Matthew 3:1-12 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series A)
“Repentance Unto Life”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 4, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading from Matthew 3:
1And in those days John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens stands near.” 3For he is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.’” 4And John himself had his clothing from camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the neighboring region of the Jordan began to go out to him, 6and they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him as they were confessing their sins. 7And when he saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out for his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance 9and do not think that you will go on saying, ‘We have Abraham as father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham. 10And already the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and will be thrown into the fire. 11I myself am baptizing you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will cleanse His threshing floor and will 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.” . . . “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.3, 35-36). This is the repentance John the Baptist preaches as we hear it from Luther’s Smalcald Articles from our Lutheran Confessions.
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 straight His paths.’” He was what we might call 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, 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 often 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. So, it is God’s Word that condemns this sin.
This means that you and I rightly 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, John proclaimed, “The reign of the heavens stands near!” 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 reign of the heavens stands near!” 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 in our lives. 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. 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 cleanses you. This is no mere man who has come to your rescue. It is the Lord Himself, the Father’s One-of-a-Kind 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 your consciences from fear and terror at the wrath of God because of sin. For Jesus’ sake, your sins are forgiven because He died to pay the price—He faced God’s wrath for you and suffered death and hell in your 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 you absolutely new and different people. You are repentant people! And you are expectant people!
As repentant people, you recognize, by the power of the Holy Spirit, your sinfulness. You are truly, sincerely, sorry for your sins and look to Christ in faith to grant forgiveness. What follows from repentance and faith are the fruits of repentance and faith. You are not like the Pharisees and Sadducees of John’s day. You have the Holy Spirit who leads you into repentance and you do not reject the new life He gives to you by faith in Christ. Having been rescued from the wrath of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, having the new life of repentant living, you now bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
The good fruit that you 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 fruits 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 you then to be expectant people. You 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 our lives in Jesus’ name and in the Spirit’s power. Look forward, then, to your Lord’s Coming at the Last Day. You have been saved from your sins to stand before the King in righteousness and holiness all your days. Amen.