Wednesday, December 21, 2011

God Does the Impossible (A sermon based on Luke 1:26-38)

That's not possible! But God does it anyway! He heals the sick. He walks on water. He raises the dead. And he becomes a flesh and blood human just like us! He does it to save us from our sin and to establish his Kingdom forever! Knowing that God does the impossible lead us to put our quiet trust in him and to be his servants, just as Mary did. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Luke 1:26-38 (or click here to watch the entire service) and rejoice that God does the impossible!

God Does the Impossible

A sermon based on Luke 1:26-38

Sunday, December 18, 2011 – Advent 4B


"That's impossible!" must have been a phrase Jesus grew accustomed to hearing. It's not possible for deadly diseases to disappear, for the lame to leap, for the blind to see. It's not possible for a human to walk on water or for five loaves of bread and two fish to satisfy five thousand people. It's not possible for the dead to come back to life.

But Jesus life was once characterized by the impossible. In fact, the very person of Jesus is the impossible. The fullness of the Deity—all of God—embodied in a human being seems as impossible as putting an elephant in a paper bag! Yet, God does the impossible. Nothing is impossible for him.

How do we know? Consider the news given to Mary. It seems unlikely, even impossible. But listen to what God promised as we read Luke 1:26-38…


26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." 34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God." 38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

I.              The Lord Saves His People from Their Sin


Stand in Mary's sandals. Imagine you're at home minding your own business, when suddenly the room is filled with a light so bright that it makes a thousand spotlights seem dim. You're blinded by the brilliance! And before you have time to wonder if this is some alien abduction the brilliant light speaks… and you know exactly what it is standing before you. It's an angel—a messenger of the Most High, the Holy God! And he says to you, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Can you imagine standing there—sinner that you are— in the presence of the holy—a perfect sinless messenger of the perfect sinless God? No wonder Mary was greatly troubled! She wasn't worthy of a special visit from God's messenger. She wasn't holy or sinless in her thoughts and actions. She admitted as much in her song when she cried out, "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior." (Luke 1:47) She was a sinner who needed a Savior.

So can you imagine how exposed you would feel standing before the holy? Wondering how much the angel knows. Wondering what God has told him about you. Does he know what I said to my spouse this morning? Does he know that vindictive thought I had about my co-worker? Or about the seductive thought I had about my neighbor? Does he know where my every dollar has been wasted or how I've squandered the precious hours God that has given to me?

If an angel were appear to you or me tonight we'd be just as troubled as Mary, just as terrified as the shepherds, just as panicked as the disciples, because God's law has exposed our sin. Because we know that we don't deserve to be highly favored by God.

But the amazing thing is that instead of fearing, the news Gabriel brought gives us reason to be cheering…  "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…"

Why don't we have to be afraid of a holy God? Because of Jesus, whose name means, "The Lord saves." And not just from not just from political enemies or physical suffering, but from even more. An angel explained to Joseph: "You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Seem impossible? Mary thought so, but the angel told her, "Nothing is impossible with God."

Only through her Son, the virgin-born God-man, could this be possible. Born of God, not of man, he is true God. Born of Mary, a true human, he is true human. These are the necessary ingredients for our Savior. He had to be true man, so that he who wrote the law, could be under the law. He had to be true God so that he could do the otherwise impossible task of keeping it perfectly in our place, as "the holy one to be born." He had to be true man, so the immortal God who cannot die could do the impossible and die. And as true God, his death would be worth enough to pay for the sins of all mankind of all time.

It seems impossible that God would do all this, doesn't it? There's no reason for him to do it all! God didn't have to do any of it. He didn't need a Savior. When Gabriel told Mary, "Do not be afraid… you have found favor with God," the word translated "favor" is charis, the word we usually translate as "grace." "Do not be afraid… you have found [grace] with God," Why did God save his people from their sins? Not because they're worthy, but because his grace is so bottomless it seems impossible.

