There is a temptation at midweek Services to feel a kind of pride in your faithfulness. It is hard not to feel like we are the really good people who are taking our religion seriously. Of course, this is a form of self-righteous pride.
The antidote to this pride is to examine ourselves. There are very serious sins in us. If we see the ugliness of our trespasses, we will not feel pride, but shame and, God willing, repentance.
So it is good for us to examine ourselves to recognize those areas that we fall short. Have we tried to correct them? In the words of Saint Peter, have we made every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with God?
When John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord, he did not tell the people, "You're ready, and you're ready, but you over there, you're not ready, and that other guy is not ready." John did not find some ready and others not, so that John had two kinds of sermon to preach. He did not compliment and commend certain people for their fine preparation. No, John only preached the other kind of sermon - repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
There was no one found ready. God wanted straight paths prepared for His arrival. But everyone had become a crooked path.
We are no better. We all, like sheep, have gone astray. We all fall short of the glory of God. None of us lives truly holy and godly lives. We all need John the Baptist to proclaim to us in a loud voice: "Repent and be Baptized for the forgiveness of sins!"
Now, [most] all of us have been Baptized. Shall we return to Baptism again? Yes, because that is what repentance is. The whole Christian life is nothing else than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever continued, as Dr. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism. If you live in repentance, you are walking in your Baptism.
That is why John preached both Baptism and repentance together. The people came, confessing their sins and being Baptized, because they knew that they were not worthy of the coming Messiah, as even John said, "I am not worthy to untie His sandals."
However, not all were Baptized. Pharisees and priests watched the people go, but they refused. They thought that they did not need it. They were good enough already, or so they thought.
But no one is ready for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is Jehovah God, Yahweh Elohim, the Sovereign Lord who has come with power. No one, rich or poor, high or low, male or female, profane or pious, no one is ready. All must humble themselves in the dust.
Better yet, we must humble ourselves in the water. Return to the waters in which your old Adam is drowned. Return to the water in which you abandon the leaky, inflatable dingy of your own false righteousness, and instead be rescued and snatched out of the flood waters onto the Ark of Christ's Baptized Church.
Brothers and sisters, ponder in your hearts the treasure of your Baptism. It is great and valuable beyond understanding.
In Baptism, we are brought to true repentance. This includes not only sorrow over sin, which even dogs can do when whipped by a newspaper. But true repentance also includes faith, which no flesh can accomplish except the Holy Spirit gives it.
In Baptism, Christ Jesus poured upon you the Holy Spirit. That Spirit entered your spiritually dead corpse and gave you the breath of life. That is, you became a living soul, with faith and the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You went from corpse to immortal. This is the gift of God in Christ Jesus, whose Blood is the cleansing power that washes us in Baptism, not mere water.
But the question for us today is this: Are we ready for Christ? Are we worthy? We had better answer: "Not in a million years."
Before the Great Coming of Christ, we must all bow our heads in sorrow for our uncountable failings, and for our very nature made putrid by original sin. As the Mighty One of Israel comes to us, we had better be on our knees, rather than standing in arrogant pride. The proud He will strike down like grass before the mower's blade. But the humble and repentant He will lift up.
So we must separate in our minds between what is ours and what is Christ's. All sin and failing and wretchedness comes from us. All holiness and righteousness is from Christ, by faith and Baptism. So we can never cease from humility and repentance.
Therefore, shall we not repent? Shall we not prepare for the Return of God's own Son by returning to the waters of Baptism?
You see, we're not only preparing for His future coming to judge the living and the dead. Christ is already in our midst. He continues to be present with His Church. He comes tonight in His Body and Blood. He is speaking now in the preaching of His Word. As He said to the disciples, "He who hears you, hears Me."
This last point is important, for what did the people do at the Jordan River? They confessed their sins. Why? Was it because they were legalistic Roman Catholics? No. The legalists refused to confess. The Pharisees and priests rejected John. John preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and that was what offended them.
Therefore, as repentant sinners, should we not eagerly seek to confess our sins and receive absolution? Or do we no longer think that we need it? Are we repentant or not?
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, let me encourage you to make use of private absolution. Do you see your lives full of a host of sins from which only the Gospel can rescue you? Or do you think that you are pretty good? Heaven help us if we think that, as the Pharisees did.
Repentance is difficult and harsh. It is painful, and not only on the knees. Repentance wears no fine clothing, but only coarse garments - spiritual camel's hair and leather. Repentance knows no grand feast, but only locusts and wild honey. The humility of repentance casts our pride to the dust.
But there in the dust, Christ lifts us up with His Spirit. He makes us drink living waters and the finest of wines. He clothes us in the rich robes of His righteousness. He clothes us with Himself.
The lower we sink in repentance, the sweeter the Gospel becomes to our ears. The more deadly and vile we see our offenses, the higher the Cross towers above us.
Yet, if we think we need no repentance, if we stand proudly in our own righteousness, then the Cross will fade from our eyes, and we will have no place for Christ, since we will be our own savior in our eyes.
Therefore, let us poor sinners confess to God, our Maker and Redeemer, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Him by thought, word, and deed. Let us therefore flee for refuge to His infinite mercy, seeking and imploring His grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In His Name, and to His glory alone, with the Father and the Spirit. Amen.
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