Sunday, December 05, 2021

Prepared to Meet Jesus

[Here is today's 11:00 AM worship service from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below that is the text of the message that was shared during worship.]

Luke 3:1-20
Advent, the season of the Church Year through which we move these four Sundays before Christmas, is like Lent, the season that comes before Easter. Both Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation. Both seasons remind us to daily prepare ourselves to meet Jesus face to face.

But how exactly do you and I prepare for seeing Jesus in person? The short answer is through daily repentance.

A life of daily repentance is a life of constant turning back to God. We have to keep turning back to God because our inborn, treasonous hearts--the old sinful Adams and old Eves we all are at our cores--constantly want to go our own ways, no matter how doing so may hurt God, or others, or ourselves. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We do fail to love God with our whole heart and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If you and I follow our hearts, as the world so often tells us to do, or if we follow our thoughts, the things that “make sense” to us, our feelings and our thoughts will inevitably lead us away from Jesus Christ and away from the life and salvation, which is the eternal restoration of our bodies, minds, and spirits, that only Jesus can give to us. We have a daily need to repent, to turn back to Jesus, the life-giver. As Martin Luther said, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.”

But what does that mean? The crowds who come to undergo John the Baptist’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and hear John in today’s lesson wonder the same thing. After he’s called them a “brood of vipers,” children of the devil who, through the serpent, tempted the human race to sin and death, he tells them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Now, we need to take a brief side-trip here. As you’ve heard me say before, John’s baptism should not be confused with Holy Baptism. John’s baptism was one in which people who heard John’s call to repent in preparation for the return of Jesus pronounced that they were sinners who needed to be saved from their sin and their death.They turned from their sin to be ready to see Jesus. Holy Baptism, as instituted by Jesus, is a sacrament in which God acts and God pronounces, not us. In Holy Baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God drowns our old sinful selves and raises us up as children of God. Holy Baptism is God’s Word moving over the water in the font to create new life, as happened when God’s Spirit moved over ancient chaos and created the universe. Holy Baptism is the Word of God speaking a Word akin to what the Father spoke to Jesus when Jesus was baptized and when He was transfigured. “This is My child.,” God says of the baptized. “She or he belongs to me because of what Jesus has done for them. I claim them for all eternity!” In Holy Baptism, God’s Word invades us to constantly drown our old sinful selves and raise our new, eternal selves who, when hearing God’s Gospel Word about Jesus, are given the gift of faith in Jesus. First Peter tells us, the water of Noah’s flood “symbolizes baptism that now saves you also...It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21) John’s baptism could not and did not save the way Holy Baptism does. The Spirit enables us to say, “Because I am baptized, I belong to Jesus!” John himself summarizes the difference between these two baptisms in today’s lesson: “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16) When the fire of Holy Baptism comes to us, it’s to help us see our sin and to burn it out of existence. When the Holy Spirit Himself comes to us in the sacrament, it’s to fill us with the very life of Jesus, the risen Savior!

Confronted with the reality of their sin, the crowd in our Gospel lesson asks John, “What should we do then?” (Luke 3:10) What, in other words, does a repentant life, a life preparing to meet Jesus, look like? The answer to those questions will, in a way, look different in every life. Although we all are tempted and we all sin, each of us is confronted with temptations and sins that are unique to ourselves alone. And so, John tells the tax collectors, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” (Luke 3:13) He tells soldiers of the occupying Roman army, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:14) But, because we all deal with temptation and our sinful natures, John also tells everyone listening, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11) The point is that a repentant life, a life turned constantly to Jesus for forgiveness and life, will, as John puts it, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8) And, he warns us in so many words, don’t begin to think that because you’re a member of the church or because your parents were pious or because you were in a Bible study once or because you chucked a few bucks into the Salvation Army bucket at Kroger at Christmastime, you are eternally saved. You’re not saved by works, whether your own or someone you’re related to. You’re only saved by Jesus!

All of which is to say that even we who are baptized need to daily repent. In Holy Baptism, when we share Jesus’ death and resurrection, God declares, out of His love and grace, “You are mine! You are My child, indelibly marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit, forever.” But even the most dearly loved of children, even those who once declared their bottomless love for their parents, can wander away from home. It’s possible for a person to be baptized and catechized, yet become contemptuous of God’s grace, intent on making their own way in the world, and to lose life with God. And every Christian should pray for those wandering from God and ask God for opportunities to share the Gospel with them. After all, what will eternity be like for those people, baptized or unbaptized, who say they have no need of Jesus? John the Baptist tells us that Jesus will not force Himself on anyone. He will allow those who turn away from Him to live without Him for eternity. “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn,” John says, “but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17)

Right after noting these words of John’s, Luke, our gospel writer today, says, “And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” (Luke 3:18) Do John’s words seem like good news to you? The good news in John’s word to us today is this: Every person prompted by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, who turns to Jesus and confesses their sins will be forgiven. When we confess our sins: our resentments and our pettiness, our prejudices and our unholy thoughts, words, and actions, our worship of self and our worship of things, when we lay our sinful selves before Jesus each day, Jesus will forgive us our sins and send His Holy Spirit to empower us to live in the undeserved grace that God gives to all who trust in Jesus.

In the end, I think of repentance as a two-act play. In Act One, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and our need to stay on course with Jesus by confessing our sins and all our needs, perceived and real, to Him. In Act Two, the Holy Spirit convinces us that, by His death and resurrection, Jesus has washed away our sin with His life-giving blood, and shows us that what we need above all else is “our daily bread,” Jesus Himself. As we respond to the Holy Spirit’s call to play our parts in this play, God will daily prepare us to meet Jesus face to face. Today, heed Jesus’ words found elsewhere in Scripture: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) When we repent and believe in Jesus and His good news, we are ready to see Jesus face to face. Amen