But perhaps what seems most impossible of this whole account is that God did these things for you and for me. He not only did the seemingly impossible work of saving his people from their sins, but he did the seemingly impossible work of establishing his kingdom forever. A kingdom that continues 2,000 years later. A kingdom that you and I are a part of!

The Lord Establishes His Kingdom Forever 

I once read that Italy has had more than fifty different governments in the last one hundred years. The great Kingdom of Rome, the likes of which the world has never seen, only lasted for 244 years. The US is doing remarkably well to have had the same government for 235 years now! Kingdoms don't generally last that long. They rise… and they fall. But not Jesus' kingdom. Of the increase of his government, his ruling, his kingdom, there is no end! The New Testament Church has been around for not 200 years, but for 2,000 years. And it will last, not just 2,000 more years, not to the end of the world, but to eternity!

How do we know? Listen to the angels words… "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Jesus' Kingdom is not something that can fall like an earthly government or nation because Jesus' Kingdom—his ruling—takes place in the hearts of believers. And this Kingdom—as impossible as it may seem—is established in you, 2,000 years after began, in the same way it was for Mary. God created faith in your heart through the Gospel. And that will last forever.

When Mary heard the good news she asked, "How will this be?" not as a question of unbelief, as if to say, "No way!" but in awe, mystified by God's grace and his plan for her. She expressed her faith and quiet trust in God's promises when she confessed, "I am the Lord's servant… May it be to me as you have said."

And you, friends, can have the same quiet trust in God and his ruling over all things as Mary…

Have you ever wondered, "Who am I that God should do all this for me? Who am I that he promises to work all things—even the struggles and problems of my life, the hurting relationships, the financial struggles, the failing health—He works it all for my good?!" It seems impossible, doesn't it? Almost too good to be true!

But nothing is impossible for God! If God can create life in the womb of a virgin, he can create life in your heart. He who was born of a virgin, has saved you from your sin. And he has established his Kingdom in you. And he has established his Kingdom for you. Nothing has stopped him for 2,000 years and his Kingdom and his good purposes for you will continue to last forever!

You and I may not always understand "How will this be?" We may at times be mystified by God's ways in our lives. But, nevertheless, we can put our trust in him just as Mary did.

He's already done the impossible of saving you from your sins and he's done the impossible task of working faith in your heart to believe in these impossible promises. You are highly-favored! You have found favor and grace with God. You are forgiven! The Lord is with you! And he will work all things for your good just as he promised.

And one day soon God will do the impossible again. He will raise all the dead. And he'll take those in his Kingdom into eternal glory. And "He will reign… forever; his kingdom will never end." "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun." And so, trusting in our God, who does the impossible, we too say to him with confidence, "I am the Lord's servant… May it be to me as you have said," in Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

God’s Gift Exchange (A sermon based on Isaiah 61:1-3)

Ever have an office party with a gift exchange? They're not always as much fun as they're cracked up to be, are they? Sometimes, you give a nice gift and get something kind of crummy. But sometimes you give a crummy gift thrown together in haste, and you get something great. In God's gift exchange we give him the very worst we could possibly give. We give him the filth of our sin. But in exchange we get the very best. We get forgiveness and peace with God. We get Jesus' righteousness and every blessing that God gives. What a wonderful gift exchange! Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Isaiah 61:1-3 and rejoice in the gracious gifts that God gives...

God's Gift Exchange

A sermon based on Isaiah 61:1-3

Sunday, December 11, 2011 – Advent 3B


Last weekend, the faculty of Grace Lutheran School had our  annual Christmas party at which we have our gift exchange. But we don't just buy gifts for each other. We play a game. I'm sure you've played it before, but for those who haven't, here's how it works: everyone brings a wrapped gift to the party and when it's time to open the gifts, everyone draws a number from a hat No. 1 opens any present they want. No. 2 can either "steal" that gift from number one or open something else.

