When Sinners Hear God’s Word

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Our readings this week, the third week in Lent are, in a word, difficult. In the Epistle, we heard St. Paul’s exhortation to walk as children of the light – to forsake the defiling passions of the flesh and live in the light of the Gospel, through which we have received the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospel, we heard of opposition to Jesus on the part of the Pharisees, who asserted that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan. To the contrary, Jesus was dismantling the devil’s armor piece by piece and dividing Satan’s spoil by calling sinners to faith. In our text tonight, we heard of sinners’ natural reaction to the preaching of God’s Word. Jeremiah went into the temple to preach the Law, so that the people might repent and be forgiven. Instead, they prepared to kill the messenger.

In a few ways these readings are good illustrations of the Second and Third Petitions, Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will Be Done. In these petitions, we pray that God, by His Holy Spirit, would increase His Church on earth through the Word and Sacraments and that, by these same things, we would be strengthened and kept firm in the faith while the devil is defeated. Our text this evening shows us by a negative example God’s desired reaction to the preaching of His Word – the reaction He Himself creates within us. In contrast to the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day, the proper response to the preaching of God’s Word is repentance and faith, which is created in us by the Holy Spirit.


Jeremiah, as you know, was one of what we call the Major Prophets. His writings take up some 52 chapters and his ministry lasted around forty years, beginning from his call in 626 and lasting until the fall of Jerusalem. His call from God was a difficult one, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant,”[1] the Lord said. Jeremiah was to speak against the people of Jerusalem and Judah the judgments of God; in His words, “For all their evil in forsaking Me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshipped the works of their own hands.”[2] The Lord called Jeremiah to preach the Law against His people so that they might repent and be forgiven.

That is why the Lord sent Jeremiah to the temple in our text. We heard,

‘Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.’[3]

God does not desire the death of anyone, but that he repent and live. God is righteous, and has revealed to us His will in the Ten Commandments. To disobey the Commandments is to disregard God’s will. And that disobedience brings punishment. Yet, the Lord is also merciful. To those repent of their sins, His mercy and grace extend from everlasting to everlasting. The Lord sent Jeremiah to call out His people’s sins that they might repent and be forgiven – and the destruction of Jerusalem be averted.


But, instead, we heard, “When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’[4] Just like the Pharisees would to preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, the people of Jerusalem closed their hearts to God’s Word. When the Lord called out their transgressions through Jeremiah, He desired repentance. But, instead, they insisted that they had done no wrong. Inflamed by the preaching of the false prophets, who preached only peace and tolerance – never sin and forgiveness – the people of Jerusalem moved to put Jeremiah to death.

Before they could carry out their sentence, however, the officials of Judah came up from the palace to the temple. Our text ends with them sitting in the entry – the place where trials happen – and listening to the charges against Jeremiah. What happens after the text is wonderful and should’ve been the response of the people. It says in verse 16, “Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, ‘This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’[5] The reason they gave for believing Jeremiah was that the prophet Micah had also said the same thing some 100 years before. The people in his time, including Hezekiah, repented and believed – and they should, too. In this interesting role reversal, it’s the secular officials who believe and the religious ones who don’t. But, isn’t that also the picture we receive in the Gospel? The sinners and tax collectors, the prostitutes and Gentiles believe, while the leaders don’t. They heard God’s Law and repented of their sin – and were forgiven – while the Pharisees claimed they had no need.


We have in the texts this week a negative example – how not to respond to the preaching of the Law. The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the people might know their sinfulness, repent, and be forgiven. Had the people repented, the Lord would have not punished Jerusalem with destruction. The Lord does not desire the death of anyone. Unfortunately, we know what happened. God desires not the death of anyone, so He continues to send preachers today to proclaim both the Law and the Gospel. The Law is what shows us our need for forgiveness, and the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Law is that we have not kept God’s commandments, we have repeatedly transgressed against them. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, and we truly do deserve God’s righteous wrath. The Gospel is that God our heavenly Father, out of His great love for us, sent His Son to die for us. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law and yet died to pay the price of our sin.

