Repent! For 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 should it be approached with relaxed ease like an annual Christmas party. This is no lark. God’s Kingdom comes upon you with both threat and promise. How will you enter and live within that Kingdom?
Do not boast of your own works or pedigree, nor rely on your accomplishments or contributions. Do not rest easy in your Lutheran heritage, nor rely even on your Baptism, far less the fact that you were confirmed, if you are not returning daily to the dying and rising of contrition and repentance, to confession, and to faith in the forgiveness of your sins, which is what you need in order 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.
Hear what He has said. He is a jealous God; He punishes the sins of the fathers and their children.
Fear the Lord your God, therefore. Fear His wrath, and do not disobey Him.
Repent of your sins. Stop doing what you should not do, and start doing what you should. Stop making excuses for yourself. Do not mock and despise the Lord by persisting in your sins.
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 is found. Neither in your heart nor in your head, and not in your closet, but in the preaching of His Word. Don’t hide yourself away. Go out to the Jordan, that is, to the Church, to the gathering of the baptized, that you may hear and heed the Voice of the Lord.
And at His Word, confess your sins, that you may hear and receive His Absolution of your sins.
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 Day of Judgment — then you would delay no longer. You would not stay so far away or be so proud, or so shy, or whatever it is that hinders you.
Take to heart the preaching of St. John. Repent of your sins, and bear the fruits of repentance.
The confession of your sins, and the faith that actively seeks out the Lord’s forgiveness, these are the first fruits of repentance. And having then confessed your sins, do better. Go and sin no more.
God is indeed able to raise up children for Himself from the stones, but the stones do not presume upon Him. The stones are not so proud as those people who rest easy in their self-conceit, who do not fear the Lord their God. The stones fear God and honor His commands.
What, then? Do you not fear Him? If so, obey His Voice.
The trees likewise do not presume upon the Lord, but they produce their fruits in due season and after their own kind, according to the Word that God has spoken and the place that He has given.
Every tree that does not bear its proper fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire to be destroyed.
What about you? Are you bearing the fruits of repentance within your station in life? Are you living in faith toward God, in constant prayer, always hearing His Word as the very breath of life, and eagerly pursuing every opportunity to receive His gifts?
Are you living and abiding in love toward your neighbor, with peace in your heart and grace upon your lips and tangible charity in your hands? Are you supporting the Church and Ministry with sacrificial giving and serving, that you and your neighbors might rest in the work of the Gospel?
Are you keeping the Commandments of the Lord your God? Not only superficially, in such a way that people can see what you’re doing and praise you, but inwardly and outwardly, from a heart of faith and love, abounding in all good works to the praise and glory of God in Christ Jesus?
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.
See here now, 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 is harvesting His fields; He is sifting His crops. He gathers His fruit, but 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. It is here among you in the Person of Christ.
Behold, your King is coming. He is righteous, and He judges the world in His righteousness.
But know this: His ways are not your ways, and His thoughts are not your thoughts, nor could you ever manage to prepare yourself for Him. Not even St. John the Baptist, the Voice of the Lord in the wilderness, realizes or fully comprehends the Wisdom and the Righteousness of Christ Jesus.
Your tree has been utterly barren. But He comes to hang Himself upon it. It is cut down by the Axe of His Law, and He is thereby 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 Glory of the Lord is manifested, in that He comes to save His people from their sins.
Here then is the Tree of the Cross, raised up by the Lord and standing as a signal for the nations, even to the ends of the earth. So it is according to His promises, according to His mercy.
Here is the one Tree that remains, bearing the fruits of Christ for you and your salvation.
His death is the pathway of repentance for you: through the wilderness, across the Jordan, into life.
When you are crucified and put to death with Him — as in your Baptism, so also in repentance — you are not destroyed but delivered. For He, by His death, has been death’s undoing.
What is more, His Resurrection from the dead is the gathering of the first fruits into His barn, into His heaven. Thus are you gathered together with Him in that harvest; not scattered to the winds, nor burned up with unquenchable fire, but raised up to live with Christ in His Kingdom forever.
That is why the preaching and Baptism of repentance are for the forgiveness of your sins.
This Voice of the Lord and these waters of His, they turn you away from your sin and death, that you may receive the 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 the fruits of faith and love in you.
He bears this fruit in you after His own kind — after His great 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 the good Fruit of His Tree, that is, His holy Body, which is given for you.
And drink the Fruit of this true Vine, that is, His precious Blood, which is poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for everlasting life and salvation in Him.
Eat, drink, and be merry, abounding in the hope of His mercy. For here at the Table of the Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen