Emmitsburg Council of Churches


  The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 3:10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The Gospel of the LORD! . . .

Straight talk about Repentance from John the Baptist

As we read the Gospel account from Matthew’s Gospel, we note that Matthew has John appearing in the desert. Matthew has taken Mark’s presentation about John as his source material, most importantly, is the emphasis on John’s appearing in the desert wilderness. Matthew wants us to know that John is obviously a prophetic figure, – he is essentially the Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:25 (story of Elijah and the Baal priests) 2Kings 2:9-12) returned from the whirlwind by which he was swept up into the heavens.

Remember that the prophet Elijah (our namesake here at Elias Lutheran Church!) was one who CHALLENGED ISRAEL To come back TO THE LORD THEIR GOD. Remember that Elijah was attempting to Correct the ways that things were going with Israel during the unfortunate reign of King Ahab and the wicked Queen Jezebel. Jezebel, in particular, had promoted the worship of BAAL -- who was the Canaanite fertility god--also associated with the worship of the sun . . . . Many of the rituals in worshiping Baal were lewd, bloody, and could even include the sacrifice of children to fire.

In one of the most famous “show-downs” in the Bible, the prophet Elijah set out to prove that Baal was no God at all (see the story referenced above). Elijah’s challenge was that the Baal priests could not get their god to reign down fire on a prepared sacrifice of a bull. In order to raise the stakes after the Baal prophets failed in their endeavor, Elijah orders that many bucket of water be poured over his offering to the Lord, the God of Israel . . . after which Elijah prays, and sure enough -- the fire falls from the heavens and devours the sacrifice thoroughly. What follows is an unpleasant business as Elijah then kills the Baal priests. Nevertheless, as we think of John the Baptist with his rough dress, his diet of locusts and honey and his powerful voice crying out in the wilderness – we are reminded that he is essentially Elijah come again: from out of the whirlwind John has “APPEARED in the WILDERNESS, and he is calling Israel (once again!!) to repent of her wicked ways – only the stakes are higher . . . the PREPARATION is for the ADVENT of God!! GOD is coming to the earth in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord!!! The Prophet is crying out for the people to make themselves ready and the call extends across the ages to us . . . we also must make preparations for the coming of Jesus. He is the babe in the manger, he is the coming King of Glory.

GET READY! CAUSE GOD IS COMING, He’s Coming to your TOWN!! HE’s Coming to YOUR HOUSE!!
Who’s Coming??? ....... (GOD’s COMING!!!) HE’s OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR!! Now what you gonna do???

“Better check with Vicki, see if she has any more of that delicious food left from our church supper!” Make your preparations – clean out the cobwebs!
Make straight the way of the Lord in your house -- in your life!

John’s words spoke of moving beyond just being “religious”. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” John told his people. The religion that John was preaching and baptizing the people into had an interactive component. It would not be enough to “dress for the part.” But the whole person was being called into mindful obedience, which included practical displays of action on behalf of others -- we may call it love in action -- John called it REPENTANCE!

We ought to take note that John’s ministry of preaching and baptizing took place out in the Wilderness. He did not go into the cities where we might theorize that all manner of corruption was taking place; but instead, John delivers his message, first of all, to the people in the countrysides of Judea and in the rural places out around the Jordon River. This was desolate land, the Wilderness, where life’s necessities are scarce, where hardly a blade of grass grows, and only the most toughened creatures can exist, like scorpions. And yet it is in the wilderness of our lives that we go in order to be tested and to learn about growing in our faith. The Wilderness is always a harsh environment, like the most difficult times of human experience, surviving there requires a deepening of faith, total reliance on God and abandoning our own self interests. To survive in the deserts of life, one must listen to the wisdom that comes from the desert itself.
Most interesting is that the people from that harsh region welcomed John’s message. They came to hear him of their own accord. The Country-folk who were simple people . . . they came and were the first to hear John Baptist talking about the need for people to make a change in their life’s direction.

True repentance was not only to stop doing bad, but to start doing the good you know ought to be done. John’s message was that people should Repent and Prepare for the coming Kingdom of Heaven!!!

Perhaps this sounds familiar to you, like Luther’s teaching on the TEN COMMANDMENTS. Don’t just follow the “Thou Shall Nots” but START Going the extra mile for God!! Christians are called to live life in such ways that we look out for our neighbors, our brothers and sisters. With regard to God’s laws, we don’t just “not break” the
10 commandments, but we strive to contribute to the welfare of others – by teaching them or preventing them from breaking any of the commandments. “Prevent your neighbor from stealing by offering to help them to get a good job (so they won’t need to steal for their next meal). Prevent your brother or sister from committing adultery by explaining the harms or dangers of “leading someone on in a way that could lead to a vulnerable situation.” Christians are called into repentance, and this means taking practical steps in positive directions.

TRUE REPENTANCE DEMANDS ACTION: Like when we practice genuine goodness, extend forgiveness, demonstate kindness, and Give Generously!! Get your LIFE Ready, PREPARE YOUR HOUSEHOLD, PREPARE FOR CHRIST”S COMING IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS -- (Especially the ONES THAT ARE BROKEN!!)

When I have couples in pre-marital counseling, we spend a lot of time talking about what it means to forgive one another in a relationship. We also talk about what it means to say “I’m sorry.” Most often I am impressed by the answers that couples can give to these sometimes difficult tasks in relationships. And yet, most people know the essentials of what is involved in saying “I’m sorry (or) I apologize for . . . .” It is a vulnerable statement, because when you put it out there, the other person has an opportunity to either except your apology or not. Part of repentance is making ourselves vulnerable to the other, even as God made himself vulnerable to the human scene when he came to earth as the baby Jesus – so we also must be willing to “put ourselves out there.”