But sometimes, the game that's meant to be fun, isn't always that fun. I remember one year in college our dorm floor decided to try our hand at the white elephant gift exchange—something I highly recommend you avoid for reasons that will soon become obvious. You see, while I brought what I thought was a nice CD that anyone might want, someone else thought it a funny joke to bring a loaf of moldy bread (and I mean moldy beyond recognition), wrap it up very nicely, complete with gold ribbon and bow, and bring that as their gift to be exchanged. I'm sure you can guess which gift I unwrapped. And while I did find the joke a bit humorous, I would rather have had the prank fall on some other unsuspecting party-goer as no one was going to steal that gift.

This advent season, as we get ready to celebrate Christmas, we're reminded of God's gift exchange—which, odd as it may seem, is somewhat similar to the white elephant gift exchange of my college days. You see, just like I got the raw end of the deal in my gift exchange—giving a nice CD and receiving a moldy loaf of bread—on a much larger scale, God got the raw end of the deal in his gift exchange. We give God something more disgusting than a loaf of mold. We give him our hideous sins. And in exchange, he gives us the best gift there is—he gives us his Son.

Martin Luther once prayed, "Lord Jesus, I am your sin; you are my righteousness. I have made you what you were not; you have made me what I was not." Because of God's gift exchange in Jesus, who became what he was not, he has made us what we were not. Now we are forgiven. Now we are righteous. Now we are heirs of eternal life. Listen Isaiah elaborate on God's wonderful exchange in Isaiah 61:1-3…


61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.


I.              We Made Him What He Was Not


The Israelites had it good. God gave them everything they could ask for. He brought them out of slavery into their own land, promised to their forefathers. He gave them great amounts of wealth, every comfort and convenience. He gave them peace and protection from their enemies. And on top of all the physical blessings he gave them the promise of a Savior to come remove their sins and the promise of eternal glory forever.

Yet in spite of all he gave them, God's people rejected him. In exchange for the great gifts God had promised and given, they gave him a horrible present in return. They cheated on him. They worshipped false Gods, blocks of wood, and carved pieces of stone. They "worshipped" these "gods" with obscene sexual acts and even with human sacrifice. It was as if they gave God a box of manure in exchange for the diamond ring he gave to them. And for such ingratitude for God's gifts, for such wicked rebellion against him, they deserved to die.

But instead of destroying them, God in his love only spanked them. He allowed the Babylonians to carry them off into captivity to lead his people to repentance. Now, in captivity, fully aware that God allowed their ruin because of their sin, they were dejected and brokenhearted, prisoners in a dark dungeon, mourning with ashes on their head, on the verge of despair. They knew they deserved no good thing from God and fully earned his day of vengeance against them.

But now that they were aware of their sin and recognized what they deserved, God sent them the comfort they needed. He would give them another great gift—the best one yet. In exchange for their sins, he would send them a Savior to bind up their broken hearts and bring them comfort. He would give them a great exchange. And that exchange would come in the Messiah.


Isaiah writes, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." Literally, it says, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has 'Messiah-ed' me to preach good news to the poor." Messiah, or the Greek equivalent, Christ, literally means, "the Anointed One." Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the One anointed by God. In fact, in Luke 4, we hear how Jesus read these very verses in the synagogue and said, "Today these Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing." "These Scriptures are fulfilled in me." The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord did come on Jesus at his Baptism when he began his mission.

It's Jesus himself speaking about that mission through Isaiah when he writes, "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…

 What a great gift the Savior would bring. What an awesome exchange. He would take away all that troubled them. He would remove their grief, sorrow and pain. He would proclaim freedom and declare the Year of the Lord's favor, a reference to the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25, where every Israelite slave would be set free. He would rescue them from slavery to the Babylonians and from slavery to sin. And he would do it all by taking those curses on himself. He would become what he was not. He would become their sin and take the punishment they deserved in their place.


And dear friends, God makes that same exchange with us as well… While we too have been blessed with every blessing, both physical and spiritual, we often treat those gifts with the same contempt the Israelites did. We too at times use our physical blessings only to serve ourselves. Just look at your bank statements. We too often ignore God's spiritual blessings and don't bother to take advantage of them. Consider how many minutes you've spend in the word this week compared to how many hours you've spend being entertained.