Those who hear those words, the Law and the Gospel, and believe, receive the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But, these things – repentance and faith – are not things we do of ourselves; they are work of the Holy Spirit. It is by His work that when we hear the Law, we are brought to repentance. It is His work that, by the Gospel, faith is created in our hearts. We pray this week that we would not be like the Pharisees before Jesus, or the priests and prophets before Jeremiah, but that through the preaching of the Law, the Holy Spirit would bring us to repent of our sins and turn from them and, through the Gospel, create in us a faith that trusts in Christ alone for forgiveness. May the Lord create in us ever a repentant heart through the preaching of the Law, and a trusting heart through the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection.

[1] Jer. 1:10.

[2] Jer. 1:16.

[3] Jer. 26:2-3.

[4] Jer. 26:8.

[5] Jer. 26:16.

Escaping Corruption

Text: 2 Peter 1:2-11

Tonight, we enter once again the season of Lent. By now, we have celebrated our Lord’s incarnation and birth. We have witnessed the glory of His transfiguration. We await yet the celebration of His victory over death and the grave at Easter. But, as we learn from the Transfiguration, before we can celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the devil, we must first witness His cross. Just so, in our lives here, before we receive our Lord’s forgiveness, we must first be called to repentance. Before we can be comforted by the Gospel, we must first be convicted by the Law. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent afford us another opportunity to reflect on our lives, especially our failures in regard to God’s holy Law, and begin again the cycle of repentance and faith.

This is what St. Peter encouraged in our Epistle reading. He wrote, “As His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.”[1] St. Peter encouraged his hearers that God has, indeed, given us all good things. By His grace, through faith in His Son, He has given us the free and full forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He has brought us out of the corruption of this sinful world. Being God’s children now, we are called to live the life of faith. As God has granted us all good things through the knowledge of His Son, St. Peter encourages us to supplement this faith with virtue so that we may not be found to be unfruitful stewards of God’s grace.


Tonight, we are in the same chapter of St. Peter’s second letter as we were back on the Transfiguration – although our present text actually comes before that one. We might remember that St. Peter wrote to a group of fellow Christians who were undergoing stress. They were undergoing pressure from the world to conform to its immoral way of life. They were also under attack from within. Some in the congregation were asserting that Peter and the other Apostles were liars and that Christ wouldn’t return. St. Peter responded with Apostolic authority that they had not made the Good News up, for they were with Christ on the holy mountain. They were eyewitnesses of His glory and have now made known these things to the world. As such, St. Peter’s hearers could be assured that their sins were, indeed, freely and fully forgiven. Their entrance into eternal life had been secured.

We, too, continue to live under the same pressures that Peter’s original hearers endured. The Church at large continues to bear the scorn of the world, and we in the Missouri Synod are under ever-increasing pressure to fall in line with our sinful society. Unfortunately, even within the Church – as in St. Peter’s time – there is the temptation to set aside or look at in a different light the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Like the saints of old, the pressures set us on edge.

As St. Peter wrote to them, he writes to us: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”[2] Despite the pressure we feel, we have this confidence and promise: God has indeed rescued us from this sinful world. By the knowledge of His Son and through the washing of Holy Baptism, He has given us the forgiveness of our sins and entrance into eternal life. As St. John said, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.”[3]


St. Peter wrote that God has brought us out of the corruption of this world through the knowledge and faith of His Son. He has brought us into His marvelous light and caused us to be no longer children of wrath, but His very own dear children. As God’s beloved children, He also leads us by His Holy Spirit to do His will. His will this: that we love and serve Him and our neighbor. St. Peter said it like this: As God has brought us out of the corruption of this world and given us all good things in His Son, “[So] make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”[4]

These things – virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and love – are not things God requires of us in addition to faith, but they are the good fruits the Holy Spirit produces in us through faith. The Spirit causes us by faith to bear good fruit: to love our neighbor with a genuine and pure love, to be steadfast under trial, to love God’s Word and to study it, to exercise self-control in the face of temptation. None of these things are what the world teaches or desires of us. But God, by His Holy Spirit, brings us to be and live as His children. St. Peter says, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[5] That is, when God’s will is carried out in our lives, when we live in love to our God and each other, our conscience is comforted and we are assured of the faith that dwells within our hearts.


