Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12
2nd Sunday of Advent
True Repentance Prepares You (it involves)
1. Turning from sin
2. Turning to the Means of Grace
3. Turning your ways
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
You’ve all seen the guy before. You’ve seen him outside the stadium at sporting events. You’ve seen him at Bike Week or during the 500 in Daytona. You’ve seen him on street corners. You’ve seen him downtown in big cities. And it’s always the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”
He stands on a little box. He shouts at the top of his lungs. He uses a megaphone. He holds up his sign. He even wears the sign sometimes. He comes in many shapes and many sizes. He comes in poor clothes. He comes in rich clothes. He is sometimes even a she. But we’ve all seen the person before proclaiming the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”
Two thousand years ago “that guy” was at it for the very first time. He also was a social misfit. He lived in the arid wilderness and desert land of Israel. He ate locusts and wild honey. He dressed himself in clothing made of camel’s hair, tied together with a leather belt. People went out to him in droves to hear this strange messenger proclaim this strange message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”
Every day the same scenario happens. It might be in our kindergarten room. It might be in the VPK rooms. It might be in one of the other rooms. If it doesn’t happen at school then it is bound to happen at home. A child does something that is not very nice. A bad choice is made. The teacher or the parent says, “What do you say?” Pinned into a corner and upset because the action was caught, the child unwillingly mutters, “I’m sorry.”
Often we have the same impression of repentance. We confess our sins because that’s what we do in church after the opening hymn. Or we confess our wrongs and say we are sorry to someone else, when really the only thing we are sorry about is that we got caught and that we are forced to say, “I’m sorry.”
That’s not repentance. To repent literally means to “change your mind” or to “turn around.” It means to turn from your sin. That’s exactly what God’s fiery preacher John the Baptist proclaimed. First, he pointed out sin to people. John proclaimed that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. John proclaimed that there is no one who truly does “good.” No one is perfect and holy in God’s sight. It didn’t matter if they were every day common people or the “special” Pharisees, John told the people to turn from their sin. Look at what he told the arrogant Pharisees in verse 7: “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 out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” The Pharisees thought they were so great. They thought they had done so much. Other Jews even joined them in the thought that they were spiritually safe simply because they were descendants of Abraham. So John pointed out their sinfulness.
Then he warned them by pointing out the dangers of sin. “The 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.” Then he warned them about Jesus the great Judge in the last verse: “His 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.” Not only did John warn against sin, but he also warned where sin leads too—hell.
Satan would love for us to become Pharisees. Satan would love for us to believe that we are spiritually “safe.” “I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I’ve always believed in God.” “I go to church pretty regularly. I do what I’m supposed to do. I’m a pretty nice person.” “Hey, I’m not perfect, but I’m sure better than a lot of other people.”
But all of those thoughts are just excuses ignoring the real problem—we are still sinners. We say things that are bad. We do things that are bad. We think things that are bad. We could have perfect church attendance for an entire year. We could give 50% of our salaries to the poor. We could serve on every church committee that exists. But that does not change the fact that we are sinners.
And sin is dangerous. Every time we sin we are doing the opposite of what God wants. Every time we do the opposite of what God wants we are weakening our connection and relationship with God. The more we sin the more strain we put on our faith. And when we sin without care or concern, without repentance and turning from that sin, we are chipping and chiseling away at our faith. Finally, if we persist in sin without turning from it, the result is the very same thing that John the Baptist proclaimed—we will become chaff burned up with unquenchable fire.
Listen to the message of God’s great prophet. Repent. Don’t say you’re sorry because you have to. Don’t say you’re sorry because everyone else does. Being sorrowful because you have disobeyed God is only the first step. Repentance also means turning from sin. Be like the ones who did believe when they heard John. They went out to him in great numbers and confessed their sins. Repent and turn from your sin.
