• Introduction: We learned from the message of last week about how to recognize the Kingdom of God is near.  In the second of four admonitions of Luke ch#21, Jesus gave the example of a fig tree when it first sprouts leaves.  That is a sign that summer is near.  He related that example to when we see all the signs of the tribulation, the end of the Age is near.  This week, we continue on this Second Sunday in Advent with the theme of being prepared for Jesus to come.
    • Okay; so what?  We hear this every year in Advent about how we need to prepare for Jesus coming to us.
      • It is a big deal to prepare, just like we would spend a lot of time in preparation for the arrival of a King.  And the emphasis of Advent each year is to focus on the continuous preparation we really need to be doing throughout our life to one day meet up with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the Lord as foretold in at least two places in the Old Testament that we will cover on today.
      • That preparation included preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus once said, 31…“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.[1]”  What He meant is if you don’t think you are a sinner, you don’t need to be saved from sins. Jesus therefore has no value to you, and you won’t see a need to repent.
      • However, true repentance is shown by making fruit worthy of repentance once we admit we are a sinner.  To repent means to go in the opposite direction of the sinful way we were headed. A person who is truly penitent is doing things pleasing to God and not offending God.  Turning from our sins and baring fruit to the Lord’s glory is what our goal should be for Advent and beyond.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, through Your Son Christ, You called John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus to come.  By the Holy Spirit, You call us to prepare the way for Jesus to rule in our heart and soul.  Please have us make fruit worthy of repentance so that the day comes in our eternal life when we come to live with You for eternity.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: In order to appreciate the arrival of John the Baptist, we need to look into the Old Testament to see some of the prophecy regarding him.  The OT prophets Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1) both foretold of John the Baptist.  Isaiah was a prophet of God in the early 700’s BC to the late 600’s BC.  He spoke God’s word to the kingdom of Judah, because the ten tribes of Israel were wiped out in 722BC due to their refusal to repent. Malachi is acknowledged to be the last of the twelve minor prophets, and was probably a contemporary of Nehemiah in the earlier half of the 5th century BC.
    • We read first from Isa 40:1-3 so that there is a bit of context with the prophecy - 1“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her guilt has been removed, That she has received of the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.[2]A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord ; Make straight the path of our God[3].  We find out by reading the Gospels from whom that voice was crying in the wilderness.  In the three synoptic accounts of the Gospel from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each of them repeated the words of Isaiah 40:3 to indicate this prophesy came to pass in the work of John the Baptist (Mat 3:3, Luke 3:4).
    • Malachi recorded what the Lord spoke to him concerning the role of John. We read now from Mal 3:1 - 1“Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a way before Me. And the Lord, whom you are seeking, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of armies. 
      • John the Baptist eventually was the messenger to prepare the way for Jesus. He was that person foretold of some 430yrs before his own miraculous birth to a previously childless Zechariah and Elizabeth.  It was miraculous, because each of them was past child-bearing age.
      • Only in the Gospel according to Mark are the prophesies of both Isaiah and Malachi mentioned together in the context of their prophesies fulfilled. Mark wrote - just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending My messenger before You, Who will prepare Your way; The voice of one calling out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight![4]’”
      • This idea of preparing the way for someone dates back to ancient times. People had to walk pretty much everywhere, and so to make a path straight meant to make it easy for the dignitary to get to their intended destination.  This is true even to today.  I was involved with campaigns in my teen years.  If a high-profile candidate was scheduled to visit a certain location, there would be people visiting the place in advance to scout out the logistics and security.  Failure to have things effectively scouted in advance could lead to tragedy, such as the murder of President Kennedy in 1963.  I’m sure the Secret Service would like the chance to go back in time and do a better job of making the path straight for JFK to visit Dallas, TX on November 24, 1963.
  • Analysis: The JFK example is a secular example of what can go wrong if a path is not “made straight”.  That was especially a problem in the 1st century.  And don’t forget Satan tried everything to knock Jesus off from His path to literally save the world from its sins.  Nonetheless, what does advanced preparation look like spiritually?
    • From our text for today – 8a Therefore produce fruits that are consistent with repentance…[5] You might be wondering how “baring” fruit has anything to do with being prepared.  Preparation normally looks like cleaning house, or getting the car maintenance caught up ahead of a long trip.  But that’s not what the Lord had in mind with the scriptures pertaining to the first coming of Jesus.
      • When John the Baptist was preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, many people who came out to hear him preach, took the message to heart. They then asked John what they should do to turn from their sinful ways. 11 And he would answer and say to them, “The one who has two tunics is to share with the one who has none; and the one who has food is to do likewise.[6]
        • Please understand, John was not setting up a quid pro quo in that if you share gifts you received from God with others, you would in turn receive blessings.  It may turn out that way, because God does reward faithfulness to Him and His word. But the blessings of God come freely. They are not for sale nor can you work for those blessings.  The blessings all come from His inexhaustible mercy despite the continuously offensive sinning we commit daily.  And that is the point: God wants us to share with others as He has shared His riches with us.  Giving to others is an act of showing thankfulness to God for what He has done for us.  It is a fruit worthy of repentance.  There is no reason for us to hoard anything.  Whatever we have today becomes worthless to us when we die.  Why not turn from our selfish nature and share?  That is one way to prepare for Jesus’ coming.
