The Lord is coming. As surely as He made the heavens and the earth — as surely as He drowned the unbelieving world in the waters of the flood and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness — as surely as He was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, put to death, and buried — and as surely as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity — so surely is the Lord Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead.
The Lord shall come in all His power and great glory for the final judgment at the last, that is most certainly true. But He is already coming to you here and now, to judge you in His righteousness. His Kingdom is at hand, here within His Holy Christian Church, as He Himself is here at hand in the preaching of His Word, in His Body and His Blood, and with His Holy Spirit.
If you would receive this Lord Jesus Christ, true God in the Flesh, your Savior and your King, make ready for Him in your body and life. Clear and straighten your path to coincide with His. Hear and heed His Voice, and repent of your sins. That is the only proper response to His coming.
To repent is to be turned entirely around — away from your willful self-pursuits, away from your covetous greed and jealous envy, and away from all the false gods in your life — to fear, love, and trust in God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is to liquidate all of your own assets and investments, and to put all your eggs in the one basket of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen.
To repent is to be crucified to yourself and to all your sins and sinfulness, to be drowned and die with all your sinful lusts and desires, and to be raised up with Christ Jesus, to live in Him alone, to trust Him completely with all that you are and have, and so to live unto righteousness in Him.
To repent is not simply to be sorry for your sins; it is to be turned away from them altogether. And it is not only to stop being bad; it is to begin doing good. It is to flee the wrath of God against sin and every evil — by fleeing from sin and every evil — and to govern your life by God’s Word.
As the Lord is coming and His Kingdom is at hand, and as He calls you to repent, therefore, bear the fruits of repentance. For every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. The chaff also is burned up — whereas the wheat is harvested and gathered by the Lord.
Indeed, the axe is already laid at the root of the trees. And as we have heard over this past week, the time is now, and the judgment has begun with the household and family of God. So, then, repent of your sins, and bear the good fruits of faith and love in keeping with such repentance.
That is not to bear the fruits of your own righteousness, which are filthy, rotten, and wild apart from Christ and His Spirit. It is rather to fear the Lord, to hope in His mercy and rely upon His Word, to trust Him for all good things, and to live according to His good and acceptable will.
The genuine fruits of repentance are never self-made works; they are the gifts and produce of the Lord’s own Word. For that matter, no tree or fruit-bearing plant produces anything apart from the Word and Spirit of God and the good gifts that He alone provides by His grace. Rather, He speaks, and it is so. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall, and He nurtures His good creation with providential care. So does the earth bring forth its bounty for every living thing. And so it is with you, as well, whom God has raised up from the dust of the earth by His grace. He brings forth good fruits after His own kind in your body and life by the exercise of His Word and Holy Spirit.
The first fruit of repentance is thus to confess what God has spoken to you. You echo back His Law by confessing your sins, and you echo His Gospel by confessing His mercy and forgiveness, His Christ, and His Salvation. His Word opens your lips to confess what is true and right, and by your speaking of His Word you rightly honor Him and worship Him and glorify His holy Name.
With that confession of repentant faith — in that humble confidence with which you acknowledge your sins and yet rely upon the Lord’s forgiveness — the fruits of repentance then also continue in tangible love for your neighbors. That is the exercise of righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus.
As you have known your own sins, your own frailties and failings, and yet you have also known the Lord’s free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so do you in turn extend gentle patience and tender compassion toward your neighbors. You do not deal harshly with their sins against you, but with a gracious spirit you rebuke where appropriate, and you correct and guide and help where you are given to do so — with your own children, for example, and with others placed under your care and authority. Even so, in love you bear with your neighbors’ weaknesses and faults, and you cover their trespasses with grace. Instead of holding grudges, you readily forgive and forget.
So do you also pray for your enemies, as the Lord Jesus has taught you to do. You turn the other cheek when others hurt you, as He did in going to His Cross. Instead of self-defensiveness, you are quick to defend your neighbor, to protect his reputation, and to guard his interests, even at your own expense. You love and serve without counting the cost or expecting anything in return.
You love your neighbor fearlessly, because you fear the Lord your God and love and trust in Him. After all, He is your Life and your Salvation. He alone is your hope in the face of sin, death, and every evil. He is your sure and certain confidence when you are confronted with your own sins, and no less so when you are confronted with the sins of others against you.
If you would receive this Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to you in righteousness and peace, and if you would enter into His Kingdom, which is here at hand, repent, and bear the fruits of repentance.
Confess your sins, and receive the mercy of the Lord’s Absolution. Wherever you have not done what He commands you, confess your failures; and wherever you have done what He forbids, confess your wrongdoing. Acknowledge that you are sinful and unclean from the inside-out — in all your thoughts, words, and deeds, and in many other ways that you have not even realized.
