INI + AMEN.
John the Baptizer is John the forerunner. Finally the messenger sent from Yahweh had come. Last of the Old Testament prophets. He would behold with his eyes, hear with his ears, and grasp and baptize with his own hands the One whom all the previous prophets for countless centuries had longed to see and hear and grasp. He comes as the fulfillment of what Isaiah preached some eight centuries before. “A voice crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” John as forerunner is John the preparer, preparing people not just for the arrival of some great prophet or some great and wise teacher or some great example of how to live a good life, but John comes preparing people for Yahweh Himself. The Lord’s coming, it’s Advent after all. Adventus, “He comes.” The Lord Himself is coming in the flesh. The Seed of the Woman, the one born of the Virgin, whose name is Immanuel, “God with us,” is coming. Jesus comes, and so there’s John. He’s the forerunner. The one who comes beforehand. He prepares the people by “crying in the wilderness.” He prepares by preaching.
JOHN, THE FORERUNNER, PREACHES REPENTANCE, FAITH, AND LOVE.
(I.) John preaches repentance.
That’s what prophesied about him. “A voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill shall be humbled. The crooked places will become straight, and the rough patches will become smooth roads.’ ” No winding roads. Survey out straight paths. Blow the tops of off the mountains and make them level. Pile that dirt into the valleys and low places. No rough patches, no potholes. No, nothing crooked. Only straight and perfect will do. Whatever you think is great about yourself, cast down. If you think highly of yourself, don’t. You will be cast down. God will do it. If there’s something lacking, fill it in. Don’t dilly dally. It must be done now! Immediately! Be baptized for forgiveness! Prepare! Don’t lack! Be humble! “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!”
John cries out: “Prepare the royal highway; the King of kings is near! Let every hill and valley A level road appear! Then greet the King of Glory Foretold in sacred story.” That’s what Advent’s all about. That’s what John’s preaching is all about, and he’s pretty rough about it. “He kept saying to the crowds who were coming to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance! The axe is already laid at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into fire.’ ” “If you don’t produce good fruit, you’re nothing but the spawn of Satan!” That’s what John preaches. “The axe is ready to chop you down. The axeman is getting his mark, checking his swing. No good fruit? The fire is waiting.”
That’s some stark Law preaching by John, and we should listen to what he has to say. Not just listen but do! But if we only heard that part of his preaching, we would be lost. If that was the only message he preached, we might as well be cast into the fire already. But John’s got something else to preach.
(II.) John preaches faith.
That’s what’s prophesied about him. “A voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord…All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” The Lord Himself is coming. It’s not our preparation that makes Him come. He’s coming anyway, and no amount of preparation will gain you access to Him. There’s no other way except Yahweh who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me,” as He Himself has told us. It’s not good fruit to claim your own repentance as something worthy of the Lord receiving you. As Jesus said in another place, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit the Father takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Faith looks to the Lord’s coming and way, for then faith will see the salvation of God. Our eyes behold God’s salvation. Not when it was won, of course. Of that Good Friday we can only see what artists produce: the crucifix, paintings, even movies. But our eyes see God’s salvation delivered. “Here stands the font before our eyes, telling how God has received us. The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice, and what His Supper here gives us. Here sound the Scriptures that proclaim Christ yesterday, today the same, and evermore our redeemer.” In all these ways we not only see His salvation, but we receive it.
Works and lineage don’t offer any protection. “Don’t begin to say in yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as father.’” It’s all a matter of “seeing the salvation of God.” It doesn’t matter who your father was, your grandfather. Those who claim their works in anyway as the way to salvation or as a sign and promise of salvation are still mountains and hills in need of being blown apart. Certainly “faith without works is dead,” as James says, but this is only an argument against someone who would say, “It doesn’t matter what I do. I just can keep on sinning, ignoring God’s commandments, and living however I want.” In the words of Isaiah quoted by Luke, that sounds like a pretty crooked and rough road and not just a valley but a ravine that needs to be filled in. But those who claim works, no matter how good they appear, will see their salvation, as we sung a few weeks ago: “Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him, robed in glorious majesty; Those who set at naught and sold Him, pierced and nailed Him to the tree, Deeply wailing, Shall their true Messiah see.”
It all depends on faith in the Son. He is the “salvation of God.” We look in faith to Him who died and rose. We trust that He died and rose for us. We see His salvation delivered. As John, the forerunner, preaches in another place: “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And again, as we sing in the Divine Service and pray in the litany, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Finally, John also
(III. John) preaches love.
That’s also prophesied about Him: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” You’ve been saved. It’s a done deal: Christ has died and risen. Christ has delivered that salvation to you. He’s saved you because He loves you. His love is given to you, and you then pass that love, salvation, and forgiveness on to others. We do that in our vocations, that is, where God has placed us in life. We do this for those who are around us: our children, our spouses, our siblings, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, our enemies. That’s all that John preaches: “Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry.” So tax collectors, “Don’t take more than you’re appointed.” Soldiers, “Don’t shake people down. Don’t inform on people to your own advantage.” Parents, “Change diapers.” Students, “Study and do your homework.” Children, “Listen to your parents.” All Christians, “Pray. Read God’s Word. Study God’s Word together. Receive Christ’s gifts. Forgive one another. No grudges.” This is the simplicity of the Christian life. No glory. No flair. Just love toward your neighbor as God has given you to do it.
JOHN, THE FORERUNNER, PREACHES REPENTANCE, FAITH, AND LOVE. And John’s preaching is nothing other than Christian preaching. Repentance, faith, and love. Repent of your sins. Confess them. Stop doing them. Don’t dilly dally! Receive forgiveness for them: in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Lord’s Supper. That forgiveness is nothing other than seeing, that is, receiving God’s cross-won salvation. Jesus’ love for you caused Him to win that salvation for you. He died and rose for you. He passes that love on to others through you. Christ is the salvation of God. John preached it. It’s the same preaching we hear today. As Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so is His preaching: repentance, love, and trust in what He’s done for you to save you.
INI + AMEN.