O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Matthew 3:1-12
Preached on December 8, 2019
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Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s someone I’d like you to meet. His name is John. Now, before you look him in the eye and shake his hand, there’s something you need to know about him. He’s a little rough around the edges. Not the typical person you’d invite into your living room. Not the sort of person you’d hang out with. You see, he grew up in the wilderness. He eats locusts and wild honey. He wears camel hair for clothes. He has all the marks of a wild, lonely prophet. Especially once you hear him open his mouth. But you really need to meet him, because he is our Advent preacher. He is the one the Lord has sent to get us ready for the coming of Christ’s kingdom.
John came – preaching in the wilderness of Judea. I mean, that sounds like a perfectly reasonable place to preach, doesn’t it? In the desert? In a wasteland? Where no people live. Where no food grows. Who are you preaching to John? The stones? The dust? Yes. That’s exactly who he is preaching to. He’s been sent to preach in the wilderness, because this world is a wilderness of sin. He’s been sent to preach to dust, because without God’s Word, that’s all we are - dust. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Our dust needs God’s breath to live. Our dust needs His Word that comes on His breath. And so the Lord sends John to preach in the wilderness.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It doesn’t get any more relevant than that, does it? It couldn’t be more timely. He’s speaking to you. If your ears are hearing these words this message is meant for you. That’s what they say. It’s time. Right now. God is breaking-in to this moment in history to reach you with these words. The time to turn to Him with all that you are is now. You may not get another chance. Treat this like it’s the last thing you’ll ever hear.
“Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” No matter who you are, you need to be different. No matter how holy, how righteous, how sanctified you think you are, you need to be different. God is coming. Turn away from yourself to receive Him. Search out every dark spot. Take a hard look at every blind spot. Confess every sin. Don’t harden yourself. Don’t resist. Give in. Admit. Acknowledge. Accept. Because He’s coming, and He has sent His preacher on ahead to make you ready with His Word. Otherwise you would not be ready. But because He loves you – He sends His preacher – this voice – into the wilderness of your life to speak His Word into your dust and make you ready for His coming.
What a crazy preacher!?! Who is this? Who dares to say such things to me! A voice – nothing but a voice, crying out for another – John is not the one crying in the wilderness – he is merely the voice - a voice foretold – a voice promised to come and preach – but still just a voice – just the instrument through whom another cries – Do you hear whose is calling you? Do you know the One crying to you through this voice right now?
This is not about escaping. It’s about receiving. Sometimes we have this false understanding of the kingdom – that it is just about our souls going to heaven when we die. But this is not true. Thy kingdom come. Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Certainly our souls are forever with the Lord, but the kingdom of heaven’s rule begins down here on earth in the preaching entering your ear. This is not about leaving, avoiding, exiting. It is about being made new, becoming part of His heavenly reign down here on earth, living under His active rule during this moment of history through this preaching going into your ear. Come down, Lord, renew your creation. Don’t take us out. No. Come down. Rend the heavens and come down. Care for my whole person, my whole humanity, my body and soul and all things.
God is not just concerned with your soul – His reign is over all things – and our emphasis today has lost the value of our created bodies. We have a half-human view – almost as if we look down on our humanity – and would de-emphasize our bodies – but in a few short weeks, the Lord Himself will show us true humanity – He will be found in the body – human flesh – and permanently too – forever a man – eternally our king. Beloved, this is about our human identity – understanding who we really are – what we are made to be – and what God says we are now that He has baptized us into His resurrected Son. And it is far fuller – far more whole than we are expecting.
So what do you think? With such an intense message, John might get what – a handful of people to listen to him? No. Then all Jerusalem and all Judea and the region about the Jordan were going out to him – you’ve never seen anything like it. All. This is a monumental event. Everyone in the city. Everyone in the countryside. Everyone in the entire region travelled for days out into the desert to confess their sins and be baptized by John. This would be like all of Manitoba going into the northern wilderness to hear a fringe preacher. It’s radical. Something is happening. The people are exhausted. They have come to the end of themselves, realized their ways are not working, not pure, not lasting. Haven’t you? They are desperate for salvation from themselves, so they find John in the desert. In the river Jordan.
