Sermon – John 1.19-28 (Advent 4 – 2019)

Holy Spirit, Make Straight the Way for Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, it is good and right that we should give thanks to You, that You have given us a glorious baptism like that of John the Baptist, and that therein You have promised us the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life through Your Son, Jesus Christ: We beseech You, by Your grace and mercy preserve us in such faith, that we never doubt Your promise, but be comforted by our baptism in all temptations; and grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may renounce sin, and ever continue in the righteousness bestowed on us in baptism, until, by Your grace, we obtain our eternal salvation; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”

 23 He said: “I am`The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,”‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 24 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees.

 25 And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.

 27 “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

These are Your Words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

Some of you will be traveling for your Christmas celebrations. You’ll have to prepare for your trip. You probably have a checklist, or at least one in your mind of what you have to do in preparation. Now if you didn’t do a single thing on that list, you won’t be ready. Or maybe some of you will be hosting some family. You have food to prepare, a house to clean, and so on. But what if you don’t do any of it, you won’t be prepared at all.

So much of our lives is about making preparations. Preparing for a day of school or of work, or some upcoming plans. Maybe you have to prepare for visitors.

The time of Jesus visitation had come, John was the one to prepare the way for Jesus. What was this way, this path that Jesus would take? John wasn’t accompanying Jesus like some manager, makings bookings for His tour around the countryside, arranging travel, food, and lodging for Him. No John wasn’t with Jesus, but he was with the people. For the way, the path that Jesus sought to take was into the hearts of the people. Jesus desired that they receive Him as their Redeemer.

John came to remove every valley and mountain that would hinder Jesus from entering into their hearts. This work of preparation for the way of Jesus was the preaching of repentance.

This preparation was needed for Jesus’ visitation 2000 years ago. This preparation is still needed, because Jesus comes to us through His Word and Sacraments, and so the preaching of repentance makes the way clear for Christ to enter our hearts that we may receive Him through faith.

If the way is not prepared for Christ to enter and to be received by faith, we will also not be prepared for His return in judgment on the Last Day, when it will be too late to repent.

So when Jesus came 2000 years ago in the time of John, and when He comes today, what comes with Him is the kingdom of heaven and all its riches. Many wish to have Him or the kingdom without repentance. But a person cannot have Him or the kingdom without repentance.

But the preaching of repentance is hardly welcome in the world. The sinful flesh resist the preaching of repentance. It resists that which makes the way for Christ to enter.

There seem to be two primary reasons that people reject the preaching of repentance. Perhaps there are more, but these two are the most clear, and we see examples of these in Scripture. One is that a person simply doesn’t want to repent. He is not sorry for his sin. He does not desire to amend his sinful life. He loves his sin. And here’s the thing about sin, which Scripture describes as a slave master. It demands devotion. Sin has such a hold and power over a person, that the person clings to it, defends it, as though it is his precious treasure. In no way does he desire to repent of it. To justify their willful disobedience, many will bring up the fact that Jesus receive sinners and ate with them. But they get this gathering all wrong. This Jesus who received these sinners preached repentance.

The other reason is that a person doesn’t think he needs repentance. He doesn’t think he’s so bad that he needs to repent. He thinks that he is right with God on his own account. Such pride hates the preaching of repentance that requires admission of guilt and helplessness.

Often, the sinful flesh is filled with both of these—a devotion to sin, and the delusion that we are righteous enough before God.

Yet both of these thoughts of the flesh are obstacles to faith. They are obstacles to us receiving Jesus, His forgiveness, and life in His kingdom.

For regarding those who choose to obey sin, Scripture says, “You know that [Jesus] was manifested to take away our sins…Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:5-6).

And regarding those who trust in their own life and works, Scripture says, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4).

Yet, we see how strongly these thoughts take a hold against the preaching of repentance. The Israelites killed the prophets. The Jews crucified Jesus, the Christ. Some of the Jews resisted the preaching of Stephen that they spread lies about him, in order to get him condemned by the council of the Jewish leaders. And after hearing Stephens preaching, they gnashed their teeth, and in seething anger they took him out of the city and stoned him. There’s the story about Louie Zamperini, the Olympic runner and World War II vet. After he returned from war, sin had enslaved him, particularly the sin of drunkenness. His wife brought him to a travelling preacher. When the preacher spoke of sin and repentance and God’s judgment, Louie became furious. He thought to himself, “I am a good man,” “I am a good man.”

Though it is our sinful flesh that resists the preaching of repentance, it is the Holy Spirit that grants repentance. Even while Louie thought to himself that he was a good man, he knew it was a lie. Through the preaching of repentance, the Holy Spirit was making straight the way for Christ, his Savior.

And so we pray that through the preaching of repentance, the Holy Spirit would make straight the way for Christ to enter our hearts that we may receive Him as our Redeemer as He comes to us through His holy Word and Sacrament.

Consider the law of God, and confess your sin. Have you thought that you are good before God by your own works? Repent of your self-righteousness. Do you get defensive when others point out your sins? Do you try to keep certain sins from being exposed by the light of the law? Repent? Pray, “God save me from my love of sin.” Confess. I am not a good person. There is only one who is good, and I am not He. I am a poor miserable sinner.

And then, thanks to the Holy Spirit, the way is made straight for Christ to enter, for Christ comes exactly for such a one as you! You need saving, and Christ has come to seek and to save the lost. He is the Great Physician. He has nothing for those who think they are well, but with you who know you are sick with the disease of sin, He comes with healing in His wings. You have come to know your need for Him. You consider His birth at Bethlehem, and with relief you see, your Savior has come! And you rejoice in His coming! A number of Christmas hymns have a verse or two about keeping Christmas with Jesus in your hearts. And surely the path has been made straight for Him to enter. For you receive Him and hold and cling to Him dearly in faith, because you know the reason He has come. He has come to give His life as a ransom for you to save you from your sins.

And so also the way is made straight for His coming to you today. The word of His free forgiveness is not met with thoughts of “I don’t need it.” Or “No thanks, but I like my sins.” But rather, cherishing this most precious message of forgiveness purchased by His holy blood that takes away every one of my sins. “Lord, God, save me! Take all my sins from me, all of them, and make me clean!”

Surely, you are clean, because of Jesus’ words for you. He who came to you in baptism, who washed you clean in those waters and gave you the Holy Spirit, comes to you in His word of forgiveness, and in His holy Supper! And we daily need him, because we daily sin. And daily He cleanses us and makes us to be His holy people, His new creations, being transformed into His image.

May the Holy Spirit keep the paths straight for Christ, and guard our faith, that we may keep Christ in our hearts through faith, and thus be prepared to welcome Him, our Redeemer when He comes in glory on the last day. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

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