December 9, 2001: The Sinner Has No Clothes

Let us pray: Dear Savior, in a few weeks we will celebrate Your blessed birth. In a few weeks we will commemorate the day when You came to meet us in humbleness and love. Lord, make us ready to meet You with welcoming hearts and clean lives. But, lest we put off real repentance for a few more days, also remind us that You are meeting us this very day in Your blessed Word of truth and in the Holy Supper. So, stir up our souls and cause us to throw off all sin so that we may also welcome You aright today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen
TEXT: Matthew 3: 1-12

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
First impressions are very important. That’s why we dress up for job interviews, make sure we’re clean and neat when visiting the in-laws for the first time, and when you go on that first date, well…you get the point. Advent is about getting ready to make a good first impression upon God Almighty. And since God isn’t impressed by externals (after all, He reads the heart), we can do no better than follow John the Baptist’s prescription for first impressions as found in our text. Yes, listen to his holy words and


“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.”

As you prepare to meet God in the person of Christ, what should you wear? Is our lesson telling us to wear rough-hewn clothes like John of camel hair cinched with a leather belt? No. Clothes don’t make the man or the woman-contrary to modern belief. Instead John’s austere dress was a reminder that God looks past the outward appearance and looks inside us for a simple heart stripped clean of pretension and pride. John’s humble clothing mirrored his humble heart. And so it must be for us if we want to meet God.

Obviously John’s clothes and his message went hand-in-hand. After all, “repentance” is a pretty humbling calling card. And what does repentance mean? It means to love God more than sin. To love him more than yourself. To willingly place your life in His hands and trust that He won’t drop you on your head. I had a reminder of that just the other day. On Thursday night I came down with a terrible fever that lasted all day Friday. I thought: “If I preach at all on Sunday it will be either a file sermon or off the cuff.”-Something I’ve never done on a Sunday in my 17 years in God’s ministry. Anyway, I was grumpy, sick, worried about the new roof, the coming snow, and the drain on our treasury. All those things combined to pull me down and cause me to worry about the future. In retrospect it’s silly, but such is the nature of human pride-we take the weight of the world on ourselves and fail to remember to trust in the Lord in all things. At that point my wife came home from work and reminded me that God has blest us greatly, provided us with more financial wherewithal than most churches, and that He’ll never disappoint us or leave us high and dry. How true! Yes, we all need to repent of our prideful arrogance and trust Him in humbleness if we’re to meet God in love instead of in fear.


John also used humble means to prepare people for the momentous event of Christ bursting on the scene and beginning His ministry. He used simple words which by God’s grace and power cut people to the heart. And he used simple water, the water of baptism, to grant them the Holy Spirit and put Godly confidence within. Today God Himself does the same to each of you. He speaks to you, comforts you with His forgiveness, and then confirms His compassion for you by feeding your faith in His holy supper. In short, nothing essential has changed between John’s time and now-including our need to confess our sins to our holy God.

Nothing has changed, including the apathy and open mocking of our coming Lord exhibited by the Pharisees and Sadducees then and the liberal modernists today who laugh at the truths of the Bible. And then as now John says: “If you’re not willing to give God your heart then be prepared to reap destruction. Be prepared to go through life comfortless. Be prepared to face judgement day without the redeeming blood of Christ to cover your sins. Yes, be prepared to die and face hell.”

God isn’t namby-pamby. He doesn’t play games. When He comes to you He expects you to be ready to welcome Him into your life with a thankful heart. And the only way to do that is to “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.” In short, to repent.

We’re all sinners. We’re all mortal. None of us will live forever. None of us knows when God will come to confront us with His final judgement. However, since we know He has sent us His Holy Spirit. Since we know that the Spirit works faith in our hearts and makes the forgiveness Christ won on the cross our very own possession. Since we know that Christ has died for our sins and that He’ll never leave nor forsake us. Since we know all that judgement holds no more fear for us than Christmas does! So, prepare yourself to meet God in love-for that is exactly how He meets you-in the love of the manger. Amen