My friends, St. Peter encourages us to practice and exercise our faith, “to confirm [our] calling and election,” by seeking an increase of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.[6] But, when we examine our hearts, we find nothing good in them. It is the truth that, because of our sinful nature, we are more apt to deny our calling by our actions than to confirm it. We are more ready feed grudges than forgive, more ready to sleep than be awake and sing God’s praises; we are more ready to be content with what we’ve learned than to study more deeply the living and active Word. We more easily give in to temptation than resist it. And sometimes, because of our deep sinfulness, we don’t even feel bad.

‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’[7] We are gathered this evening to mark the beginning of our Lord’s Lent. We have received the sign of the cross on our foreheads. It is in ash, because we are but ash. The Lord formed our first father from the dust, and because of our sin, to dust we shall return. This dust is in the shape of cross, for by the cross our Lord has redeemed us from sin and death and brought to us eternal life. We have been made God’s children, and we have failed to live up to our calling. Therefore, we return again this evening to repent. We repent of our failures to love God and our neighbors. We repent of our great and vast iniquity. And we know that, as far as the east is from the west, so far has our God removed our sins from us.[8] May He grant unto us an increase of faith, hope, and love in this season, and, by His Spirit, an increase of the fruits of faith in our lives. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Pet. 1:3, 5.

[2] 2 Pet. 1:3-4.

[3] 1 Jn. 3:2

[4] 2 Pet. 1:5-7.

[5] 2 Pet. 1:8.

[6] 2 Pet. 1:10.

[7] Joel 2:12.

[8] Ps. 103:12.

“Do Not Hold Back a Word”

2017/03/22 Lent Midweek III – Manuscript

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15 (Alternate text in LSB)

We’ve spoken of Jeremiah’s ministry on a few occasions. We’ve learned that Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem during the time leading up to the Fall in 586 B.C. His ministry lasted about 40 years – perhaps longer. Jeremiah is often singled-out for the difficulty which he faced in his ministry. He was viciously opposed by many of the priests and the abundance of false prophets in Jerusalem, who held that it was utterly impossible for Jerusalem to fall. In our text tonight we get to peer back behind the curtain and see why Jeremiah was rejected and treated as he was.

The Lord gave him specific instructions in verse 2, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” That is to say, the Lord sent Jeremiah to speak the Law to His people. He was sent to call out against Jerusalem her great and many sins, which would soon bring upon God’s wrath. He was sent to preach the Law, and was told not leave anything left unsaid. But, not leaving anything left unsaid also applied to the other part of Jeremiah’s preaching: the Gospel. Jeremiah was sent to preach both the Law and the Gospel to God’s people. The Lord sent (and still sends) His servants to preach both Law and Gospel, so that sinners may repent and be forgiven.


Jeremiah’s ministry took place over a long time, but the king in our text is Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was a son of Josiah, and actually the 2nd son of his to reign – after his evil older brother was taken to Egypt. Jehoiakim was also evil. When the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar up to Jerusalem, he rebelled and the end of the city began in earnest. But still, even at this point all was not lost. Even in the face of impending doom, the Lord again sent His servant to preach. He said to Jeremiah, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah…all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.”

Jeremiah was another in a long line of prophets. Each was sent by God to speak His Word to His people, both about their transgressions against Him and His mercy and willingness to forgive. Jeremiah was also sent to preach both Law and Gospel. In this case, the Law was that, because of Judah’s evil deeds, Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. God said, “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh.” Shiloh was the first resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Lord caused to fall to ruin because of Israel’s unbelief.


