truth will always overcome the lies and deceit of those who misuse their power.
For at the end of time all of the dark powers and principalities of the world will be toppled and Christ will reign forevermore. The Herods and every interloper and purveyor of distorted half-truths will be cast down. And the people they trampled underfoot; the poor and the oppressed, the hungry and marginalized, the widow and immigrant and refugee, the struggling families and lonely individuals; they will be lifted up. For the lowly carpenter’s son; the one who did bring good out of Nazareth; the man Jesus who was the fullness of God incarnate yet also fully human; the suffering servant who like John the Baptist gave his life unflinchingly so that truth should live while darkness falters and fails as hell is literally put under foot; this Jesus reigns forevermore.
So while we live in the middle of the story, in the middle of the muddle and the mess, we can trust that Jesus is both here with us in this mess, and also working beyond the walls of time and understanding to bring about the redeeming of all that is broken.
And even now this Light of Jesus is breaking in. Even now we hear the voice of Jesus in those, who like him and John the Baptist and other prophets of old, still call out for the people to repent, turn back, come to God and mend the error of their ways and our ways.
As our national Lutheran church tag line reads: “God’s work, Our Hands.”
We are renewed in the knowledge of God’s work through Jesus and then God needs us to go out into the world as prophets and teachers, healers and leaders, crying out for justice, lending a hand to those who need it most, and proclaiming through our every word and action that the kingdom of God has come near.
This work may not make us popular. There are many who would rather build their personal palaces of comfort and delusion that be woken up to the challenging reality that we are broken people living in a broken world. And that God calls us to call out our brokenness and the brokenness of others with compassionate clarity!
Truly following Jesus will bring us into tension with all that does not serve God in ourselves and in the world. It will bring us into tension and conflict with the Herods and our own misteps and misdeeds. It is not comfortable work, yet we take heart and courage from the knowledge that Jesus, our Messiah, is right here with us. The resurrection has been completed and is being completed so that we might live lives holy and pleasing to God.
As Christians we know it’s not always easy to know how to follow and love Jesus and make the right decisions. Yet we also know that as striving Christians we are never asked to follow or choose the lesser of two evils. John the Baptist did not cry out in the wilderness saying “make things a little better and tell the truth, mind of.” John cried out “make straight the path in the wilderness!”
Jesus did not say “I’m kind of the truth, maybe follow me.” Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” So in our daily lives, as we seek to live well to the glory of God, we devote ourselves to the Truth that is Jesus. This Truth may cost us all that we have ever thought we’ve known. Yet in exchange we will be discovered by a grace and mercy and beauty that transcend our wildest dreams. And this precious gift, made possible by God through Christ, will give us courage and strength to face every gruesome reality this world can throw at us, and it will give us every resource we need to accompany those who most need us to stand with them, demonstrating Christ’s love through our hands.