In exchange for all he's given us, do we get him a pair of used, unwashed socks? Do we pull a few scraps out of the garbage and offer that as our gift to him? Do we give him a loaf of moldy bread? No. It's even worse. Though it's often packaged in beautiful wrapping so outwardly we look like great Christians, in reality we give him a bag of manure, a box full of maggots. We give him sin upon filthy sin. And for our ingratitude, for our indifference, we too deserve damnation in exchange.

But dear friends, we don't get what is rightfully ours. We don't get it because Jesus did. Jesus became what he was not. On Christmas Day Jesus, the anointed one of God, God himself, became a lowly human. On Good Friday, Jesus became what he was not again, when he, being perfectly righteous, took all our sins on himself. And there he took what we deserve. He became the brokenhearted man of sorrows. He was held captive by our sin, in the complete darkness of hell, abandoned by the Father. He was the mourning prisoner, covered in ashes, enduring God's day of vengeance—the hell of God's full wrath poured out on him.

And because he became what he was not, we will never suffer that hell. He looked around at the gift exchange and saw us stuck with the moldy loaf of bread—with hell—and he took it away from us. And because he took the raw end of the deal for us, we're free of the disgusting mess we were in. And what's more, he not only took away the horrible gifts, but he gave us something great in return. He made us what we were not…


II.            He Made Us What We Were Not


God's gift to the Israelites was even greater than taking away their despair and destroying their captors. It was even greater than removing their sins. You see, not only would he take away the negative, the curses that were theirs, but he would also give them positive, incredible blessings, in their place. By becoming what he was not, Christ made them what they were not…

"He has sent me … to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

Do you know the difference between mercy and grace? In God's mercy he didn't give the Israelites the punishment they deserved. In his grace he did give them the blessings they didn't deserve. God didn't just deliver them from slavery (mercy), but gave them blessing upon blessing as well (grace). If he'd only delivered them from Babylon, they might have starved to death back in their home land, but God blessed their land and their crops upon their return. Or when they did grow prosperous again they might have been attacked by a new Persian enemy, but God protected them. Or they could have lived a wealthy and prosperous life only to die and go to hell, but God saved them. He not only took away the Israelites' captivity, but gave them freedom in the full sense. They were free from Babylon and free from the sins that brought them there, free from God's punishment, free from their fear.

In exchange for the Day of God's Vengeance which they rightfully deserved, they received the Year of the Lord's favor as his chosen people. Again, this Year of the Lord's favor is a reference to the Year of Jubilee, which happened every 50 years in Israel. Every 50th year, not only were all the Israelite slaves freed, but all land that had been sold was returned to its ancestral owner. They would be released from slavery and blessed with land. They got a great gift—God's favor—in exchange for their lousy one.

Very soon they could celebrate Jubilee again with three more great exchanges… 1) For the ashes they wore in sorrow, God would give them a crown of beauty. 2) He would take away their cause for mourning and give them every reason to be glad, pouring soothing oil of healing on them. 3) In exchange for their despair, he would give them glory and every reason to praise God when he wrapped them up in Christ's righteousness. For as great as the return from captivity in Babylon would be, greater still was the spiritual deliverance they had in the Servant of the Lord—in Jesus. That's the greatest gift God could give to Israel or to us…


You see we too have been freed from a dungeon of darkness. We're no longer held captive by sin. We're no longer slaves to death. We're not lost in the blinding darkness of our own efforts to gain God's love. Instead we've received every blessing from God, having become what we were not in Christ when he became what he was not for us. At Christmas, he was born a lowly human. At his baptism he was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord and from that time on he began his mission: the work of our salvation, by making God's gift exchange.

He lived a perfect life on earth, always obeying God perfectly—and he gave that perfect gift of obedience to us. You see, Jesus not only removed our sins, but he also gave us the perfect gift of his righteousness. He made us what we were not—sinless, perfect, and perfectly pleasing to God, heirs of heaven itself and recipients of every good and perfect gift that comes from God.

