December 12, 2021
Pastor John Hering
7 So John kept saying to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Therefore produce fruits in keeping with repentance! Do not even think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ because I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 9 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 The crowds began to ask him, “What should we do then?”
11 He answered them, “Whoever has two shirts should share with the person who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. They said, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 To them he said, “Collect no more than what you were authorized to.”
14 Soldiers were also asking him, “And what should we do?”
He told them, “Do not extort money from anyone by force or false accusation. Be satisfied with your wages.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But someone mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
18 Then with many other words, he appealed to them and was preaching good news to the people.
Jackie Hering is famous! Jackie Wins! Jackie is my nephew’s wife and she participates in international Triathlons . This past week there was a big competition between Jackie and Lucy Hall. Lucy jumped out to a big lead in the swimming and bike riding portion of the race. But, Jackie overtook Lucy Hall at the Clash Daytona Triathlon on the last lap before the finish line to be the champion. Now, this didn’t happen overnight. There are years of careful diet and exercise plans and then comes the training. Earlier this year when we were at their house we needed something for the meal and Jackie jumped on her bike and rode to the store and back. But, all this training paid off at the finish line. Or think about the couple that has been living in an apartment for a while penny-pinching and coupon-clipping saving up as much money as they can in order to purchase their first house. Proper preparation pays off. Or how about the student who pays extra attention in the classroom, takes detailed notes, reviews them nightly and gets an A+ on the final exam. All this proper preparation pays off.
Are you getting the point? So, how are you preparing for Christmas? I’m not talking about what kind of Christmas cookies you’re baking, family letter you’re writing, decorations you’re putting up or even what travel plans you might be making. I want to know how you’re preparing your heart for Christmas? The Lord sent John the Baptist to help the people prepare the hearts of God’s people to receive the Messiah. This was John’s message: “produce fruits in keeping with repentance.” That is our call today from this Word of God, namely
Produce Proper Produce
From Hearts of Repentance
The crowds were coming out to John to hear him preach and to be baptized by him. Some were caught off guard by his greeting: “7 So John kept saying to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Let’s see, shall we use this greeting in our Christmas cards this year? It would grab people’s attention for sure. It probably isn’t on your list of Advent greetings either, “Happy Advent you offspring of vipers!” But, it’s the truth. John knew the crowds he was speaking to. And he might as well be talking to you and me. Calling us an “offspring of vipers” is the same thing as saying by nature, “We were children of Satan.” It is hard for us to hear these words, but we need to hear them. When we were born we were born as children of the devil and not spiritual children of God—even if our parents were the best Christians ever. The Apostle Paul talks about this condition in Romans 3, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one….They all turned away; …. There is no one who does what is good; there is not even one.” It doesn’t take long to see this condition in people with evil thoughts, cursing and swearing, and sinful actions that reveal the truth. In spiritually dead people there is nothing good. Even the best of efforts are laced with sin and nothing but poisoned produce. John is speaking to people with Hearts In Need of Repentance.
John spoke about another attitude that people have: “Do not even think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ because I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.” Just like the Israelites, people often claim their status in society based on their ancestry. The Israelites thought they would be saved because of their heritage. They thought God must be good to them because of who they were regardless of how they lived their lives. The same could be said of us when we say, “I’m a Christian,” and take that to mean I can lie, lust and lash out at others. God must be good to me because of who I am so I don’t have to go to church, I don’t have to help others and I don’t need to defend my neighbor’s reputation because I’m a Christian! The truth is these are rotten nasty fruits of sinners, not saints. We are in need of Hearts of Repentance.
So, as we prepare for Christmas we need to heed the warning that our preparation for Christmas isn’t hypocritical. “9 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.” You can go to Covington’s Nursery to purchase an apple tree, but if it doesn’t produce apples, you have to wonder if you got scammed. Likewise a person who claims to be getting ready for Christmas needs to ask a serious question: What does my Christmas Preparation Fruit look like? Watch out for bad fruit! Luther said there is no sin that is too big to damn us, and there is no work so good that it saves us. So, if someone commits adultery that sin does not damn them. But, that sin gives testimony to their unbelief. So, what does the Produce (fruit, works) that God is looking for look like?
