The Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent December 16, 2018
Text: Luke 3:7-18 ILCW Series C 18:2100
Theme: “Prepare for Christ’s Coming, Doing No Longer What We Did”
A famous theologian who lived about 100 years ago once said, “Take away the aroused conscience and you might as well turn the churches into dancing halls.” What he meant to say is this:
· if people are no longer troubled by their sins,
· if they no longer wonder about what might happen to them if they should die,
· if they no longer worry about the wrath and punishment of God,
Ø then the church won’t have any real reason to exist anymore,
Ø and it will serve no useful purpose in this world; churches might just as well be turned into dance halls. (Becker, p.18)
Even though this man was wrong about many things, he was right about this – at least half right.
What he said about the church, we might also say about the celebration of Christmas. Take away the aroused conscience, and you might just as well turn the celebration of Christmas into a 4th of July celebration. For…
§ if people are no longer troubled by their sins,
§ if they no longer worry about the wrath and punishment of God,
v then the birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem can have little significance for them.
“He came to save His people from their sins,” the angel proclaimed to Joseph (Mt.1:21). But…
§ if people no longer see that they need saving from their sins,
v then the birth of Jesus loses all point and purpose.
“He came to save us from our sins.” That was His divine purpose, “to crush the head of the Serpent,” and to once again open the gates of Paradise, giving us the hope of eternal life. But if people no longer see that they need to be saved from their sins and can’t get to heaven on their own, then Christmas has no significance.
For this reason, God sent John the Baptist into this world ahead of Jesus to Prepare us for His coming. We need preparation for the truth about us is that in our sin we no longer do what we once did. We no longer live in the holiness in which God created our first
parents. And without it, we perish for our iniquities have separated us from God and the soul that sins shall die. Repentance is necessary.
Our lives are to be lived in unending repentance for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment for “the wages of sin is death.” God must punish our sin with death for we have earned it. And this is not just death in a cemetery, but eternal death, separation from Him. He must punish sin for He is holy and just. If He does not punish it, then He is no longer holy and just.
For that reason, it is necessary to take to heart the words of John whom God sent ahead of Jesus to prepare for His coming. In our text John preached to the people: “You offspring of vipers…produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Do not even think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’… The ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So, every tree that does not produce good fruit is going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Whew! Those are stinging words, some of the harshest and most pulverizing in the Scriptures. To those who fail to walk in His ways perfectly, to all who fail to repent and bring forth fruits of repentance, John warns that divine retribution will fall. And one can’t fall back on his good ancestry for help. We must do no longer the sin that we once did. “Repent you offspring of vipers,” he calls.
“Offspring of vipers!” A viper is a poisonous snake. That’s the kind of expression that might be used to describe someone who has shown himself to be treacherous, deceitful, cunning, conniving and deadly. The Bible links that kind of term with the devil, that “old serpent.” “You live like Satan.” John accused. “You steal, you extort, you bully, you withhold the help you could give, you speak badly of others, you’re not happy with the things you’ve got. God’s ax of judgment is ready to cut you down and cast you into the fire for your ungodly ways! You no longer do what you should do before God who created you. Repent and bring forth fruits of repentance.” Was there ever a stronger warning?
How do you like the potential of being called “offspring of a viper”? Oh, it ought to make me feel most uncomfortable for God’s words hurt badly to the point of frightening us. And He is serious for “He punishes the sins of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation of those who transgress His commands.” Where shall we turn in our need?
Where? There is no person, creature, or thing on the face of this earth that could protect us from God’s wrath except Him, and Him alone. He alone is the place of refuge to which we can flee. And so, He sends John to warn us of our need and calls us to turn to Him. “Repent!” John calls.
II. To repent means to have a change of mind, to think differently than you used to think, and do things differently than you used to. For example, the Pharisees were a very important sect in the Jewish church of John’s day. From a worldly point of view, they were respectable people, yes, some of the best who lived in Jerusalem. But the Bible condemns them as bad people (Mt.23) because they believed that they were good enough in themselves to get to heaven. They were children of Abraham. They led respectable lives. They were sure that all of that would stand them in good stead when they stood before God’s throne of judgment. They refused to admit that in sin they no longer did exactly what God wanted.
People who think that way feel like they don’t need a Savior. They might just as well drop the celebration of Christmas for they would never really miss His birth with its eternal significance. They don’t need Jesus to go to the cross for them to pay for their sin, so they have no need of a Savior to be born for them. What they need is God to speak most directly to them calling them to change their thinking for it will condemn them. So, John came preaching “Repent!” Change your thinking! Then change what you are doing!”
When a Pharisee has a change of mind in repentance, he will stop thinking of himself as somebody who merits heaven by who he is. He will realize that he is a bad tree on his own, not producing the perfect fruit in life that God requires. Why keep a bad tree that doesn’t produce. Cut it down; throw it into the fire!
· If we think about this – ourselves as sinful people – and let God speak to us to guide us in change through His Word,
· And if we really are convinced that we need help because in sin we no longer can do what we should do, and there is little we can do about that because in this world we will always fall short of God’s glory on our own,
Ø then we will realize why it was so very important that the Son of God should be born and laid in a manger, so that He could die on the cross to pay for our sin,
Ø and then we will rejoice and sing for joy!
As the hymn we just sang describes what God’s help means for us: “Comfort, comfort, ye My people, Speak ye peace, thus saith our God; Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load. Speak ye to Jerusalem Of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that her sins I cover And her warfare now is over.”
What the hymn writer says is the result of what Martin Luther meant when he said that when God wants to make us glad, He must begin by making us sad. Sadness for our sin will bring us relief and gladness for a Savior. When we see the change He has brought about for us in Christ, we then rejoice in the great things He has done “for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. He shall save His people from their sins!”
So may we appear before God this Advent season and always as changed people. Although we have sinned against Him, in His Son, born and laid into that manger, He has taken that sin away from us as far as the east is from the west. And when our need and change is seen taking place in Jesus, then our lives in joy will reflect this as we gratefully seek to help those in need, even as John instructed, doing no longer what we once did, but living changed lives of faith. God grant it to us this season and always as we prepare for Christ’s coming; for Jesus’ sake. Amen.