Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent 2 Sermon -- Luke 3:1-20 (LSB Advent 2C)

December 6, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

John’s voice echoes among the bluffs of the Jordan valley. Many come out to see him, to hear what he has to say. John is the most-popular preacher of the day, gathering crowds everywhere he went along the Jordan River. Some leave the city comforts of Jerusalem; village folk leave their workshops; others arrive from the fields of Galilee. But they are all present to hear the word of God which comes from John’s mouth.

But what does John say to them? What do their ears hear? The Evangelist tells us that John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And just what John’s preaching like? You heard it with your own ears: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 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. 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.”

That’s the message which the people hear, the crowds “that came out to be baptized by [John].” What an astounding message! It would stun many of the popular preachers of today, those who promise Your Best Life Now or The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire or If It’s Going to Be, It’s Up to Me. No, John gets an audience and lowers the boom against them. He exposes their sin, leaving nothing concealed. The Baptizer points out their flaws and failures, telling the crowds that they are in jeopardy, that the wrath to come will affect them. John warns them about the judgment to be made against those who are not in a right relationship with God.

But see what that message brings! Hear again the reaction that John gets from the people: “And the crowds asked him, ‘What shall we do?’” That is what John wants to hear from them. For then he is able to prescribe the cure. His goal is to have the crowds know and confess their sins, but then to receive the salvation that the Lord God has to deliver. John speaks to the Covenant People, those who had the Lord God’s great promises made to them. As he preaches to them, John brings that covenant back to the forefront in their hearts and minds. He lays out the terms and applies them to each person individually.

Note how John addresses the crowds: “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ 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.’” John’s preaching puts the Law of God into individuals’ lives. Their consciences are struck with divine condemnation, but they are also instructed of how their faith in divine mercy will lead to reform of their lives. So John prepares the people for the Christ’s arrival, though he must drop the hammer of God on the people to do so.

But why must John engage in such preaching? Why must you also hear such message of condemnation preached against you? Why must you hear John’s words and apply them to yourselves, recognizing that you are “a brood of vipers,” that “the axe is laid to the root of [your] trees,” and that “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”? Because the Christ is coming, just as the Lord God promised from the Old Testament to the New Testament and this age.

Recall what you heard from the prophet Malachi concerning both the Baptizer and Christ Jesus: “Behold, I send My messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” The prophet warns about the coming of Christ. The day of His arrival will be of great consequence. It is the day of purifying that no one can withstand. When the holiness of the Lord God encounters sin, imperfection, and unrighteousness, it swallows it up and totally consumes it. So it will be on the Last Day when Christ Jesus appears.

This clarifies John’s message and all proclamation of God’s Law. God’s Law stings. It hurts. It exposes what all sinners want to conceal. It is so for you. You chafe when someone points out your faults. You hear the words that do not please your ears, but the term “brood of vipers” accurately describes you. There is nowhere to hide from the demands that the Lord God makes of you. His wrath to come will consume you. Your lives are not straight and narrow, but rough and crooked. The Lord God says “You shall not… And all who do so shall die.” But when you sin, you say “Yes I can. And I don’t care.” And so the Lord’s axe is laid to your roots, ready to strike you down. You have violated God’s Law and are deserving of death forever, and it doesn’t matter if your family’s name has been listed on church rosters for countless generations. Nothing of this world can help.

But that is the message that you must hear. You must experience the sting of God’s condemnation, so that in desperation you ask the question that sprang from the lips of John’s audience: “What then shall we do?” The answer to that question is where your salvation is found. Repent and turn to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness. Be baptized to be made a disciple of Christ and to receive His Holy Spirit. For that Spirit in you will cause you to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” That Spirit which is made yours when the Word of God comes to you fills in the holes of your lives, makes straight your crooked paths, and levels your rough places. It delivers what Christ Jesus has given to you: His righteousness.

John’s message about the arrival of Christ is just like Malachi’s message. Both spokesmen of the Lord God are consistent about what the Christ will bring. The Lord God declares through Malachi: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.” The Baptizer declares about the Christ: “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.”

That return of Christ is what awaits you. Knowing that, you must ask the question that Malachi speaks: “Who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?” There is but one answer to that question: only those who are holy, righteous, and just like Christ Himself can endure it. So you must also ask the question that John’s audience asked: “What then shall we do?” Again, there is but one answer to that question: receive the holiness, righteousness, and justice of Christ through the means He has chosen—the Word of God heard by your ears, felt by your skin, eaten by your mouths. For then you will be able to withstand the day of Christ’s return, being gathered by Him into His barn forever.

That message of repentance and forgiveness is meant for all the days of your life. But in this Advent Season it is especially so. The thought of Christ’s return should bring to the forefront of your hearts and minds the necessity of preparation. So you are prepared for His return when you are given the Holy Spirit who works forgiveness of sins and a new life in you. For this to happen, you must experience the same as John’s audience did. Hear the Law of God, the Ten Commandments and all His demands. Apply them to your lives, seeing where you have fallen short of His righteousness. Have your sins exposed, so that you may repent of them and be forgiven. And as you are forgiven and set aright by the Lord God, then go out and “bear fruits in keeping with repentance,” striving the best you can to obey the divine commands in your lives.

The sting of God’s Law is felt now, so that the great comfort of Christ’s salvation can be felt at the day of His return. You are “a brood of vipers,” but you are also the dear children of God the Father. As you take the message of John and all the spokesmen of Christ to heart—believing the divine commands which you cannot keep, but also the divine promises that He keeps—you are redeemed and saved as the Holy Spirit makes you holy. And so I can say of you, as the Apostle Paul said of his congregation: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Participating in Christ’s death and resurrection, you have His righteousness, and so you shall endure the day of His coming.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

rseabrease said...

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Richard Seabrease