“It All Begins With Repentance!”
[Sermon preached in the International Center Chapel, December 9, 2011, on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8.]
Mark 1:4 simply states: John appeared. That’s it. John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness, and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Suddenly, it seems, there he is. Sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord. To point to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The Baptism of John pointed forward to the baptism to come in the Lord Jesus, pointed forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, like the last Old Testament sign. Our Sacrament of Baptism today both points to Jesus and actually brings Jesus to us today, in His death and resurrection. As the Scripture says, you were buried by baptism into the death of Jesus, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life.
In both cases, it all begins with repentance. That’s because the Church really has only one thing to give – the Spirit in the Word of God to work repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
But what does it mean to repent? And who are the ones who really need to repent? Who need to turn around? To turn away from sin? Isn’t repentance really only for the ones who have been REALLY bad? We understand the need for a criminal to repent and to show some kind of remorse. In fact, we look for it, and are disappointed when we do not see it. But for those of us who have been in church all our lives? Do we really need to repent?
YES! John proclaims. YES! Jesus will say, just a few verses later.
There is no other way to receive the forgiveness of sins or to enter into the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of God comes to rule in our hearts and lives only in THIS way: bringing true repentance and faith.
Friends, in preparation on this text, I tried to look for a new angle on repentance, something to jazz it up, so to speak. But there is no new angle. It is simply this same old thing of recognizing that, when we talk about the problems of the world, when we talk about the evils of our society, those problems and those evils are not only “out there” but also “in here,” in my heart, in your heart.
Whatever your struggles or faults or failings, to repent is simply to admit, and to say to whomever needs to hear it, including God: What I did was wrong. I am sorry.
I need to be forgiven. I need what God gives in Jesus. I need the mercy of God in the cross of Christ. I cannot go on without it.
You have heard that, in the first of his 95 Theses, Martin Luther wrote that, “When our Lord Jesus said, ‘Repent,’ He willed that the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” That means, we recognize everything we have, and everything we have ever done, has been corrupted by our sin. And that we see the forgiveness of sins Christ has come to bring, and we say, YES! I need that, because I am a sinner.
When Christ comes giving peace for our hearts and minds, to repent is to say, “YES, I worry lots of times. I need the peace He brings.”
When I feel weak, that I’m not going to be able to make it, to repent is to say, “YES, I need HIS strength.” When I am sick, to say, “I need His healing.” To repent is to say, “I know I am dying, so I need the only One who gives life.”
Actually, at it’s most basic, to repent is simply to live every day in our Baptism! Every day to die to sin, and rise to new life with God in the Lord Jesus.
It is to remember finally, and above all, that Jesus came for sinners. He didn’t come for the good people, because there are none. So we can stop pretending we’re better than others.
Jesus came for sinners. Sinners like you, and like me.
The great joy of being a baptized believer, is the joy of of living with fellow repentant sinners. The joy of telling one another and anyone else who will listen, Here it is! Here is the forgiveness of sins! It’s here in the Lord Jesus! Here in the Word of God proclaimed to you. Here in the water of Baptism connected to the Word of God and poured out over you. Here also whenever you remember and return to your baptism, confessing your sins and hearing the Word of forgiveness and absolution.
The greatest joy of a pastor is to be able to say, as one sinner to another, “God has put away your sin. You are forgiven! Here it is! In Jesus, God nailed up to the cross, it’s FOR YOU!”
I was only ten years old when I heard it, but it is a sermon I will never forget. My father was preaching his first sermon in a new congregation. How should he begin to work with that new parish? What should he say? His text was the story in 2 Kings 7 when the Syrian Army, the enemies of God’s people, had the city surrounded. The people were starving. The prophet Elisha one day received a promise from God that the very next day there would be food enough for all.
That night, there were four beggars, lepers sitting just outside the gates of the city, who were debating among themselves whether they should try to go into the city and die, or give themselves up to the enemy and die.
When they decided to go into the enemy camp, much to their surprise, they discovered that the Lord had sent a great fear among the enemy soldiers and that they had all run away in the night, leaving behind all sorts of food and clothes and everything else. At first the beggars were scooping it all up for themselves. But then, they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell [this good news]. (2 Kings 7:9).
So the theme and gist of my father’s message that day was this – As a pastor, I am among you as one beggar, telling other beggars where to find food. That’s what a pastor does. He’s one sinner, among other sinners, giving out the forgiveness of sins. And he gets to do it publicly, on behalf of all, giving it out as he baptizes, as he distributes Christ’s body and blood, as he preaches and teaches.
But each of you, baptized into Christ, have that privilege in your vocation, wherever God has placed you, in all your relationships, to show people Jesus… To be the beggar who tells people, left and right and all over: Here’s the food! Here’s the greatest treasure there is! Here’s Jesus!
And through it all, KNOW THIS. If you are a sinner, if you know you are a dying beggar, to repent and believe the Gospel is simply to give up all your sins to Jesus, because He took them all, on the cross, to receive from Him forgiveness, because He rose from the dead. And to know that you are washed clean in His blood every day, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection.
Because, in Jesus, it truly is all for YOU!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
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