Herod celebrates his birthday with a grand party, but he’s a dead man: dead in his trespasses and sin.
St. John the Baptist goes from the frying pan into the fire — from the dungeon to the chopping block and martyrdom — but he is raised from death to life, and he lives with Christ Jesus forever.
Those are your options, as well. It really is a life or death matter. You have no true or lasting life apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only in His Resurrection from the dead that you are raised. So it is only by His Cross that you have life. It is by the sharing of His death and the losing of your own life in the world that you share His Resurrection and His life everlasting in body and soul.
That is the life that your Holy Baptism has granted, and that is what your Baptism still means for you, each and every day throughout your life. You are put to death in order to be raised. Your own head is removed, that Christ may be your Head, your Bridegroom and Lord. Your body is buried with Him through Baptism into His death, in order that you may belong to His Body, the Church.
That’s what discipleship looks like. Whether by crucifixion or beheading, it brings death and burial. Those who baptize — and those who are baptized — are put to death for the Name of Christ. Those who are sent to Minister in His Name, and those who receive that Ministry, live under His Cross.
And it is precisely by the Cross of Christ that you are raised with Him and live with Him forever.
As you bear and suffer that Cross, therefore, do not despair, but fix your faith and hope on Him.
As you are shut up in prison, or shut out from the crowd, or otherwise left alone and lonely, lift up your head, your heart, and your mind to Christ Jesus. Not by your own reason or emotion, but by hearing and heeding His Word of the Gospel. For He is the One who delivers you from death.
As you have your head chopped off — whether metaphorically or in actual fact — find your peace and rest in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus. Though you are despised and rejected by this fallen and perishing world, you are righteous and holy in the presence of God by faith in Him.
Live, then, in the righteousness and holiness of Christ. Live by faith, by the hearing of His Word.
Do not seek to silence or shut down the Word of the Lord, and do not suppose that you will protect yourself by keeping it at arm’s length, as though it were in your power. If you are perplexed by the preaching of repentance, do not harden your heart, but repent. Confess your sins, and be forgiven.
Do not continue in your sins, which are a living death. It is neither lawful nor safe to go on sinning. And do not suppose that you shall escape the consequences; they will come back to haunt you.
Do not harbor envy and jealousy, nor bitterness and resentment, in your heart against your neighbor. And do not let the sun go down on your anger. But for Christ’s sake be reconciled to your neighbor by the way of mutual repentance and forgiveness. For anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and the life and love of God do not abide in him.
Do not entertain the lust of the flesh, whether with your eyes, with your imagination, or with your body. Whoever looks upon a woman or a man with lust in his heart is already an adulterer. Such covetous lust conceives and gives birth to sin, which grows fully into death.
For all such hatred and adultery in your heart and mind, repent.
Turn away from evil, and do what is lawful. Begin to practice what is good and right.
Do not be afraid to do the right thing, as though, if you did not line your own pockets and pad your own treasure chest, the Lord would let you die. The fact is that you have already died, and yet your life is hidden with Christ in God forever. But if you live in sin, then only death shall be your lot.
Do what you are given to do with confidence in Christ and in the promise of His Gospel. Be strong and courageous. The Lord your God is with you like a dread Champion. If you share His death, so shall you also share His Resurrection and His life. Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.
If you are sorry for what you have done or left undone, do not despair, but repent, and do better. Not as though you will save yourself or set things right by your own righteousness and holiness, but because Christ has died for your transgressions and He is risen for your justification. He has saved you by giving Himself for you. His righteousness and holiness are yours. He so identifies Himself with you, that He now rises and lives in you; He manifests Himself in your body and life on earth.
You need not dance for this true King, nor suppose that you would be able to seduce Him. It is in love for you that He has redeemed you with His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death; that you should be an heir with Him of His Kingdom, not by half, but the whole thing.
Here, then, is the Supper that He hosts, in proclamation of His death until He comes. Not for the high and mighty of the world, but for the weak and lowly and despised, whom He calls to Himself.
Recline here at His Table with Him, and receive from His hand His Body given, His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the life everlasting of your body and soul.
Where there is such forgiveness, death cannot hurt you, not really, and not for long.
Rest here under His altar, until all things come to pass and all His promises are fully realized, just as He has spoken. You shall not die, but live. Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so are you raised from death to life in Him, here and now, and hereafter forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.