Sermon for December 8, 2013

Matthew 3:1-12 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

December 8, 2013

In the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this morning is the Gospel from Matthew 3:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 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.'” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 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? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 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. 10 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. 11 “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. 12 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.”

            On the streets of downtown Edmonton, Alberta, Canada day in and day out, it was not uncommon to find a man named Ed offering passersby a “testimony of what Jesus did for me.”  Summer or winter, even in the bone-chilling days before Christmas, out in the bitter wind and cold, Ed was there.  He moved around from place to place, sometimes on one corner, sometimes on another.  From time to time, he stood near a bus stop and continued to ask: “May I offer you a testimony of what Jesus did for me?”  Almost as interesting as watching Ed was watching the people he encountered.  Some took a pamphlet to be nice, but most people just ignored him.  Some even crossed the street to avoid him.

            Few people, we can be sure, listened to the words of John the Baptist just to be polite.  It was easy to avoid going all the way down to the Jordan River to hear him.  But, like Ed in Edmonton, he was there, speaking the message God had given him.  Many people—crowds of people—did come, did hear his words, and were baptized, confessing their sins in repentance.  As Christians today, we also are led into repentance and faith by the Word of God with the result being that we bear good fruit.

            Now John was quite a sight to behold, all decked out in camel’s hair with a leather belt to hold it in place.  His diet was equally interesting, consisting of locusts and wild honey.  I’m sure it was a spectacle seeing this man whom I’ve always pictured looking something like Grizzly Adams preaching down by the riverside.  Whether it was the message or the character, God’s Word reveals that “Jerusalem and all Judea and the region around the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” 

            John’s message and baptism were both one of repentance.  His message was proclaimed to prepare the way for the coming Lord since “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Repentance is necessary for receiving that kingdom which originates in the person and through the work of the coming Messiah.  In this kingdom of Christ there needs to be faith, repentance, and fruit.  John warned the Pharisees and Sadducees, “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 that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

            The message of repentance is one that we all need to hear again and again.  It doesn’t matter what our genealogical background is, who our famous ancestors are, or what bloodline we trace.  We are all sinners because we are all descendents of Adam and Eve.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  We all miss the mark when it comes to keeping the Lord’s commandments.  We fail to do the good which we are asked to do by God.  Instead, we do the evil which we are commanded not to do. 

That truly makes us poor, miserable sinners.  We know this is true because we have not kept the Ten Commandments.  God’s Word in the Law reveals our sins.  You and I have placed our own needs and desires first in our lives.  We have made ourselves to be our own gods, which we fear, love, and trust in more than anything else.  We’ve placed our complete trust, at times, in wealth and popularity, in power and in possessions.  You and I have loved ourselves and our status in life more than God.  As a result, you and I have misused God’s name, failing to call upon Him in faith.  We have neglected the corporate study and hearing of God’s Word by not choosing to attend a Bible class regularly, thereby depriving ourselves of His Word.  You and I do not always honor those in authority.  We have failed to help and support our neighbors in their bodily needs.  We have not always lived a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do.  You and I have stolen by failing to help our neighbors improve and protect their possessions.  We have not always spoken well of others and explained everything in the kindest way.  You and I have coveted what is not ours, getting things in ways that only appear right. 

Through this self-examination, we clearly see that yes, we are sinners.  We admit that our sins of thought, word, action, and desire we have offended God and we justly deserve His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation.  Our lives have not always yielded good fruit.  We are found lacking in our trust and wanting in repentance.  So the Lord sends His messenger to us proclaiming God’s Law, showing us our sins and our need for salvation.  He sent John the Baptist.  He sent the prophets and the apostles.  God sends pastors today with this message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

The kingdom of heaven is at hand because God sent the Messiah into the world to save sinners.  The Messiah is the very One whose way John the Baptist prepared, saying, “I baptize 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 with fire.”  The kingdom is present in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  As John would later declare, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

In fact, Jesus has taken away your sin and my sin.  Jesus was our sacrificial Lamb who died for us on a cross, receiving God’s wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation in our place.  The writer to the Hebrews says, “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb. 10:4)  By taking away our sins and giving to us His perfect holiness, Christ has made us holy.  Therefore, we receive the forgiveness Christ won for us by His death on the cross. 

In faith, you and I trust in Jesus, whose Gospel is truly Good News.  We believe in Christ who is our Lamb of God, the One whom the prophets and apostles declare to be God’s only begotten Son.  Our faith is placed in Jesus, our Messiah-Savior, who is crucified and risen from the dead.  Hearing the Lord’s Gospel brings is what brings us to this faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit’s specialty to take the saving work that Jesus finished for all people at the cross and apply it to you and me individually.  The Holy Spirit does this through words (the Gospel read and proclaimed), water (with the Gospel words in Holy Baptism), bread and wine (with the Gospel words in the Lord’s Supper). 

This, then, is repentance.  God the Holy Spirit leads us to sorrow over sins as we hear the Law, while at the same time He gives us the gift of faith to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ through the Gospel.  The result is that we then receive the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace: the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ. 

What happens now that we have been led into repentance and faith in Jesus, receiving His forgiveness is that “good works, which are the fruits of repentance, . . . follow.” (AC XII, 6)  John exhorts, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”  The repentant and forgiven believer in Christ will be prompted and encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruits of faith in their lives.  When we receive the Holy Spirit by faith, the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—grow and blossom.  Our lives become marked with these fruits of faith.  We demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ to others.  Our lives are known by the joy of repentance, faith, and forgiveness in Christ no matter what crosses we bear.  We know that we have peace with God and are ourselves His peace-makers in our world.  Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to be more patient in an impatient society.  Our words and actions toward others show the kindness, goodness, and gentleness of Christ as we love our neighbors the way Christ first loved us, even when we are at serious odds with others.  The Spirit makes powerful our faithfulness to God so that we are able to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  And the Spirit makes it possible of us to be faithful to God’s Word and to do His commandments all with self-control, overcoming temptation through the power of the Spirit alive and at work in us  through Jesus’ Gospel. 

This is how we are able to live the Christian life of repentance and faith.  The Holy Spirit empowers our faith so that these fruits of faith in keeping with repentance simply flow from believers as water comes out of the faucet.  The Spirit opens the valve of faith and the living water of faith in action flows so that you and I love and serve God and our neighbors.  Throughout this new Church Year, continue to live lives of repentance and faith.  Your sins are forgiven in Christ.  You have the Holy Spirit working in you and through you.  Let’s see what awesome fruits the Lord produces in this congregation!  I can’t wait?  Can you?  Amen. 

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