Advent 2b

Preached: December 7, 2008

Only Repentance Properly Prepares Our Hearts
Mark 1:1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Mark 1

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it stands written in the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, I myself send my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you, a voice crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight'” -- John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan river as they confessed their sins.

Now John was dressed in camel's hair with a leather belt around his waste and was eating locust and wild honey. He was preaching: “The One mightier than I comes after me, whose sandal laces I am not fit to stoop down and untie. I baptized you with water, but that One will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Address Christmas cards. Get out decorations. Put up outside lights. Set up Christmas tree. Attend school program. Go to Christmas party. Decorate cookies. Wrap presents.

Maybe those are some of the items on your to-do list. Whether you write out a list or just keep one in mind, you know what you want done in order to be prepared when Christmas comes. We make our lists and check them twice. We want to be ready.

We know how to get our homes ready, but what about our hearts? Even the best decorated home, filled with Christmas cheer and shining brightly with holiday spirit even the best decorated home doesn't make you ready. Only a properly prepared heart does.

That's why the Lord sent John to baptize and preach: To prepare people's hearts for the coming Savior. That's what the Old Testament foretold about the voice calling out in the wilderness. So what did John preach? The Scriptures say that he preached “the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). For you see, only repentance properly prepares hearts for the coming of the Savior. In fact, it prepares our hearts not only for Christmas but for every day of the year. So the theme this morning is: Only repentance properly prepares our hearts. The Holy Spirit works repentance in us as John's preaching calls us to confess our sins and as his preaching points us to our powerful Savior. Those are the two parts.

A. John's preaching calls us to confess our sins

1) What kind of preaching leads to confession?

John's preaching led his hearers to confess their sins. Our text says, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:5 NIV). What kind of preaching leads to confession? It's preaching that begins by confronting the sin in us and its deadliness. John did not mince words. He would not fit well in our age. He confronted sin even though it hurt someone's self-esteem, disturbed family peace, or sounded politically incorrect. Listen to what Luke recorded from John's preaching. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance . . . 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” (Luke 3:7-9 NIV).

Take that to heart, dear friends. Or should I say brood of vipers, including myself? Have we become so flippant with God's forgiveness that we forget what sin made us? A brood of vipers, a cluster of poisonous snakes. For sin is poison. Deadly poison! Don't play around with sin, thinking lightly of it since God's forgiveness is free. The ax is at your root. That attitude makes you ready to be cut down for the fires of hell.

2) How does John's clothing and lifestyle convict us of our sinfulness?

And doesn't even John's clothing and lifestyle convict us? “John wore clothing made of camel's hair, and a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6 NIV). Even Walmart was too extravagant for John. His clothes was nothing but course camel's hair. Even McDonald's was much more than his regular fare. Locusts and wild honey was his food.

Now having comfortable clothes and good food is no sin in itself. John doesn't convicts us because we have those things as God has blessed us. But whether you have much or little, what is your attitude toward stuff? Does life revolve around what you have and what you can afford to do? Wanting more when we don't have much, getting more when we can afford it or charge it. When times are tough, how quickly do we cut back on our offering to the Lord so that we can still have our stuff and our fun? Or wasn't our offering big enough in the first place to impact our spending, so that cutting it doesn't make much difference?

If God took away all our stuff (phones and computers, cars and trucks, CDs and DVDs, books and toys, bank accounts and retirements funds, pay checks and social security checks; microwaves, refrigerators, stoves; sofas, easy chairs, decorations; TV and radio, cable and Internet, jewelry and makeup, mattresses and pillows, running water and well-heated houses) and left us with only camel's hair and locusts, would we say, like Job of old: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)? We complain just because we can't find the remote control! Or if Jesus told us to sell all that we have, would we too go away sad like the rich young man? We're more attached to our stuff than we care to admit.

That's why you and I need to here John's preaching calling on us to confess our sin. For our attachment to stuff is idolatry. We fail to love God as our dearest treasure. We fail to trust him alone as our source for all happiness and contentment. How much we love our stuff! How much we labor and sweat to get it! How we pursue it for happiness! Feel the ax at your roots and the flames of hell burning.

For repentance begins only when the horror and terror of our sin strikes us and convicts us. Do you want your hearts properly prepared? Yes, you do. For you don't want the ax chopping you down for the fires of hell. Only repentance properly prepares your heart repentance that begins with this terror over the horror of our sin. John's preaching calls us to confess our sins, to confess with repentant hearts convicted of our guilt, to confess honestly what wretched sinners we are.

B. John's preaching points us to our powerful Savior

1) What did the powerful Savior do?

But listen to John's whole message. “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8 NIV).

He points you to Jesus. As powerful as our sin is to enslave us and drag us to hell, Jesus is more powerful. Even John, the greatest of the prophets, was unworthy to do the job of the lowest slave in the presence of the powerful Savior. For Jesus is the mighty God.

But he, the mighty God, nonetheless came. That's what John promises “After me will come one more powerful than I” (Mark 1:7 NIV). As the prophets had foretold, Jesus came. The mighty God, the everlasting Son of the Father, came into this world to save sinners to save you.

What a powerful Savior he is! He carried the full burden of your sin, for he carried all the sins of the world. This is the climax of John's preaching. One day he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” ( John 1:29). That includes your sin, dear friend. Yes, your sin. No matter how horrible or terrible your sin is, Jesus is more powerful. He takes it all away.

2) What did he do for you in Baptism?

That's why Baptism brings you the forgiveness of sins. Remember that John preached “the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Baptism brings forgiveness because of what Jesus did for you, because of how he carried away your sins as the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross for you. Like John, the pastor who baptized you only had the power to pour water on your head. But in that water and Word of Baptism, Jesus himself, your powerful Savior, poured out the Holy Spirit on you.

Through Baptism the Holy Spirit worked faith in your heart, faith focused on Jesus, faith focused on his promises, faith focused on the forgiveness of sins that he won for you. So in Baptism your sins were washed away, forgiven, just as John's baptism brought forgiveness. And this promise of forgiveness made to you at your Baptism is still for you today -- yours by faith alone. Yes, faith and only faith lays hold of the forgiveness Jesus promises and says, “Jesus, the Lamb of God carried away my sin, yes all my sins, even my most horrible, terrible sins. Jesus has washed them away.”

And that dear friends is the heart and core of repentance: Faith. Faith in Jesus. Faith in his forgiveness. A heart with such a faith is ready and prepared.

So on your to-do list, keep daily repentance at the top, not only in these days before Christmas, but every day of the year. For only repentance properly prepares our hearts. Repentance confesses our sins, struck by their horror and terror. Repentance looks to Jesus in faith, trusting only him for full and free forgiveness, rejoicing in his promise. Repentance prepares your heart.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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