Advent Midweek Sermon
December 20, 2018
“The Joy of Repentance”
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:36-39
The beautiful carols, the lighthearted celebrations, the greenery, the family get-togethers, all bespeak a holiday of joy and contentment. A Child is born. He is Christ the Lord. He has come to save His people from their sins. He will take over the throne of His father David and rule forever and ever. Mary is honored and more blessed than any other woman. The human race is exalted. God becomes man so that man may be reconciled to God. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
But flash forward a brief thirty three years and what do you see? You see a mob filled with hate overcome by a lust for violence. You see the people God came to save stirred up to a frenzy of murderous rage. You see deicide. God is murdered by the people He came to deliver. No sweet songs or beautiful anthems are heard. There is no warm celebration. The only warmth is the heat of guilt-filled hearts as the crowd, sobered now by the enormity of their crime, cries out in sorrow: “Men and brothers, what shall we do?”
There was nothing they could do. The innocent Child of Bethlehem went about doing good. The angel Gabriel had given to Mary the divine message:
So He was called. And so He was. He was kept free from any taint of original sin. He was born pure and holy and sinless. Indeed, He was incapable of sin. His sinlessness was what angered them so! They hated Him precisely because He was good and could do no wrong. When insulted, He blessed. When hated, He loved. He was not only born innocent, He lived innocently. No one ever found a taint of sin in any of His words or deeds. His heavenly Father examined His heart and saw with His all-knowing eye all that there was to see and He could see nothing wrong. Jesus was, is, and always will be the holy Child of Bethlehem. Everyone else loses his childhood innocence somewhere along the way and the wicked nature within translates further and further into wicked acts that can be seen. But Jesus retained His innocence all the way to the cross and there He prayed for those who were crucifying Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He who committed no sin nor was any deceit found in His mouth prayed effectively as the righteous Man on behalf of us sinners. The Father heard the Son’s prayer. He answered it, and by the precious blood shed there on Calvary all the sin of all the sinners of all time was washed away. From the manger to the cross His holiness was revealed. And as He died this holiness faced the entire mass of human sin and swallowed it up, destroying it forever.
“Men and brothers, what shall we do?” There’s nothing you can do to undo the sin you did. Repentance is saying amen to the law that condemns us and to the gospel that forgives us. Repentance is for everyone. Repentance brings great benefits. Here’s why. Repentance is joined to Holy Baptism, and Holy Baptism brings us the forgiveness of sins by the authority of Jesus Christ Himself.
This is what Peter said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
A culture of impenitent mockers promotes an unchristian caricature of repentance. They would have you believe that repentance is hard, painful, and humiliating. They would suggest to you that those calling for repentance are a bunch of intolerant religious fanatics or perhaps poor deluded souls who think the world is ending today when everyone knows it will go on and on and on as it has always gone. Repentance is not just unstylish, it is downright offensive.
Don’t you believe what they say. Listen instead to the inspired apostle. When your heart condemns you and you feel the pain of guilt and you don’t know what to do God provides repentance. He brings you to baptism. He washes you. The blood on the cross is joined to the water of baptism. When God baptizes you He washes you in the blood of Jesus. When you are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ you are baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ. The innocent Baby became the innocent Sacrifice and now His innocence covers your guilt in the washing of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism.
The angel said to Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. A miracle would take place within her womb. God would be born. This same Holy Spirit comes to us in our baptism and by the same power a similar miracle takes place. God is born within our hearts. I cannot explain it any more than I can explain the virgin birth. It’s a miracle of God’s grace. And it brings joy. It brings a joy that is deeper than any other joy you could ever experience in this life.
Repentance does involve sorrow. We hurt when we see how our sins estrange us from God and one another. Our pride suffers when we see that we have violated God’s commandments so thoroughly. The crowd on Pentecost mourned their crime of murdering their God and brother Jesus. This is not pleasant. But there is no shortcut. We may not simply hold the sin within and guard it and protect it and defend it and deny it. All that does is bind the guilt to our souls ever tighter.
True joy comes from forgiveness. Forgiveness flows from Christ’s blood shed on the cross. It flows into our baptism. Our baptism defines who we are by giving us our name. We are God’s children. He isn’t ashamed to own us and acknowledge us. When we repent of our sins He welcomes us. He doesn’t chide us for having come back to Him for forgiveness too many times. He doesn’t shut out our prayer because it lacks sufficient sincerity. He sees us, self-wounded. He hears us cry out, “What shall I do?” He invites us to rest our souls in His promise. You remember the promise. It was given by the angel, “You shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” This promise is for us, our children, all whom God calls in His gospel.
Repentance is not what persuades God to forgive us. God is persuaded by His own love and by the One begotten in love from eternity and in time joined to us by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. God needs no more persuading than Jesus provides. Repentance is when we leave it up to Him. We leave it all up to Jesus. We don’t offer God our explanations or excuses or promises. We offer Him Jesus. We are baptized in His name, by His authority. We claim what is His.
Note the words of our text. “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” No limitation is placed on our repentance. No limitation is placed on God’s forgiveness. The remission of sins is not quantified. It is boundless forgiveness. We are baptized only once, but repentance is a way of life. And so is forgiveness. We live under forgiveness.
During this holiday season as we gather together with family and relatives we enjoy the fellowship of our families. Family forgives. If I had a choice between having a family that was holy, or a family that was forgiving, I’d go with the latter. In Christ we have both. We have a holy Lord who is filled with forgiveness. In this way we sinners can have fellowship with the Holy God. And that’s what repentance is all about. It is pure joy to find forgiveness in the wounds of Jesus. With this forgiveness comes the same Spirit who came upon Mary in that blessed birth so long ago. He brings about the new birth of faith within us. These are the wonderful blessing of repentance.
Rolf D. Preus