Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand.
Return to the waters of the Jordan: to the significance of your Baptism. Die, and be raised up.
The coming of the Kingdom of Heaven is not to be taken lightly or for granted, nor approached carefree like an annual Christmas party. This is no lark. God’s Kingdom comes upon you with both threat and promise. How shall you enter and live in that Kingdom?
Do not boast of your own works or pedigree, nor rely upon your own accomplishments or contributions. Do not rest easy on your Lutheranism, nor even rely upon your Baptism (far less your Confirmation) if you are not returning daily to the dying and rising of contrition and repentance, confession, and faith in the forgiveness of sins (which is what you need if you are to live).
Examine yourself. Consider where God has placed you in life, in light of His Ten Commandments. Remember that your entire life is from God, and that all your days and hours are lived before Him. He is a jealous God; He punishes the sins of the fathers and of their children. Fear God, therefore. Fear His wrath, and do not disobey Him.
Repent of your sins. Stop doing what you should not do, and begin doing what you should. Stop making excuses for yourself. Do not mock and despise the Lord your God by remaining content and at ease in your sin.
If you would live by faith — if you would live at all — confess your sins and seek the grace of God. Seek the Lord where He may be found: not in your heart, nor in your own head, nor in your closet, but in His Word and the preaching of it. Don’t hole up in your house. Go out to the Jordan (to the Church, the community of the baptized) to hear the Voice of the Lord in the preaching of His Word. Confess your sins, that you may hear and receive the Absolution of all your sins from the one who is sent to speak for Christ.
If you knew the wrath of God against sin — against your sins of thought, word and deed — and if you knew the wrath that is to come in the final judgment — you would not delay any longer; you would not stay away nor be so proud (or so shy, or whatever it is that prevents you).
Repent of your sins, and bear the fruit of repentance.
Confessing your sins and seeking forgiveness from the Voice of the Lord, that is the first fruit of repentance. And having then confessed your sins, do better. Go and sin no more.
God is able to raise up children for Himself from stones, that is true, but the stones do not presume upon Him. They are not so proud as those who rest easy in their self-conceit, who do not fear the Lord their God. The stones fear God and honor His commands.
Do you not fear Him? Obey His Voice.
The trees also do not presume upon the Lord, but produce fruit after their own kind, according to His Word (in their own proper place). Every tree that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire to be destroyed. How is it with you and your tree?
Are you bearing the fruits of repentance? Are you living in faith toward God, in constant prayer, always hearing His Word as your very life breath, and seeking every opportunity to receive His gifts? Are you abiding in love toward your neighbor, with peace in your heart and grace upon your lips and tangible charity in your hands? Are you keeping the commandments of the Lord, not only superficially (so that man can see and praise you), but inwardly and outwardly, from a heart of faith and love, abounding in every good work?
The Lord has brought you out of Egypt by His mighty hand, yet you grumble against Him in the wilderness (as though He had wronged you), and you despise the bread with which He feeds you.
The Lord is coming, your King, the Judge of all the earth, of the living and the dead. His axe is already laid to the root of the tree. Shall you bear fruit and live, or be cut down and die? He shall harvest His fields and thoroughly sift His crops. His fruit He gathers, the chaff He destroys.
Repent — for His Word and Spirit leave no one unscathed and no one standing. Repent — for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Indeed, it is among you in the Person of Christ. Behold, your King is coming to you. He is righteous, and He judges the world in His righteousness.
But His ways are not your ways, and His thoughts are not your thoughts, and you never could prepare yourself for Him. Not even John, the Voice of the Lord in the wilderness, yet knows or comprehends His Wisdom and His Righteousness.
Your tree has been barren. But He hangs Himself upon it. It is cut down by the Axe of His Law, and He is stricken and slain by the judgment of His own mouth. He bears the verdict, the wrath, the punishment and death, in order to bear the fruit of repentance for you.
His tree is the burning bush, engulfed with flames in a blazing, fiery furnace, but not consumed. In this the glorious presence of God is manifest, in that He comes to save His people from their sins.
Here then is the tree of the Cross, raised by the Lord and standing as a signal for the nations, even to the ends of the earth: according to His promises, according to His mercy.
Here is the one tree that remains, bearing the fruit of Christ.
His death is the pathway of repentance for you: through the wilderness, across the Jordan, into life. When you are put to death with Him, you are not destroyed but delivered, for He Himself has conquered death. His Resurrection from the dead is the gathering of the first fruits into His barn (into His heaven). And you are gathered together with Him in that harvest, not to be scattered to the winds nor burned with unquenchable fire, but to live with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever.
Thus, the preaching and Baptism of repentance are for the forgiveness of your sins. This Voice and this water turn you around, away from sin and death, to face the Lord, your King, who comes to you: not for condemnation, but for mercy, peace and joy.
You have not borne good fruits for Him, but He has borne the fruit of repentance for you; and with His Word and Spirit, with His Gospel of forgiveness, He bears good fruit in you (faith and love). He bears this fruit in you after His own kind: after His own kindness: with which He also now and ever feeds you, in the wilderness unto life, and in His Kingdom, here and hereafter forever.
Receive and eat this fruit of His Tree, His holy Body. Drink this fruit of the true Vine, His precious Blood. Eat, drink, and be merry, abounding in the hope of His mercy. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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