Luke 3:1-20 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series C)
“Bearing Fruits of Repentance”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 6, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson from Luke 3:
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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. 9 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.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Status quo; the existing state of affairs; this is how things are and I like it that way. I guess that’s why “change” is so difficult for so many people. Even as Christians, we don’t like the change that repentance demands of us. Because of our sinful nature that still clings to us, what we like is sinning. We don’t want to be told we have to change, and we don’t want to change, nor do we want to be changed. We like the status quo.
That’s because we are repeat offenders. We sin again and again, often on purpose, intentionally. The devil knows our weaknesses because he has exploited them time and time again. Satan has tempted us over and over and knows the chinks in our armor. He knows where he can break through and get us to doubt the Word of God, where he is able to fuel our sinful nature into passion for the things of this world. He tempts us; he springs the trap. And we like it. It inflates our egos. It makes our pleasure sensors feel good. It gives us our need to be in control.
And we know it’s wrong much of the time. After all, we are Christians. We know what the Ten Commandments are, even if we can’t name them in perfect order. But gossip is fun. It’s just catching up on the latest “news.” Looking at sexual images is pleasurable. Who’s it going to hurt? Drinking too much, as long as I don’t drive or become abusive, so what if I’m drunk? Life is too busy sometimes with everything I have to do, so what’s the harm in getting a little help from a classmate on a test. If I just happen to see the answers, what’s wrong with using them?
We try to justify every one of our actions that are contrary to God’s Word. We try to make excuses for almost every sin against God and against our neighbor. We find our pet sins and we stay with them, finding ways to make them not so bad or even to make them right in our own eyes, at the very least. Our inclination is always and only to do that which is contrary to God and His holy Word. As sinners, by nature, we like the status quo of our sins. We don’t want to be told we have to change, and we don’t want to change, nor do we want to be changed.
But if change doesn’t happen, there will be certain death and condemnation forever in hell. The wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23) That’s the part of God’s Word the devil seeks to have us ignore and forget. Sin has consequences—earthly and eternal. And the eternal consequence of sin is everlasting death, forever separated from God and His loving mercy. Oh yes, hell is real. And not even a Christian is exempt from the judgment of the holy God against willful sin and rebellion. The message of the Law points it’s accusing finger at all of us and says in the words of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” In our sinfulness we are all children of that ancient snake, the devil, who destroyed God’s perfect creation in Adam’s fall into sin. And so we ourselves are destroyed by sin, sentenced and condemned to death.
It is the very God against whom we have sinned and whose Word we have disobeyed who calls for our change. We heard the Lord speak through His prophet Malachi, “Return to me.” But we say, “How shall we return?” (Mal. 3:7) We say with the crowds who first heard the message of John, “What then shall we do?”
But the Lord steps in and says to us with mercy and love, “I will do it all for you because you cannot. I will redeem you. I will wash you with pure water and make you clean in body, soul, and spirit. I will take away your sins and remember them no more. I will make you new so that you will produce fruits worthy of repentance.”
So the one mightier than John comes—the Son of God Himself. He comes among us, God-made-flesh, Emmanuel. The Lord comes into the filth of our sins to rescue and to save. He comes to make us new from the inside out. Jesus comes to give us a new heart, a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within us so that we are not cast away from God’s presence. (Psalm 51) Jesus comes to make us into a new creation, to give us a new life, so that we will not be condemned to death but instead, will produce the fruits of repentance in our lives.
In Christ, God was not afraid to make His dwelling with us so that He might take our sins and uncleanness upon Himself on the cross. There Jesus suffered our hell and punishment. He died our death. He shed His holy, sinless blood to wash us clean, to purchase our forgiveness for all of our pet sins, for every sin of thought, word, and deed. The cleansing blood of Jesus on the cross is applied to you and me in the purifying effects of Baptism. Christ saved us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) Baptism has washed us. And this washing of water and the Word renews and purifies us before God.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV) In Baptism, you have been united with Christ in both His death and His resurrection. You are in Christ and Christ is in you by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. With sins forgiven, the Lord Jesus has given you a new, clean heart. By grace through faith you now seek to love and serve the Lord with all that you are; you live to avoid sin and temptation, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can say no to temptation. You can resist the devil, and he will flee from you because you are in Christ! (James 4:7) “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23)
It is also that Lord’s doing through the power of the Gospel that you and I are able to reject our old way of life under sin and Satan. By the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways. Our new life of faith in Christ is more than just receiving forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. It is also a new life of holy living, sanctification, bearing fruits worthy of repentance. It is this new life in Christ that rebels against the status quo of sin. We receive the holiness and righteousness of Christ in order that we should live in holiness and righteousness, something we could never do on our own.
How, then, does this new life of repentance and faith express itself? What does our new behavior in Christ through the work of the Spirit look like? John gave examples to the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers: share clothes and food, be honest, avoid violence and slander, be content with your wages. To put it another way, show to others the love which God in Christ has first shown to you. This love includes acts of mercy. Lives that have received mercy cannot but be merciful toward their neighbor. The merciful washing of baptism produces merciful living. In absolution, the merciful word of the Gospel produces merciful speaking and living. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives Himself for us, that we might give ourselves to our neighbors.
God, out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, has changed us. We are no longer condemned sinners. We are forgiven sinners, washed clean of our sins and given new life in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. That new, changed life goes against the status quo. It produces the fruit of repentance and faith in our lives. We love and God first loved us. Empowered by the Gospel Word and Sacraments through God the Spirit, we love the Lord and, with His help, avoid sin and stand up against temptation. When we do fall because of our sinful nature, in repentance and with faith, we receive forgiveness and the ability to change our sinful lives. Empowered by the Gospel Word and Sacraments through God the Spirit, we love our neighbors, showing forth the love that God first had for us in bringing us salvation in Jesus. During this time of Advent preparation, give your God and Savior all praise and glory for saving you from sin and death. Respond to His great love and mercy to you by showing love and mercy to your neighbors—to anyone to whom you can show the love and mercy of Christ. Amen.
 Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, Theology for Mercy. LCMS World Relief and Human Care, © 2004