You know the place, don’t you? It is where God’s people first entered the Promised Land. Where their identity was made whole. It is also where the prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven – dressed in the same clothes as John. It is also where God’s people returned from exile in Babylon. This is now the third and final time God has called His people to this place. To confess their sins to His last and greatest prophet. To offer them a restart. A restart to who they are. Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what we all want? Another go? A second chance? I’ve messed it up Lord. I’ve not been true to who I am. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Beloved, this is exactly why the Lord speaks. Why He sends His preacher. To give you a fresh start. To make your identity new. To give you a new birth. For this is what baptism is – even everyday as we admit our brokenness to God, accept and acknowledge how we fall short, only to daily emerge and arise new before Him – a new identity – refreshed – restored – recreated.
Think of how we started our service. We remembered our baptism in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Made the sign of the cross that was first made over us in our baptism. And then we kneeled down and confessed our sins. We were given a restart in the absolution. I forgive you all your sins. This is who we are. This is the kind of people the Lord makes. Repentance people. Living and returning to our baptism everyday – by handing over our false identities to Him, and letting Him Name us – letting His Name – Father, Son and Holy Spirit define our life.
Ah, but there are those who don’t want a fresh start. There are those who think their identity is just fine the way it is. Who are proud of it – like many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John. In their arrogance they saw no need to repent because they told themselves, “they were children of Abraham.” What are your false identities? What are the stories you tell yourself, the reasons you preach to yourself for why you don’t have to change? Old Adam always has some. He is a master presumer. And he is constantly making identities. Constantly creating stories for why he is the way he is. Why he should be. We call them our reasons. But old Adam will never take a hard look at himself and admit he is wrong. He needs bulldozer John to prepare the royal highway for Christ. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
That word should both scare you and comfort you. It should scare you, because it means you need to let go of whatever it is you are holding onto – whatever you think is secure about yourself is not. And that’s terrifying. Yet this word is also utter comfort, because in it God promises to raise up children out of stones. Out of dust that has no spirit, He promises to raise up children. This means that it doesn’t matter how far away you feel – it doesn’t matter if you feel like you are living life in a desert – distant from God – soulless – cold – subhuman. He wants you. He wants to create life where it is not. Breath life back into your lifeless clay. Restore you. Renew you. Refresh you. Because that’s what He does. And He promises it to you right now.
Ah, but those who claim to be good trees – yet do not bear good fruit – who refuse to repent – the axe is laid to the root of those trees – they will be cut down and thrown in the fire. This is the final outcome for the old Adam You see, he claims to be good – yet he is the root of evil in our lives – and he’s in there deep – he hates this Word – he springs to action to deny this Word even as you hear it right now – his identity is secure and he would defend it in all his presumption – I don’t need to change – I don’t need to be different than I am – he is part of the brood of vipers – and he is not to be warned to flee from the wrath – he is destined for the wrath – he is the chaff – and he will be cleared away and burned – and you will finally be free of him.
Beloved, this is about repentance – turning away from your false identities, the ones you make for yourself that you are so proud of – towards what God would say alone. Your true identity is what God says it is. And beloved, He gives a far higher, far greater, far more eternal identity to you than you could ever even imagine for yourself. You don’t even know the half of what He declares you to be in Christ. None of us do. How could we? We’re still living with the old Adam. Don’t let him hold you down, don’t listen to his false preaching, don’t let him give you your identity – for there is one crying to you – your Maker – the One who knew you before He even formed you – the One who took you and made you new in the waters of baptism – the One who calls you His own eternal child – let that One name you – let Him decide on your identity – and let Him remind you, renew you, confirm you in that identity everyday as you return to your baptism, repenting and admitting sin, yet hearing clear His eternal truth – forgiven – free – mine.
The Church is not a coaching institution. Ra ra ra. Go be good. You can do better. No. It is an identity hospital. The only place where you find healing for who you are. Wholeness to hold you in your brokenness. Promise to overcome your failure. A new name and a new start. The One above is crying. Calling all people to be who He says they are in Him.
He’s about to return, and all will face Him. All will receive from Him either salvation or judgment. He will either baptize you with the Holy Spirit or with fire. Fire and burning for the old Adam. Cleansing, gathering and eternal life in His Holy Spirit for the new identity He has created in you. Prepare. Trust.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr