John: The Topless Prophet (part two)
The scandalmongers are chatting away about her improper sex life and they are not just tossing twaddle. The desert preacher accurately rebuked her husband in public over ditching his previous wife for her and now the elite gossips are talking about her as if she was a political whore.
Which she is. She just doesn’t fancy being thought of as one.
She is angry and lays plans to manipulate her husband, into getting what she wants. She has her hot daughter do a striptease before the drunk ruler and his buddies. Like most men in such situations, he just sits and stares like a dumbassador from the Republic of Stupid. With Herod’s brain half dead on lust over his step-daughter, Herodias gets him to order John’s execution and the Baptist goes topless in the worst possible way. If John is an Elijah man, Herodias is certainly a daughter of Jezebel.
We might then hear the pundits of the day commenting, ‘If only John had stuck to that nice, charitable “share what you have” sermon and left people’s sex lives alone, he might’ve been ok. Why did have to go a start protesting against sexual immorality?’ We might ask a similar question about the church today: Is speaking out on sexual sin central to our mission? Are adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, and pornography small issues that we should just sweep under the rug, keep for closed room conversations, or agree to disagree on?
Some are now saying, ‘yes’. They argue that people need a new heart more than a new sex life. They rightly point out that huge amounts of social and political controversy have circled marriage and sex related issues over the last couple of decades. ‘Surely’ they say, ‘wading into these waters will only distract from the simple message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. And we want to be known for what we’re for rather than what we’re against. Right?’
The reasoning is coherent. We do not want to distract from the Gospel. And yet, we must then ask, ‘what is our gospel?’ Jesus says in Luke that the Gospel is one of ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins.’ If that is the case, we must ask what exactly it is we are to call people to repent of and seek forgiveness for?’
And this is where prophets get into holy trouble. They stop speaking in milquetoast platitudes. Prophets have backbones made of something other than sweet pastry. They specific about sin. John gave out specific advice to specific people about what they needed to repent of. There was no, ‘everyone try to be less selfish and grumpy’ type preaching.
John told the soldiers to repent of abusing their authority. He told the rich to share and told the non-rich to be content with their wages (leaving both capitalist and socialist feeling stung). And to the ruler who was living openly and unrepentantly in the tolerated sexual sin of his day? ‘Yes, you too must repent sir―of your sexual sin in particular.’
The early church preached a confrontational message to its surrounding culture. What was one of the chief social sins of the day? It was Emperor worship. People were allowed to worship other gods, as long as they also burned incense to Caesar and say, ‘Caesar is Lord’. But the early church protested this. Their message was ‘Jesus is Lord’. Now Jesus was also preached as Lord when the gospel spread outside of the Roman Empire and he is still preached as Lord now that the reign of the Caesars has ended. The early Christians did not invent theology just for the sake of being difficult. The gospel isn’t anti-Empire any more than it is pro-Empire in that political sense.
In the context of Roman culture, the Lordship of Caesar was an idol that was particularly opposed to the gospel. The apostles knew that if repentance were to be real in their context, they must confront that idol. Yes, there were other cultural idols as well. The other big damnables of Roman culture were greed and sexual immorality―and they are also addressed in the apostles’ letters.
And what are the big cultural idols of our day? We have more than one. Money is certainly up there. Politics too. But they are not alone. The idol of unfettered orgasm drives us as well. The perceived right to have sex with who I want and when I want―as long as it is consensual―is taken for granted.
John’s Gospel (the other John) tells us that ‘Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light’. When light shines down on that which is shameful in our culture, we hate it, and do all we can to argue and reason against it. This is why Herodias wielded all her manipulative trickery with Herod―even to the point of pimping out her own daughter. She hated the light John was shining her way.
The result of John’s preaching was his death. But very few sermons on Sunday in our day ever get near the point of being dangerous. Why? Is our culture less wicked than that of the Romans? Have we found a nicer way to present the gospel than John and the martyred apostles?
When preaching gets specific, things get intense. People get butthurt, and prophets lose their heads.
(This is part two. See part one HERE.)
(This is part two. See part one HERE.)
This is an extract from Elijah Men Eat Meat: Readings to slaughter your inner Ahab and pursue Revival and Reform