Sermon on Luke 3:1-6
Introduction to the text: Repent, the Lord is coming
In today’s text, God gives to us two things. The first is a call to repentance. The second is a promise.
Luke writes, “The word of God came to John… and John went proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Word comes to us in real time, in real space through real people for real sinners
This “Word of God” came to John in real time and in real space. It came when a man named “Tiberius” was the Emperor or Caesar. It came while certain other men were governors or tetrarchs or priests. The “Word of God” was revealed while John was “in the wilderness.” The Word of God comes in real time, in real space, to real people with real sin.
This Word came to John who is referred to as “the son of Zechariah.” John the Baptist has already been introduced in Luke’s Gospel. Indeed before he was conceived, his birth was foretold by the Angel Gabriel who said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And he will be great before the Lord. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” John was born as the Angel promised. And now, having received the Word of the Lord, he goes out with the Spirit of God to proclaim God’s message for his people.
God’s message is two-fold. The first part is “repent.”
The first part of God’s message is repent.
John’s appointed tasks are “turn many to the Lord,” “to turn the hearts of the father’s to the children,” and “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” In short he is to “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” In doing so John proclaims a baptism of repentance.
The content of John’s preaching of repentance begins with our sin. He says to those who come to him, “Repent ye brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He does not say, “Come here you wonderful good people. Let me tell you how special you are. No, John says “Repent, God’s wrath is coming.”
This message of sin is a message that we do not really enjoy listening to. No one likes to hear, “You are full of wickedness and sin. The venom of asps is on your lips. Your heart is deceitful – do not trust it.” Yet this is the message that we are given.
We are descendents of Adam. We are heirs of his sin. Sin grows in us as naturally as fruit does in its tree. Sin twists and corrupts the good creation God has made in us. Sin corrupts even the best of our works and the most natural of our desires.
When the crowds come to ask John “What must we do? How can we bear good fruit?” John points them back to God’s law. He tells them, “The one with two tunics must give to the one who has none.” That is to say, “The ones with plenty (and that would be most of us) must share with those who have little.” More succinctly – love your neighbor. Tax collectors ask John, “what must we do?” And John tells them, “Do not collect more than you are authorized.” That is, “You shall not steal.” More succinctly – love your neighbor. Soldiers ask John, “What must we do.” He tells them, “Do not extort money by threats or false accusation.” That is to say, “You shall not steal. You shall not kill. You shall not bear false witness.” More succinctly – love your neighbor.
The law of God is not hard to understand. It can be summed up in one easy sentence – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” The difficulty we have is this – the sin, the old man within us, does not do this. The sin within us cries out, “Watch out for number one!” Our old, sinful nature directs us to guard our own rights, to get our own ways.”
The sin nature in us likes to be called a “good servant.” But it also likes to be served rather than to serve. It likes to be honored rather than to give honor.
Because of our sinful nature we are as able to supply the righteousness God requires in his law as we are to fill the Grand Canyon with a spade. Because of our sinful nature we are as able to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves as we are to level the Rocky Mountains with a shovel.
Jesus makes this clear when he is approached by a rich ruler who says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points him back to the Commandments. Jesus points him back to the law. The ruler responded, “I have kept all these from my youth.” But Jesus responded, “One thing you lack. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come follow me. But the man could not do this. He loved his possessions and his life too much – so he walked away sad. The disciples and those who saw this happen were astonished and they asked Jesus, “Lord who can be saved?” Then Jesus told them, “With men this is impossible. But everything is possible with God.” The rich ruler could not supply the righteousness God requires in his law – nor can we. There is only one person who has supplied the righteousness God requires. That person is Jesus. For after saying, “What is impossible with men is possible with God,” Jesus told his disciples, “See, we are going to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophet will be fulfilled. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
John’s preaching of repentance is not just an exhortation to, “Be nice.” He did not just come to say, “Shape up.” No, John, as he is preaching repentance, comes to preach the fullness of the requirements of the law. He came to preach a law we cannot keep. He came to humble us, to prepare us to hear Good News.
Repentance is more than behavior modification. True repentance results in behavior modification. It changes the way we live. But repentance goes deeper. For true repentance is first awareness, sorrows and terror over sin combined with faith in the Gospel. Good works follow.
The second part of John’s message is forgiveness of sins and the salvation of God.
Here we come to the second part of God’s message for us. The second part is “The forgiveness of sins – the salvation of God.”
John came baptizing those who were repentant. And in this baptism the baptized people received the forgiveness of sins. It was a baptism, a washing, done with water which looked forward to the “one who would come. The one who would be greater than John. The one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The one who would gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire on the great Day of Judgment.” Those who were baptized by John were forgiven through faith in Jesus, the Savior who would come and has come.
John came as a forerunner of Jesus to prepare the way for him to come to his people. John came preaching repentance so that through this preaching of the law those who were deep in the depths of sin could receive forgiveness. He came preaching the law so that prideful sinners secure in their ways would be brought low. He came preaching the law so that those whose ways were crooked or deceitful could be made straight and honest. He came preaching so that those who were violent and rough would not continue to abuse. Through the preaching of John, God would “fill the valleys, lay low the mountains, straighten the crooked paths and level the rough places” just as Isaiah the prophet foretold.
But all of this is for one purpose. The preaching of the law is given so that all flesh, that is all people, might see the salvation of God.
When God shows us our sin, it is because he wishes to reveal His Savior, our Lord, Jesus Christ. The law is necessary to make us ready to hear the Gospel. Before we can be pardoned, we must first be convicted.
Today God gives us his salvation received by faith through baptism and his Word.
Today we are called to look backward, forward and up.
Today we are called to look backward upon the work of Jesus who for our sake took on flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and rose again. We are called to look back and say, “All of this, Jesus has done for me. Because of Him my sins are forgiven.” Today, for those of us who are baptized, we are called to look back at the day in which we ourselves were baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of our sin. We are called to trust God’s promises spoken in Romans 6, Colossians 2, Galatians 3 and 1 Peter 3. These promises say, “Everyone who has been baptized into Christ has been baptized into the death of Christ so that just as Jesus rose from the dead we too might walk in newness of life.” “Everyone who has been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” and “Baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” For those who are not baptized you may trust in God’s promise that “everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” And, also, you should be baptized as God commands and receive the promises that come with it.
We are called to look forward. Jesus is coming back. He will judge the living and the dead. For this reason we are still given God’s law which shows us our sin and teaches us how we should live. Jesus is coming soon. For this reason we should hear God’s regularly God’s promise of forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ the Lord so that our faith may be regularly strengthened.
And finally, we are called to look up. We are to be mindful of what God has told us in his law in all of our ways, and in all of dealings. And we may rejoice at this – Christ is coming soon. Our redemption is drawing near. Come Lord Jesus. Hallelujah. Amen.