If there was urgency in the days of John the Baptist, there is no less so now, in these last days, in which God has spoken to us by His Son. Indeed, the day of reckoning, the Day of Judgment — of salvation or damnation — is nearer now than when you first believed.
The Righteous Reign of God is at hand, in which all things are fulfilled and made right by His divine and holy will, and salvation is established for all the citizens of His Kingdom.
To receive Him as your King, and to live with Him in His Kingdom, is to hear and heed His holy Word; to believe and trust in it; and, by such faith, to live a godly life according to it.
But if, instead of a godly life according to His Word, you live as a god unto yourself, and you attempt to make your own life, and you presume to rule your own kingdom, then the coming of the true King is a very real threat to the false reign of your hard heart. He will topple your self-made throne, and bring your castle crashing down around your deaf ears.
For those who are not ruled by Him; for those who reject Him and refuse to live under His Word; who will not receive Him as He is, but set themselves against Him in their sin — for them, the coming of the Lord, the Mighty One, is wrath and unquenchable fire. It is eternal hell and damnation. Not because the Lord is cruel or vindictive or angry all the time. Far from it! But rather because you cannot serve two masters, nor can you worship two gods.
If you are hell-bent on serving yourself, and if you persist in worshiping yourself, then you have set yourself at odds with the one true God, and you have declared war against Him (even in the pretense of your passive aggressive piety). Then you have made the true King of heaven and earth into your Enemy. But you will not win that war. You shall not prevail, nor shall you stand against Him. It is no contest.
If you would flee the wrath which is to come against all usurpers of God’s reign, and if you would not die but live forever by His grace — Repent.
Rely not on yourself; nor depend on your own intellect, ingenuity, elbow grease, or savvy; nor trust in your fine pedigree, whether it be your last name, your family heritage, or your confirmation once-upon-a-time. Rather, acknowledge and confess your sins: That you are sinful and unclean, that you daily sin much, and that it’s not “okay” to be or live that way.
Consider the duties and responsibilities of your place in life, according to what the Lord your God has commanded. And then, confess that you have failed and fallen short; that you have sinned in your thoughts, words, and actions — in what you have and have not done.
In this way, by contrition and confession, put yourself to death; and turn back to the Lord: Live, first of all, and foremost, for His Kingdom and His Righteousness. That is to bear the fruits of faith and love in His Name, and for His sake. Which means humility concerning yourself, yet confidence in Christ, your Savior and King; and, following His gracious rule, to exercise compassion and charity for your neighbor, and to persevere in your vocations.
All of this is what “such baptizing with water” signifies, in accordance with God’s command and at His Word. This new righteousness of faith and life in Christ is what Baptism does, and what it gives to all those who receive it in repentant faith.
But, simply to be baptized — apart from such repentance and faith — that will not save you. Not because there is anything lacking in Baptism (there is not), but because of what is lacking in you, in your heart and mind, in your body and life.
As with the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to St. John then, so also now, and to the end of the age: It is a misuse and abuse of Holy Baptism, to be baptized, or to have your children baptized, but then to depart from the Word and preaching of God, to absent yourself from His Church on earth, and to live unto yourself without faith toward Him and love for others.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down — and the chaff will be sifted out and separated from the wheat — and it will all be burned in a fire that does not go out.
So urgent, then, is the preaching of repentance, that you might be spared from such wrath.
For so it is, not only from dead trees, but even from hard stones, that God is ready, willing, and able to raise up children of faith: for father Abraham, yes, but, above all, for Himself.
To this end, the One mightier than John has come; and He enters upon His righteous reign, surprisingly, by submitting Himself to John’s Baptism of repentance. He suffers Himself to be cut down by the axe, and to be engulfed by the fire of God’s righteous wrath; not for any sins of His own — He has none! — but for the sins of the world, He suffers and dies.
And from the root and stump of such death and damnation, His Tree of Death springs forth from the earth, and stands tall as a standard for the nations — and so also for you.
The Lord Jesus Christ and His Tree of the Cross bear the good fruits of repentance, for you and for the many: Such fruits are the mercies of God, His compassion for your suffering (even when it is your own fault), and His forgiveness of all your sins.
By these fruits of His Cross, your heart of stone becomes a new heart of flesh. You cease to worship yourself, in order to worship the One who saves you. And His Tree of Life bears good fruits after its own kind, even now in you. For God’s Kingdom comes to you also, when the Father in heaven pours out His Holy Spirit generously upon you through Jesus Christ your Savior, who was crucified for all your sins and raised for your justification.
In His Resurrection is the righteousness by which you are raised up to live with Him in His Kingdom. You are gathered with Him, as the finest wheat, into His barn forever and ever. For the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is already the judgment of God — the judgment of righteousness and salvation — for all who believe and are baptized into Him.
Do not doubt that, by your Holy Baptism, you pass through the waters of the Jordan River, out of the desert wilderness into the Promised Land of Canaan; and out of death and the grave into the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.
This, indeed, is the Kingdom of heaven; which is at hand, here and now, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus. It is here in the fruits of His Cross, which are given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for life and salvation in Him. So does Christ, your gracious King, reign over you in Peace and Love, both now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.