Monday, July 16, 2012

Who To Listen To: Sermon on Mark 6:14-29

 Who to Listen To

There is a phrase I say often, that often makes my wife smile at me. She says it is because she enjoys hearing what is going to come after I utter that phrase. I think she likes hearing how my mind works. Sometimes I have wondered if she was just being nice when she gives me that look, and internally she is saying, “Oh boy, what now…”. Because I do utter this phrase quite often. What is the phrase? It is, “I have a theory about that!”

I tend to be the kind of guy who is, as our secretary Aimee calls me, a crock-pot thinker. I don’t think or react quickly. I just kind of stew on things for a while. But when I do really think things through, I tend to do that well.

One of my theological conclusions after reading the Bible through several times and trying to understand Scripture in the “big picture” sense is this. Christian spirituality begins and ends with the ability to listen well.

Listening well in Christian spirituality involves several things. It involves listening, and not simply hearing. In involves heeding and living by the truth one has listened to. Listening well involves discernment. It involves being able to shut out some voices that are opposed to Christ and his kingdom. It also involves being able to hear the voice of God through Scripture, circumstances, and the wise words of fellow Spirit-led believers. Christian spirituality involves being able to hear God’s call and follow it into danger, and even to the place of death.
From the beginning, human beings have had trouble listening well. Adam and Eve listened to the serpent instead of God.  Aaron built a golden calf in the wilderness because he listened to the crowd instead of the command not to make idols. Saul forgot to listen to God in the time of the kings, and his kingdom was stripped from him because of it. Solomon was given wisdom by God, but nearly destroyed his life because he did not listen. There are hundreds of examples throughout biblical history. When we listen to God and heed his word, we are able to live lives of spiritual beauty and power. When we get distracted from listening to God’s voice and obeying it, we find that all other voices lead us astray.

Probably one of the best examples of this truth is demonstrated by showing us the story about the death of John the Baptist, and in particular the folly of Herod. Herod choice to listen to other voices except the Word of the Lord. It cost him more than he ever thought it would.
The story goes something like this. Herod the Great died soon after Jesus was born. His kingdom was divided into four parts. One fourth of the kingdom was given to Herod Antipas, which is the Herod we meet here who imprisoned John. Another fourth was given to another one of Herod’s kids, who this Scripture names as Phillip. Phillip spent a lot of his time in Rome, trying to get on the fast track with the Roman Empire’s leadership program. Phillip had married a woman who was named Herodias.
For some reason, Herod Anitipas went to Rome. While there he visited with his brother, whom we know as Phillip, although he was also kind of known as Herod Jr. While Antipas was visiting Phillip, he fell in love with Phillip’s wife, who was also his neice. They hooked up while in Rome, and Antipas brought his new lady home to his old house. It was not long before his first wife was divorced and kicked to the curb.

Jerry Springer had nothing on the family of Herod the Great. The family tree was quickly becoming just a family twig. And, there was more family intermarriage than the worst redneck family reunion that you can imagine.
Much like the Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise divorce, or the details of the Monica Lewinsky scandal with President Clinton, it was not long before all of this news came to the attention of the general public. And as it came to the attention of the general public, it came to the attention of a well-known eccentric preacher that lived and ministered out in the wilderness.
That well known preacher was John the Baptist. John had generated quite a following. He preached repentance to the people. He was preparing the way for Jesus, and for the kingdom of God. So he challenged people to repent. He baptized them as a symbol of their repentance.
John was really angling toward the spiritual and moral reform of his nation as a whole. This is one reason why, when he heard what Herod Antipas was doing, he had to say something.  So he told Herod, through his sermons and in direct messages, that his behavior was immoral. He had stolen his brother’s wife. The Bible said not to do that. (Not to mention the whole incest thing).

The more John mentioned that Antipas was immoral, the more his wife Herodias got angry. It got to the point where she got tired of hearing about all that John was saying, and she and Herod had him arrested and imprisoned.

Herod was in a bad spot, or so he thought. You see, on one hand, he knew that John the Baptist was a holy and righteous man sent by God. On the other hand, he knew that Herodias wanted John the Baptist dead. So, his solution was to leave John the Baptist rotting in a jail cell.
Although Antipas did not like what he was saying about his marriage, he did like listening to John. His sermons challenged him. Antipas was knowledgable and sensitive enough to know that God was working in John’s ministry and life. So Herod would listen to, perhaps even visit, and tolerate John behind a jail cell. But he believed it would be wrong to kill him. He would, he knew deep down, be killing someone who God sent to speak for Him.

