Matthew 3:1-12 (2nd Sunday in Advent—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 5, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Matthew 3:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
“You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints (in your own opinions). You have to become different from what you are now. You have to act differently than you are now acting, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you can be. Here no one is godly.” (SA: III.3) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18) “We are completely lost; there is nothing good in us from head to foot; and we must become absolutely new and different people. . . . Everything in us is nothing but sin (there is nothing in us that is not sin and guilt). . . . For we cannot think of any good thing to pay for sin. There is nothing left. There is only a sure despairing about all that we are, think, speak, do, and so on.” (SA: III.35-36) This is the repentance John the Baptist preaches.
We can live in denial or we can face reality. John the Baptist was not a man to mince words. He was the last of God’s Old Testament prophets, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” He was a fiery preacher of repentance who would accept nothing less than the people confess the truth of their sinfulness and their sins and turn and be converted, to become once again the flock of the divine Shepherd. John was calling the people away from God’s wrath in the final judgment to conversion and true faith in the God from whom they had wandered. Just because one could claim, “We have Abraham as our father,” got you nowhere. If God wanted to, He could raise up children for Abraham out of the rocks on the wilderness ground. God’s axe is ready to cut down the fruitless trees, people not producing the life of repentance and faith. If there is no repentance, then you will be thrown into the fire of God’s judgment and wrath.
God’s Word condemns our sins. It reveals that God is angry with sin. The Word shows us that we are by nature sinful and unclean. It reveals that you and I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, “by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault.” Love and trust in God is not always evident in our daily living. We often withhold from God what is rightfully His. We are frequently lazy, bored, or distracted in our prayers. We sometimes pay little or no attention to God’s Word when it is read or preached. Have we been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority over us—to our parents, teachers, employers, or supervisors? Do we faithfully represent God the Father in disciplining, caring for, and teaching our children? Have you and I always treated our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit or do we hurt or harm it by gluttony, chemical addiction, or other abuse? Do we commit adultery with others in our hearts by looking at them lustfully? We are not always faithful to the responsibilities of our vocations. We are not always generous givers; rather, we are selfish, stingy, and greedy with our time and money. You and I gossip, listen to rumors, and don’t always speak the truth in love. We are many times discontent with what belongs to us, craving something better, different, or more than what God has given us. And God’s Word condemns this sin.
We stand condemned. Condemn—“ to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation; to pronounce guilty; to sentence, to doom.” But, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!,” John proclaimed. God’s divine action has begun. The God of heaven is going to reign, to act as King, to break into history in judgment against His enemies and in salvation for all who would call upon Him. Hence the urgent message of John, “Repent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It’s now or never—God is coming. Will you receive His judgment or His salvation?
We need a change and we need it now. Sin has to be dealt with; our sin has to be taken care of if we are to stand before the God of heaven who comes. As we have heard God’s Word today, our conscience feels God’s wrath against our sins. We see the corruption of sin. We seriously grieve that we have sinned. Our conscience runs away from God’s dreadful anger. We, like Adam and Eve, try to hide ourselves and our exposed sins. We seek to cover the nakedness of our sin, but it is all for nothing. For God comes looking for His people, “Where are you?” We feel God’s disappointment; we become aware of God’s anger and wrath. And we are terrified. We fall into despair because of the terror of facing the holy God with His righteous and holy judgment.
But them Someone approaches. He pours water on you, washing you. The filth of sin is being removed. You notice that as He cups His hands to scoop and pour the water that there are bloody nail marks on them. His blood mixes with the water as it cleans you. This is no mere man who has come to your rescue. It is the Lord Himself, the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Having washed away your sins, cleansing your consciences from every stain, He puts a white robe on you, dressing your nakedness. It is the garment of salvation, Jesus’ own righteousness and holiness. He breathes on you and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven.” He takes you by the hand and brings you out of hiding. Jesus then presents you to His Father. “Here is your child. I paid for all the sin and evil when I gave up my life into death on the cross. I carried the sin in My body on the tree. Your child has died to sin and now lives to righteousness. By My wounds, this child has been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
Jesus Christ has delivered our consciences from fear and terror at the wrath of God because of sin. For Jesus’ sake, our sins are forgiven because He died to pay the price—He faced God’s wrath for us and suffered death and hell in our place. It is the forgiveness of Christ and His gift of the Holy Spirit through the washing of water and the Word that has made us absolutely new and different people. We are repentant people! We are expectant people!
As repentant people, we recognize, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, our sinfulness. We are truly, sincerely, sorry for our sins and we look to Christ in faith to grant us forgiveness. What follows from repentance and faith are the fruits of repentance and faith. We are not like the Pharisees and Sadducees of John’s day. We have the Holy Spirit who leads us into repentance and we do not reject the new life He gives to us by faith in Christ. Having been rescued from the wrath of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, having the totally new life of repentant living, we bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
The good fruit that we produce through the working of the Holy Spirit are “prayer, thanksgiving, the confession of the Gospel, teaching the Gospel, obeying parents and rulers, and being faithful to one’s calling. We should not kill, not hold on to hatred, but we should be forgiving and give to the needy, so far as we can according to our means. We should not commit sexual sins or adultery, but should hold in check, bridle, and chastise the flesh, not for a repayment of eternal punishment, but so as not to obey the devil or offend the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we should speak the truth. These fruit have God’s command and should be produced for the sake of God’s glory and command.” (Ap. AC XII.77)
This life of repentance and producing the fruit of repentance through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit is what enables us also to be expectant people. We are people who are ready for the King, our Lord Jesus Christ, to come. Through lives of repentance and faith which God creates in each one of us through our Baptism into Christ, the way of the Lord is prepared in our hearts. We do not fear His judgment because He comes with salvation for those who live by faith in Him. Because of Christ, we are no longer God’s enemies. We are His children of faith. Jesus comes to us in salvation because we call upon Him and live lives of repentance and faith in Jesus’ name and in His power. So we look forward to our Lord’s Coming at the Last Day because we have been saved from our sins to stand before the King in righteousness and holiness all our days.
By the love and grace of God we are His repentant and expectant people in Jesus Christ, our Lord. We hear His Word and let it convict our consciences of sin. We come before the Lord in sorrow over our sins with true faith and trust in our Savior Jesus Christ, who grants us complete forgiveness and a new life of righteousness that is filled with the fruits of repentance and faith. Continue to prepare our hearts, O Lord, to repent, to receive your forgiveness, and so meet you with joy when you come again! Amen.