Dec 4, 2016 – Proper Preparation
Such happy thoughts for this Advent Season! Unquenchable fire, burning chaff, winnowing forks! These are among the things that John the Baptist talked about when he was preaching repentance and baptizing people in today’s gospel lesson. John came speaking and baptizing in preparation for Jesus’ coming. True, Jesus was already among them and some of them knew Him. But John is preparing the way for Jesus earthly ministry. John is using language to stir up people and get their attention. And all that, is so he can point people to Christ.
John’s job was to tell people to prepare for the coming of Messiah, God’s holy one. Yes, people had heard this before and every time they’d been disappointed. But this time was different because this time, it was because God said it was time. It makes a difference when you prepare for the right thing, in the right time… and when you don’t.
There was one couple, Bob and Lynne, who were moved by their pastor’s message to show Christian love to your neighbors. So, when they got home from church, they saw a moving van in front of the house across the street, and decided to display the Christian love they were newly excited about. Lynn prepared some homemade bread and together she and Bob went across the street.
When someone answered the front door, Lynn said, “Hi. We wanted to welcome you to our neighborhood. Here’s some bread for you.” The woman who answered the door said, “Thank you very much for your kindness. Uh – this is embarrassing because we’ve lived here 8 years. You see, we’re not moving in. We’re moving out.”
Bob and Lynn went prepared all right, but they prepared for the wrong occasion! That’s the difference in today’s gospel lesson, and what John the Baptist was about. He was preparing people for the right thing at the right time! Jesus was the true messiah of God, the Lamb of God who had come into the world…to take away the sins of the world.
Bob and Lynn’s hearts were in the right place, but they simply weren’t prepared for the proper occasion. In the gospel lesson, we read about large crowds coming to John confessing their sins and being baptized. They were preparing based on the truth that John was preaching to them. And what John preached was… repentance. That was the proper way to prepare for the coming of Christ.
And most of those who came to the desert to see John followed what he said. Most… but not all. It says that there were those of the Pharisees and Sadducees among John’s ‘congregation’ that day. When John saw them he talked of them as a ‘brood of vipers’ who’d come to flee the wrath to come.
Now listen to Genesis 3:1 when Adam and Eve were deceived in the garden; it says in verse 1, “Now the serpent was more crafty that any of the wild animals” and then skip to verses 14-15 that read in part, “So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, ‘Cursed are you above all the livestock… And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike His heel.’”
Right here in Genesis, you see the snake, the serpent, the ‘viper’ that deceived Adam and Eve. I don’t think John chose that ‘viper’ metaphor out of thin air when he was speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees. This would be something all the people would know about, and John was preparing the people for the coming of the One promised in that passage of Genesis. Jesus the coming One, was that One promised from the day of the fall of man into sin who would crush the snakes head and defeat sin.
That promised wrath was coming, John said. Sin was about to be destroyed and it was time to prepare for that. The Man promised by God in Gen 3 that would crush the snake’s head, that would kill the viper that deceived Eve and Adam, that promised Deliverer was coming. And with Him was coming vengeance against sin. Preparing for that meant the same thing then that it does now, repentance.
Yes, we are in advent and preparing for the coming of Christ as the infant. But be reminded also, that we prepare for Christ’s return as the Victor, the Conqueror over sin, and the Judge of all mankind. We need to also be prepared for that ‘right thing’. Let’s not be lulled into a sense of self-satisfaction or pride as the Pharisees and Sadducees displayed with John.
Take note that John equated his baptism with fleeing from the coming wrath of God. Baptism was presented as a form of salvation, protection and reconciliation with God. It still is!
The wrath of God has come as John said it would. And it was visited, in all its terrible consequences, on the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. God’s wrath against sin was poured out on the head of the innocent Babe born to Mary in Bethlehem. That was done for us, in our place. And it was done in order that we might indeed have His protection from that wrath against sin. It is only in His name that we have His protection against God’s holy justice and that is why baptism is done in His name.
