+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
““Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Lord. It had to seem like a daunting task for John, wouldn’t you think? I mean, how does one prepare the world for the coming of the Lord?
I did a little search on the Internet to see how people today might answer that question. One person listed seven steps that are necessary to prepare for Jesus’ coming. First, find the truth. Walk in the truth. Fasting and prayer. Find what God hates. Find what God loves. Walk in obedience and love. Reject the deeds of the flesh. Another person concentrated on the supposed economic collapse some associate with the End Times. He then listed 25 steps to prepare for impending economic hard times. One pastor had a sermon posted online where he detailed 22 principles necessary for preparation. Don’t worry! I’m not going to go through those principles, mainly because preparing to meet Jesus really isn’t that complicated.
John, of course, was given the means he was to use to prepare people for Jesus’ coming. We’ll get to those means in just a moment, but while we’re thinking of the task set before John, we might also consider what kind of preparations are necessary on our part. The season of Advent, after-all, is about preparation.
When we think about preparing to meet anyone, much less God, we have a tendency to focus on ourselves under the guise of thinking of our guest. The reason is, we want to make a good first impression. Consequently, we do everything in our power to control all the variables and to get things just right.
You may remember Jesus’ visit at the home of Mary and Martha. Martha tried feverishly to control the situation. She ran around putting things away and straightening up around the house. When Jesus arrived, He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needful.” Martha was trying to prepare for Jesus’ coming but she was doing the wrong things.
When we focus on ourselves in preparing to meet Jesus, we tend to entertain sermons highlighting 22 principles that are necessary to get ready, or, maybe we take the humorous approach and go with the sign I saw some time back, which said, “Jesus is coming!! Look busy!!”
Preparing to meet Jesus isn’t finally about what WE need to do to get ready. Rather, it is about what God has already done to prepare US. Ultimately, it’s about the gifts of baptism, repentance and forgiveness and make no mistake, all three, baptism, repentance and forgiveness are gifts of God. John, the one who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The connection between baptism, repentance and forgiveness is key.
One of the tragedies of Christianity today is that many Christians see baptism as a human work, something done to express to the world one’s faith in Jesus. God isn’t the one acting in baptism, the person being baptized is! In that case, baptism is just one of the many ordinances of God that a person needs to obediently fulfill in order to prepare himself or herself for the coming of Jesus.
Baptism though is not a human work. It is a divine work. Even when some Christians undergo baptism thinking they fulfilling some ordinance of God, God is still doing something incredible. By water and the word, He is creating new people out old. He is drowning the sinful old nature and bringing forth a new nature, one created in the image and likeness of God.
The first thing John was to do in preparing the world for God’s coming was to baptize people. So it is for the church today. Just before His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus said, “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Once a person is baptized repentance and forgiveness follow. Johnny Cash once said, “I’m two people. Johnny is the good one and Cash is the bad one.” He was actually more right than he may have known. In baptism God gave you a new nature to fight against the old. You are, then, two people. The rest of the task of God preparing you for the glorious coming of His Son is the daily battle that goes on in you between the old and new nature. The battle is often fierce and the warfare long, but repentance is worked in you by the power of your baptism and God’s Word. Lest you think of repentance as your work, your preparation, Paul reminds you, “It is the kindness of God that leads you to repentance” and oftentimes, out of His kindness, God uses circumstances in your life to bring you to repentance.
You may recall the story of the prodigal son. The younger of two brothers acquired his inheritance early and went off and squandered it on loose living. Having spent everything he inherited he wound up working as a laborer, feeding slop to pigs. So great was hunger that he longed to eat even the slop he was throwing to the pigs.
At that point, we are told that “he came to himself, (and) said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” That repentance was worked in the young man, in part, by his circumstances, but also by the kindness of his father.
God has but one response to those who turn to Him in repentance. The wayward son was received into the open arms of the father. The father forgave his son for his sins. He was simply overjoyed that his son, who was lost, had been found.
God has made you His child through your baptism in the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has called you by name and you are His. Throughout your life He calls you to repentance through the circumstances you face, as well as, through His word and through the power of His body and blood received here at the altar. In repentance, like the prodigal son, you remember the goodness of your father and you turn back to him knowing that He will forgive you and receive you with open arms.
To my knowledge, it is the only place in the Bible where we are told that God ran. The parable of the prodigal, I mean. When the son came back in repentance, when he was still a long way off, the Father ran. He ran to embrace His son. Through baptism, repentance and forgiveness, the Father is always running toward you that you might be prepared for His coming. 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 +
Send Rev. Alan Taylor an email.