Summary: We are prepared for Christ’s coming through faith, so let us stay in the Word to keep that faith.
Imagine this: the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, has decided to visit the great city of Anchorage, Alaska. But the day before he is scheduled to arrive, a big snow storm hits. What does the city of Anchorage do to prepare for his visit? Well, for one, you’d probably see snow plows out everywhere, wouldn’t you? At the airport, on the roads...any road on which the president is going to travel has to be cleared so that he can get through.
My friends, right now we are in the time of the church year called Advent. The word “advent” literally means coming. Advent is the time of year when we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s first coming at Christmas, but Advent is also a time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming at the end of the world. So this morning in our meditation we are going to see how God wants us to prepare the way for his coming, but obviously not by going out in our trucks and clearing the snow off the road, but rather by doing two things: first, by understanding the message that precedes his visit, and secondly, by making his salvation known among mankind.
I. By understanding the message that precedes his visit.
Now just imagine that President Clinton’s staff sent a fax to the city of Anchorage giving the details of his visit and the preparations that they would like done before his visit. But as so often happens with fax machines, or at least with my fax machine, it was impossible to read what the fax said. Now, is the city going to be ready for the president’s visit? Probably not. Because they didn’t understand the message that preceded his visit. The King and Ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ is coming and he wants us to get things ready for his visit, and so it’s of utmost importance that we understand the message that precedes his visit. And the message that prepared the world for Christ’s first coming, that is, the message of John the Baptist here in our text, can also help us to get things ready for Christ’s second coming.
We see here in our text that God sent a very special messenger to prepare the people for Christ’s first coming. His name was John. He was the son of an elderly priest named Zechariah. He was the one who baptized people in the wilderness: a wild looking man with a powerful message. He is the “messenger” that was mentioned in the first reading for this morning. He is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah found here in our text, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” You see in the olden days, before fax machines, before e-mail, and even before telephones, Kings would send messengers ahead of them to the towns there were going to visit. These messengers were called heralds. A heralds job was to get the people ready. He was to make sure that the windy and dangerous dirt roads in the dessert were straightened and made clear for the King to pass over them. And that was the job of John the Baptist. To prepare the people for the coming of the King. John made the roads ready for Jesus, but not some physical road in the desert, but rather the road to people’s hearts.
And he did this by preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John encouraged the people to be baptized, to be washed of their sins through water and the Word. And this was to be a baptism of repentance. Now, when the Bible uses the word “repentance”, it uses it in one of two ways. In the narrow sense, it means to feel sorry for and confess your sins. In the wide sense, as used here, it means to feel sorry for and confess your sins and also to believe and trust that those sins are forgiven by our gracious God. The word “repent” has the idea of “turning around.” Through John’s message of law and gospel, the Holy Spirit turned people around. John preached the law in all it’s condeming power. The law, that mirror in which the people could see that they were sinners who deserved nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. But John also preached the good news of the gospel, that God would forgive their sins through faith in the coming Savior. Through this double message of law and gospel, the Holy Spirit turned them around. Many were headed down the wrong road, but through the preaching John Baptist, God turned ‘em right around and they repented.
And by turning them around and bringing them to faith, God was preparing them for the coming of his Son in Bethlehem. And with this same message, he prepares us for Christ’s second coming. The message that we recieve here in his Word is a message of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In our baptism, God turned us around and brought us to faith. And through the preaching of his Word here in church, in Bible Class and in our home devotions, he continues to keep us on the right road. Through the Law he shows us what we really don’t like to hear: that we are terrible sinners who can do nothing good on our own. Our sinful pride wants to make excuses. Our sinful pride wants us to fall into denial. “I’m not that bad.” “Deep down, I’m a good person.” But when we look into the mirror of God’s Law, we can’t deny what we really are. You know, I can think that I look like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, but when I look in the mirror, I know the truth. When we look in the mirror of God’s law, we see what we really are: murderers. That’s right, murderers. Each and every one of us is a murderer. Because God says that if you get angry at someone, in his eyes you are a murderer. If you have a lustful thought, you are an adulterer. We are a church full of murderers and adulterers. So let’s not get on our high horses thinking that we aren’t that bad or that we are for the most part good people. Because when we look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s law we see that we are ugly and deformed sinners who deserve God’s eternal punishment in hell. Period.