Here now we see the great difference between John the Baptist and the people who stand on the street corner and outside stadiums in present times. The first part of their message is the same: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!” “Stop your wicked ways! Turn from your sin!” But the problem is that the people who stand on the corners shouting at people these days usually stop at that. In a very condemning, judgmental way they point the finger at others and point out sin. But that is all they point out.
That’s not all that God’s true messengers proclaim. That’s not all that John the Baptist proclaimed. Matthew explains John’s purpose in verse 3: “This 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.”’” John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to come. But John didn’t only prepare them for Jesus the Judge. He also prepared them for Jesus the Savior. So he didn’t only tell them to repent because they were sinners going to hell. He also told them to repent because they could find forgiveness in Jesus. John proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” But he is also the one who pointed to Jesus and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Then John strengthened the connection between those sinful people and their forgiving Savior. He baptized them. They repented of their sins and John the Baptist baptized them, offering them the washing of rebirth and renewal and forgiving all of their sins.
Fellow sinners, the second part of this message also applies to us. As we are cut down by the message of John the Baptist, reminded that we are sinners deserving of hell, we also then hear the second part of his message. We hear John proclaim that another was coming. “After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.”
Even today, John the Baptist prepares our hearts for the coming of the Savior—as we celebrate his birth and as we wait for his return on the Last Day. First we repent by turning from our sin. Then we turn to our Savior where we find forgiveness.
Where do we find this forgiveness from Jesus? We find it in the Word of God where the message of our Savior’s life and death in our place is clearly proclaimed. We find it in our baptism, where we were washed clean of sin and adopted into God’s family. We find it in the Supper in which Jesus gives to us in a miraculous way the very body and blood given to pay for our sins.
These three things—the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper—are called the Means of Grace. They are the means by which our Savior is revealed and forgiveness is given. Turn to the Means of Grace. Read the Bible at home. Come to Bible studies. Be in worship. For when you turn to the Word and Sacraments, there you find your loving Savior who gives forgiveness. Repent! Turn from your sin and Turn to your Savior.
Again, it happens on a daily basis. It happens in our classrooms here at school. It happens on the playground. It happens in our homes. A child does something wrong. The child unwillingly says, “I’m sorry.” But then even worse—the child goes back and does the same thing all over again! The child was obviously never truly sorry in the first place.
How often we are like little children. We apologize or say we are sorry because we have to or because we got caught. But we don’t really plan on changing. We come to church and together confess our sinfulness. Then we walk right out the doors and do the same thing all over again!
This was the final component John the Baptist’s bold preaching. In verse 8 he says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” In verse 10 he says, “The 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.” True Repentance involves turning from your sin. Then it involves turning to your Savior. But it doesn’t end there. Finally, True Repentance involves turning your ways and changing what you do.
Think of repentance like a big spiritual U-Turn. When you sin you are going in one direction—you are going in a direction away from the Lord. When you repent, you turn away from that sin, you turn to your Savior for forgiveness, but then you also finish the U-Turn and do what is right. You “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
So you confess the sinful things that have come out of your mouth. Then you turn to Jesus who died to pay for all of your sins. But then you also change your ways and stop saying such things. You confess your sinful doubts about God and your sinful pride in yourself. You turn to Jesus who washes you clean in his blood. But then you also change your ways by trusting in the Lord and humbling yourself. That’s producing fruit. That’s the final step of true repentance.
I do not expect that after worship today you will go home, throw on some old rags, buckle them together with a leather belt, grab a jar of honey and a few bugs, then go down to Palm Coast Parkway or International Speedway Blvd in Daytona, and then shout, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” I don’t expect you to do that. In fact, I don’t want you to do that.
Rather, having applied this message to your own hearts, the Lord wants you to having loving and tactful conversations with your friends and your neighbors. The Lord wants you to sternly warn against sin. The Lord wants you to lovingly share the news of the Savior. The Lord wants you to encourage people to change their ways as fruit of repentance. That’s how we prepare for the coming of the Savior. That’s how others are to prepare for the coming of the Savior. That’s how you preach the kingdom of heaven is near.
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