St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Pay Heed To John’s Advent Message

Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12

Text: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘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 will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with 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.”

John the Baptist was a unique individual. He did not live in a city or village, but, rather, in the desert. His clothing was a garment made of camel’s hair, which would have been very itchy. His food was not what we would normally consider to be standard fare, in that he ate locusts and wild honey. Yet, this is not the thing that made John a unique individual. What set him apart was his message. It was a message that was different from what the people of his day were used to hearing. It is also a message that is not heard that often today, either. This morning, we are going to look at the message of John and, may it be that we PAY HEED TO JOHN’S ADVENT MESSAGE. 1. It Is A Message Of Repentance. 2. It Is A Message Which Cannot Be Ignored and 3. It Is A Message By Which We Will Be Judged.

The message that John gave was part of his job as the forerunner of Christ. He was to get the people ready for the coming of the Savior. John’s message is summed up in verse 2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” John told the people to repent. When we hear the word, “repent,” we often think of being sorry for sin. It is a realization that we have dared to disobey God with our thoughts, words, and actions. God demands that we do one thing, but we do the opposite. Repentance means, after taking a hard look at our lives, we see that we have not done what God demands, and then, being sorry for what we have done.

This is really just the first part of repentance. Remember that John was there to get the people ready for the coming Savior. After John pointed out their sins, he also pointed to Jesus as the one who would bring the promised salvation to all people. John said of Jesus that he was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” This was the reason that Jesus came to the earth. Jesus tells us of his mission when he said in John 3, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Jesus came to the earth to save us by his perfect life, as he did all that his Father demanded he do. Where you and I have failed to be perfect, Jesus was. Then, for all of our sins, Jesus went to the cross where he paid for each and every one of our sins. His resurrection tells us that his payment for our sins was sufficient to pay off our debt to God completely. The second part of repentance is trusting that Jesus has paid for our sins.

This leads us to the third part of repentance, in which we, with God’s help, keep away from those sins. We want to amend our sinful lives. This is what John was speaking about when he said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” This means that we want to do things that please God. This means that we will keep away from those sins that we have committed in the past. According to the New Man that is born in us when we are brought to faith, we delight in God’s will and abhor the very thought of going against it. Repentance means that we want to live in a way that gives glory to God. So, in summary, repentance is 1. Being sorry for your sins, 2. Trusting that God, for Jesus’ sake has forgiven your sins, and 3. Turning from sin back to God’s will. John’s message of repentance still rings as true today, as it did all of those years ago.

However, there were some in John’s day who did not think that they needed to hear this message of repentance. The Pharisees and the Sadducees came out to hear what John had to say. As the religious leaders, they needed to know what was going on. When John saw them, he gave them this warning. He said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Why would John speak so harshly to them? The viper, or snake, has long been associated with deceit and evil going back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. John was calling them deceivers, because they were teaching that you had to do certain things above and beyond the law that God gave, if you wanted to be saved. They felt very secure in their position, because they felt that they had done everything that God wanted them to do and more. Even if they weren’t perfect, they certainly were better than most. They did not feel that they had anything to repent from. Besides that, they were descendants of Abraham. They were the chosen ones. Surely, God will give them everything that they asked because they belonged to this special nation. Because of these things, they felt that they could ignore John’s message of repentance.

Sometimes, we may fall into the same trap. When we look at the rest of the world around us, we see what they are doing. We compare our lives to them and think that, all in all, we are not that bad. Maybe we’ve made some mistakes, but who hasn’t? We think that this message of repentance applies to other people, but not to us. We may catch ourselves thinking that we have been members of this church for all of our lives. We were baptized here. We were confirmed here. Maybe, even, some of our relation were some of the founding members of the congregation. Perhaps, we are even willing to be repentant in certain areas of our lives. We will live better in some parts. However, those parts that my sinful nature enjoys, I want to keep on doing them. We feel that, perhaps, we can ignore John’s message of repentance, at least in some parts of our lives.

What difference does it make, whether or not there is repentance? Listen to the warning that John gave to the Pharisees and Sadducees. In speaking of the coming Christ, he said, “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.” A winnowing fork was used at harvest. After the grain was harvested, an animal would pull a dredge over the grain, so that the husks or chaff would come off the grain. Then the harvester would take a fork and toss what was on the threshing floor into the air. The heavier grain would fall to the ground, while the lighter chaff would be blown away. The chaff would then be swept together and burned, while the grain would be stored away in barns. John is speaking about the Last Day, when the Lord will come and separate the believers from the unbelievers. The unbelievers will be gathered together and thrown into hell, where they will suffer God’s punishment for all eternity. The believers will be gathered together and they will spend their eternity in the glories of heaven. This underscores the importance of our faith. Without it, we will be lost forever.

This is why a life of repentance is so important. If we continue to live in our sins, that sin will slowly, but surely, eat away at our faith. We start to put that sin as being more important to us than our relationship with God. We stop producing fruits of faith. We stop doing those things that are pleasing to God. As James reminds us in his epistle, “Faith without deeds is dead.” Just as you would chop down a fruit tree that is no longer bearing fruit, so we will be cut off from God’s kingdom, if we should cease to produce fruit. The reason is that, where there is no fruit, there is no faith. This message of repentance is one by which we will be judged, because where there are not acts of repentance, there is no faith.

My dear friends, it is important that each of us take a good, long, unblinking look at our lives. Are there places that need our attention? Are there sins that we have become comfortable with, so that they do not bother us any longer? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking that, all in all, we really aren’t that bad? Have we come up with all sorts of excuses for these sins? Whatever those excuses might be, they do not hold water. They are still sins, full of deadly poison to our faith. May God help us to see our sins for what they are.

Once we have done that, then, how blessed we are to know that Jesus came to the earth to pay for those sins, as well. Jesus paid for the sin into which I was born. Jesus paid for the sins that I have committed. He did everything necessary so that I can spend my eternity with him in the glories of heaven. Now, having been assured of this forgiveness in the blood of Jesus, may we live our lives to thank him for all that he has done for us. May God help us to listen to this message of repentance and produce fruit in fitting response for all that he has done for us.

As we said at the beginning of our sermon, John was a unique individual. What made him especially unique was his message of repentance. It was unique in his day, as the religious leaders were telling the people what they had to do to be saved. It is also a unique message on our modern-day landscape, as well. Today, people are told that there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong. That all depends on your situation. They will tell you that we do not have to live by some antiquated set of rules. We have been liberated from them. The fact is, no one likes to be told that they are sinners, who deserve to go to hell. However, that message is absolutely necessary, if we are going to truly understand why Jesus came to the earth. We need to ponder on what Jesus has saved us from, if we are to have a true appreciation of what he gained for us on the cross. He saved us from the fire of hell. He saved us for the eternal joys of heaven. There are few places where the message of repentance is heard. May we, however, listen carefully to that message. May we come to our God, fully confessing the sins that we have committed. We thank God for the comforting message of the gospel that tells us that Jesus has paid for our sins. May God help us, then, to produce fruits in keeping with this repentance. Dear brothers and sisters, may we heed John’s advent message. Amen.