On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry
Second Sunday in Advent [c] December 9, 2018
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
In the Name of Jesus.
Paul writes to the Church in Philippi, praying with joy for the partnership in the Gospel—a partnership he has with them and they with each other. What is this joyful partnership in the Gospel Paul speaks of? For, we are given this partnership, too, and this joy with each other.
It’s Advent. The Church anticipates our Lord’s coming in the flesh. The prophet John is out in the wilderness gathering sinners to cleanse them of their sin. Our text of Luke 3 mentions the Gospel. Luke 3:18:
With many other exhortations, [John] preached the Gospel to the people.
So what is this Gospel John proclaims? Paul later speaks of the Gospel bringing joy to Paul and those Christians in Philippi for whom he prays.
It’s the same Gospel. No difference between John the Baptist’s Gospel and Paul’s. We can notice that Paul speaks of our partnership in the Gospel. Not a Gospel, not one among several, but the Gospel.
So what is this fellowship we have in the Gospel? Luke 3:7:
[John] said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
We have fellowship with one another, first of all, in the fact that we are under the judgment of the Law. “Brood of vipers”—coming from the mouth of a prophet, that’s stiff Law.
“Don’t count on having Abraham as your father”—don’t find comfort in your bloodline, in who you associate with, in who counts you as one of them. The Law stands each of us, on our own, before the face of God. The Law allows no diversion.
“Every tree not bearing good fruit is cut down”—the Law, at the end of the day, has its way. The Law always accuses, and we are the accused.
So we have fellowship with each other, first of all, in the fact that we are all under the Law’s accusation.
And the crowds asked [John], “What then shall we do?”
We have fellowship with one another, also then, in the fact that standing at the face God, we don’t know what to do. How to clean ourselves up, how to find rescue from this judgment?
Then John gives more Law. Luke 3:11:
[John] answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
More stiff Law. But it’s really nothing more than Jesus will later say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Which, for the sinner, gives no rescue. For how can a sinner rescue himself by not being who he is, a sinner?
Then John gives the Gospel:
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached the Gospel to the people.
John baptizes with water. That is, as a prophet, John, cleanses the sinner by using the instrumentality of water and the Word.
That’s what baptize means. It means to ritually cleanse, to wash with water and word. It’s not the everyday washing of scrubbing dishes or bathing a child. It is a rite of washing, using water and the word.
If you’re a sinner going out to the Jordan, John, as a prophet, will baptize you, will cleanse you, by pouring water over you and speaking the Lord’s Word of forgiveness.
So John says, essentially, he who comes after me, mightier than me, he won’t cleanse you using this instrumentality of water. He doesn’t need to. For he himself is the cleansing. When he walks into your home to have dinner with you, he is there as your Savior, and by the word out of his mouth, you are clean. When he sits down with the tax-collectors, and drunks, and sinners, to drink wine with them, they are clean, because Jesus is the One who came to save them.
When Jesus touches the leper, when he calls Lazarus out of the tomb, when he talks with the prostitute, they are clean before God the Father in Heaven by the very fact of Jesus speaking to them his word of cleansing.
This is the Gospel John is speaking: I, John, as a prophet, cleanse you by water and the Word. But when Jesus comes, he will cleanse you, he will baptize you, just by being with you and speaking his Word to you.
Now, this confuses us a little. For we live after John. And we live after the time when Jesus was walking around Galilee.
So we will not be cleansed by John’s Baptism. It was not given for us, but for those who lived in those few years before the cross. And we will not be cleansed by Jesus walking into our house as he did Zacchaeus, or by him touching our diseased skin, as de did with the lepers, or by him drinking wine with us in our own homes, as he did with so many.
So how will we be cleansed before the Father in Heaven?
Before he ascended to Heaven, Jesus left his Apostles with a gift for us. “Baptize them,” Jesus said to his apostles, “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them of all which I have authorized unto you.” [Matthew 28]
So, since Jesus is not walking around with us the way he did with the Apostles around Galilee, for us, it is the instrumentality of water. Take the sinner, pour water over him, speak the words of promise to him, and by this rite of washing set in place by Jesus himself, the sinner now belongs to the Gospel of life.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, “[says Paul,] “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”[Philippians 1:2]
This is the partnership in the Gospel we have with each other. It is, in the first case, the fellowship we have as being sinners together, all of us standing before the Father under the accusation of the Law.
It is, in the second case, the fellowship we have in not having a way to justify ourselves.
And then it is, in the last case and in the case that brings us joy with each other, the fellowship we have in being cleansed by Jesus Christ. The fellowship of being those who have had their sins put on the back of Jesus, so that he is, as John calls him, the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world.
This is the partnership of the Gospel—the fellowship of those washed in Baptism, justified before God the Father by the Word of Jesus, and now given to rejoice with one another that he, Jesus, who has begun a work among us will bring it to completion at the day of his coming.
In the Name of Jesus.