5th Sunday after Pentecost June 24, 2018
2 Peter 3:8-14
61, 63, 272, 51
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
In those days John theBaptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophetsaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the wy of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of ael’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wl honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan weegoing out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, conesing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees comigto his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do no resume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, Gdis able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now theae is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear goo ruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Greetings, dear followers of the Lamb of God, JesusChrist,
My name is John. I am the son of Zacharias andElizabeth, of the tribe of Levi, a descendant of the priestly clan of Aaron. And today, June 24, 6 months before Christmas, is my birthday. You are all probablyery familiar with the unusual events that surrounded my birth. My parents were quite old when I was born. For many years they prayed for a child, but were not ale to conceive. Then one day, when my aged father Zacharias was serving in the eple, God sent His angel Gabriel to tell him that he and my mother Elizabeth wr going to conceive and give birth to me. To my father’s shame, he did not beive the angel and was struck mute until eight days after my birth when I was cirucised.
While the news of my life was very unexpected to myfather, my birth and life was, in fact, not unexpected at all. Roughly 400 years before I was born, the LORD spoke of my coming and work through the prophetalachi, “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before M.” (Mal 3:1) And some 600 years before I was born, the prophet Isaiah pke of the one who would come to prepare the way of the LORD. I was born for teexpress purpose of getting the people of God ready for the arrival of the prmsed Messiah. He is the Savior that the people of God had been eagerly waiig for since He was first promised to Adam and Eve and to our Jewish ancetrs, Abraham and David.
The world in which I lived 2,000 years ago was not all that different from the times you live in today. Certainly we did not have many of the modern inventions you have, but the moral condition of the day was much the same. The religion of Israel had become largely corrupt and nothing more than an external show. Most of the people had drifted far away God and His Word, though it was read every Sabbath in the synagogues. Some of the religious leaders, known as Sadducees, rejected all things spiritual—they accepted only the what they could see and touch. They denied that there were angels, souls, or the resurrection of the dead. The other group of religious leaders, the Pharisees, were just as spiritually dangerous. With their never ending lists of rules and regulations, the religion of that time became focused on outward acts and not of repentance and a heart of faith.
The people of my day were anxious for the arrival of the Messiah, but had lost sight of why He was coming. They wanted a Messiah who would make their lives easier and more prosperous. They had lost sight of the Suffering Servant of the LORD written of in Isaiah 53.
The superpower of my day was the Roman Empire. In my day, the Romans had conquered most of the known world. The Romans were once a proud and heroic people. But by the time of Caesar Augustus the people had largely become like many people of your day. Most would rather sit at home, drink wine, enjoy women, and read of the heroic exploits of the Roman army, rather than risk their life for their homeland. Materialism was rampant. Marriage had become a joke. Abortion and the killing of newborns were common. Homosexuality and pedophilia was common throughout the Empire. Their only god, seemed to be the god of their belly.
These were the conditions under which I was sent to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. I did my work not in the busy city, but in the wilderness. My dress was nothing extravagant—camel’s hair, with a leather belt. My diet was a very common food found in the wilderness and around the Jordan River—locusts and wild honey. So when you hear that people that came out to me in the wilderness, you can be sure they did not come because of the visual appeal.
When the prophet Isaiah prophesied of my work, he compared it to that of preparing a road for the travel of a king. The roads in my day could best be compared to your zero maintenance roads. There was a path to travel on, but it was not fit for royalty. So before a king would make a journey the roads would be prepared. The mounds in the road would be leveled, the potholes would be filled in, and any obstacles which would slow down the king’s progress—such as rocks and trees—would be removed from the road. The king was to have a smooth journey to his destination.
The heart of man is like a very rugged road. In the heart of man there are the mountains of foolishness and pride, their lives and thoughts are crooked, the valleys of their sin is deep, and the road they are on is extremely rough. This is the work I was sent to do. Like a divine road construction crew, I was to smooth the rough road of man’s heart for the arrival of the King of kings.
But what earthmover could possibly remove the mountains and hills of sin in the heart of man? What back-hoe is possibly big enough to move the boulders of sin? How was I to get these morally bankrupt people ready to meet the Messiah? Only the powerful hammer of God’s Law can do such work. The Law shows each one of us what we really are before the holy God— selfish and self-centered sinners. His Law shows us that the holy God requires not just outward acts, but a holy heart which loves him above everything else. This message of the Law that I preached to get hearts ready for Jesus.