Now we're no longer in darkness, but have clear direction in our lives—to serve our God in thanksgiving for the gift he's given, to bring glory to his name. We have God's favor (for more than a year; for all of eternity) with no need to fear God's coming Day of Vengeance. We have comfort in every situation, knowing that if God loves us enough to give us such great spiritual gifts, how much more can't we trust him to take care of our physical lives? We know he will provide for us in all our needs. The wife who gets a diamond necklace from her husband for Christmas can be sure he loves her enough to get her that book she's always wanted too.

Jesus gives us the best gifts. He gives us the crown of life in exchange for the ashes of our death. He gives us gladness, with the certainty that heaven itself is ours, in exchange for the sins that brought us such sorrow. He brought us a garment of praise, Jesus own robes of righteousness to replace our spirit of despair. Because Jesus became what he was not, and made us what we were not, praise God! We don't ever have cause to despair because we are his oaks of righteousness.

At the house Becky and I lived in when I served my vicar year in Austin, TX there were two giant live oak trees. One was in back yard, one was in the front. The branches covered entire property and gave great shade to the house. When someone first told me what variety of tree they were, I thought, "Why 'live' oak? Isn't it obvious it's alive and not dead?" But before long I learned that this particular deciduous tree was really like an evergreen in that it never lost it leaves completely. And while it made for constant yard work cleaning out the gutters and raking the lawn all year round, those trees were awesome. They were so huge they could never be moved. That's what God has made us in his gift exchange. In Christ, we are "called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

We can't be moved in our righteousness. Nothing can ever take it away because it doesn't come from us. It's a gift of God in his great exchange. Like a live oak, our spiritual life can never stop spreading its leaves all around and affecting every part of our lives and everyone we meet. Since our righteousness, life and salvation, come outside of us, as a gift of God, we can't ever be shaken.

So no matter what gifts you get from your friends and family this Christmas, even if it's a moldy loaf of bread, rejoice because you have the greater gifts of God's gift exchange. And join with Luther in praising God, saying "Lord Jesus, I am your sin; you are my righteousness. I have made you what you were not; you have made me what I was not." And give thanks to God for his great gifts! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Make the Proper Preparations (A sermon based on Mark 1:1-8)

There are lots of preparations that need to be made before Christmas, especially if you have guests coming over. We all have a very important guest coming to visit us soon: Jesus. He will return. But the thing is, we don't know when he will come. So we want to always be prepared to welcome that special guest. So far more important than getting the house ready with the decorations and the lights, we want to get our hearts ready with true repentance: Turning away from our sinful ways, and turning to our Savior in faith. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Mark 1:1-8 and be encouraged to make the proper preparations...

Make the Proper Preparations

A sermon based on Mark 1:1-8

Sunday, December 4, 2011 – Advent 2B


How are your Christmas preparations coming? You getting everything done? You have presents bought for everyone on your list? The gifts all wrapped? The tree up? The lights on the house yet? Are you going out of town for the holidays? If so, do you have the travel plans made, the tickets purchased, the bags packed? Or perhaps you have guests coming to your place for Christmas. Are you prepared for their arrival? Do you have the house cleaned, the meals planned, the guest bed all ready to go?

There's a lot to do to get ready for Christmas isn't there? A lot of preparations need to be made. And even if you don't have relatives staying at your place in the next few weeks, we all have a guest that's coming very soon… Jesus. For that reason, the most important thing to prepare this Advent season is ourselves. We want to prepare our hearts for Jesus return.

A man by the name of John, more commonly called, John the Baptist, helped the people of his day do that very thing—prepare for Jesus' arrival, his advent, on the scene. He helped them prepare their hearts by preaching a message of repentance. And really John helps us to do the same. He helps up prepare for Jesus' advent by that same message of repentance.

But what exactly does "repentance" mean? How do we get ready for Jesus' advent? Well to repent literally means to have a change of mind, a change of direction or to turn around. But when you turn around and make a U-turn, you not only turn from the wrong direction, but turn to the right direction. This morning John helps us Make the Proper Preparations. He helps us Turn From Our Sinful Ways and Turn To Our Savior in Faith. Listen again to a summary of John's ministry in Mark 1:1-8…


1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"— 3"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " 4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."


