Advent 3c

Preached: December 13, 2009

Your Faith-filled Heart Produces a Fruit-filled Life
Luke 3:7-18

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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 works faith in our hearts is Luke 3

Therefore he was saying to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, produce fruit that measures up to repentance and don't begin to say to yourself, 'We have Abraham as our Father.' For I say to you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones. Moreover the ax as well already lies at the root of the trees. So every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.”

The crowds were asking him, “So what should we do?” He replied to them, “Whoever has two tunics, share with him who has none, and whoever has food, do likewise.”

In addition tax collectors came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not collect more than what has been commanded you.”

Even soldiers were asking him, “What of us, what should we do?” He said to them, “Don't shake down others or blackmail them. Be content with your pay.”

Since the people were eagerly waiting and all were debating in their hearts about John whether he might not somehow be the Christ, John answered all, “I, for my part, baptize with water, but One stronger than I is coming, whose sandal lace I'm not fit to untie. He will baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire. He has the winnowing fork in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the grain into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So as he encouraged many other things, he spoke the Good News to the people. (Luke 3:7-18)

This is the Word of our Lord.

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

The trees are barren at this time of year. No leaves, no blossoms, no fruit. But fruit is associated with Christmas, isn't it? Fruit baskets are given. Apples are handed out to children after the Christmas Eve service. Fruit cake makes its rounds. Even bulbs on a Christmas tree vaguely imitate fruit hanging from branches.

As we prepare our hearts to celebrate our Savior's birth, John the Baptist's preaching calls out to us: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8 NIV). Yes, dear friend, he's speaking to you and me. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8 NIV). For you see, your faith-filled heart produces a fruit-filled life. That's our theme this morning. This genuine fruit is rooted in Christ. And this authentic fruit connects to your place in life. Through his word may the Holy Spirit work in you so that more and more your faith-filled heart produces a fruit-filled life.

A. Genuine fruit is rooted in Christ

1. How does John's preaching bring us to see our sin?

John the Baptist didn't mince words. He did not tone down his message for political correctness, even when thrown into prison and later beheaded for confronting Herod Antipas over his sinful marriage. Likewise, he did not tailor his message to curry people's favor. How many today would tune in to hear, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7 NIV).

John forcefully confronted people with their sins. His words confront you and me as well, even if our ears itch for feel-good piffle instead. What fruit are you producing?

We regularly begin our service with a confession of sins. Are those just empty, routine words for you? Does it seem like a negative to begin worship that way, maybe even an embarrassment? People want to hear about peace and joy and love at Christmas, not about sin. But how can we worship Jesus as our Savior, unless we realize deep down inside how lost and helpless we are without him? Only the lost need to be saved. Only the helpless need a Savior.

John knocks out whatever else we might be leaning on. Do you want to rest on your laurels? You've been baptized. You've been confirmed. You belong to a Bible-based church. You've learned that you're saved by grace alone. So why not just take it easy and blend in with society?

Many of the Jews in John's day figured they could just coast along as well, since they belonged to the right family, Abraham's family. But what does John say, “And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8 NIV). Coasting in your faith only works when your headed down-hill into hell. Who but the ancient viper himself would lead you or me to think that such coasting could flee the coming wrath?

And if you're thinking, “You're right, Pastor. I should get around to it. But life's busy now. I'll produce fruit later.” John says, “The ax is already at the root of the tree” (Luke 3:9 NIV). Death can strike at any age. Then the unfruitful tree is thrown into the fire of hell.

And if you want to argue, “But at least I haven't done anything that bad.” That still leaves you a barren tree. “Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9 NIV). We need a Savior, a Savior from sin, death, and hell.

2. How does John's preaching show us our Savior?

John was not that Savior. But he pointed the people to the one and only Savior. “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16 NIV).

John, like you and me, was a sinful human being. He could not save anyone, not even himself. But he pointed the people to the One who could. The Coming One had the power to save, for he was not only man but also God himself. That's why not even John was worthy to untie the sandals of the Coming One.

Like Christians today, John only had the power to put water on the heads of people when he baptized, but the Coming One would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That's why when water is connected with the word of God in Baptism, whether in John's day or ours, it changes hearts. Not because of the power of the pastor or the water, but because of Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit through the sacred act of Baptism, this “washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26 NIV), this “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NIV), as the Scriptures declare.

