The Second Sunday in Advent at Hope, Jerseyville
“The Lord and His Messenger”
Sermon Text: Malachi 3:1-7b
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What sort of pastor do you think Jesus would have been? I think we should be able to agree that He would have been a good pastor, the perfect and best pastor, but would you want Him as your pastor? Would you like Him as a pastor? What about John the Baptist? I don’t think we would be quite so eager to have John the Baptist as we would be to have Jesus, although I think having Jesus as a pastor would be harder than most would think, but we’ll get to that.
When thinking about what kind of pastor and preacher John the Baptist would be, I think we can draw from both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings. The Old Testament reading talks about a messenger that will be sent to prepare the way before the Lord, and the Gospel reading identifies John the Baptist as that messenger, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
This is the job of a pastor. Really, the work of John the Baptist is more like the work of a pastor than the work of Jesus. Jesus is the Lord and Savior. Your pastor is not here to save you. I can’t do that. What I can do is to point you to Jesus,prepare His way to come to you, to do the work that John the Baptist does. So what and how does he do this work?
Well the first words we hear from John are not, “grace, mercy, and peace,” but “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” A real cheery, feel good preacher isn’t he?
He calls the people he has been sent to preach to a “brood of vipers.” He calls them the offspring and children of a venomous, deadly serpent. Their lineage is not of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Promise as they would claim, but of that snake, the devil, who deceived Adam and Eve and led them into sin and death.
Their roots and origins, and ours, are not from a fruitful tree, but a deadly one. We are born and sprout and grow, not from the tree of life, but of sin and death. Our heritage, our blood, and our ways must change. We must repent, turn from our evil ways, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We must break off and break away from our self-righteousness, be cut off and cut away from our greed and selfishness, and be grafted into the vine and the tree that gives life. A total change of who we are to the very core. That is what John the Baptist calls for and the kind of pastor and preacher that John the Baptist shows himself to be.
And before you go off dismissing him as just the messenger, consider what the Old Testament reading and what John says about Jesus. The Old Testament says that the Lord who is to come “is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”John describes him with “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” The message and preaching of John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus is really not that different from the message and preaching of Jesus.
So often what we see of Jesus is nothing more than a caricature of him. You know those almost cartoony looking pictures that someone might draw of you at an amusement park where certain features or aspects are emphasized or exaggerated. The final product resembles the real thing enough to be identifiable, but the real thing is much different. Sure, Jesus is love and has care and concern for those who are in need, but He is also a just judge and harvester only keeping the grain that is good and throwing the weeds and the chaff into a fire that is never burned up.
Yes, Jesus is merciful and forgiving, but it is not without sacrifice and blood and gore. He is not a ghost or a spirit who passes through you removing your sin and your impurity without you so much as feeling a thing. He is a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap. As the refiner’s fire, He is not afraid to turn up the heat and put you to the fire to bring your sinful impurities to light. As the fullers’soap, He is not afraid to put on the pressure, to push and press the soap into a garment in order to draw the dirt and filth to the surface.
And when Jesus turns up the heat and puts on the pressure, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” No one stands before the Lord and endures. No one is able to even stand before His messenger as John the Baptist puts the screws to those who come to hear him. These men come and preach to fill every valley, make every mountain and hill low, straighten out the crooked, and smooth out the rough.They do not come to make God’s Word softer or easier to handle and less harsh for you, but to change you that you are able to hear it and believe it. They sound like great pastors don’t they?
And yet, they are. A refiner does not purify silver to throw it away, and a fuller does not clean a garment in order to roll it into a ball and set it on fire. The messenger does not come to remove all the people and get them out of the way so that the Lord doesn’t have to deal with them. They preach to prepare you not to stand before the Lord when He appears, but in Him.
You may not have a righteous bone in your body, a holy thought in your head, or even one sanctified blood cell in your veins, yet “you,O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The impurity and the filth and the sin in you is drawn out, refined, pushed out, and washed by the refiner and purifier.
Jesus does not turn up the heat, put on the pressure, and preach the Law in order to kill you,but in order to separate you from your sin leaving you pure, holy, and righteous. And He does not leave you to endure the heat and the weight alone,but when the heat is the highest and the pressure is the greatest, He is endures it on your behalf, that you would be found in Him.
When the full weight of the world and the wrath and punishment of God for your sin squeezed the life out of the sinner, Jesus was the one who was condemned, pronounced guilty, and lost His life as the just and right sentence for your crime. And when the heat of the unquenchable fires of hell burned at their hottest, it was Jesus who had descended into hell for He could endure their heat, overcome their torturous flames, and walk away alive with nothing more than a few scars on His hands, feet, and side.
And enduring the punishment of the cross, of death, and of hell for you, He comes to you again,wipes and washes away all of the impurity and filth of your sin by the water and His Word put upon you in your Baptism so that you would not stand before Him, but in Him as forgiven, pure, and righteous. By cutting Himself off from His Father, He cuts you from your tree of sin and plants you in Himself. He separates you from that brood of vipers, crushes the head of that mother, and makes you a child of God who is fed and nourished in body and soul by the body and blood of Christ given for you. From your stone cold, sinful heart, He raises up a child of Abraham, a child of Promise, a child of everlasting life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.