Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Date: Advent II + 12/4/16
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings! (LSB 344:1)
For those who inquire how one comes to enter the Kingdom of God, the first lesson is to know, as the catechism says, that “the Kingdom of God comes all by itself without our prayers.” That is, it’s never as much about you coming to the Kingdom as it is the King and the Kingdom coming to you. When it comes to you it comes bidding you to repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 3:1). When the Word of the Kingdom comes it brings with it the challenge and the power to do what you cannot do on your own. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” It is by the mighty Word of God itself that a sinner first comes to repent of their sin and then to believe. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
But today I’d like to ask whether repentance is a sad thing or a happy thing? I’ve never pondered before what sort of emotion was on display on the faces of those who came to be baptized by John. Now repentance consists in two things. First, contrition or sorrow over sin. The effect of God’s Law revealing our sin is a fearful thing, a sad thing. Were the people coming to John arriving with tears of despair over their sin and need? But the second part of repentance is faith, faith in God who comes in grace with forgiveness of our sins. Our Hymn of the Day (which we sang as the entrance hymn today) calls the announcement of John not a sad thing but, “Glad tidings of the King of kings!” How is John’s calling forth repentance at all a glad tiding? I believe it is because true repentance is never either fear or faith alone but both. So I can imagine some, except of course the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked on skeptically, but maybe most of the people coming to John because they were expecting something good, something they needed that you cannot find elsewhere.
“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John], and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” It was not just a small representative group. It was “all,” says Matthew, “all Judea and all the region about the Jordan going out to John.” Today we need to confess our sin and need of God and then to rejoice that there are glad tidings of the King of kings as we say in the psalm, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps 32:5).
Now, as we said, such confession and faith is not in our power to perform. So it is, first, that the Law of God reveals our sin and its consequences if left on its own. Yes, this is serious business. You ought to have noticed by now how, in the Divine Service as of first importance that the confession and absolution of sins is not part of the Divine Service itself but is preparation for it. Indeed, corporate confession and absolution did not exist in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod until the late 1800s. Confession of sins and Holy Absolution was always done privately, individually. (We even still have a form or liturgy for “Individual Confession and Absolution” on page 292 of Lutheran Service Book.)
We are reminded that confession of sin is serious business as the rubric suggests, “Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination” before the prayer of confession. It would seem that the more serious we are about it all the longer the silence for reflection will be!
Upon what are we to reflect but God’s Word especially of the Ten Commandments. Think about it for a moment right now. Just take the First and the Fourth Commandments.
“You shall have no other gods.” In what or whom do you trust above all else? In what or whom do you trust most for financial security, for physical safety, or emotional support? Do I fear God’s wrath, avoiding every sin? If not, why not? Why should you?
“Honor your father and your mother.” We know that this command means far more than merely father and mother in the family but all other authorities, such as teachers, employers, supervisors, governmental leaders, and pastors. Have you been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority? Do you obey all the laws of city, state or country? Reflecting on only two of the ten already took longer than we usually observe before the Sunday liturgy.
Should you feel guilty for your sin? Yes you should or else you have not allowed the Law of God to do its part. That sense of guilt, despair, contrition and sorrow is then what urges you to seek relief and release by running to the sure promise of your baptism, of God’s grace, that is, the “Glad Tidings of the King of kings.” And what are those glad tidings, John?
“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 with fire,” the fire of His love. Under the hand of blessing, the hand that once poured water over you, and not just plain water, but water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word, water “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you receive the forgiveness of all your sins all along the way and ever renewed newness of life. Because this is the goal of John’s preaching to repent, it is truly “Glad Tidings of the King of Kings.”
Who is this King? First He is the King of the Jews. At least that’s how the sign read above His head on the cross. He is the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the righteous judge. But He is not King of the Jews only! This righteous King of forgiveness “stands as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire.” As we heard St. Paul say, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness…and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,” “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people,” “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,” “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
Repentance and faith and salvation has been for the whole world from the very beginning, worked out and fulfilled among the Jews but effective for all nations. For Jesus, the King, took not just the sin of the Jews but the sin of the whole world into Himself on the cross where His atoning death has paid the price to ransom us, to buy us back from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil, to belong once again to God for a deathless existence of eternal life. In this repentance and faith even death itself cannot anymore remove us from the life of living in the Kingdom of God.
All of this appeared on Jordan’s bank when John the Baptist announced, “Awake and hearken” to the “Glad tidings of the King of kings!”