The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, specifically telling him not to omit a single word, even though the people wouldn’t like hearing it. We learn from Scripture that the Law always has an effect; it always causes one of two reactions. The first reaction, which is really Satan’s work, is what we see in our text. It says, “when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded…then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” The first reaction to the preaching of God’s Law, the attitude that is from the devil, is denial and resistance. God’s Law is meant to show us our sin, but the Old Adam in us, and the influence of the devil in the world around us, tempt us to deny its truthfulness. Sadly, in the case of some who are deeply lost in the sin, the result of pointing out their sin leads them to become hardened and even more resistant to God’s Word. This is purely the devil’s handiwork.

There is another reaction to God’s Law, the one which He desires and creates: repentance. We learn in our text why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law. He says, “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way.” In short: God sends His servants to preach the Law to show us our sins, so that we may repent and be forgiven. God’s great mercy is also demonstrated in this text. It was not long after that Jerusalem did fall. Even up until the very last possible moment, God continued to send the prophets, who promised that God would stop the disaster, if only they would repent. God’s Word through Jeremiah was not hypothetical. Because of Judah’s sin, Jerusalem would be destroyed. Yet even then, God was willing and desired to forgive, and would avert their doom, if they would only repent.


That is the reason why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the Gospel might also be preached. The Lord said, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” Though their sins were great, though they were like scarlet, God was ready and willing and more fully desiring to forgive than we can ever know. Even in the face of destruction, after generations of idolatry and covetousness, God would forgive. Just like we heard on Ash Wednesday, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.”

So also does God send His servants to preach to us today, both His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. He sends them to preach the Law to show us our sins. When we hear from them that we are sinners, the words which judge us are not theirs, such as what the people thought of Jeremiah, but God’s. The Law is and remains God’s holy Word. When we hear from it that our sins are great, we should respond with the words, “Amen; this is true.”

God also sends His servants to preach the Gospel to those who recognize from the Law that they are, in fact, sinners. Just like God offered to freely forgive even the adulterous people of Jerusalem, He will freely and completely forgive all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. If God the Father willingly sacrificed His only-begotten Son on the cross, how true His promise to forgive our sins must be; if only we repent. So that we may repent, God speaks to us His Word of the Law through His servants. Then, when they have shown us our sins, they reveal to us the Gospel of Christ: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

“Return to the Lord Your God”

Text: Joel 2:12-19

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart’…Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”These words from the second chapter of Joel serve as our text as we begin again the Church’s yearly remembrance of our Lord’s journey to the cross. He went to the cross, to suffer and die, most willingly. He was crucified for our sins, and on the third day, rose again to restore to us eternal life. Sometimes, though, knowing that and believing it are two very different things. Sometimes, the ash on our forehead overwhelms us with with the pervasive knowledge of our own sinfulness. The ash reminds us that, for our sins, we must die. But, for our sins Christ did die. Tonight we confess that the Lord God is gracious and merciful, and He abundantly pardons our sins through Jesus Christ.


You might remember that one of the major categories of writing in the Old Testament is prophecy. There are prophecies throughout it – prophecies concerning Christ, especially. But, there are also whole books of prophecy. From there we divide them into two categories: the Major and Minor Prophets. The majors are the ones whose books are really long; the minors, short. Joel is among the Minor Prophets. Compared to someone like Jeremiah, whose life story we almost completely know, we know not a lot about Joel. We don’t know for certain either exactly who he is or when he prophesied. You might remember St. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, though. A crucial portion of that was quoted from Joel. Beyond these things, Joel’s prophecy stands as a message for all time.

What was Joel’s message? Repent, and the Lord will forgive your sins. The nearest context we find for Joel’s ministry was that it followed a plague of locusts. These plagues were an occasional thing, but something was different about this one. Perhaps it was even worse than usual. Joel writes, “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.” Whatever the case may be, Joel proclaimed what the response to such a disaster should be: repentance. The locust plague foreshadowed, Joel preached, the day when God will fully cut off and put away all that is unholy and profane, all that is sinful and thus deserves His wrath. As the locusts devoured the land and left nothing behind, so the Lord’s righteous judgment will leave no stone left unturned and not even the stubble of sin will remain.