Let’s compare the sin we brought into the world to another creature, the “giant water bug”. The giant water bug is a beetle that eats insects, tadpoles, fish, and frogs. It has grasping forelegs that are hooked inward to seize a victim and hold it tight. The giant water bug then, with a vicious bite, injects its victim with enzymes that paralyze it. It only takes one bite, and the poison that shoots through this one puncture dissolves the victim’s muscles and bones and organs, everything except the skin. The water bug then sucks out the victim’s body, that’s been reduced to juice.
Well, like this bug, our sins can paralyze our spirit; it too can destroy us from within, and sooner or later… suck the life out of us. In order to prepare for the coming of the Lord, we do as John preached, repent of our sin, turn away from it, and be baptized.
And when we are baptized in the name of the Triune God, the kingdom of God comes to us. And that kingdom, which comes to us in Jesus Christ alone, is what we need in order to be protected from the wrath that will come when Jesus returns a second time.
He has come once to Bethlehem as promised and as John preached about in preparation for Jesus’ ministry and work on earth. And He will come again and when He does we are promised that it will be to judge the nations and all people. Folks today don’t like that idea. But then again, they didn’t like the idea of the Messiah coming as a baby either. There’s just no pleasing us is there!
And being prepared through repentance is also something we’d like to skip. The grandmother who stands by the front-room window watching for the arrival of her family for Christmas dinner, is not going to be nearly as ready as is the grandmother in the kitchen, basting the turkey and preparing things for the arrival of family and friends.
John was calling people to be properly prepared for the coming of the Christ. And that meant to repent, to turn from sin and all its paralyzing ways. The Pharisees were known for their paralyzing legalism and self-righteousness. The Sadducees were known for their skepticism and moral laxness, like those today who think that God’s law means nothing.
Neither of these groups came out to John to confess their sins. That is crystal clear from the context. No wonder John called them “products of deadly snakes.” They were like those who had come before them and, like the snake in the garden – they were deadly to themselves and others.
Jesus came once to deliver us, as promised in Genesis, and Jesus is coming again. And He has delivered to us the righteousness we need that no works set before us by the law, the Pharisees or anyone else can accomplish. Only the free gift that Jesus came to give us, properly prepares us. Only the robe of righteousness does that.
Dressed in God’s gift of Christ’s righteousness, we’re to demonstrate a different kind of life than unbelievers. Again, we don’t do this to earn God’s love or to impress others, but we do it to give witness to others of God’s abundant and free grace, mercy and forgiveness to all people.
The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son whose relationship had become strained. So, the son ran away from home. His father, however, journeyed in search of his rebellious boy. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day at noon, in front of the newspaper office, eight hundred “Pacos” showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.
What a wonderful gift is forgiveness. All people crave this gift. And this gift is yours! Though you’ve strayed from the love of your heavenly Father, He seeks you out! And He will not rest until you’re safe in His arms. To make you ready for the Day of Judgment, you’ve been awakened and given a new suit of clothes. You’ve been dressed in the righteousness and forgiveness of Christ Jesus. You are ready: you are properly prepared as you live in the grace of God, given to you in your baptism. The grace of God gives us a ‘free’ pass on sin and it gives us the freedom to pass sin by. That grace to us is, indeed, free and allows Him to pass over our sin, to pass over the sin of the world. But it was not free to God! It cost Him, the life of His Son, Jesus on the cross, which was the culmination of His earthly ministry.
And His gift of freedom and forgiveness is yours to give away to others, who like you and I, need it, because we’ve all been bitten by sin. This day and every day in Advent is a wonderful day to celebrate the love of God freely given to us in Jesus.
Advent prepares us to remember Jesus’ first coming and in so doing we are being prepared for His promised 2nd coming. In His first coming He came, to a specific place… Bethlehem. And that is what this week’s advent candle reminds us of. It recalls for us that Jesus came in fulfillment of the promises as we spoke about last week. He came once and He will do so again. He is the new Jerusalem that will come down from heaven and call us home.
And our preparation for that second coming is always ongoing. John called the people to repentance. Luther said that repentance is the way of life for all who would follow after Jesus Christ. So, our preparation for Jesus’ return comes by following John’s words today, ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’. In Jesus name, amen.
Sermon #857 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Isaiah 11:1-10 11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Epistle Reading Romans 15:4-13
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful 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, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”