Pastor Brandon Simoneaux of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Harvey, Louisiana, called me this week to ask me to fill in for him. He will be traveling this weekend with his wife for the funeral of a family member. Though I regret the circumstances which make it necessary, it will be my privilege and pleasure to bring the Word to this wonderful congregation once again. Please remember the Simoneaux family in your prayers as they mourn and as they travel.
Preparing the Way
Luke 3:1-14 (15-20)
Luke 3:1-14 (15-20)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
His name is John, and he is known as the Baptist. Luke the Evangelist gives a good deal of attention to this fascinating character. Though not a part of our Gospel text for this morning, Luke tells us the exceptional circumstances of John’s conception. He later records how John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb to recognize the presence of his Lord in Mary’s womb. Luke even records that Herod has John beheaded, though he leaves the details to Matthew and Mark. Luke tells us all about John. And it’s right that he should do so. Jesus calls John the greatest prophet, and indeed, the greatest man, ever born.
John’s father Zechariah prophesied about him in this way: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins.” And it came to pass that this John, kinsman of Jesus, was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach of the coming Messiah, offering a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This prophet was the forerunner promised by God through Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” And Malachi in our Old Testament text records these words of the Lord of hosts about John: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.”
John was a Called servant of the Word, Called to preach a specific message to God’s people. And he took that responsibility seriously. Every word we have recorded to us from John is meant to prepare his audience for the coming of the Messiah. John is, in essence, teaching a class of confirmation students, preparing them to receive the coming Christ. And he doesn’t start them off easy, either. To those who came out to him, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He then went on to teach them about repentance and its fruits.
Can you imagine if Pastor Simoneaux were to walk into the first day of Catechism instruction and call his students a “brood of vipers”? Yet this was a message the people needed to hear. These were a people who looked back to their father, Abraham, and saw in him the assurance of God’s goodness to them. What need could they have for repentance when, time and again, God had shown the nations that the people of Israel were under His protection? What need could they have for a Savior, when God had already made them His chosen people?
Are your hearts any different? No, we don’t cling to Abraham as our father, but we find ourselves hard-pressed to see any need for repentance. We’ve already been made into God’s children through Holy Baptism. We are the rocks that have been transformed into Abraham’s spiritual descendants, after all. We are now what Peter in his calls “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. We’re satisfied with where we are as baptized children of God. And it’s no bad thing to be a baptized child of God. We are supposed to cling to our baptism. But too often we find that we have emerged from the waters of baptism, and we’re content to dry ourselves off.
The faith we are given in baptism and the forgiveness we receive is meant to produce fruits of repentance in us. When the crowds as John what they are to do, he reaffirms the two Tables of the Law, which Jesus would repeat later in His ministry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” True repentance produces these fruits. True repentance—and more than that, the complete forgiveness of sins we receive when we repent—brings us back to these fruits when we have stopped producing them. True repentance brings us back to the font, where we drown the Old Adam in us every day.
Nevertheless, we find ourselves content with the status quo of our sinful Old Adam. We’re good enough on our own. We are content with a superficial repentance. We express a fleeting regret, make a feeble excuse for what we’ve done and perhaps ask half-heartedly for pardon. We wish to be different, to be better. Maybe we might even manage a brief outward improvement. But to admit that something is desperately wrong with us? To let baptism do its work in us, to let it prepare in us the way of the Lord, to let it make straight that which is broken? We might as well claim Abraham as our father.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as was the case with John, it is my stern duty to tell you that you are, indeed, broken. You are steeped in sin. You are buried in it. You are dead in sin. God has Called me and sent me to tell you this. I take no joy in this, for I am the recipient of that same message. We are that very brood of vipers, fleeing from the wrath to come. For indeed, just as Christ came as the promised Savior, He is coming again to judge both the living and the dead. Who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?
This is the message to each of you: repent. Stand before the Lord and say: “O Almighty God merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” Flee the wrath that is to come.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also my vital and wonderful duty to tell you that Christ is coming and, indeed, has come. And because we cannot do it ourselves, He has prepared His own way, making straight everything which is broken in us, leveling every mountain of our sin in the flood of baptism, filling every valley of undone good works with His righteousness and with His body and blood. God has come to us, for we could not come to him. He has come, and He forgives you all your sins. He has created a new heart within you, and He lives within you.
Christ is coming, and He has come. As Pastor Simoneaux said last week, Advent is the time that we focus on Jesus drawing near to us. Jesus is Immanuel, God who dwells with us. We experience that reality again this morning as He comes to us in the Word of Absolution and as He comes to us in His body and blood. You are baptized children of God, and the waters of Holy Baptism have prepared the way of the Lord in your heart. Christ is here. Come to the altar, where your flesh shall see the salvation of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.