In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If John is here, then God is on His way. If John is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi, that God would send a messenger before His own face, before He comes, then if John is here, God is coming. Look, John says, the Reign of Heaven has come near. The King stands even at the gates. And John has come to prepare the way for that King, by removing every obstacle from His path. He eats locusts, and his locust-words consume everything in the way, all the excuses, and the rationalizations, and the justifications; all the hypocrisy of sinners. He eats honey, and his words should be sweet to our ears—that our King is coming—but instead his words are bitter in our ears, because we are sinners. Because repentance is demanded, because we can do nothing but stand in the water next to John and confess. Nothing but stand and say that what God says of sinners is true of us also. Repent! He says. Turn around; stop doing what you were doing; stop living your lives by the desires of the flesh. Everything that your pursue, that you think is so important, everything this world pursues, will all be consumed and brought to nothing. You cannot find paradise again by searching; but you can find that everywhere you search is a wilderness. And when He sees the Pharisees and the Sadducees, he says, who warned you to flee from the wrath that is coming? Are you fleeing? From what? To what? If so, bear fruit in keeping with repentance. But bad trees cannot bear good fruit, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. And the axes are already at the roots of the trees. The King is coming. And His way will be clear.
So flee from the wrath that is coming. But where can you flee from the God of all the earth? Every human religion says get ready, prepare yourself, get your life in order. Every human religion ever invented says that God is up there, and we are down here, and if you get ready enough, perhaps He will receive you. You may get more or less help, but you must go to God. Strangely enough, no person in the Scriptures seeks God, at least not the true God. People certainly seek after gods, but they are the gods they have made with their own hands. But everyone runs away from the true God. No, the Biblical story is not one of people seeking out a distant God, not one of going up to Him, but one of God always coming down. When the people of Israel are in slavery in Egypt, God says, I have seen their affliction, I have heard their cries, I have known their suffering, and I have come down to deliver them (Exodus 3:8). God comes down to talk to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19). The Psalmist and Isaiah both cry out, “Bow your heavens and come down; O that you would rend, tear open, the heavens and come down!” (Psalm 144:5; Isaiah 64:1). And when Jesus does come, He says, “The bread of God is the one who has come down from heaven to give life to the world; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:33, 38).
He comes down, and He stands in the river where sinners are confessing their sins. He comes down to deliver His people once and for all. He has torn open the heavens, and now they will never be closed to His chosen ones. He scatters the bread of life over the hills, and the world once more knows what real life is. And for all of this, John comes to prepare the world, laying bare the road by which Jesus will approach. John himself goes before Jesus on this road, arrested and killed. This is the way of all flesh; all flesh is grass that is here while it is summer and gone when it is winter. Heaven and earth themselves will pass away, but the Word made flesh will never pass away. He stands forever. John points Him out to eyes that cannot see. He speaks to ears that cannot hear. Look! The Lamb of God! Look to the One who is mightier than I am. He comes after me, and I am not able to carry the weight even of His sandal. But He bears the weight of the whole world. He heals diseases and casts out unclean spirits with a word. Surely He carries our grief and our sorrow; Yahweh has laid on Him the sin of us all. The only place to flee from the wrath of God is to God in flesh. As Psalm 2 says, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him” (2:12). Look to Him, who does His end-time works now, out of time. He comes to thresh out the wheat and the chaff. He is nailed to His winnowing fork; blessed are those who are not scandalized by Him.
See, long before He baptizes with the Holy Spirit or with fire, long before the judgment is announced, He baptizes with water and the Word, where His Holy Spirit marks people for eternity. Long before He gathers the wheat into the barn and lets the chaff fly away in the demon-wind, long before He sends His reaper-angels to gather in the harvest, He is gathering even now. His Body with the bread and His Blood with the wine gather His own together like the gathering of a million grains into one loaf of bread. We are that one loaf, the one body of the one Christ. And the ones who are baptized, the ones who are gathered, the ones whose faith sees Christ hidden where’s He promised to be, we know this: that the God who came down to deliver Israel from slavery, the God who tore open the heavens in the fullness of time, and came down into the womb of the virgin, the God who came down and let His Body be broken and scattered in order to gather the world for life, and the God who will come down at the last trumpet and a shout of victory—these are not many different Gods, but the one and the same. Only in this can we have comfort. Only in this can we be prepared to receive Him: to know that the God who comes to judge, the God who threshes out the wheat and the chaff, the God who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire, this is the God whom we have seen and heard and eaten and drunk. There is no other God! You are His and He is yours. And now, as Isaiah says, the road that John prepared for Jesus is the road that God has prepared for you. Build up, build up, He says, prepare the way; remove every obstruction from My people’s way. Peace, peace, to the one who is near and to the one who is far off…and I will heal him (Isaiah 57:14, 19). Go through, go through the gates. Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones. Look, Yahweh has proclaimed to the ends of the earth: say to the daughter of Jerusalem, Look, your salvation comes (62:10-11). “See, the Lamb, so long expected,/Comes with pardon down from heav’n./Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,/One and all, to be forgiv’n” (LSB 345:3).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/6/13