In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

St. John 1:26-27 John answered them saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… There’s a crazy guy down by the river! He’s wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt. He’s living on grasshoppers and wild honey. He has a crazy beard and long hair. What kind of fashion statement is that? Is he a prophet? And, come on, camel’s hair is so Old Testament. Go ask the clergy, they’ll know what he’s doing there.

But the clergy don’t know what John is doing. So they send some people to ask.: Better check him out. Who is he? What’s he preaching? Maybe this is the sign that the Messiah is coming, and we all know what that means: God is going to reward us for working so hard to be righteous! Why does John preach like he does? Why does he dress like he does? Doesn’t he understand? Doesn’t he get it?

Of course, we all know that religion has evolved and grown out of that silly fire-and-brimstone phase. We don’t have prophets who dress like that now. Now we have highly educated clergy who day after day prove to the world how smart and holy they are and how others can be holy if they act like the scribes and Pharisees. Somebody better tell YOUR pastor. Doesn’t he know that robes and stoles and crucifixes are so out of date? Doesn’t he know that what matters is how people live? He needs to make sure that they’re living for the Lord and that they have a true relationship with Jesus and asked Him into their hearts. He needs to tell them that they can show by their lives that they’re better than other people.

Doesn’t your pastor know that religion has evolved and grown up from all that silly stuff about sacrifices and death and blood and doctrine and all that? Doesn’t he know that the big deal now is to affirm people and make them feel good about themselves?

But look at John: all John talks about is Christ. All he can point to and preach about is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John isn’t the Christ. He’s not Elijah the way the Jews expect. He’s not the Prophet that Moses spoke about. He’s just John, and all He’s got to talk about – the only thing on his lips – is Jesus.

Just like your pastor…and the one before him. They have nothing to tell you about except Jesus.

Don’t ask about any advanced degrees or whether they’re an expert in this or that. Nope. Just Jesus.

Heck, I can’t even untie Jesus’ sandals, but He has made me a preacher, so I’ll preach about Him. And I’ll preach only about Him.

It is given to John and to all preachers to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to point people to Jesus and to teach people why we need Jesus, because we have sins. Preachers are given to us to teach us what Jesus does with our sins; that He takes them away. Preachers are to teach us what Jesus would have us do with our new freedom, and that is to serve others.

John did not come to tell the Pharisees to keep up the good work of teaching people how to fool themselves that they could keep the Law and so put a smile on God’s face. No, he told them, like everyone else, to throw away their own righteousness and get in the water and get baptized like all the other sinners.

If you are not a sinner, or if you are not too bad of a sinner, then I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you today. If you do not believe that you are doomed to death by God’s Law and have no hope in yourself to avoid the damning judgment of God, then I’m sorry, I can’ t help you. If you think that God’s Word is something you can simply take or leave as you choose, then there’s nothing I can do for you.

But if you ARE one of those whom the Law has crushed and mangled and doomed to death, and if you know that by yourself you’ve got nothing before God, then may I humbly present Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

The scribes and Pharisees sent people to John to find out what was going on. Why? They figure that maybe John is the forerunner of the Messiah. But what kind of Messiah did they expect? They expected the kind that would come and say: “Boy, you people are religious! Boy, you guys are holy!

Boy, you sure live a good life! I’m so proud of you, especially compared to all THOSE people out there who never do anything but live like pagans!”

Don’t for a minute think that that’s not the religion of the world. The world loves that kind of religion – you know, the kind where you do some seemingly good works and everyone praises you and flatters you for it. It’s the kind of religion where you CAN be good enough and holy enough if you just try hard enough. It’s the kind of religion where your life can be lived to prove how much more godly and religious you are than those people around you who don’t live up to your standards… I mean, God’s standards!

But John just points to Jesus. He doesn’t point to people. He doesn’t point to their good lives and good works. He just points to Jesus: be saved by Him or be doomed. But people today want something else from church: they want self-affirmation, they want flattery; they want to hear what a good job they’re doing. Let me run inside the church and escape this crazy world and be comforted by being told I’m doing a good job. Let me hear some preaching about those sinners out there, so that I can feel better about myself.

If you have walked in the door for THAT reason, then repent! Don’t be like the Pharisees. Don’t go hoping for a pat on the back for all your good intentions. Go instead to hear what the preacher says.

Go to look where the preacher points: to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Only HE will save you. Only THAT Good News will rescue you.

Yes, it means casting off yourself, and your sins, but it means casting them off onto the One who can bear them and take them away: and that is Jesus, the Lamb of God.

The Word of God is clear, dear hearers: the wrath of God is piling up and building up against sins and against every sort of thought and word and deed which denies the Lord and His Word, which despises His preaching and misuses His name. The anger and judgment of the Lord is ramping up to full power against every thought and word and deed which tears down and despises our neighbor—every disobedient act against parents, hatred and murder, fornications and adulteries, and stealing and coveting and speaking badly about our neighbors – everything which proves we are conceived in sin and born as nothing but selfish and self-serving and self-righteous, being full of wickedness while thinking we are pretty good people!

It is against all of that that the wrath of God is coming. That’s also what John preached: The Lord is coming and He’s got his axe ready to chop down unfruitful trees and the winnowing fork ready to burn the chaff like a pile of leaves!

And THIS, dear Christians, is the preparation for the coming of the Savior: that we acknowledge and confess that such is exactly what our sins deserve, namely, the everlasting wrath and judgment of Almighty God. That Judgment IS true. It is for sure. And it is frightening!

But that is exactly why John points to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, because that’s all a preacher has. That’s all any preacher should have. Against that terrifying wrath of God we have Christ, the Lamb of God. And that Jesus, dear friends, is more than enough.

And just when the world thought that the Lord would appear with wrath and smoke and lightning and fire—like on Mt. Sinai—then He DOES come, but not in a terrible and frightening way at all! John’s preaching and the preaching of the Law prepare us for what? …for the coming of Jesus. When we see what our sins have earned us, then Jesus comes… in the flesh… as a little baby in a manger… as if He were a sinner… to be baptized by John… as a prophet and preacher, preaching not Himself but the Word of God… as a criminal, beaten to within an inch of His life and then nailed to the cross…for you!

Please understand, dear friends, that the wrath of God against your sins is hidden in Jesus. It is poured out upon Jesus. It kills Jesus. It is all on Him. This is what the Pharisees and scribes didn’t understand; they didn’t want to believe that. But it is given to you to understand. You really can’t save yourself, but Jesus saves you. You really can’t live a good enough life, but Jesus does. You really can’t make up for your sins, but Jesus takes them away.

It is impossible for you to save yourself and to join God’s side. But the Lord brings you into the kingdom in the waters of the baptismal font. It is impossible for you to get rid of your sins, but Jesus absolves them through the lips of your pastor who declares to you the verdict of the Lamb of God – your sins are forgiven. You can’t find food to feed yourself, but Jesus feeds you with His saving and forgiving body and blood.

Rejoice, dear friends, that Jesus doesn’t come with thunder and lightning but in water, words, bread, and wine. Those are the gifts of Jesus which rescue you from yourself and the world’s religion; those are the gifts that bring you into and keep you in the kingdom of Christ. In the name…