We are following the Three-Year Lectionary, Series C, proposed by the Lutheran Hymnal Project; so the pericopes will not always correspond with the ILCW lectionary. ALSO...the New King James Version of the Bible is used now in our lection and as the text for the sermon.
"Repent, and Remember Your Baptism"
Second Sunday in Advent
St. Luke 3:1-20
December 7, 2003
IN NOMINE JESU
Behold, the Lord has sent His messenger, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. John the Baptizer was the "voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight'" (v. 4b), as the prophet Isaiah once foretold. The Son of Man Himself spoke through the prophet Malachi in our Old Testament reading for today: "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me" (Mal. 3:1a). The way that John prepared was the way to the Lord, the way that those who would follow the Lord were to go. The only way into heaven goes through Jesus Christ, as He Himself tells us in St. John's Gospel: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (14:6). John the Baptizer had come to point the people to the Way, pointing them there through his preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord revealed to John that among those coming to hear him were some Pharisees and Sadducees, who had no desire to be baptized by John but came to find out why John was becoming so popular, drawing people away from them. They themselves believed they were already clean and had no desire to submit to this radical preacher's baptism. John points out their hypocrisy and calls them a brood of vipers, for they would not consent to his baptism but relied on their pedigree to get them into heaven. He called them to repentance, saying, "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (v. 8). Those who repented and believed the message God gave John to preach and who became baptized by him were called children of God.
The theme of John's preaching was "Repent." To repent means, literally, to turn around, to turn one's back on one's sins, confessing one's sins and desiring the gifts God gives in baptism. In our text, this baptism was administered by John. John's baptism was just as valid and certain as the Baptism instituted by our Lord. God gave John the command to baptize the faithful into the Messiah who was to come. The Lord commanded His apostles, and therefore the Church, to baptize into the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, baptizing them into the One who was, who is, and who will come again, Jesus Christ. Both John's and Jesus' baptisms gave the same gift: the forgiveness of sins. Baptism ushers a person into the kingdom of God, for through this sacramental act the Holy Spirit enters in and stirs our hearts so that we would come to faith in the Messiah and, from this faith, perform good works, done to show that faith already exists, fruits in keeping with repentance.
The Lord desires repentance of His people, not family histories, as the Pharisees and Sadducees mistakenly believed. They thought they could get into heaven solely on account of their lineage. But John the Baptizer said to them, "Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (v. 8). That is to say, God calls children from all nations, not exclusively from the Jews. Merely claiming to be Jewish would not get them into heaven. In a similar vein, claiming membership in a congregation does not guarantee us entry into heaven. It does not guarantee us forgiveness of sins. It does not mean that we have faith. Even if we have been members of this congregation since her charter, even if we were members of the predecessor congregations of St. Paul of Pettibone and Zion of Petersville (St. Paul of Woodworth and Trinity of New Home), we will not be saved solely on that basis. The only way to heaven is to follow the way John the Baptizer prepared, the way Jesus set before us. The way is narrow, for our Lord demands perfect obedience. In St. Luke's Gospel we hear, "Then one said to Him, 'Lord, are there few who are saved?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open for us," and He will answer and say to you, "I do not know you, where you are from," then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets." But He will say, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity." There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last'" (12:23-30). Again He says un St. Matthew's Gospel, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Mt. 7:22). Just because you are a member of a congregation or of a family with a long history in a congregation, this does not mean you will automatically go to heaven, for the Lord even sees hypocrites within a congregation, which is the visible church. In the invisible church are the true believers in Jesus Christ, known by God Himself and by the believer himself or herself. The Lord does not require merely that one be a member in a congregation. But what does He require of you? of me? of us all? He requires that we remember our Baptism and the gifts He gives in this Sacrament, namely, the forgiveness of sins. That we would continue to daily receive this great gift, God requires that we repent of our sins and believe that Jesus Christ died to win this forgiveness for us. As Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of St. Mark, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk. 16:16). Our Lord requires that we live our Baptism.
We have learned from Luther's Small Catechism that "the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." Saint Paul writes in Romans chapter six: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:1-11).
This is why the Lord so dearly wants you to repent, why He wants you to remember your Baptism, why He wants you to live your Baptism each and every day. He wants you to confess your sins, to turn your back on your sins, so that you would receive the fullness of the gifts He gives in this Sacrament. John the Baptizer said to the people gathered around him, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (v. 16). That One whose way he prepared is the same One whose way for His Second Coming is being prepared today through the preaching of the Word, the baptism of fire of which John spoke. This is how God makes Himself and His way known to us. Our Lord tells us in His Word that the way He went took Him to the cross, where He won our forgiveness for us. It was the only way He could go, the way set before Him by His heavenly Father and foretold by the Prophets, the messengers who prepared the way before Him. This is the message we hear this Advent and always. John was preparing his hearers to believe in the Messiah who was very soon to follow. This was our Lord's first advent, when He came in all humility. Now that Christ is risen from the dead, we hear the Word of the Lord as we prepare for His second advent, when He will come again in all His glory. We hear this Word since He is risen from the dead, and we, who are baptized into His death, are also baptized into His resurrection, that we would live forever in heaven with Him.
Until that Day comes, we are moved by the Holy Spirit to repent of our sins and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. How best to do this is in our keeping the Ten Commandments, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Will we keep the Ten Commandments perfectly? Of course, we won't. But we have the comfort in knowing and firmly believing that we can come to our gracious and loving God in repentance and faith, and He will graciously forgive our sins for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood we will soon eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our faith, that we would continue to remember and live our Baptism each day, living in contrition, repentance, faith, and absolution. As you live your Baptism each day, beginning and ending each day in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, remember this as well as you live your Baptism: remember who you are and whose you are, sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, baptized into His Name most holy, children of the heavenly Father, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, having the hope of eternal life. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25).
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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