Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are some things that people just don’t like to talk about. If you think about it you can probably think about some things that you don’t like to talk about. One of those things that people don’t like to talk about is sin. Sin. Don’t believe me? Just try it sometime. Go talk to someone about sin or, better yet, talk to someone about how we are all sinners and need to turn from our sinful ways. People don’t like to hear that. It’s just not a very nice thing to talk about, it’s not encouraging or uplifting, it’s kind of depressing actually. Because people don’t like to hear about sin there is even a temptation not to talk about it in church because it’s not the kind of thing to talk about if you want your church to seem more attractive to outsiders (or at least we tell ourselves that). Sin is just not much fun to talk about, so we try not to talk about it too much.
John the Baptist, on the other hand, has no problem talking about sin. He is preaching out in the wilderness of Judea, somewhere near the Jordan River, and people are flocking out of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to come to his church and hear what he has to say. And out there in the wilderness John is talking about sin. Actually he’s not just talking about sin, he’s talking about how the people who have gathered out there are sinners and he calls on them to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It’s kind of amazing actually that so many people are out there listening to John with the way that he is talking. John warns the people with vivid images about God’s wrath on sinners. “The axe is laid to the root of the tree,” John says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” The mightier one is coming with the fire of judgement, John warns them, he will gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff, the leftover stuff that is no good for anything, will be burned with fire. So repent, John says, turn away from sin.
Many of the people who come out to see John there at the Jordan are struck by what John is preaching to them and they do repent. They repent by being baptised. Verse six of our gospel today tells us that “they were baptised by [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” That last part of the verse there is important, “confessing their sins.” Notice what it does not say, it does not say that they were baptised after they confessed their sins or that they were baptised and then they confessed their sins afterward. Instead, it says they were baptised, confessing their sins. Those two things (baptism and confession of sins) happen at the same time! The baptism itself was a confession of sins! Getting baptised is confessing that we are sinners and receiving God’s forgiveness poured out on sinners in water and the Spirit. Baptism is confessing our sin. Baptism is repentance.
But then some other people came out to see John at the Jordan River. Some Pharisees and Sadducees make the trek out there to see what is going on. Matthew tells us that they came out there “for baptism” in verse seven. Apparently they want to be baptised too, but the problem is that they have no interest in repenting or confessing their sins. They seem to want to be baptised, but they will have none of this sin and repentance business. They don’t want to talk about sin, especially their own sin, and because of this when John sees them he unloads on them. “You brood of vipers!” John says, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!” In other words, confess your sins, repent, be baptised for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Without repentance, without confessing our sins, there is no hope to escape from the “wrath to come” that John is warning the people about. John refuses leave the door open even a crack for people to think that they can somehow escape God’s judgement without confessing their sins. We might not like to talk about sin very much, but John won’t let us get off the hook that easily. Without repentance, without confessing our sins, there is no hope. Without repentance we are doomed to the wrath to come.
This is one of the important messages that John has for us today. We are sinners, just like the people back then were, and we need to repent, confess our sins, and seek God’s forgiveness. The problem the Pharisees and Sadducees had back then when they came out to the Jordan and the problem that we have today is that we minimalize the problem of sin. For some reason we don’t think the problem is that bad. We know we have some bad habits, some sinful things that we should not do that we keep on doing, but we often don’t grasp how bad it really is. We are like the knight in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail who has his arm chopped off but claims it is just a scratch or a flesh wound. We pretend that our sinful problem is just a “flesh wound” that we can just ignore, when in reality our whole arm has been chopped off or, more accurately, we are dying in sin.
The thing is that sin is not just some bad stuff that we do sometimes. Sin isn’t even just actions. Sin is the reality that our hearts are naturally completely and totally turned against God. The bad stuff that we do is just a symptom of the actual problem that our hearts are turned away from the Lord our God. And because our hearts are turned away from God we are left facing the wrath of God against sin that John warns us about without any hope.
We might not like talking about sin much, but we need to talk about it. We have to talk about sin. We need to confess our sin and repent just like John said all those years ago. It was true then, its true today, and it’s always been true. Listen to these words in Psalm 32 written by David hundreds of years before John started preaching, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
When David kept quiet about sin and refused to talk about his sin God’s hand was heavy upon him. He felt this crushing weight of sin. He had no hope. But when He confessed His sin unto the Lord, God forgave David all of His sin.
We first confessed our sin on the day when we were baptised. Baptism is, in part, a confession of sin. It is a confession that we are not just a little bit sinful, but sinful through and through. That is why we baptise babies who sometimes have hardly been around long enough to do anything that we would call sin, but they have the same deadly sinful disease that we all have. We are all born with it. But when we were baptised we confessed that we are sinful and needed God’s forgiveness and there in the water God poured out the forgiveness of the cross of Jesus on each and every one of you. Even if you were baptised as a tiny baby and could not speak yet, you confessed your sin unto the Lord and He forgave the iniquity of your sin.
Our lives now as Christians are a constant life of repentance, of confessing our sin and returning to what God has done for us in our baptism. Every time we gather here and confess our sins at the beginning of the service we are returning to our baptism where we confessed our sins for the very first time and received the glorious forgiveness of Jesus that was won for us with His blood on the cross and washes away all of our sin. Baptism is repentance. Living a life of repentance is living a life in baptism.
Without repentance there is no hope for sinners, but in baptism and the repentance that is in baptism there is abundant hope for us. Because all the wrath and fire that John the Baptist talked about was poured out on Jesus on the cross. He suffered the fiery wrath of God for our sin so that we would never need to face that wrath for ourselves. Instead, water was poured out on us in our baptism, water that carried the grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness of Jesus and not the fiery wrath of God. Because of this baptism into Jesus we have hope.
As we get ready for Christmas this year sin might seem like the last thing that we want to talk about. We probably won’t be adding it to our list of talking points for the family meals that come up around the holidays. But, as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus for the first time in the manger and the second time on clouds of glory, sin is something we need to talk about. But for us talking about sin does not need to be a burden because we can talk about sin with the knowledge that our God has already forgiven all of our sin. Let’s talk about our sin with our Father in Heaven, let’s confess our sins unto the Lord and He will forgive the iniquity of our sin. In Jesus name, Amen.