“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart.’” Even when this great disaster has happened, the locust plague foreshadowing the Day of Judgement, the Lord promises to forgive. One can imagine the response of the people to the plague. The locusts came and devoured everything, one’s entire livelihood. We know from Scripture that sometimes God allows such things to happen as the consequence of sin. Perhaps in such a situation it would be easy to despair. It would be easy to think it’s all over. It’s also easy for us to think that way.

We gather tonight as Christians, yet also having come to the realization that we are sinners. The ash on our foreheads reminds us of this, just in case we forget. However, often times we experience the very opposite of forgetting our sinfulness. We are very much aware of it. How many times must we sin and repent? How many times must we try harder and harder to resist temptation, and give in anyway? How many times will our sinful actions just “fly under the radar?” Given these realizations, the temptation is always there to despair. We are tempted, and sometimes do think, that we are beyond the reach of forgiveness – that we might as well keep going, since we’ve done so much already.

Return to the Lord Your God, for He is gracious and merciful,” Joel urges us. The Lord takes no pleasure in death and punishment, but He delights to forgive. He is slow to anger and His steadfast love knows no end. When it says, “He relents over disaster,” it means God also can easily change the bad in our lives to good. The Lord is patient and kind. He is always more ready to forgive, than we even are to ask for it. And, so that we may ask for forgiveness and be forgiven, the Lord has given us His Word. In His Word, He reveals our sinfulness through the Law. He sends pastors to preach the same. Through these things He leads us to repent of our sins. Then, even when we are tempted to despair, He forgives us through the Gospel of His Son.


Then the Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on His people. The Lord answered and said to His people, ‘Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”One of the fun things about the prophets is that, sometimes, they talk about both the present and the future at the same time. That’s what is happening here. Just like the plague was compared by Joel to the coming day of the Lord’s judgment, His willingness to forgive us now is a reflection of the joy that awaits us.

Though we are often overcome by our own sinfulness, the Lord is more ready and willing to forgive than we could ever know. Though it may seem that sinning is all we do, the Lord abundantly forgives all who repent and look to Him. For our sin, He sent His only Son – Jesus Christ. Jesus kept the whole Law perfectly, without fail. Then, He suffered the punishment for our sin when God’s wrath was poured out on Him on Calvary. The wrath which was previously stored for us. And, behind this suffering in our place, God has left the blessing of the free and full forgiveness of sins for all who turn to Him in faith.

Soon will come the day when sin will be no more. Then the Lord will fully take away our reproach and His people will no longer be a byword among the nations. Until then, He remains gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Through Jesus Christ, God abundantly pardons all who repent and turn to Him in faith. God grant this to us all.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Text: Mark 1:1-8

It seems now that, just about a full week into the month of December and a week and a half removed from Black Friday, preparations for Christmas have certainly begun. If you haven’t begun, maybe you really should. But really, though, holiday preparation can take it out of you. There are the presents to buy, the food to buy and prepare. Houses need to be cleaned; attitudes need to be tweaked so you can survive with those relatives you dread. You love them and all, but some people are just hard to be with. For many of us, we’ll all be glad when the 2nd of the year hits and things go back to normal.

In the reading from Mark today we see another kind of preparation, the preparation of the way of the Lord. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness baptizing and preaching the Word of God. John’s message was a stark and serious one, in Matthew we have him calling the Jewish leaders a “brood of vipers.” John came preaching the Law to show its strict demands and the world’s universal need for a savior in preparation for His coming.


The text begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’” [1] It is an interesting beginning for the book of Mark. The book begins by showing our need for a Savior in the first place. Like John appearing in the wilderness to make straight the paths of the Lord, Mark sets things straight by showing what was written in Isaiah: God would send a messenger to prepare the way of the Lord.