I.              Turn From Your Sinful Ways


Mark begins his gospel by telling us what it's all about. This whole book, he says, is the beginning of the gospel, the good news, about Jesus, the Christ, who was no ordinary man, but the very Son of God. That's his whole purpose in writing. So Mark skips past all the unnecessary stuff about Jesus childhood, his adolescent years, about the first thirty years of Jesus life. And he gets right into the ministry of Jesus. And it all began with John the Baptist who helped get the people ready. He helped them make the proper preparations for Jesus' advent.

But Mark points out that John wasn't just an ordinary guy. He was different, for a number of reasons. For starters, he had some special prophecies made about him. Mark quotes two Old Testament prophecies when he writes…"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"— 3"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "

Then he says, "And so John came." Mark is saying that God sent John to fulfill those prophecies. John did not come on his own, as some self-proclaimed prophet, but with divine authority. His was a message from God to prepare the way for the coming Savior, just like a messenger would travel ahead of a king to get the people to repair the roads on which the king would travel, to help them prepare for such an important guest. John was sent to prepare the hearts of the people, as that would be the road on which Christ would travel. And he did that by his message of repentance.

John was also different in the way he dressed and acted. He didn't dress in the finest of clothes like the Pharisees did. He didn't wear a nice suit and tie. John was a weirdo. But his strange dress and diet attracted people to him. Mark uses hyperbole when he says "the whole countryside and all the people of Jerusalem" went out to see him. And many people heard what John had to say.

And finally, when they did, they learned that John's message was different. By his dress and diet, he pointed out that the "material things" of this life weren't really that important. What really mattered was whether or not they were ready for Jesus' advent, God's coming to earth. And by his preaching John helped them get ready.

Though it must not have been fun for them to hear, John pointed out all their sin and called a spade a spade. The Greek word for sin in these verses is amartia, it means to miss the mark. John showed the Jews that they had missed the bulls-eye of God's demands. In fact, they had missed the target completely. God demanded absolute moral perfection from his people. But they were far from it.

In Luke 3 we get a sampling of what John preached to the people as he pointed out that sin. He pointed out their greed and selfishness as they misused the blessings God had given. He told them, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." (v.11) He pointed out their theft and their dishonesty in their attempt to get more material wealth for themselves. He told the tax collectors, "Don't collect any more than you are required to," (v.13) and the soldiers, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay." (v.15)

It certainly wasn't fun for them to have their sins pointed out. It never is, just like it's no fun to be woken up at three in the morning by someone screaming, "Fire! Fire!" But who would complain if the cry woke you from your sleep and saved your life? If that annoying scream saved you from burning alive? Who would get upset and say, "Don't wake me up! I'm sleeping!"? This cry of John's, pointing out their sin, was meant to save them from the eternal fires of hell.

And his shouts worked. The people did repent. They had a change of mind about themselves and saw what they really looked like in the mirror of God's law. They recognized how serious a problem their sins were. They confessed their sins and cried out to God for help.


God kept his promise about sending John the Baptist as the forerunner, the one who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. In fact, God has faithfully kept every promise he's ever made. For that reason we know that he will keep his promise about Christ's return to this earth. And so, we too had better make the proper preparations to get ready.

But how do we do it? Well the ads, flyers, and commercials all suggest that to get ready for Christmas you have to buy more stuff. Our society in general puts a great emphasis on material wealth, but never so much as around Christmas. All the retail stores pretend to help us get ready for Christmas with those countdown signs you see everywhere, "Only 21 days to Christmas!" But all of these distract us from what we really need to get ready. What we really need is repentance.

Though it may not be fun, we too need to have our sins pointed out to us. We too need to see our own reality in the mirror of God's law. We need this cry of "Fire! Fire!" to save our lives from hell. We need John's reminder that this life isn't what it's all about. It's not all about fine clothes and great foods. It's not about living in nicest homes in the best parts of town. It's not all about the great presents I get. It's all about getting ready for Jesus.

