“The Way of Repentance” (Luke 3:1-14)

Second Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2018

“The Way of Repentance” (Luke 3:1-14)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. And every year, in the month of December, during the season of Advent, the word of God comes to us through John here in church. Yes, every year at this time, on the second Sunday in Advent, we always have a Gospel reading in which John the Baptist preaches God’s word to us.

And what is he preaching? Our text tells us: John went about “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And this applies to us, as well. For God’s word tells us that we have been baptized into a life of repentance. We too have been baptized for the forgiveness of sins. John is preaching that message to us today. And so our theme this morning: “The Way of Repentance.”

The way of repentance: That’s the way in which we are called to walk. It’s the life of the Christian. Daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. That’s what baptism does to us: It puts us into that way of life.

The way of repentance: That’s the way, the path, the road that John the Baptist called God’s people to take. John was that voice crying in the wilderness, calling out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” You see, the Lord is coming. It’s Advent. How appropriate, then, that we greet him prepared for his coming, preparing the way before him. That means repentance.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways.” Repentance is compared to road repair, road construction. Listen, God wants to do some road repair in your life. The lacking areas, where you’re deficient as a disciple–they need to be filled in. The high and haughty areas need to be brought low. Crooked ways that deviate from the straight-ahead life God would have you lead–your life needs to get lined up according to God’s ways. And the rough places–rough relationships with other people, for example–they need to get smoothed out. This is what repentance means.

And this means you. This is not some mere academic exercise. Today you’re not just hearing a message “about” repentance. “Oh, isn’t that nice. An interesting talk on the topic of repentance.” No, this is not just a message about repentance. God’s word is actually calling you to repentance! You need to take stock of your life. Where have I been going wrong? How has my life not lined up with God’s commandments?

Look at your life in the mirror of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods.” What has been your god? A happy life? No problems? Is that more important to you than fearing, loving, and trusting in the one true God? Then you have an idol, and you need to repent. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” How have you been using God’s name? Or not using it? How regular has been your prayer life, in which you call on the name of the Lord and seek his help? “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Have you been doing that? Have you set aside and regarded as sacred–meaning, nothing will interfere with it–the day when the church gathers to hear God’s word? Or has church been more a “well, I’ll come once in a while when I feel like it” sort of thing? And what about Bible class? Do you just blow that off? If you have not been taking God’s word seriously–if you have not been receiving God’s word joyfully, gladly hearing and learning it–then you need to repent, be sorry for your sins, and, with God’s help, change your ways.

That’s just the first table of the Law, about our love for the Lord our God. Now what about the other commandments, about our love for our neighbor? How do you treat the people around you, your fellow family members, your fellow church members? Do you hold grudges? Do you fail to forgive–I mean forgive fully, so that you’re not holding something against them in your back pocket? How are you using your tongue to speak about your neighbor, including your fellow church members? Do you tear them down behind their back? Then you need to repent. Stop doing it. Seek God’s forgiveness. Change your ways.

John calls this “bearing fruits fit for repentance.” People asked him, “What then shall we do?” And John gave them specific answers. He told them to stop taking advantage of other people. And he told them to start being kind and generous to other people. Those are some real-life changes. You see, repenting of your sins is not some vague, theoretical idea. “I, a poor miserable sinner.” Yeah, but poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. Real sins, specific sins. We need to come to grips with them. God wants to do some road repair in our lives.

“Bear fruits fit for repentance.” It’s more than cutting out the bad stuff in your life. It’s also taking on more of the good stuff. Being kind and gentle with people. Speaking well of others. Forgiving those who have hurt you. Taking the initiative to be loving and to put that love into action. Those are fruits fit for repentance. Those are the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This is what the Holy Spirit will work in you, as you continue to be nurtured regularly in Word and Sacrament.

And so my prayer for you is what Paul wrote to the Philippians: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Brothers and sisters, we can’t go on living like the people of this world. God has called us to a different way of life. A transformed–and still continuing to be transformed–way of life. Romans 12 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” And God’s word is what will renew your mind and transform your living.

John went about “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” For the forgiveness of sins! That’s where repentance is headed. To forgiveness! God’s purpose is not to torture us with our sins, so that we feel really bad, all the time! God must show us our sins, yes, so that we realize our need for his constant forgiveness. But then we get the joy of having our sins forgiven! God wants us to know our sins are forgiven, that he is at peace with us. God is not angry with you, dear friends! “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Is your conscience troubled by your sins? Good. For those who are troubled by them will then receive the comfort of God forgiving them! This is good news!

The good news is found in the Lord for whom John prepared the way. And that is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the mightier one, the strap of whose sandals John was not worthy to untie. Jesus is the mighty Savior sent from heaven, the Son of God in the flesh. He came to accomplish the righteousness we need to stand before God. He did it by living the perfect life we fail to live. Jesus was always in line with God’s commandments. He always did the right thing. And then he took up our sins and carried them to the cross. The perfect sacrifice to cover all our sins! God’s own Son, shedding his precious blood for us and for all sinners everywhere. This is how Jesus won our forgiveness. We have forgiveness, not because our repentance is so perfect and complete. It isn’t. We have forgiveness, because Christ’s atonement is so perfect and complete! “It is finished!”

Christ’s victory over sin and death was so perfect and complete that death could not hold him. Jesus rose from the dead, and now he lives forever! And because you have been baptized into Christ, and you are trusting in him, you too will live forever! You will share in his resurrection. You have his word on it.

John the Baptist went about “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Back to baptism! That’s where repentance is headed. Back to the font, where all your sins were washed away in the precious blood of Christ. Repentance is a return to baptism. Every day your baptism applies to you. Every day “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.” Every day, each new day, “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” This is the baptismal life. It is the way of repentance and of faith and of new life in Christ.

“A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance and forgiveness are really two sides of the same coin. We turn from sin and selfishness, and we turn instead to God’s mercy in Christ. That’s the way it goes. The way of repentance leads us to Christ, and he is the way and the truth and the life. John came preparing that way, the way of the Lord, and today John is proclaiming that same message to us.

Published in: on December 8, 2018 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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