Pastor Eric Schroeder

Text: Luke 3:1-6

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If someone asked you to come up with a list of the greatest, most influential or important people who have ever lived in the history of mankind, who would be at the top?  I would imagine that many of us would begin with the same name.  For any true Christian, of course there is only one man who has ever lived who is worthy of spot number one: Jesus Christ is in a class all by himself.  But who comes next? 

Anyone who knows much history can start rattling off the names of famous world leaders: kings, emperors, presidents who led great nations and held positions of great power.  Some might list inventors, artists, composers or authors, people whose ideas can change the way we feel and live. 

Some might include an entertainer or performer who helped shape a culture with his or her style.  And if we circle back to the most important figures in the Bible, people like Adam or Noah or Abraham or Moses or David or Peter or Paul might round out the list. 

But did you know that Jesus himself once told us who would be at the top of his list?  A few chapters after our text, in Luke chapter 7, we have these words of Jesus recorded for us: ”I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” 

Instead of choosing some Old Testament hero, some prophet, or priest, or patriarch, or king from Biblical history, Jesus points out the greatness of the man we know as John the Baptist.  As we continue our Advent preparation today, we note that this is the first of two weekends where we will observe the important role John played in God’s plan, and today we move forward under the theme John prepares us to see salvation.

In the first six verses of Luke chapter three, we can see two main ways that God used John the Baptist to prepare people then and now for salvation.  Before we even get to his message, we take a look at the man; you see, John’s entire existence emphasizes God’s plan to work powerfully in the world for the sake of sinners.  Why?  Because John himself is the fulfillment of some powerful promises. 

Throughout the Old Testament era, God had given and renewed his promise to send a Savior to bring life and restoration to fallen mankind.  Each repetition of the promise confirmed God’s plan and gave additional details and signs for the people to watch for so that when the Savior arrived, the people would be able to recognize him and see their salvation. 

As the years went on, as the time of the God-man’s Advent approached, God revealed that the Savior would not come alone; he would be preceded a messenger who would prepare the way, as we heard in our first reading from the prophet Malachi. 

Now, hundreds of years later, when Luke begins his gospel account, before we even get to Luke chapter 2, which so many of us know by heart, Luke begins with the account of a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.  An angel shows up one day and says that God’s eternal plan is about to be fulfilled, and even though they are well beyond childbearing age, Zechariah and Elizabeth were going to have a miraculous child, a son to be named John, and he would have a prominent place in the fulfillment of God’s plan. 

From Luke chapter 1: He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. …17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

And now, as our text picks up, when John begins and carries out his ministry (about 25 or 26 AD), John is identified as the fulfillment of a 700-year-old prophecy.  4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ ” 

Friends, we don’t ever want to miss what it means for us whenever God keeps a promise.  Every promise kept is food for our faith; it’s the proof that God keeps every promise.  It’s additional evidence that God kept the promise.  God promised a Savior, and God promised that a messenger would prepare his way.  When we see that John is the messenger God promised, we know that the Savior isn’t far away.  As the fulfillment of God’s plan and promise, John prepares us to see salvation.

That brings us to the second way that John prepares us to see salvation.  Every messenger is only as good as his message.  And here in the beginning of Luke chapter 3, John’s main message, and its source, is summarized in a verse and a half… “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 

How did God use John to prepare the world for his Son?  How can we best be prepared to celebrate our Savior’s birth?  What is the only way we will be ready to stand before the Son of God when he comes again?  One word can answer all three questions: repentance. 

How do we understand repentance?  If we put it into the terms Isaiah used, repentance is realizing that in every one of our hearts there is a crooked path, one that is littered with the cracks and crevices and deep valleys of sin.  We’d all love to think that we are good people, and we all like to be praised and encouraged more than we like to be questioned and accused, but the reality is that on our own, we are damaged beyond repair. 

You see, sin isn’t just the evil we do and the good we fail to do; sin is also the condition of guilt that we are born into and the status of being God’s mortal enemy instead of his beloved child.  The worst part of it all is that by ourselves we are completely blind and ignorant of just how corrupted we are, so that without the right preparation, God could promise to send a thousand Saviors and we wouldn’t see the need for even one. 

So God sends messengers into the world, prophets and priests and pastors and preachers who bring the message that none of us like to hear.  If finding God were up to you, you would be eternally lost.  If heaven depended on you, you would be forever damned.  If you tried as hard as you could to get right with God, you would always come up short, you would die in your sins, and hellfire would be your future. 

As much as Americans love freedom, we need to know what God’s Word says, that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  You don’t need help or assistance; you need rescue.  You don’t need a pacemaker or a prescription, you need a new heart.  You don’t need an example or a motivational speaker; you need a Savior. 

It is only when God’s Holy Spirit works through the message of the Law to convince you that you can’t save yourself, then you are ready to hear of the Savior whom God has sent.  And it was John’s great privilege to preach the message that people then and now and always are so blessed to hear, God’s message to sinners in the gospel. 

John attracted the crowds, and John pointed out their sins, and then to all who would listen, John pointed to Jesus and joyously proclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  John set the stage, and then he got out of the way so that all mankind could see salvation in Jesus, and all who know their sin and guilt through the law can find hope and peace and joy in full and free forgiveness through faith—through a Spirit-worked trust in the Savior God sent. 

Are you ready for Christmas yet?  It doesn’t have to do with parties and presents and those kinds of outward preparations.  If you are penitent, if you are aware of your sinful condition and looking for salvation, then your heart is ready to welcome him once again. 

But let’s not forget that we might not make it to December 25, 2015, because Jesus could show up first, either to take you or me in death, or to take all of us in judgment.  How can we prepare? 

As ironic as it may sound, we must realize that we can’t prepare ourselves.  Only God can do that as he works in us through Word and Sacrament.  Let’s take every opportunity to let God work in our lives, to expose our greatest need, to straighten the crooked paths in us, to carve out a highway in our hearts, and then to make a home within us with his grace and mercy, with his forgiveness and his salvation.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.