The Second Sunday in Advent
December 4, 2022
Come, Lord Jesus— as Judge!
1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever stopped to visualize what life was like for the average Jewish person living in the land of Israel as God transitioned the world from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era? I hadn’t— until I started watching a movie series entitled, The Chosen. If you haven’t watched this series I suggest that you do. I think the movie series gives us some interesting insights into the everyday life of God’s Chosen People at that time. While there were some very wealthy people who lived a comparably luxurious easy life, for most people life was difficult. They worked very hard to make ends meet. They lived under the scrutiny of the Roman soldiers who could be very ruthless in their job of maintaining peace and order in the land. On a spiritual level the faithful descendants of Abraham were getting anxious as they waited for the Promised Messiah to arrive and “save” them from the Romans.
Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, an unusual man, a prophet, suddenly appeared in the desert area of Judea. This prophet looked exactly like the stories they had learned concerning the ancient prophet Elijah. He dressed like Elijah. (see 2 Kings 1:8) He lived and worked in the same desert area where Elijah lived and worked. The message he was proclaiming lined up perfectly with the message foretold by the Lord in Isaiah chapter forty. He was given the name “John the Baptist” because through his powerful preaching many people were led to confess their sins and be baptized by him for the forgiveness of their sins. Through his words and through his actions John the Baptist called out to people “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jorden” with the message “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
As we continue our sermon series entitled, Come, Lord Jesus! our goal is to see how this account from the life and ministry of John the Baptist leads us to say: Come, Lord Jesus— as Judge! As we strive to reach this goal, we are not going to focus on the judgment that will take place at the end of the world. Instead, we are going to focus on three aspects of our life now that our dear Lord Jesus Christ is “judging.”
Since the one word which summarizes the message John the Baptist proclaimed is the call to “Repent!” we would do well to remember that Jesus is the One who is “judging” our life of repentance! To help us understand what this means it is helpful for us to know that the word which is translated here as “repent” very literally means, “to have a change of heart,” or “to change one’s way.” This emphasis on “change” is what led the people here in our text to “confess their sins” in preparation for their baptism by John. “Repentance” and “confession” automatically go hand-in-hand. “Repentance” and “confession” not only lead us to acknowledge that we have sinned against the Almighty, but it also leads us to trust in His forgiveness which then motivates and empowers us to “change”— to “change” the way we look at sin, to “change” the way that we live our life.
God’s power and God’s grace led many of the people who came out into the desert to listen to John to confess their sins, repent of their sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Some, however, refused to “change.” We see that sad reality when we read in our text, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.’ And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were convinced that they did not need to repent, they did not need to change their hearts, they did not need to change their lives,. As far as they were concerned they were already “right” with God because of who they were and because of how well they were living their lives. John the Baptist, however, did not sugar-coat his message to these powerful men, did he. He warned them that their self-righteous bubble would be burst when they were summoned before the Judgment throne of God!
What about us? Have we somehow convinced ourselves that we do not need to repent because of who we are and what we are doing with our life? Have we ever said to ourselves something like: “I haven’t done anything bad enough to require confession and repentance. Sure, I have a few flaws, but doesn’t everybody?” Or maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that our parents or our grandparents were outstanding Christian. They made me go to church all the time when I was young and they still make me go to church every time I visit them. Surely that counts for something, right? Then there may be the times when we think that because we have overcome a bad habit, or because we give to charity, or because there have been times when we have gone out of our way to help others we have established a “claim” on God’s grace and forgiveness. Advent is a time for us to be honest with God and honest with ourselves. Since Jesus is able to look into the deepest recesses of our heart, since Jesus is able to hear every thought that goes through our mind, since Jesus sees every single action as well as every single non-action of our life, before we say, “Come, Lord Jesus— and judge my life of repentance!” we need to make sure that we listen to John the Baptist when he says to us, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
That leads us into the second aspect of saying, Come, Lord Jesus— as Judge! How well and how openly are we “producing fruit in keeping with repentance”? Are we comfortable and confident in saying, “Come, Lord Jesus and judge my fruits of repentance”? Since confession and repentance flow from faith, producing the fruits of repentance in our life is synonymous with Jesus’ statement, “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:17, 18, 20).
How can we tell if we are “producing fruit in keeping with repentance”? We start by comparing the way that we are living our life with what we profess to believe. When we are here in church we profess that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and our only Savior from sin. Is that simply something that we say on Sunday morning or is that the conviction that we strive to live every day of the week? We profess to be concerned about the people who do not know the true meaning of Christmas. What are we doing to help them see and understand that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of their only Savior from sin? Especially at this time of the year we talk about all the people who struggle to put food on the table and warm clothes on their children. Do we back up our words with actions? If we were to take a step back and take an objective look at our life can we hear Jesus saying to us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (Matthew 25:35)? When someone sins against us are we more inclined to say with Peter, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Or, do we consciously strive to put into action Jesus’ response to Peter, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21, 22)?
Come, Lord Jesus— as Judge! Whether Jesus is judging our life of repentance or whether Jesus is judging how well we are “producing fruit in keeping with repentance”— on our own we all have reason to cower in fear. Thankfully, there is one more aspect to the words, Come, Lord Jesus— as Judge! That aspect is found in John’s words, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Our confidence as we are being judged by God— both now and on Judgment Day— comes from our Christian Baptism. When we were baptized in the Name of the Triune God we were given the gift of saving faith in our heart. When we were baptized in the Name of the Triune God we were adopted as His dearly beloved child. Through Baptism God the Holy Spirit took everything Jesus has done for us and gave it to us as a free gift! This includes His entire life of perfect obedience, His innocent suffering and death on the cross as payment for all of our sins and His resurrection victory over sin, death and the devil! Through Baptism all the fruits of faith that we cannot produce on our own, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22) these are the fruits that the Holy Spirit can and will produce in us and through us. Through that simple act of applying ordinary water in the Name of the Triune God all of our sin together with all of our guilt is washed away by the Judge who is far “more powerful” than any human being— including John the Baptist! Through that simple act of applying water in the Name of the Triune God we have both the right and the ability to lift up our eyes to the cross (Pointing to the cross) and know that through faith in what Jesus has done for us we are “justified”! We have already been “Declared: Not guilty!” by the living God Himself! That’s why we can say with humble confidence, Come, Lord Jesus— as Judge! We know that as our dear Lord Jesus judges us He judges us on the basis of our baptismal grace!
In fulfillment of His promises the Lord God sent John the Baptist to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Promised Messiah. Through the power of God the Holy Spirit John called people to repent of their sins, to live a life that is filled with the fruits of repentance and to trust in the One who has the power to baptize them “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” My prayer this morning, is that as we continue to prepare our hearts and our lives to celebrate the birth of the Messiah that we will take to heart the message of John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!” When we take that message to heart, my friends, then knowing that our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the One who judges us— both now and on Judgment Day— will bring comfort and confidence to our hearts.
To God be the glory!