Based on: Matthew 3:1-12
What would you think if you saw someone in strange clothes, someone who only ate grasshoppers and whatever he could find in the wild. What would you think if his message was basically, "repent for the kingdom of God is near"? Apparently many people thought that John the Baptist was worth taking time to go see. People walked for miles from all around to see John and hear him preach. By telling the people to repent he was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that said he would be the voice of one calling in the desert, "Prepare the way for the Lord." That is exactly what repentance does. It is the way you are prepared for the Lord’s coming. Remember last week we talked about Jesus and his coming and that it could happen at any moment. Today we look at John the Baptist and his message of repentance because now, just as it was at John’s time, the way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is through repentance.
And what exactly is repentance? Literally, it means a change of mind. This is not like when you’re trying to get dressed in the morning and you change your mind half a dozen times about what to wear before you get dressed. No, this is a serious and life changing event brought about by God when he turns you around. Through repentance you are no longer headed toward hell but you are now facing the gates of heaven and you have the new Jerusalem in full view. As Christians we talk about repentance in two parts. First, there is sorrow over your sin and second there is trust in forgiveness through Christ. This God-worked repentance always produces fruit.
Even sorrow over sin, in order to be God pleasing, is not something we can do on our own. We need God and his Word. God’s law needs to be applied to us and our situation. We are all different and each one of us has particular sins that plague us. One person may have a problem with alcohol, but another has a problem running down others by talking about them. One person may consistently think of himself over the needs of others and someone else might lose their temper easily.
It is too easy to see the sin that someone else has a problem with, but difficult to see our own weakness and to see the temptation that we too often give in to. But we all sin and from God’s point of view there is no difference. Every sin deserves God’s punishment. So where is your weakness? What is the sin you most often need to ask forgiveness for? Ask God to expose your weakness and make it plain to you.
When God does point out sin to you, when he brings someone into your life to confront you with your sins, what do you do? Do you ignore that person? Do you point out their sin? Do you get upset or angry? No, if it is true, you ask for forgiveness. Then, having been forgiven by God, even if you are not forgiven by others, your conscience is clear and you produce the fruit of repentance. You do what you can to make things right, whatever you can do to undo your sin. And then you do what you can to avoid that sin in the future. It has been said that repenting of sin is not like saying goodbye to a good friend, hoping that he will come back again. No, repentance is like showing your worst enemy to the door, removing him forcefully and praying that he will never return again.
As we read God’s Word and we realize that we have sinned against the Almighty God, God’s Word creates sorrow in us over our sin. The same was true for many people who came to see John the Baptist. But even if our sorrow caused us never to commit that sin again, it would still be of no help for us to be sorry for our sins if that was all there was to it. We would still face God’s punishment for sin. But there is more to it. There is forgiveness.
That’s why as people came to John and confessed their sins, John did what he was well known for – he baptized them. In baptism they received forgiveness for their sins. In baptism they received the very thing Jesus Christ came to this earth to accomplish for us. They received the life that Jesus lived here on this earth in our place and they received the benefit of Christ’s payment for sin.
The same is true for us. When we bring an infant to be baptized, the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word connected to that water to create faith in that child. He forgives sins. It is certainly a miracle. For an adult who already trusts in Jesus as his savior, it is no less a miracle. That person receives forgiveness for all of their sins and the assurance that they are now part of God’s kingdom.
As Christians there is more to this baptism than just a one time washing away of our sins, but as baptized Christians we are assured of God’s promise that we always live under his grace. Even though we don’t continually live in a state of mournful sorrow over our sins and even though there may be sins that we constantly have to go back to our heavenly Father and ask for forgiveness, we can be assured that forgiveness is always there and that we are God’s forgiven children. This is the blessing we have now because of our baptism.
This is repentance – a godly sorrow over sin that leads us to trust in the forgiveness we have through Christ. But this isn’t the end. Repentance produces fruit. If repentance produces a change in our hearts, then this change of heart will also result in a change in attitude and actions. This fruit, this change in our lives, is our response to God’s forgiveness.
Some of those people who came to John were not repentant. There were not sorry for their sins and they did not trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Of course because faith and repentance were not there, there was no fruit of repentance and John clearly recognized that. Those Pharisees and Sadducees probably seemed like nice people and seemed to be part of the church, but they were following their own set of rules and had rejected the truth of God’s Word. They were actually not part of the God’s church and John pointed that out to them. He was very blunt in the way he pointed it out. He even called them a “brood of vipers.” He would not accept them as repentant believers.
The same is true for us, when those who claim to be part of the church do not produce fruit in keeping with repentance. When those who sin continue to live in that sin, then we need to tell them and sometimes we need to tell them bluntly, that they are not part of the church. They are not repentant so they are not believers. We don’t overlook their sin or simply tell them “that’s OK” if they are not willing to change their ways. If we did that we would only be causing them harm because if they do not repent they are headed toward hell. They will be cut down and thrown into unquenchable fire.
This unquenchable fire is for the dead trees that produce no fruit. It is not for the repentant believer, the living tree that produces fruit, because it has been made alive by Christ. Through repentance you are made ready for your Savior to return. You know that you sin and you know you are forgiven, your fruit shows it. The way has been prepared for the Lord to return.