The reality of our human condition, is that we can extend forgiveness to others and yet retain within our memory some of the hurt that is the subject of the apology. Here is where we must abandon ourselves and give these thoughts over to God. In an attitude of repentance, we acknowledge that we are not able to truly forgive as God does, but that by God’s grace, we can live into the acceptance of our own apology and offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us. I think that you and I can do this when we cast these cares before Jesus, whose death on the cross covers them all.

When we do these things we Make the Crooked PATHS of our lives STRAIGHT, THE ROUGH PLACES in our relationships SMOOTH, AND THE LOW PLACES LEVEL.

Of course it takes work to fill in the mud puddles of our lives and relationships, but Working at Filling them in (with love and forgiveness) is far better than SPLASHING the MUD of bitterness and hatred ALL OVER THE PLACE. It’s going to get a little messy out there when you begin to take the initiative with genuine repentance, but the vulnerability is worth it. Don’t be discouraged if you get some mud in your face == it all washes off in time. And the smoother path will come about as you exercise faith and trust. PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD!!!

Behind the call for the people to repent from their overt sins -- There was something even more: The purpose of repentance is to establish something NEW!!!! The purpose of repentance is to prepare for a new ERA, “A CHANGE OF YOUR MINDS! -- RETHINKING OF PRIORITIES! – THINKING ARIGHT (THE THOUGHTS OF GOD)!

A Changing of the Mind causes a Change in the way we ACT, Changing our Actions can Bring about real Change in our Life’s PATH . .. NO LONGER do we need to Go down life’s passage in a Zig Zag Pattern of Inconsistent Behavior . . . When You are Walking in the Light of the Coming Kingdom of Heaven . . . Then you are Walking Straight . . . The Valleys and the Hills are rising and Falling before you . . . . Because You are Walking Straight in the Will of God!! You are walking with an awareness that God can work through your life to bring healing change into the brokeness of the world. Like when a river runs more smoothly when it has a straight path, so it is that when we walk in the newness offered by coming KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, then we begin to see broken lives healed and rocky relationships restored.


Repentance is a Necessary preparation for Receiving the Gospel –
The Good News. Forgiveness of Sins is more readily realized (& RECOGNIZED!) When we are most AWARE of OUR SIN . . . FURTHERMORE -- OUR RECOGNITION THAT WE WALK BY FAITH, and NOT BY our Flesh, is when we are Practicing the Things we Claim to Believe.

If you believe in the forgiveness of Sins . . . Are you Forgiving Others Theirs???? If you Believe that Christ has given himself as a sacrifice for Sin, Then are you willing to sacrifice some of your life, I don’t mean that you shed blood or get hurt, but by giving a little extra offering to God – to feed the Hungry or do some community Service or promote the welfare of CREATION by spending more money for Clean Energy or buy a car that Gets better Gas Mileage???? Perhaps there are other ways to demonstrate to God and Model for Others, that your Life is Changed Because GOD IS AT WORK IN YOU — ALL OF THIS IS ONLY POSSIBLE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT – but only you can “ALLOW THE SPIRIT to WORK IN and through YOU!”

The story has been told of a situation that happened in a church when a certain prominent family asked the Pastor to Baptize a grandchild. When the request was made to the Pastor, he inquired if the child’s parents would be active in raising the child in the Christian faith. The grandparents admitted that their daughter was not presently active in a church where she lived, but the grandparents said that they would “make sure” the child was raised properly.

Hearing this, the pastor was concerned and suggested that it might be best if the mother found a local church where she lived and have the baptism closer to her home, where she herself might become more involved with modeling and teaching the faith to her child.
The grandparents became upset with their pastor . . . and by exerting some pressure (by their influence in the congregation) they forced the pastor to agree to baptize their grandchild.

As it turned out, things went well with the baptismal service . . . although the pastor did not appreciate the “spirit” in which things came about . . . nevertheless, it was a baptism and the Pastor trusted in the faithfulness of God for the child.

A few weeks later, an unwed mother whom had been shyly attending the church, approached the pastor to baptize her child. The pastor was glad she had come forward in faith with this request and a date for baptism was set, but the young mother did not have any immediate family member to stand with her and her child as a sponsor. Sensing an opportunity to exercise faith, the Pastor decided that during the sacrament of Baptism he would ask for a “spontaneous sponsor” to come forward.

The moment came where in that particular church the question was asked, “"Who stands with this child?" There was an awkward silence for about 15 seconds, which felt like an eternity . . . then there was some movement in the middle pew, about 2/3rds of the way back on the right side. Slowly -- the same man who had “strong-armed” the pastor into baptizing his grandchild stood. Then his wife joined him, then another single mom stood up and then several more couples in the church. The Pastor felt a kind of holy elation at the symbolism being expressed by these parishioners, esp. the prominent church member who had acted negatively before, but was now turning from that negativity and making a very wonderful offering for another child in Christ.

This story may illustrate a form of what John the Baptist had hoped to accomplish by his baptism, repentance was not simply to halt sin, but it was to provide a kind of restorative avenue. Repentance ought to be more than stopping illicit behavior, it ought to bring about good and positive behavior. The kind of good deeds that will merit and accomplish more good. Doing such good unto others that they may do more good unto you or even better – unto strangers.

Indeed, John didn't make it easy. . . He went where the people were not. He went to the desert near the Jordan River. If you wanted to see him, you had to go out into that dangerous and empty land.

But what seems most like a miracle of God is that THE PEOPLE WANTED TO GO and hear the words of this strange man. The PEOPLE WERE SINCERE IN LISTENING AND HEEDING JOHN”S MESSAGE.

During this time of Advent, may we also have this kind of outlook and may we be obedient to live out the meaning of REPENTANCE in our lives and in our world . . . .

Read more writings of Pastor Jon