Matthew 3:1-12 (Advent 2A)

St. John, Galveston 12/4/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor


+ In Nomine Jesu +


Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


On this second Sunday in Advent, we meet up once again with John the Baptist, to hear his passionate call for repentance. On this particular occasion, there were two very different groups of people who went out to meet John that day. The first group, we are told, “were going out to him from Jerusalem, Judea and all the region around the Jordan.” In other words, this was a large group of people. Matthew goes on to tell us that they were “confessing their sins,” and so, we gather that they were hearing and taking heart John’s preaching. In some respects, the scene with this first group of people is reflective of Pentecost, because this group of people were baptized by John as they confessed their sin.  


The second group who came out to meet John that day, was “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” who were, as Matthew says, “coming to (John’s) baptism.”  John addressed this group very differently than the first. “You brood of vipers (he said)! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”


In seems, in this instance, that John had a bias for one of the groups of people over the other. To put it bluntly, it seems like he was playing favorites. One group was blessed with holy baptism, the visible Gospel, while the other was sent away with a stern warning about repentance and the fruits of repentance. Or, worse yet, it almost seems like John was measuring the conduct of these people lives and judging one of the groups of people as worthy of the Gospel and the other group as not being worthy of the Gospel.


Two different groups of people who are treated very differently by John. Why? Well, it’s really no more complicated than the fact one group came to John in repentance, while the other group of people thought they had no need for repentance. The two groups are illustrative of people throughout the world. All of us fall into one of the two groups. For brevities sake, let’s call these two groups, “sinners and a brood of vipers.” So, which are you, a sinner, or the spawn of a viper?  (Silence)


If you are waiting for more choices there aren’t any. It’s either, (A) a sinner, or (B) a brood of a viper. I know, this question seems like one asked in a typical children’s sermon, doesn’t it? When the pastor asks the kids a question the answer is always Jesus. In this case, while we know the answer should be (A) a sinner, I suspect we fear that it might be (B) a brood of a viper. After all, John scolds the second group for not bringing forth fruits of repentance.  And, as it were, you and I are frequently quite fearful that our repentance isn’t sincere enough, or that it isn’t good enough, or heartfelt enough to be accepted by God.


That being the case, we’re going to go back and take a closer look at the difference in the two groups of people who came out to the Jordan that day to help us better understand why the first group was received so graciously, while the second group was driven away harshly. We’ll start, as Matthew did, with the first group.   


How would you describe the first group? Well, we can start by acknowledging that they were sinners, as we all are, but they are sinners who are confessing their sins. In other words, they knew that they didn’t measure up to God’s holy and righteous standard for them. And they were sorry for their failure to do so. In fact, they not only were sorry for not doing the right things, they were sorry for not being right! Like the publican who stood in the temple with the rich man, one day, these people had a yearning in their hearts, whereby they cried out, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.”   


So, the question for you is, are you confessing your sins to God? If so, then keep on confessing them, even if they are the same sins you’ve confessed before. It is part of the mystery of the grace of God that He forgives the penitent even though they are forced, by necessity, to confess the same sins over and over again. God’s grace cannot be extinguished, nor can it be used up, or negated because of the sinfulness of our hearts. 


Like the first people who came to John that day, you have been baptized into Christ. Therefore, repentance itself, which is contrition and faith, is not even your doing. Rather, God’s word moves you to confess your sin and then it moves you to embrace His grace and forgiveness, which are new to you each and every morning, for great is His faithfulness. So, this first group of people “confessed their sins,” and they were baptized that day in the Jordan river. 


The second group of people went out to the Jordan that day, not to be baptized, not to be delivered from sin and death, but presumably because it seemed to be the thing to do. They were the religious leaders of the day. How would it look if everyone in Jerusalem, Judea and around the Jordan was going out to be baptized by John and they stayed behind? In a contemporary context, it would like a preacher announcing an altar call. Some people go forward, not because they have been convicted by God’s word, but because they don’t want to be the only person left sitting when everyone else has made their choice for Jesus. How would it look for the Pharisees and Sadducees if they didn’t follow everyone else out into the wilderness?


John though knew they lacked repentance. In other words, they weren’t sorry for their sins, nor did they seek forgiveness in Jesus. Actually, John knew they had substituted presumption for repentance. That happens sometimes, you know!? In the case of these Pharisees and Sadducees, they presumed they found grace in the eyes of the Lord through their ancestry. They were, after all, children of Abraham by birth!     


The question for us is, have we replaced repentance with presumption?  Do we think we are saved from the wrath of God because we are a “card carrying” member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod?  Or, are we saved from the wrath of God because we have been a member of this congregation for decades? Or, are you saved from the wrath of God because you do your best to live a good life, trying to be a moral, upright person? If, in any case, the answer is yes, God says, forsake that presumption, confess your sin and embrace the riches of His grace and forgiveness in Christ! 


The fruit of repentance that we sometimes fear we lack is, in fact, an integral part of our lives of faith. Sometimes it’s demonstrated in our efforts to make restitution for the harm we’ve done. Other times it’s in our striving to avoid the sin we so loathe. But, most of all, it is in our going back to God over and over again, saying, “I am a sinner in need for your forgiveness. Wash me clean. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Let the blood of your Son be my only hope. Let His righteousness be the only thing I presume upon for my salvation!” 


“Lord, I believe, were sinners more

Than sands upon the ocean shore,

Thou hast for all a ransom paid

For all a full atonement made.”


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.


+ Soli Deo Gloria +