In the book of Malachi, God pointed out that the people of Judah wearied Him with their words. He said their general sentiment was, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them,” and they asked, “Where is the God of justice?”[2] Therefore, God responded that He is sending His messenger to prepare the way before Him. The people asked where God is, and He said He’s coming. This messenger is to cry out that all flesh is grass. In all its beauty, it is still like the flower of the field that withers and fades. That which is flesh is sown in iniquity and shall go away in sin.

Thus, John appeared in the wilderness preaching the Law of God and a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He came accusing people of their sinful hypocrisy. All people have been tainted by the stench of sin. In this life no one escapes the hold that sin has over them. We see this even during this month as we prepare for the birth and return of Jesus. It makes sense that the world goes wild for giving and receiving gifts, hosting parties, and drinking egg nog, and we can get caught up in it, too. We tell ourselves to “remember the reason for the season,” but do we really? Christmas is about the coming of the Savior into the flesh to die for our transgressions. The eternal Son of God humbled Himself to be born, and to carry our sin to the cross because we cannot do it ourselves.

All the country of Judea and everyone in Jerusalem went out to confess their sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. John preached God’s Law and they were convicted that, at every point in their and our lives, we transgress against God and one another and deserve punishment. John, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts, was a picture of what we should’ve aspired to, but even he was not perfect. When he was arrested and put in prison, he doubted whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Even John would not escape the coming of the savior, which will be like a refiner’s fire, burning up all impurities. That is, He would not survive without the forgiveness of sins. Therefore John preached, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[3]


To many people John appeared crazy. Here was this wild man out in the desert. He might have looked a little unstable, but so did most of the Old Testament prophets. He was a stark vision of adherence to God’s Law: itchy camel hair clothes with a leather belt, eating locusts. They make candy now, at least you can get it all the Mall of America, that has crickets in it; but can you imagine eating that all the time? Some scientists are working on mass producing food from grasshoppers to solve shortage, but John ate them in order to keep pure. But even he was not worthy to untie the sandals of the one coming after him.

The one coming after John is mightier than he. The Lord says in Malachi 3, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.”[4] Who can endure the coming of the Son of Man, the eternal measure of Justice? No one. For all have sinned and are consumed by iniquity. The Son of Man came to burn away and condemn all evil. But, Martin Luther writes, “Christ is not merely the Purifier but also the purifying Agent. He is not only the Blacksmith but also the Fire; not only the Cleaner but also the Soap. He does not sit indolently at the right hand of His Father. Rather He is always working among us.”[5]

What Luther is getting at is that Christ came to do all the work. He is the eternal enfleshment of the Son of God. His wrath against sin will be like a fire that burns everything away, but He is also a fire that resides in us, those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. John showed that all our attempts to fulfill God’s Law and gain life for ourselves fail, and the result is that not even John is worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.

John came preaching the Law before the coming of Jesus to show our need for a Savior and for cleansing. Jesus is the one who came to clean us, to be both the cleaner and the soap. He is the one, who for our salvation, came down from heaven. He humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins. Thus, He is our Cleaner, but He is also the soap. We, who have been given His Holy Spirit, are washed in His blood. By His blood our robes are made clean. The Lord spoke in Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”[6] This is not because our works make it so, for all flesh is like grass, but because of Christ – He who is both the Cleaner, and by His blood, the soap that washes us.

As we continue the journey though Advent and into Christmas it’s easy to get caught up in the season, caught up in a bad way. All the holiday preparations come into full swing and sometimes we forget not just the “reason for the season,” but why He came as well. John came preaching the Law, showing us our need for a savior. This Savior is Jesus, who came to earth to pay the penalty of our sin and win for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap He burns away all impurities even as He fills us with His Holy Spirit. To Him we pray, “Lay on the sick Thy healing hand and make the fallen strong to stand; show us the glory of Thy face till beauty springs in every place. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee whose advent sets Thy people free, whom with the Father we adore and Holy Spirit evermore.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:1–3.

[2] Mal. 2:17.

[3] Mk 1:7–8.

[4] Mal 3:2.

[5] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 18: Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 18 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 410.

[6] Is. 1:18.