Humble yourself before the Lord, and trust not in yourself but in His loving-kindness, in His tender mercy and compassion. Believe and confess the truth of His Law, which correctly condemns you for your sins. But so believe His Gospel all the more, which the Father speaks to you by His Son.
In that confidence of Christ, submit yourself to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, and be forgiven. This promise and this gift are for you and for your children, for nursing babies and infants, and for the elderly and infirm.
If you are already baptized, praise God for that gift, for that new birth of water and His Spirit, for that washing of water with His Word, that cleansing of your conscience before Him in Christ. And so live in that one Holy Baptism as a disciple of Christ Jesus, that is, by hearing and heeding His Word, by taking up the Cross to follow Him, and by returning to the significance of your Baptism every day. That is to live in the way of repentance, which is by the daily catechesis of Christ, by the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, by the proclamation of His Cross and Resurrection, and by the daily prayer and confession of His Name. So does He put you to death and raise you to new life, each and every day, unto the resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting in Him.
You are “born again” only once, in the waters of one Baptism for the remission of sins. But you continue to live that brand new life — as a child of God the Father, as a Christian, as a member of the Body and Bride of Christ, His Church — by the breathing of His Spirit through the preaching of His Word, and by the eating and drinking of His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion.
Die to yourself, therefore. Die to your stubborn will and selfishness. And die to all your sins of thought, word, and deed, to all that you have done wrong, and to all the ways in which you have failed to do right. Die to everything which is not the one true God, that you might live by faith in Him who was and is and is to come. Trust not yourself, but Christ, the incarnate Son, the crucified and risen Lord, and find in Him your true and real Life with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
As you thus live with God in Christ, even now by faith, bear the fruits of love for your neighbor, just as the same Lord Jesus Christ loves you and loves your neighbor with His whole body and life. To love as He loves you is to bear the Cross of Christ and so to bear the good fruits of His Tree.
That divine Life and Love are the gracious works of Christ Jesus, which He has accomplished for you and for all in Himself, and which He now works in you by His Word and Holy Spirit. For He has borne the true fruits of repentance by His death upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. Indeed, His own Body, His own flesh and blood, are the First Fruits of repentance, and of righteousness, and of the New Creation, the Kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth.
And so it is that, now, by the preaching of His Cross, by the Rod of His lips and the Breath of His mouth, He bears the fruits of repentance in your body and life by slaying the wicked old Adam in you with His Word of the Law, and by raising up the righteous New Man in you (and you in Him) by His Word of the Gospel, which is the Word of His forgiveness, His Absolution of your sins.
It is thus by His Cross, by His Word of the Cross, that He judges you with His own righteousness. For He has submitted Himself to the judgment of the Law in your place, on your behalf, in order that you might also share His victory, His vindication of innocence, and His emancipation from death. His Cross is your Atonement, and so it is that His Resurrection is your Righteousness.
He and His Tree were cut down and thrown into the fire of God’s righteous wrath and judgment. But, look, He and His Tree have been raised up as a signal for the nations — as a signal for you.
It is by that holy Tree of His Cross that the Lord Jesus Christ bears good fruits for you, here within the Orchard of His Church. Those are the fruits of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Or, to be more concrete and specific, the fruits of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion. And by these means of grace, so does He also freely bestow upon you the fruits of perfect peace and rest within His divine Kingdom, here and now by faith, and hereafter in Paradise forever.
Though you are chaff within yourself, and you are thoroughly consumed by the fire of His Holy Spirit, yet you are not destroyed forever, but you are brought through the fire with Christ Jesus. For He is pure Wheat, indeed, who has passed through the fire before you, in order to be baked into a wholesome Loaf of living and Life-giving Bread, with which He now feeds you in holy Love.
And so it is that, now, you rise up with Him from the fires of death, and you are baked together with all your fellow Christians as one Loaf in Christ Jesus — just as you all eat of the one Bread which is His Body, and you drink from the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.
It is to this great Feast of Christ that you are called by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in His Name. It is to this Food and Drink that you are turned, that you should not die but live by the grace of God and by His Holy Gospel. For here at the Lord’s Altar, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. He comes, not with a heavy hand or an iron fist, but with the right hand of fellowship, with divine Peace and reconciliation with God and each other through His forgiveness of sins.
All of this because it is most certainly true that He has redeemed you from sin, death, and hell, by His Holy Cross and Passion. He has reconciled you to His God and Father in grace, mercy, and peace. He has clothed you with His righteousness and faithfulness in Holy Baptism. And here at His Table, in His House, it is His great glory to grant you His Sabbath Rest, both now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.