My language may seem harsh to your ears today, but these people could not afford to be coddled and told that their outward acts were enough. Jesus was coming and they needed to get their hearts ready to meet Him. When I saw the religious leaders coming out into the wilderness, to me it looked like a bunch of serpent’s slithering from a burning city to escape the heat. “Brood of vipers!” I said to them, “Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The people, and especially the religious leaders of those days needed to hear that they were not serving God, nor His children, but were offspring of the serpent, the devil. They needed to hear that the wrath of God was coming because their hearts were hard.
“Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” I told the people, “and do not think 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. And even the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The people thought that just because they were descendants of Abraham that everything was good between them and God. But God is not interested in genealogies, rather God is interested in hearts. Hearts of faith that live for Him and seek to bring glory to His name. He looks for lives that produce good works, fruits of faith. Every tree that does not bear those good fruits of faith, God will cut down. And with my preaching of the Law in their hearing, the ax was already beginning to swing!
While God may have made me a powerful speaker, the people needed to know that I was NOT the promised Messiah. I cannot even imagine why people would want to think such a thing! I am nothing compared to the Mighty One who was coming after me. I am not even worthy of being His servant and carrying His sandals! “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The Mighty One whose way I was preparing, He would be able to see right into the heart. He would come and pour out, or baptize, with His Holy Spirit. But for those who rejected Him, He would baptize with the fire of judgment and hell. The Mighty One would come to separate the worthless chaff from the precious wheat as He revealed the attitude of the heart.
And so I came to prepare the way for Jesus. Only by repenting of their sins would they be ready to meet their Savior. Through the mirror of God’s Law they saw the ugly sin that existed in their hearts. Those who confessed their sins, I joyfully baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Through their baptism I assured them that God forgave all their sins, He washed them away. They were clean. Having been cleansed through the water and Word of baptism they were now called to walk in the newness of life, not in the old way. And through this repentance and remission of sins, their hearts were being prepared for Jesus’ first coming.
As I mentioned earlier, the times in which I lived were not all that different from today. There is a great deal of moral bankruptcy that exists today, just as it did back then. People talk of being “spiritual” and “religious,” and may do acts of charity, but are hearts in it? Are these acts of faith done to glorify God? The heart of man has not changed in 2,000 years. People are still lovers of self, rather than lovers of God. Every man tries to establish his own moral code, that is, he decides for himself what is right or wrong, rather than relying on what God says is right or wrong. Many churches of today have become corrupt and are deceiving people just as they were in my day.
But there is one thing that is different from my day. I came to point people to arrival of Jesus, who was the Son of God and Savior of the world. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” I told them. (John 1:29) My ministry was one of preparing God’s people to meet their Savior for the first time. Today, you already know the glorious story of His work. You know that He became a curse for us, by dying on that cursed tree of Calvary. You know He came to rescue you from the consuming fire of His wrath. Jesus came to take away all of your sins and make you His own special people, zealous for good works! You have already been baptized for the forgiveness of sins. You know that the promised Messiah came, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven to give you life.
And though you know all this, my message to you today would not change in the least from my message then. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” You too need to prepare your hearts and minds for the RETURN of the Messiah. It is not enough that you a church-going Lutheran. It is not enough that you grew up in the church and this is your parent’s church. The Pharisees and Sadducees were in church every Sabbath too. God could raise up church-going Lutherans from the stones outside if He wanted to.
Rather, Jesus is interested in your hearts and your lives. Hearts that believe on Him as their Savior from sin and lives that glorify Him by bearing good fruit. Hearts that are repentant because of their lovelessness. Hearts that no longer want to serve the sinful flesh, but God! Hearts that are repentant for not loving God above all things at all times. Hearts that are repentant for not loving our fellow man as much as we love ourselves.
Jesus is coming soon. Every tree that does not bear fruits of faith will be cut down and thrown into the everlasting fire of hell. Jesus is coming soon with His winnowing fan. He will thoroughly purge the threshing floor of this world, and gather His wheat into the barn. But the unbelieving chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire.
How can you prepare for His second coming? Just as we prepared for His first coming 2,000 years ago—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Repent. Do not go back to those old sinful ways, but put on the new man and serve the LORD who saved you. Learn from His Word what His will is for you—as a spouse, as a parent, as a child, as an employee, as a citizen, as someone’s neighbor, and as a child of God. And repent when you have failed. Turn from that sinful, wicked way and believe on Jesus for forgiveness. Listen to His Word—because through that Word the Holy Spirit gives and sustains your faith. Rejoice that all your sins have been paid for. Rejoice that you are at peace with God through Jesus. Rejoice that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you and is coming again. Therefore, be alert, be watchful, repent, because the kingdom is at hand and Jesus is coming quickly. Amen!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.