See how Jesus' power to save was demonstrated on Pentecost when he poured out the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire on the disciples and when he through the preaching and through Baptism gave the Holy Spirit to three thousand, so that they believed. Jesus is that Coming One John pointed to. His out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost shows he has the power to save, for he has come and completed our redemption. For he has risen from the dead and ascended in glory. Only his holy blood has paid the ransom for you. Only Jesus saves.

And he will be coming again to gather his people into the heavenly barn. “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn” (Luke 3:17 NIV). That, dear friend, is his plan and purpose for you who believe in him, so produce fruit, genuine fruit that's rooted in Christ.

3. What does it mean that genuine good works are rooted in Christ?

John did not want fake fruit from his listeners. Guilt, the desire for praise, wanting to look good, trying to earn God's favor -- these and many other motives can produce fake fruit, works that look good on the outside and maybe feel good on the inside, but are only dead plastic before God. Genuine fruit is rooted in Christ, so John exposed these deceptions as he preached against sin and then pointed the people to the Christ, the Savior.

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8 NIV), John preached. Repentance, seeing the terror of our sin, rejoices in forgiveness that comes only in Christ Jesus. Repentance clings to the testimony of John, as he points to Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV). Repentance confesses, “God's Son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself for me. My sins are forgiven.” Repentance is faith rooted in Jesus, drinking in his blood, cherishing his forgiveness. Such a repentant heart, such a faith-filled heart, produces a fruit-filled life, a life of genuine fruit rooted in Christ.

Dear friend, Jesus has taken away your sin. You are forgiven. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

B. Authentic fruit connects to your place in life.

1. Give specific examples of fruit you can produce because your heart trusts in Jesus.

What is that fruit? His hearers asked John that as well. Let's see what he says.

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none and the one who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11 NIV). Show love and kindness. Jesus summarized this by saying “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NIV). Don't just talk about doing good for others. John points to actions. Love acts.

For you see, the faith-filled heart knows how God's love acted. He sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9). Through our acts of kindness we want others to experience the love of God so that they too praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Authentic fruit are good deeds that lead others to glorify our heavenly Father, who gave his Son as our Savior.

Notice how John continues when specific groups ask him. To the tax collectors he said, “Don't collect any more than you are required to” (Luke 3:13 NIV). To the soldiers he said, “Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -- be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14 NIV). Do you see how the fruit fits their position, their role in life? He doesn't tell them, “Come out to the desert wearing camels hair and eating locusts and wild honey like me.” Authentic fruit connects to where God has placed you.

Fruit from a faith-filled heart doesn't speculate about how I could produce so much better fruit if only I could be such and such. Rather the faith-filled heart looks at where God has placed us in life and asks, “How can I serve my God here?” The exact answer will vary depending on your God-given role, but we can generalize from what John says. Authentic fruit does what is honest, good, and kind even when nobody else in your position does it.

All the tax collectors overcharged. That's how they made a good living. That's what made it worth while doing such a hated job. And why risk your life as a soldier if you can't enjoy the fringe benefits of getting extra out of people by extortion or false accusations. John says no. A faith-filled heart produces a fruit-filled life, where we follow our God rather than the crowd.

Think of how that applies to you in whatever role the Lord has given you. Are you a parent? You know how important God's Word is for you child. Many will place God's Word after sports, recreation, and family. Produce fruit from a faith-filled heart by putting God's Word first for you and your children, especially at this time of year when so many things compete against it.

Are you a child? Dissing your parents may seem cool. Produce fruit from a faith-filled heart by honoring and respecting your parents, even when they make mistakes and aren't fair.

Are you an employer? Treat your workers fairly, not as stepping stones to advance your own earthly wellbeing at their expense. Remember what John told the tax-collectors.

Are you a worker? Be content with your pay, as John told the soldiers, trusting your heavenly Father to take care of you, since he has already given you his Son. That's fruit from a faith-filled heart.

Are you tempted to cheat the government, paying cash under the table, fudging the forms, gaming the system. Such practices might be widespread and seemingly the only way to make it through life. But produce fruit from a faith-filled heart. Deal honestly and fairly even with the government, for God himself has placed the government over us.

Your faith-filled heart produces a fruit-filled life. Think of that when you enjoy and apple or orange this holiday season. Put those thoughts into action by showing kindness and love to others so that they glorify your God and Savior. As the Good News of the angels fills your heart, produce fruit in keeping with repentance. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 NIV). What reason to produce fruit, genuine, authentic fruit! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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