What do you do when the good news causes bad; when the truth of God’s word gets you into trouble? I have a friend who, years ago, as a preacher, was told by the elders that he could no longer preach that Jesus is God. You see there was this family with lots of money. It often comes down to this doesn’t it? Anyway, this family with money didn’t believe that Jesus is God so they told the elders that my friend needed to quit and desist or they would quit giving money to the church. Well the elders were afraid of losing a sizeable contribution, so they ordered my friend to tone down his Jesus is God lessons. The next Sunday my friend preached that Jesus is God and was packing his bags Monday morning. Money cannot shape the message. Power cannot force it away. The good news will not be glossed over. It is Mother Teresa telling the President of the United States of America to stop killing babies. God’s word is the real power.
Our passage this week is short: Luke 3:18-20. Ah, but there is a back story here; a back story that Luke’s audience was familiar with. Verse 18 could sum up the whole passage about John the Baptist and it is a good summation. John called, exhorted, animated the people by proclaiming the good news. Good news is meant to call us to something. The goal is never for us to merely say, “Well, isn’t that nice” while we go about our business. The coming Christ is bringing salvation and judgment. The invitation is all about repenting, changing, making ready for his coming.
This good news is not simply for the masses; the rubble; the lowly. God expects all people to come to terms with his word. And now for the back story. Herod Antipas was married to the daughter of Aretas IV, King of the Nebateans. As Antipas is visiting his half-brother Herod Philip, he decides that he likes his niece and sister-in-law much better than Aretas’ daughter. She agrees to leave her husband but only if Antipas divorces his current wife. This seems palatable to the old fox. His wife becomes aware of the winds of change coming her way and she flees to her father Aretas. Aretas is not at all happy and this, a few years down the road, leads to war. Okay, so Antipas stole his brother’s wife. But what if they loved each other? Doesn’t matter. In Leviticus 18:16 and 21:21 God made it clear that sleeping with your brother’s wife is not how you show love. This is a message our society desperately needs. Our culture thinks that love is all about how you feel and what is good for you. And who cares about the fall out; the wars that result; the forsaken brother and discarded wife? God does. John did.
So, John rebuked Herod. It didn’t matter to John that Herod was the tetrarch, the ruler of Galilee and Perea. As someone who claimed to worship God, he was bound by God’s laws. So, he didn’t let Antipas slide because of his power or money. He didn’t proclaim the animating gospel to the masses and wink at the indiscretions of the elite. Nope! He exposed the sin. He named it. Sin is sin boys and girls. And it is sin whether committed by the president or the pauper. And it is sin because it is the opposite of love. Luke is the only gospel writer that tells us that John also exposed Antipas’ other sins as well. We don’t know what these were, but it was “evil, wicked, harmful” activities. And knowing the family he came from the list was probably fairly long.
Luke simply tells his readers that Antipas had John arrested. He doesn’t mention the whole beheading thing. Again, he is most likely counting on his readers to know the rest of the story. What he wants to focus in on is the bravery of John. John exposed the evil of a powerful man knowing full well what the man was capable of. And he proved true to his character. Instead of allowing the message to call him to repentance – to change – he arrested John thinking that would end it. It is similar to a child holding his hands over his ears and humming loudly in order to drown out what he doesn’t want to hear.
The good news calls! And it calls to all people. If you are shaped by the good news, the message becomes more important than your comfort; your job; your safety; your life. And the good news is all about real love; love that doesn’t disrupt and maim; love that doesn’t discard. What Antipas and Herodias had was mutual lust and self-love. They allowed their feelings for each other to destroy others, not to mention their own self. Speak the truth in love. Speak it to the masses. Speak it to the kings and queens of the land. Invite all people to a repentance that will shape the heart by the lover of our souls. Grace and peace.