For now you find yourself living beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness outside the land that God has promised. You do not yet see the milk and honey for which you hunger and thirst. Nor do you see or understand what God is really like — not by any human intellect, wisdom, or strength.
You hear words, which in themselves are simple and clear enough, but they do not seem to make any sense; they do not match or measure up to your experience and expectations. You have more questions than anything else, and the answers that you get sound more confusing than helpful — until the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus opens your ears to hear, your mind to comprehend, and your heart to believe His preaching of repentance and His forgiveness of all your sins.
Your mental picture of the Lord God Almighty and of His awesome power is all out of whack. What you have known and experienced is the mighty power of His Law leveled against you and your sins. And you’re certainly well aware of the world’s concept of power, too, which exerts itself against others in an effort to gain control — to dominate, to take, to punish and destroy.
In looking at yourself and your own situation, you tend to overlook or excuse your sins, and you surely do not welcome the discipline you need, far less the punishment you deserve. Yet you are more than inclined to look for the vengeance of the Lord and the strong power of His Law when it comes to your neighbors, expecting that He should constrain them to love and serve you, and hoping that He will punish those who do not. Like a competitive child keeping score and keeping tabs on your brothers and sisters, you want strong words for them and sweet words for yourself.
But instead, what the Lord sends is this voice in the wilderness — His preacher of repentance — to preach and administer a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He calls both you and your neighbors to repentance; not to punish or destroy, but to forgive both you and them.
There are no dominating power plays here, but simply a preacher who points out your sins, and then points you to the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself and takes away your sins.
Do not be offended by the preacher and his preaching. Do not despise his personal unworthiness. But listen and give heed to his voice, which makes straight the way of the Lord in the wilderness.
What is coming your way is Christ the Lord, in whom the almighty power of God is made perfect through His voluntary weakness, suffering, and death, and manifested in His mercy toward you.
The Lord Jesus comes in divine love and holy faith, in order to submit Himself to all the demands of the Law on your behalf, and to fulfill them perfectly for you and for all people; and yet, He also comes to suffer all the punishments of the Law in your stead, so that you should be set free.
So it is that the way of the Lord is opened up and made straight for you and for all the sinful sons and daughters of Adam & Eve. For He is the One who comes and submits Himself, first of all, to the preaching and Baptism of St. John. He passes through the waters of the Jordan River on His Way to the Cross, that you might enter with Him into the Paradise of His God and Father.
It is in and with Him that you pass through the Baptism of repentance — which is to pass through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — into His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, His salvation, and His everlasting Life in body and soul.
That Holy Baptism, with all its gracious gifts and benefits, is true divine power and strength, such as your old Adam and this whole fallen world have never known and are not able to understand.
But now the Fathers sends the preacher to preach, so that you might believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, through this preaching, and know Him rightly by faith in His Gospel, and finally see Him as He is in His Resurrection from the dead, when you shall be like Him in His true Glory.
It is for this purpose that I have been sent to preach to you, to baptize in the Name of Christ Jesus, and to recall you to the significance of your Baptism in Confession & Absolution; so that you and your children, and your children’s children, too, may know Him who loves you. He comes in flesh and blood like your own, not for vengeance against you, but to save you and redeem you for life with God in Him. He comes in peace, and He is here for you with mercy and compassion, with free and full forgiveness for all of your sins. And that is the real strength and power of the Gospel.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.