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John the Baptizer Prepare the Way (Mark 1:1-8) Advent 2B

December 4, 2011

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St. Mark 1:1-8


There’s a new preacher of God’s most holy Word in town.  Check that!  He’s out in the wilderness!  Created quite a stir.  A lot of buzz!  Preacher John is quite retro!  Dresses like an Old Testament prophet – especially Elijah.  Camel hair suit.  Leather belt.  And a desert diet to match.  Locusts dipped in wild honey.  Can you imagine how long his beard and hair are?  How filthy his fingernails?  How black his teeth?  How rotten his breath?  Good grief!  That’s worthy of a defrocking right there!     


But he sets up a pulpit in the desert.  Hears people confess their sin to him.  Baptizes sinners in the Jordan with a “baptism of repentance into the forgiveness of sins.” 


Would you take the time to check out preacher, confessor, baptizer John?  Would you even consider joining his First Wilderness on the Jordan?  Maybe – but only if he’d take the rugged, retro, Old Testament prophet look down a notch.  But perhaps not!  After all, he looks too much like a wacko!  Like some extreme occupy Wall Street critter!  Surely he has nothing to offer!  Nothing relevant!  Nothing life transforming!  Would you trust your children with a preacher who looked like that?  He’s the kind that may just end up in prison! 


So John doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance of establishing a congregation in the desert let alone making it mega!  You and I would stay away.  We’d blow him off!  We’d have lots of pious, religious, and practical excuses to never make a visit to First Wilderness on the Jordan established by the Rev. John the Baptizer.  And we would do so at our eternal peril.


And yet God’s Word preached gathers quite a large congregation! “The 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.”   


But Preacher-Messenger-Voice John is not the star of the show!  His sermon points not to himself but to another:  the coming Christ – the promised Messiah!  John is just pre-game!  He’s has appeared to prepare sinners for game time!  Prime time is the arrival of the Christ!  “The Christ is coming after me and He is at hand,” John proclaims.  “He’s the powerful One!  He’s everything!  I’m nothing!  I wouldn’t even dare to bend over and take off His sandals.  I baptize with water.  But the Messiah – the Messiah – who comes after me – He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”   


Again, Preacher John, has a First Wilderness on the Jordan only for the sake of preparing sinners for the coming Christ whose name is Jesus!  And surprise!  Surprise!  Sinners are coming out of the woodwork:  “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem!”  First Wilderness on the Jordan is a congregation chock full — of sinners!


And to be prepared for Jesus coming into the world and in your life is to first of all admit the truth about yourself.  And the truth is this:  “I am a sinner!  There’s no denying it.  I am a son/daughter of Adam and Eve.  The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.  I am guilty.  I live as if God doesn’t exist and as if I am most important – even god-like!  I don’t honor God’s name.  My worship and prayer life are erratic or non-existent.  I won’t let God’s love have its way with me and so I don’t love others.  Instead, I hurt people, especially those closest to me in my family and congregation.  I fail to help people in need because I can only think and do for myself.  My every desire and my every deed is saturated and stained with sin.  And because of my sin I deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.”  When you believe and confess this truth about yourself based on God’s clear Word regardless of who preaches it (John of First Wilderness or Kuhlman of Trinity, Murdock), then you’re being well-prepared.  Well-prepared for the Christ – Jesus to come into your life!  To rock your world! 


For only sinners need or want the Savior!  Jesus has come to save sinners.  Sinners!  Only sinners!  So you and I qualify!  In fact, we are well qualified!  Over qualified in the sin department!


And so John prepares the sinners at First Wilderness for the coming of Jesus with a “baptism of repentance into the forgiveness of sins.”  Forgiveness is God’s answer to sin and sinners.  Forgiveness is the name of the game.


No forgiveness and all sinners are left with is the wrath of God!  Deal with God apart from forgiveness and all that remains for sinners is a forevermore damnation in hell.  No forgiveness = no salvation for any sinner!


And so Jesus the Christ comes!  Because of Him God’s wrath against sinners is turned away.  Propitiated.  Satisfied. Cooled.  Extinguished.  For Jesus comes to take all sin in His Body.  “On Him was laid the iniquity of us all,” (Is. 53).  Jesus comes to be sin – MAXIMUM SINNER – so that He takes the sinner’s place.  “He who knew no sin was made to be sin,”  (2 Cor. 5).  So that He receives the punishment all sinners deserve on the cross:  hell’s eternal damnation!  “Cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree,” (Gal. 3:13) – that’s the crucifixion!  And so He cries out as He suffers the eternal curse:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).


Salvation depends on Jesus taking your sin – all of it – becoming sin and suffering your damnation!  Because in the end, either your sin will be on you or on Christ.  If Jesus doesn’t bear your sin, then you carry them, die with them, and be damned in them.  Your sin must be Christ’s sin or you will perish eternally!


But on the cross Jesus is wrapped in your sin! To be your Savior!  The only Savior for sinners!  All your sin is His!  He’s taken it.  Answered for it.  All your sin is defeated sin in Jesus!  He doesn’t count any of it against you.  All your sin is forgiven because of His shed, sacrificial blood on the cross.


And you, just as John promised, have been baptized by Jesus “with the Holy Spirit.”  That was your water baptism in the Triune Name!  The Baptism that Jesus instituted in Matthew 28 is this Baptism “with the Holy Spirit.”  There is no other. 


And in that water hooked with Christ’s own mandate and institution Word of Matthew 28 you have been born of water and of the Spirit.  You have been saved through the “washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3).  That is Holy Baptism.  You have been given all of Christ’s holiness and righteousness at the font.  You have become a new creation – a new creature that is spelled:  F-A-I-T-H!  Faith in Jesus – a new creation — because of the Holy Spirit given to you through the water and Word of Baptism!  And it too is:  “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” as the Creed confesses it!


St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13 these words:  “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.”  But then Paul also goes on to more:  “And we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  Today, as you eat and drink the Lord’s most holy Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar you are given to drink of the Spirit. 


In other words, with very words of Jesus that bestow and give to sinners His Body and Blood in the mouth, the Holy Spirit is at work, comes, and dwells in, with and under you!   Your body is a temple, a dwelling of the Spirit – given by Jesus Himself!  Going to the Sacrament is a Holy Spirit-filled life!  A Pentecostal life!  A holy life! 


Why?  Because you and I, as sinners, are nothing!  But Jesus is absolutely everything!  He has come for sinners.  And His words govern your lives.  His words – His promise — are salvation!  And His words are:  “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.”


And He has gathered quite a congregation around His Word.  No longer a First Wilderness on the Jordan.  But a Trinity, Murdock.  No longer a John the Baptist.  But Jesus Himself through the long history of preachers in this place.


In the Name of Jesus.         


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