JOHN PREPARES THE WAY
FOR REAL SALVATION.
In the name + of Jesus.
The Bible does not begin with “Once upon a time...” The Bible does not know any land of make-believe. The stories of Jesus are not Mother Goose or Brothers Grimm. They happened in a real place among real people at a specific time. St. Luke spells all of that out when he gives us the names of all these rulers. Some of them you don't know. You might have no idea where some of these places are. When the Gospel was read this morning, you might have even wondered, “Who cares?” They aren't your leaders, and they weren't from Michigan. But St. Luke names world rulers and local rulers to pinpoint the time when God chose to raise up a prophet to prepare the way for the Lord.
The events which are recorded in the Bible are not set in the land of make-believe because nothing about the Bible is make-believe. It is especially true in regard to the Lord's mercy, which caused him to raise up John the Baptist to preach. The Lord was sending his prophet for real sinners with real sins. John the Baptist was “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord...'” (Luke 3:4) For, the coming of the Lord is no small thing. He who created the world comes to his creation. He who gave Commandments for godly living comes to the people who were commanded to do these things. He who is almighty comes to those who are weak and mortal. He who is holy comes among sinners. Sinners who take this seriously tremble. Sinners who do not take this seriously are fools. If you straighten up your house because your mother-in-law is coming over, you had better have a greater concern that your Lord comes to you.
Therefore, in his mercy, the Lord raised up a prophet to prepare the way for the Lord. He does not want anyone to be unaware or unprepared for his coming. And so, John was the voice of one crying out. We can consider the other descriptions of John as the Bible records them. We can think that he is strange in the way he presents himself; his garments are weird. We can think he is unusual in what he eats. You might try locust and wild honey like you would try the atomic heat BBQ sauce, just to say you did it. But you wouldn't live on it. But Isaiah did not foretell a diet or a wardrobe. Isaiah foretold this about John: He is a voice crying out, and his voice prepares people for the Lord.
Now, if you know your mother-in-law is coming over and a messy house terrifies you, then your sins should terrify you at the coming if the Lord. But we rarely take these things very seriously. We do not live as if the Lord is coming. It has been 20 centuries since he has promised his return. Eventually, we don't feel any urgency about it. Our sins do not really terrify us. We don't feel much need to root our our sins or to flight against them, thinking that they are either not serious or not real.
Repent. Our wrong-doing is not make-believe. We might try to pretend we haven't really done anything bad, as if staying out of jail is the standard our Lord set. We might think that if we did not get caught, we really didn't do anything wrong. We might feel jealous of other people and say nasty things about them; but we figure as long as they don't find out, we're okay. We are careful about our audience, not our attitudes or actions. Our sins are not okay, and they are not make-believe. The guilt you bear is real, even if you don't feel really guilty about it. It is something that God sees and God knows about. You can hide it from your friends, maybe; but you cannot hide it from God. He knows all our nasty thoughts. He sees our hearts are sinful and corrupt. That's why we do things that are sinful and corrupt. Repent.
Therefore, John the Baptist raised his voice in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6)
Our sins block the way of God's favor coming to us. Your good works cannot save you, but giving yourself over to sin can damn you. If you let sin make itself at home with you, if you enjoy and embrace your sins, then the Holy Spirit has to depart from you because he who is holy cannot dwell together with sin. Therefore, John the Baptist urges us to get rid of our sins. We are to straighten out our crooked ways. We are to knock down our attitude that we are better than other people. We are to fill in all the holes where we don't do the good God desires us to do because we think the effort is not worth it or because the people are not worth it. Repent, and cast aside whatever is sinful in you.
Now, the effort we give to that is good. We should despise our sins. But you will probably also notice that, no matter how hard you try to overcome your sins, you still do them. No matter how much you try to do good, you just get lazy with it. Sometimes you don't want to do it, because there is no reward in it. So, even when we want to do good, we still fail. Even when we try to avoid evil, we still do it. The frustration is real.
John the Baptist declares good news to you. After he urges you to flee from your sins, he gives you something to flee toward. He declares: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6) Salvation does not come because you have made yourself worthy, or even because you improved your behavior. Once again, Jesus comes for real sinners. We do not have to pretend we are better than we are. We confess our sins, and God reveals the one who takes away all of our guilt, who removes God's punishment from us and puts it on himself, and who dies the death we had coming to us.
All flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:6) It is not only that all flesh shall see God's salvation, it is also that God's salvation comes in the flesh. Just as your sins are not make-believe, neither is God's mercy and salvation. God himself becomes flesh. He becomes man for the sake of mankind. He has come to assume, in his body, the blows that the guilty deserve. He was on full display for all to see—crucified in shame, dying in agony, rejected by God in total darkness, until he finally gave himself over into death. Jesus' public death displays God's wrath against sin and his public judgment upon sinners. Jesus has taken the place of all sinners—enduring a truly horrible death under God's curse. Jesus' death displays God's wrath, but more than that—it also publicly proclaims God's mercy. For, Jesus suffered all of these things for you. A real man, Jesus, suffered and died for real sinners. Since he has taken your sins from you, he gives you instead God's forgiveness and salvation.
All flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:6) The salvation of God is still on display today. While the sufferings and death of Jesus may be depicted in art, in jewelry, or in icons, the forgiveness won by Jesus is not delivered there. Art and jewelry and icons may keep you mindful of Christ, but salvation does not come through your own mental exercises. If they did, where would you find the certainty of your forgiveness? How would you know your mental images are vivid enough, strong enough, or frequent enough to guarantee salvation?
The Lord does not leave you in doubt. He tells you where to find true forgiveness and real salvation. The Lord bestows these through real things—through a real flesh and blood minister who proclaims the true words of God. Those words are also attached to water which washes away your sin and to bread and wine which feed you the body and blood of Christ. We do not have to pretend the Lord comes to us. The Lord actually delivers himself and his gifts to us for our salvation and forgiveness. Just as Jesus did the work to win your forgiveness, so also he does the work in applying that forgiveness to you. This is where you shall see the salvation of God; for this is where he gives it to you personally so that you do not have to doubt, or guess, or pretend, or make believe that you are forgiven.
John the Baptist gave voice to these things, not in a land of make-believe but in the land of Israel. It happened not “Once upon a time,” but in a specific time, about 2,000 years ago. It is not pretend or fiction. A real call to repentance goes out to real sinners. The voice cried out: “Prepare the way for the Lord.” (Luke 3:4) And the Lord comes for you—a real Savior who displays God's true love for you. Your sins are forgiven. You place in God's kingdom is secure.
And thanks to Jesus, you will live happily forever-after.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.