Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Once again we deal with the story of John the Baptist. We talk a lot about John the Baptist during the Advent season because John was the one who prepared the way of the Lord with his call of repentance to all people. This season is also a period of repentance for us in anticipation of the celebration of the Lord's first coming.
John was born about six months after Jesus, so Jesus was alive when John preached the baptism of repentance by the Jordan River. He was born of the Virgin Mary, grew up as the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter, lived a normal life until His baptism by John. With this baptism, Jesus began his public ministry of proclaiming the gospel.
Before John, the Jews practiced baptism as a rite of purification and repentance of present sins or if they touched something forbidden by the Law of Moses before entering the Temple to worship God. But John told them all should be baptized because they are all sinners by nature and should seek the forgiveness of God before the arrival of the Messiah of Israel. The Pharisees rejected this idea because they trusted in their own righteousness and believed that they did not need to repent of sin.
Then they asked John, Who are you? And he confessed, and did not deny, but said, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Are you Elijah? He said: I am not. Are you the prophet? And he said, No. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets of the days of the kings of Israel. Even greater was Moses, because through him God made the covenant with Israel before Mount Sinai. In our reading of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18: 15-19), Moses himself prophesied thus: "A prophet from among your brethren, like me, the Lord your God will raise up you: him you shall hear. But John told them, I am not that prophet either, because Moses spoke of the Messiah and John had said, I am not the Christ, that is, the Messiah.
Then they asked him, Who are you? So that we may respond to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? John said to them, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said.
John the Baptist was a prophet like Elijah and a figure of the Law like Moses. The Law is God's will for our lives articulated in the 10 Commandments. We study the commandments in catechism class because the Law prepares the way of the gospel.
The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest with our relationship with our neighbor. In short, you love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Moses and all the prophets taught that. However, let us learn in the catechism that the Law does not save us.
The Law serves to restrict to a point the crimes of wrongdoers, but, more importantly, to touch our hearts and call us to repentance. We can not fulfill the Law perfectly. The righteousness of God requires perfect obedience, but by nature we can not do this. The Gospel is Christ has made it for us. Christ fulfilled the Law, suffered the punishment of our sins and died in our places. Because of his resurrection on the third day, we have the promise of eternal life.
But before we receive God's forgiveness, we must be convinced by the Law of our need for a Savior. The sacrifice of Christ is no good for us if we do not acknowledge our sins. The Pharisees rejected John's baptism by repentance because they did not acknowledge their sins and their need to repent.
We confess every Sunday: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness. Repentance is also the work of the Holy Spirit, because by nature we do not want to acknowledge our sins. The Spirit is active in preaching the Word of God, to touch our hearts.
Like John, a good preacher does not preach by his own authority, but points to Christ revealed in the Scriptures. When the preacher preaches from the Scriptures, he speaks with the voice of Christ.
In addition, the Holy Spirit is active in the sacraments. On January 8 we will receive two of you as members of the church at baptism and they will receive the gift of faith by the work of the Holy Spirit in the water associated with the Word. Also by the power of the Holy Spirit, some of you will receive the blood and body of Christ in your first communion. But, before the sacrament, we must remember our baptism and repent of our sins again.
We preach the Law to the whole world before the gospel, to call all to repentance. When the Spirit touches the hearts of sinners, we preach the Gospel, as John preached repentance before the coming of Christ. In this message we have the hope and peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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