Well, Herod Antipas had a party one evening. And he had all the people who looked up to him, owed their jobs to him, and admired him there. It was Herod’s birthday bash, and he wanted it to be extra-special for his guests, so he decided to have his wife’s daughter dance for him and his crowd. Now, keep in mind, this woman dancing was most likely Herod’s great-neice, neice, and step-daughter at the same time. He had her do, from what the language in the original language hints at, some sort of erotic dance that got Antipas’ crew all hot and bothered by the time she was done.

Herod, now not in his wisest and most logical place in his thoughts, made a fatal mistake. After his step-daughter’s strip tease he told her she could have anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom.
She quickly went to her mother for advice. Her mother said she wanted the head of John the Baptist. So the daughter came back to Antipas, and in front of everyone said she wanted the head of John the Baptist.

The Scripture said Antipas was grieved, but he did what she said. He did not want to be ashamed and embarrassed in front of everyone who had come to celebrate his birthday. He knew it was the wrong thing to do, but if he wanted to keep the respect and adoration of the crowd around him, he had to do what she asked. So he ordered the death of John the Baptist.
With John the Baptist gone, the man who called he and his wife to repentance was gone. So was the voice one who spoke for God, and called him to the life of faithfulness and repentance. He listened to the voice of his wicked wife and the crowds. He squelched the voice of God through his prophet.

So then, when Jesus’ ministry began to take momentum, he began to be afraid. Is this Jesus John the Baptist reincarnated. Of course, it was not. Jesus and John just had similar ministries, and the message of Jesus was built upon the one who prepared the way for him, namely John the Baptist.

You see, here was Herod’s problem. He heard God’s Word through John. However, he never listened to what God was saying to Him. And so, he lived a life of shame and regret, shame that eventually led him to be exiled to the other end of the Roman Empire, because he did not know who to listen to.
Instead of listening to the prophet of God, he listened to the voices of his wife and his the crowds. He let the voices leading him in every other direction but the direction that God calls lead him astray. He played at faith, but never really embraced it. He understood the truth of God, but refused to surrender his life to it. He did not listen to God, and as a result John died and he remained a paranoid mess for the rest of his life.

You see, we become like those things we listen to.

When we listen to the voice of Christ, or of God through John the Baptist, when we truly listen 
to them, and truly believe what they say and incorporate what they have taught us into our lives, we become like Jesus.

But when we listen to the world, to the crowds, to those people who would try and get us to live for them and do their bidding instead of living for the Lord and doing his will, then we become like the rest of the world—worried, bitter, paranoid, selfish, and hopeless.

There are a lot of competing demands and voices vying for our attention, all around us, even today. I will only speak to a few. One is greed. Many of us our ruled by our appetites. We drink Double Big Gulps. We run and we run and we run because we think we cannot miss out on anything, and we must fill our lives with all sorts of experiences and opportunities that cannot be missed. We look to our checkbook for our security. We think we have to do more, get more, and be more just to keep up. The television tells us this. Our peers tell us this. The world tells us this.

If this is you, I urge you to listen to Jesus who says, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
Other times we listen to people in our life that are quite simply toxic. Who we choose as advisors, counselors, and friends effect how we see the world. Scripture is clear, “Bad company corrupts good character”.

Especially if you are young in your faith, but even if you are maturing, you need to find wise people to surround yourself with. You need to have people that are not afraid to step on your toes if they know you are doing something wrong, because they don’t want you to make a mess of your life. You need people who are going to encourage you to stay strong and even grow in your commitment to Christ. You need to have friends that are not swayed by every wind of change or every trend that comes along. You need friends that are going to be like what Scripture calls, “Iron sharpening Iron”. You need to have other friends to—friends you are reaching out to and influencing for the better. But you also need those peers and mentors that make you stronger and closer to God instead of leading you further away.

Finally, some of you listen to those voices that tell you that you are not good enough. Maybe there are people who have told you that you are not smart enough. Or our culture has convinced you that you are not pretty enough. Perhaps you have become convinced that you are hopeless. Or you have come to believe that you have made too many mistakes and nobody, much less God could ever forget it.

God’s word says in Psalm 139 that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Philippians 4:13 says that you can “do all things through Christ who strengthens you”.

I urge you to listen to the voice of God. The one who says that he created you with beauty and purpose. The one who can do mighty things through you if you will surrender your life to him completely. Don’t let your insecurities get in the way of God’s grace working in your life. Don’t listen to those other voices. Listen to the one who created you and has loved you since the foundation of the world.

Our lives are defined by who we listen to. We become like those we listen to most. We become who those who we listen to most say we are.

Let us listen to the one who loved us enough to die for us, and has risen again so that we can have newness of life. Let us listen to Jesus.

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