      • Another example John the Baptist provided to those who came out to the Jordan river to hear what he had to say - 14 … soldiers also were questioning him, saying, “What are we to do, we as well?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone, nor harass anyone, and be content with your wages.[7]”  Anyone in law enforcement is given power by the state over citizens.  There weren’t checks and balances in the 1st century like we have in the United States on today.  However, before you think you are in the clear because you’re not in a position to extort money from people, remember that every time you purchase something from someone, that purchase leads to that person’s wages.  These recent smash and grab lootings happening in major cities across the country are an example of extorting and cheating people out of their wages. It is in our nature to get things on our own terms.  In fact, we are content to not pay anything for those things.  There’s nothing wrong with working to get a good deal on something, but whatever terms are mutually agreed upon, we need to keep our terms of the deal.  We need to be content and not greedy with money the Lord has provided.
    • To recap, John the Baptist gave two examples in our Luke text for today which were identified as fruits worthy of repentance: sharing our riches with others; being content with the riches we have.  Those examples of fruits don’t come until we acknowledge our sins and then turn from those sins.  During the season of Pentecost, we followed the liturgy of Divine Service III from our hymnal. There was a portion of the Confession of Sins where the pastor would turn toward the altar to face God and say, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.”  The congregation would respond, “and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  That liturgical portion of the Confession of Sins is taken right out of Ps 32:5 - I acknowledged my sin to You, And I did not hide my guilt; I said, “I will confess my wrongdoings to the Lord”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin[8].  That isn’t something the hymnal writers decided on their own it would be something good to say week after week.  It is something King David wrote in one the penitential psalms which provide examples of acknowledging sins and sinfulness before the Lord.
      • David committed some well publicized sins.  But rather than justifying his own actions, he chose to confess his sins before God and seek forgiveness.  He would then turn from those sins.  He knew that failure to turn from sins leads to wasting away and sluggishness under the burden of sin.  He wrote in the two verses prior to Ps 32:5 - When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality failed as with the dry heat of summer[9].   How many people have you heard of who live under a huge burden of guilt because of something they did in the past that they just cannot escape?  If there is some sin you have done that haunts you, acknowledge and confess that sin to our Lord.  Don’t think you’re fooling Him by keeping something a secret from Him.  Acknowledgement is the first step toward receiving forgiveness from Him.  Failure to acknowledge sin causes people to commit self-destructive behavior that leads to wasting away in Margaritaville or some other place.
      • It is appropriate to have sorrow for sins.  The Apostle Paul wrote - 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.[10].  I have committed some sins that I am ashamed of to this day that were done 20-30yrs ago.  I know the Lord has long since forgiven me for those misdeeds.  I do have the peace of knowing my sins are forgiven because of His love for me and all believers.  There are no regrets.  However, the memory of those sins motivates me to never do them again.  That is what repentance looks like in a practical sense – go in the opposite direction of that sin so that it doesn’t happen again. 
  • Conclusion: The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans - 4Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and restraint and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance[11]?  The Holy Spirit prepares our way to heaven, leading us to repentance by calling us through the Gospel.  It is the kindness of God, that is, the Gospel, that brings peace to our soul. Martin Luther’s meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles Creed includes – I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  It is the good that the Holy Spirit does in our soul that brings us the peace which surpasses all human understanding.  That peace includes not being plagued and dogged by our sins.  It is this Gospel peace that leads us to repentance, preparing our way to meet our Maker someday without being all stressed out about the prospect of meeting him face to face.
    • What advice would John the Baptist give to us sinners in 2021?  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by continuing in rebellion instead of repentance.  Sin is rebellion against the Lord.  The prophet Isaiah wrote by inspiration concerning the Israelites whom God saved and redeemed from the slavery of Egypt - But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them[12]
    • The Apostle Paul wrote by inspiration in Eph ch#4 about a number of ways to turn from sin in true repentance.  He mentioned speaking truthfully to one another.  It’s okay to be angry, but don’t let that lead to sin. Anyone who steals should stop it and instead work for a living.  And let no unwholesome words come from out of your mouth.  And then in v30, he wrote - 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption[13].
  • Instead, bare the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ as was read earlier in this service from the Epistle for today (Phil 1:11). Let people around us see the fruits of repentance shine forth as part of our preparation to one day meet with Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luke 5:31b-32 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%205&version=NASB

[2] Isa 40:1-2 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isa+40&version=NASB

[3] Isa 40:3 from an original translation of the Septuagint Greek found at  https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/isa/40/1/t_conc_719003

[4] Mark 1:2-3 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+1&version=NASB

[5] Luke 3:8 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+3&version=NASB

[6] Luke 3:11, ibid

[7] Luke 3:14, ibid

[8] Ps 32:5 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ps+32&version=NASB

[9] Ps 32:3-4, ibid

[10] 2Co 7:10 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/2co/7/1/s_1085001

[11] Rom 2:4 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rom/2/1/s_1048001

[12] Isa 63:10 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/isa/63/1/s_742001

[13] Eph 4:30 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=eph+4&version=NASB