Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Gospel Cannot Be Stopped

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 15, 2012
The Gospel cannot be stopped. A constant barrage of people and things try to stop it. There are people outside the Christian Church who try to stop it. There are even people inside the Church who try to stop it. Satan tries to stop the Gospel. Even you try to stop it, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. People acting alone and people gathered together attempt to bring the Gospel to an end but it cannot be stopped.

When what appears is that the Gospel has come to a crashing halt you can know that the Gospel cannot be stopped. This is invaluable knowledge when it seems that the Gospel has lost its power. You can hang on to this certainty when the world and your sinful flesh and Satan cause you to wonder if the Gospel really is all that powerful or beneficial. When this happens, know that the Gospel cannot be stopped. This is a fact. How things appear is that the Gospel may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. But the Gospel doesn’t operate in the realm of how things appear to be. Often it works in ways that appear to be the opposite of the power it’s really operating in.

You can see this in what happened to John the Baptist. Mark tells us about John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reading. I suppose if we were watching this as a movie this would be portrayed as a flashback. Mark begins with Jesus. Jesus is doing His thing and more and more people are taking notice. It’s so much so that Herod the king takes notice. In fact, Herod starts getting a little nervous, even scared. You see, he’s the one that got rid of John the Baptist and now here’s this prophet teaching all kinds of God things and doing all kinds of miracles and gathering a following. When you see the story of how Herod dispatched John you begin to see how Herod was becoming a nervous wreck. This guy who’s doing all the teaching and miracles must be John the Baptist! He must have come back from the dead!

But it wasn’t anything like that. John was safely dead, just as Herod had brought about, having him executed by beheading him. What Herod should have been worried about was that what he had really attempted to do was to stop the Gospel. The Gospel cannot be stopped. What he should have been fearful of was that he continued in his state of unrepentance and therefore he was not able to experience the Gospel as it was meant to be experienced. Herod continued to hold on to the things of this world rather than seeing that in the one he had executed was the voice of the Gospel; the thing that could bring him to things of value far behind what his kingship could bring him. But he was once again trying to stop the Gospel, in fearing that John had come back from the grave.

This Gospel cannot be stopped. God had called John the Baptist to be a preacher of the Gospel. When he was beheaded his voice stopped preaching the Gospel. But the Gospel wasn’t stopped. It continued on. It continued to be proclaimed and made known. Jesus Himself was proclaiming the Gospel and making it known. If Herod thought that he had had a problem on his hands with John the Baptist, what would He do with Jesus?

People don’t know what to do with the Gospel. That’s why they try to stop it. Mark says in the Gospel reading that “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.’ So many people didn’t know what to make of Jesus. Instead of just seeing Him for who He was, the Gospel incarnate, they through one way or another tried to stop the Gospel.

What had first brought about all this angst on Herod was Herodias, his brother’s wife that he stole. Herodias hated John the Baptist. Why was this itinerant preacher telling powerful King Herod how to live his life? Herodias wanted her new husband to just get rid of John. What she didn’t realize is that the Gospel cannot be stopped. There was one problem. There was something about this prophet that caught Herod’s attention. He was perplexed about him but there was something about him that made him want to continue to listen. The Gospel has a way of doing that.

Herodias was undaunted. She found a way where she could put an end to this once and for all. She used her own daughter to bring it about. Young daughter danced before Herod and that brought about the vow that Herod made; the kind of promise where you wake up the next morning, wondering what in the world you were thinking. He promised her whatever she asked for and obedient young daughter went to mommy for instructions in what to ask. This couldn’t have worked out better for scheming Herodias. Precious daughter of mine, go to the king to tomorrow and ask for a very simple thing: the head of John the Baptist. That will stop the Gospel. I will finally get my way and be able to do what I want without God getting in the way. The only problem is, the Gospel cannot be stopped.

Not that she wasn’t successful. That she was is obvious. She had a problem and she got rid of the problem. In doing this she may have thought her life was going to be easier but she didn’t realize that she couldn’t stop the Gospel. We’re not told what ended up happening to Herodias and Herod. But this isn’t about them. It’s about the Gospel. It’s about the fact that the Gospel cannot be stopped. If the likes of Herod and the evil woman he committed adultery with couldn’t stop the Gospel, what makes us think we could? Perhaps you don’t see yourself as one who would do what they did. But Satan is very persuasive in his temptations. The world is very enticing in its attempts to get you to join its ranks rather than letting the Gospel reign free in your life. So, yes, as stated at the outset, you are much more like Herod and his wife then you might care to admit in acting just like them and trying to stop the Gospel.

The good news is that the Gospel cannot be stopped. Herodias had her prize, unthinkable for most of us, but for her a perverse satisfaction, receiving the head of John the Baptist on a platter. For her, the final act was victory, his disciples coming for the body so that they could bury it. For them this final act was perhaps one of despair, certainly of sorrow. Their beloved teacher would never preach the Gospel again. But that is the way it is with the Gospel. All preachers at some point have no more voice to preach the Gospel. That doesn’t mean the Gospel is stopped. It means that in this fallen world we die. But the Gospel is not of this world. The Gospel can never be stopped by the things of this world and not even by death.

If the disciples of John were stunned by burying their teacher, imagine what the disciples of Jesus went through as they saw their Lord now lying in a tomb. It appeared to them that the Gospel had come to a crashing halt. But only we in our sinful flesh see it that way. Jesus laying in a tomb actually shows how the Gospel can never be stopped. Death could not hold Jesus. He is the Gospel in the flesh and that very body rose from the grave, the Gospel shown to be something that can never be stopped. At the moment when all seemed lost and their Lord succumbed to death while hanging on the cross, where Satan appeared to have the greatest victory, all eternity was given meaning. The Gospel cannot be stopped. It was in that very suffering and death of Christ that the Gospel was shown in all its glory. It was in this event salvation was accomplished, forgiveness attained for you. You see, the Gospel cannot be stopped. What this means for you is that you will live forever. Amen.


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