John can answer that for us. “8Therefore produce fruits in keeping with repentance!” Yes, Produce Proper Produce From Hearts of Repentance. Let’s be clear what “repent” means. It literally means to change your mind about sin. But, you can’t change your mind about something if you don’t realize a change needs to be made. First, realize that your sins have separated you from God and condemn us. Second, be turned from the rotten fruit that stinks up your life and be turned to Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit to turns you from spiritual death to spiritually life. The Holy Spirit uses the Means of Grace (the gospel in Word and Sacrament) to make us a living tree to Produce Proper Produce from Hearts of Repentance.
Then what? Well, the crowd asked the same question: “10 The crowds began to ask him, “What should we do then?” 11 He answered them, “Whoever has two shirts should share with the person who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. They said, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 To them he said, “Collect no more than what you were authorized to.” 14 Soldiers were also asking him, “And what should we do?” He told them, “Do not extort money from anyone by force or false accusation. Be satisfied with your wages.” There is a common thread here. A heart made alive in Christ turns away from the sinful fruits of selfishness, greed and looks to willingly share with others. It means being honest in the way you live with family and friends. It means not cheating, stealing, hurting or harming others. It means “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37, 39). It means Produce Proper Produce from Hearts of Repentance.
Transition: I live in a neighborhood called “Champion Lakes HOA.” If you drive down the streets you will have a pretty good idea of who is getting ready for Christmas. There are houses with lights, Christmas Trees are visible through the windows, festive wreaths are hanging on the door and some even have yard decorations. There is one house that has a huge skeleton (left over from Halloween) wrapped in Christmas lights. Some in the neighborhood hate it, but some think it’s cool! It is an interesting decoration for without Jesus Christ we are nothing but skeletons. But, wrapped in the righteousness of Jesus Christ we shine brightly as his dear people. In much the same way you can tell from the fruitful life of people who is ready for Christ’s coming (Advent). Producing Proper Produce shows you belong to Christ
With Hearts Rooted in Christ
Do you know how hard it is to grow anything in the desert? I think Val and Leon Rauch will soon figure this out when they move to Phoenix. It’s not impossible, but it is challenging and special works goes into it. Thank goodness for YouTube! First, you have to break up the rocky hard soil. Then you add some good top soil (probably from another state, LOL) into the ground. Once you’ve planted a tree or bush, you can’t just walk away. The dry climate would kill it. It needs water. So you run your irrigation line that’s connected to your sprinkler system to water that plant every day. Then you will see what happens. Out of the rock hard, barren ground will come some of the most beautiful trees and plants rooted in the well prepared and watered soil you’ve ever seen.
Likewise, it is hard to grow any spiritual fruits of repentance from the rock hard and barren hearts of sinful people. John the Baptist knew this. So, he pointed the people to what sin-filled hearts need to thrive. He pointed them to Jesus. “15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But someone mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Here’s the key! People need to have their hearts Rooted in Christ. In order to be rooted in Christ we need the work of the Holy Spirit. Here John is talking about Pentecost. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to work on the hearts of people through the gospel. The gospel is this: “Jesus died on the cross to wash away all our sins!” This powerful gospel is the powerful tool used by the Holy Spirit to break apart the stubborn sinful hearts of people. God plants the seeds of faith into hearts to trust in Jesus. If healthy thriving faith is going to grow it needs a constant watering of the gospel. Then having worked in us, the Holy Spirit works through us to Produce Proper Produce Rooted in Christ that will flourish.
Hearing this gospel message during Advent prepares our hearts for Christmas. God’s Word drives the root of our faith into Christ. We hear of his birth in Bethlehem, we kneel beside the manger and marvel that God took on human flesh, to watch the Lamb of God go to work in order to take away the sin of the world. We soak up the water of God’s Word to hear that our sins are paid in full and heaven is ours. Our faith smiles when we hear Zephaniah say, “Sing out, daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, you daughter of Jerusalem. 15 The Lord has removed the judgment against you. He has turned back your enemy. Israel’s king, the Lord, is in your midst! You no longer need to fear disaster” (Zeph 3:14-15). Let your spiritually happy, healthy heart Produce Proper Produce Rooted in Christ.
It is really awesome to watch people reach the goal of their training and preparation for triathlons, buying a house or doing well on a test. You are connected to Jesus who has done the work and completed your salvation. Dear Christian friends, you are ready to celebrate Christ’s birth and you are also ready for his return. John said, “17 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 Then with many other words, he appealed to them and was preaching good news to the people.” Jesus will return and gather you and all believers to be with him in heaven. Now is the time to live what Christ has made you. Produce Proper Produce with Hearts of Repentance that are Rooted in Christ. Be prepared to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Be ready when Christ returns to take you to heaven. Amen.