+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On the second Sunday of Advent we always meet up with John the Baptist to hear his passionate call for repentance. In the gospel reading from Matthew 3, John encounters two different and distinct groups of people. The first group is described simply as those who “were going out to him from Jerusalem, Judea and all the region around the Jordan.” This was, in other words, a large group. They were “Confessing their sins” and were baptized by John.
The second group was “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” who were, quote, “coming to (John’s) baptism.” John addressed this group in a far different manner than the first. “You brood of vipers (he said)! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume 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.”
John’s encounter with these two groups of people is really pretty illustrative, because, when it comes to faith in Christ, things really aren’t very complicated. All of us fall into one of the two groups. For brevities sake, we’ll call them “sinners and a brood of vipers.” So, which are you, a sinner, or, a brood of a viper? (Silence)
If you are waiting for more choices there aren’t any. It’s (A) a sinner, or, (B) a brood of a viper. I know, it’s kind of like a typical children’s sermon isn’t it? When the pastor asks the kids a question the answer is always Jesus. In this case, while we know the answer should be (A) a sinner, I suspect we fear that it might be (B) a brood of a viper. After all, John scolds the second group for not bringing forth fruits of repentance. You and I, it would seem, are always a bit fearful that our repentance isn’t sincere enough to be accepted by God.
We are going to go back and look at the difference in the two groups of people who came out to Jordan that day to help us better understand why the first group was received so graciously by John while the second group was driven away harshly. We’ll start, as Matthew did, with the first group.
The first people coming to John are sinners, as we all are, but they are sinners who are confessing their sins. In other words, they know they don’t measure up to God’s holy and righteous standard. They are sorry for not doing so. In fact, they not only are sorry for not doing the right things, they are sorry for not being right! Like the publican who stood in the temple with the rich man, they cry out day and night “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.”
So, the question for you is, are you confessing your sins to God? If so, then keep on confessing them. Even if they are the same ones you’ve confessed before, keep on confessing them. It is part of the mystery of the grace of God that He forgives the penitent even though they are forced, by necessity, to confess the same sins over and over again. God’s grace cannot be extinguished, nor, can it be used up.
Like the first people who came out to John, you have been baptized into Christ. Therefore, repentance itself, which is contrition and faith, is not even your doing. Rather, God’s word moves you to confess your sin and then it moves you to embrace His grace and forgiveness, which are new to you each and every morning.
Now, let’s take a look at the second group of people. By the way, for those who fit the second group, know that there is still hope for you. The Great Physician heals the sick even they don’t currently know they are sick. He simply does so with a different prescription.
The second group of people went out to the Jordan, not to be baptized. No, they went out because it was the thing to do. They were the religious leaders of the day. How would it look if everyone in Jerusalem, Judea and around the Jordan was going out to be baptized by John and they stayed behind? In a contemporary context, it would like a preacher announcing an altar call. Some people go forward, not because they have been convicted by God’s word, but because they don’t want to be the only person left sitting when everyone else has made their choice for Jesus. How would it look for the Pharisees and Sadducees if they didn’t follow everyone else out into the wilderness?
John though knew they weren’t repentant. In other words, they weren’t sorry for their sins, nor did they seek forgiveness in Jesus. Actually, John knew they had substituted presumption for repentance. That happens sometimes, you know!? In their case, they presumed they found grace in the eyes of the Lord through their ancestry. They were, after all, children of Abraham by birth!
The question for you is, have you replaced repentance with presumption? Do you think you are saved from the wrath of God because you are a “card carrying” member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod? Or, are you saved from the wrath of God because you have been a member of this congregation for decades? Or, are you saved from the wrath of God because you do your best to live a good life, trying to be a moral, upright person? If, in any case, the answer is yes, God says, forsake that presumption, confess your sin and embrace the riches of His grace and forgiveness in Christ!
The fruit of repentance that we sometimes fear we lack is evidenced in many ways in our lives. Sometimes it’s demonstrated in making restitution for the harm we’ve done. Other times it’s in our striving to avoid the sin we so loathe. But, most of all, it is in going back to God over and over again, saying, “I am a sinner in need for your forgiveness. Wash me clean. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Let the blood of your Son be my only hope. Let His righteousness be the only thing I presume upon for my salvation!”
“Lord, I believe, were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid
For all a full atonement made.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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