Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 1:3-14 and Mark 6:14-29
Dear believers sealed with the promised Holy Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The world’s courts of justice are not always courts of justice. Injustice is commonplace as imperfect judges cannot always discover the truth of circumstances or evidence and as the laws of the land become corrupt and immoral. When the laws and the judges themselves are corrupt and immoral, all hope for justice is lost.
Herod was the tetrarch over Galilee and Perea. He was one of four rulers over the territory of Israel. Along with Pontius Pilate who ruled over Judea and two other rulers, Herod was responsible for the administration of justice.
Herod threw himself a birthday party with his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. These people were not just the rich men of substance in the land, but the inner circle of Herod’s government. These people were exactly those who helped him rule – the nobles and leading men – and those who carried out justice on his behalf – the military commanders.
John the Baptist had preached God’s justice to Herod. He proclaimed, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” According to God’s Law, what Herod was doing was wrong; it was sin. It was not lawful. It was not just.
John’s proclamation of what is right and just in God’s eyes did not go over well with Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Phillip whom Herod had taken. So Herod threw John in prison. That was Herod’s justice – throw the preacher of God’s Word into prison if you don’t like what God’s Word says.
But it didn’t end there. Herodias found the opportunity to further her idea of justice during Herod’s birthday party. Herodias’s daughter’s dancing during the party pleased Herod to the point that he offered her whatever she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. Offered any benefit she desired, she conspired with her mother and requested the head of John on a platter. Finally there was an opportunity for her idea of justice. So, for the sake of these two women and his desires, Herod had John, the preacher of God’s Word, put to death, and his head was gruesomely and horrifically presented on a platter to the girl, who gave it to Herodias, her mother. The world’s justice is served.
So, did worldly justice prevail over the justice of God? Did Herod’s justice trump God’s justice? It may have seemed like it to some. But by putting to death the one who preached God’s Word to him, Herod put to death the one who proclaimed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Herod hardened his heart, and when he came face to face with the very Lamb of God during His trial, He treated Jesus with contempt and mockery (Luke 23:11), and sent Him back to Pilate for judgment. Pilate then condemned Jesus to death. Once again, the world’s justice is served.
The justice of the world is so far removed from the justice of God. Our Gospel lesson outlines the justice of the world. It very often is quite unjust. Our Epistle lesson outlines the justice of God. God’s justice is perfect.
Our Epistle lesson answers our questions about our judgment before God’s throne. Will God find us guilty before His judgment seat? Will our sins be too great to receive mercy? Will our eyes be too blinded by our ideas of worldly justice that we will fail to receive God’s grace on Judgment Day?
Our Epistle lesson tells us that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (vv. 3-4). So what will be God’s declaration of you on Judgment Day? That you are holy and blameless; that you belong to Him and are without blame; that you are a saint without sin.
But you don’t have to wait until Judgment Day to hear that declaration. You are already now declared holy and blameless by God. You are already now declared holy and blameless because you have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of your inheritance until you acquire possession of it (v. 13-14) In Baptism, you were sealed by God; marked as His own. You were baptized into Christ. Galatians 3[:27] says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In Baptism you put on Christ, so your sins were covered. You have put on Christ, so His righteousness is your righteousness; His perfection is your perfection.
Titus 3[:5-6] says that in the washing of Baptism the Holy Spirit is poured out on us richly. Our Epistle lesson tells us that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our eternal inheritance. Having received the Holy Spirit, He is the guarantee, the pledge, the deposit of our future inheritance. In Baptism, your body was marked by and filled with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that your body will be raised to live forever in God’s kingdom. Adopted as God’s child, you have the promise – the guarantee – of the inheritance of His children.
But you may have noticed something even more in the text. You don’t just have the guarantee that you will be declared holy and blameless on Judgment Day. You don’t just have the guarantee that you are already now declared holy and blameless as God’s baptized child. The text says that you were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world!
This takes God’s guarantee to a whole other level. It by necessity removes all human worthiness or merit from our salvation. If we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, we were thus chosen before we could do anything good or evil. We were chosen before we could do any good work that might please God. We were chosen before we committed any sin which would deserve God’s wrath and punishment. We were chosen before the foundation of the world that we would be holy and blameless.
God chose you before the foundation of the world. And because He chose you before the foundation of the world, He brought you to Holy Baptism after you were born. Because He chose you before the foundation of the world, He has given you the Holy Spirit through Baptism as a guarantee of your future inheritance in His kingdom. Because God chose you before the foundation of the world, He has brought you to faith and you can rest assured that He will keep you in the faith through His Word and His Holy Supper.
Because God chose you before the foundation of the world, you have the guarantee that the punishment that Jesus took for the sins of the world was for your sins. You have the guarantee that Jesus’ death on the cross was for you. You have the guarantee that because you were baptized into Christ, you are in Christ. All of your sins are covered by His righteousness. All of your sins are covered by His perfection. That is your guarantee of God’s justice.
God’s anger and wrath were poured out on Jesus instead of you. That is God’s justice. Jesus took the punishment of your sins. That is God’s justice. Jesus was forsaken by God the Father so that you would be adopted as His child. That is God’s justice.
Whatever justice or injustice we must face in worldly courts, we have the guarantee that Jesus faced God the Father’s justice on our behalf. We will be declared holy and blameless on Judgment Day. We are declared holy and blameless now as God’s adopted children through Baptism. We were declared holy and blameless before the foundation of the world. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.