We need to have our greed and selfishness pointed out just as the Jews did. We need to be warned against those attitudes that always want more and more, never content with what we have, never willing to share with others or give to God with willing hearts. We too need to have our dishonesty and thievery pointed out, like when we rob from our employers by not working our hardest all the time we're on the clock. We too need to have the Holy Spirit work in our hearts with his law to turn us around, to turn us from our sinful ways that we confess them before God and cry out to him for help.

And when we do, he won't leave our cry unanswered but will give us the comfort of the gospel. That's exactly what John did. He not only told the people to turn away from their sins, but he pointed them to Christ and told them to turn to him in faith…


II.            Turn To Your Savior in Faith


When John pointed out the people's sins, they did recognize that there was nothing they could do to take back the sins they committed. There was nothing they could do to make things right with God again. They were in desperate need of help. They badly needed a Savior. And when they looked to John to be that Savior, he pointed out that he wasn't it…

7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

John didn't say, "Come to me. I have the solution. I have all the answers. I'll give you all you need." No. He knew he couldn't help these people himself, so he didn't want them to focus their attention on him. Though Jesus said of John the Baptist, "I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…" (Luke 7:28) John didn't want to be thanked for his ministry. He didn't care if he was acknowledged. "Don't look for your help from me. Look to the one who is to come. I'm not even worthy to untie his shoes, he's so great. (A task that a Hebrew master wouldn't even demand of his slave it was considered so lowly a job.) He is where you ought to turn," John told them.

And he pointed them to the real answer to their great need. He pointed them to Jesus. Though Jesus came after John chronologically, being born later, appearing on the Judean scene at a later time, he was and is greater than John—the very Son of God, the Savior of mankind. So John rightly said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:27) John was only the instrument to point people to Jesus. Jesus had the real power. John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with his Holy Spirit. If the people would look to Jesus, John pointed out, they would be forgiven of their every sin.

And the Holy Spirit did work through John and his message to not only turn the people away from the wrong direction of their sinful lifestyles and self-righteousness, but to also turn them to the right direction, to Jesus their Savior. Many people heard John's message of Law and Gospel, confessed their sins and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.


And dear friends, when we recognize our sin and our great need for a Savior, God doesn't leave us hopeless either. He sends "Johns" into our lives to point away from the wrong solution and toward the only right way in Christ Jesus. We do need a Savior, in a bad way. But our help doesn't come from a man like John, it doesn't from your pastor or your president, from your wealth or your works. It doesn't come from your own wisdom, your own spiritual struggles, or your repentance. We, like John, need to look away from ourselves and toward our Savior. There we find the real solution to our great need.

In Christ, we find the forgiveness of sin, for every time we've missed the mark. We find forgiveness for our materialism, for losing sight of what matters most. There we find forgiveness for giving without a cheerful heart or motivated by how good it makes you feel, instead of by thanksgiving to God. There we find forgiveness for every sin since our Savior took them all on himself and paid the penalty they deserve on the cross.

And we turn to Jesus in faith and remember our baptisms where our sins were forever removed. We remember our baptisms and drown our sinful, selfish natures again each day. We turn around, turn away from our sins and put our trust in Jesus who won salvation for us. Then we're truly prepared for Christ's advent, ready for his return.

And then we're equipped to be like John and help others to get ready too. Invite your holiday guests to come to church with you. Remind your co-workers that Christmas isn't all about gifts and commercialism. Invite them to the Kids' Christmas Eve service or to worship Christmas Day. In love, call out, "Fire! Fire!" and show your friends their sins so they too see their great need for a Savior. And share with them the only answer to their need in Jesus and his death on the cross. You too are God's instrument to lead others to repent, that they too might turn away from their sins, and toward their Savior; that they too might make the proper preparations and be ready for Christ when he comes.

These are the preparations that are far more important than the Christmas shopping, or the Christmas decorations, than the parties and events. And God will give us the courage, wisdom and strength to make the proper preparations. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611