“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand” – Matthew 3:1–12
Hear now, the word of the Lord from Matthew 3:1-12.
3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume 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. 10 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.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”Matthew 3:1-12, ESV
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. During my junior year of high school, I joined the debate team. I had a free period that year. I had a lot of friends who had been in debate, and it sounded like a lot of fun. When I got into the debate team, I gravitated toward one event, in particular an event called Student Congress. which was a mock legislative session where the debate part of it happened in speeches for and against the various pieces of mock bills and mock resolutions that were offered in that chamber.
Now I found this a ton of fun, but I had also brought out a very competitive streak in me. I worked really hard to prepare for these tournaments. Now, some of my preparation was obvious and straightforward. I researched as much as I could thoroughly. So even a lot of times I would have speeches both for and against different issues so that depending on the way the day was and where I had opportunities to give speech, I was prepared either way to give a speech. Then I also practiced for hours my speeches in front of a mirror. It was some of my first public speaking experience and I worked really hard to see what I looked like and sounded like when I was giving these speeches.
I remember one day, it was right here in Omaha about twenty one years ago, when suddenly it dawned on me that I was missing a key part of preparation that wasn't obvious. In fact, it was kind of counterintuitive, but I needed to be doing it if I wanted to do better than I had been doing. I realized these were long days of debate and I had to be on all day in this particular setting. It was an all-day event and you had to be really on the entire time. I was driving from Hastings, Nebraska, with a bus of other students and so we had to leave it, you know, four or five in the morning to get here, to compete so long days. By 2:30 in the afternoon, I started to fade. My physical energy was fizzling. I realized that's when all of the judges are finalizing their opinions of where to vote you. So I realized I had to find a way to get energy in the afternoon.
So even though I wasn't a high school athlete, I began to train like I was. I changed what I ate. I changed the amount of water I drink. That was the first time I really started exercising with any kind of regularity. It was because, not I was an athlete, but because I was in debate. I had to work very hard to try to prepare in any way that I possibly could, even when it wasn't totally intuitive, when it was counterintuitive.
Well, the passage we're looking at today is the passage about preparation. Now, this isn't preparation for a competition. This is the preparation for the coming of a kingdom. The preparation here is also counterintuitive. Now we probably recognize if this is a spiritual kingdom, that this won't involve physical preparation, so maybe that's a relief to you. This isn't going to involve training like a physical athlete, but the preparation here is nevertheless counterintuitive.
See, we realized this probably has to involve some sort of religious rights and ceremonies, maybe like the baptism and we saw today. In fact, we see John the Baptist baptizing with water. What John is going to say is that this preparation goes beyond external formal physical, outward rites and ceremonies. The preparation is actually deep. It is spiritual. It's intangible in some ways. It's absolutely essential if we want to be prepared for the kingdom.
Our big idea, then, is that King Jesus calls us to prepare for his coming kingdom.
The issue that John the Baptist is going to focus in on as he has this role of preparing the way for the king is the issue of repentance. This was counterintuitive, this is what doesn't quite land on us. This is what we don't necessarily think that we need. We need repentance. So we're going to see this in each of the three sections that we look at this morning.
First, we are going to see the ministry of repentance in verses one through six. Second, the fruit of repentance, in verses seven through 10. Then third, the spirit of repentance in verses 11 through 12.
1. The Ministry of Repentance
2. The Fruit of Repentance
3. The Spirit of Repentance
The Ministry of Repentance
So let's start with the ministry of repentance. As we are introduced here to John the Baptist rather abruptly. If we've read the gospel of Luke, we know that John the Baptist has an entire back story. We're told there about John's parents, Elizabeth and Zachariah, and they are wonderful figures of faith through that story. Here we just abruptly are introduced to him. John has just dropped into this wilderness preaching and we suddenly meet him and have to learn about him as we go on the fly. As we do, Matthew introduces us really four elements to acquaint us with John the Baptist.
First, Matthew tells us about his mission and very simply, the mission of John the Baptist is to prepare the way for the coming of the king. We see this a little bit in verse one where we read that John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. Now, this isn't just a convenient place. This isn't where he was able to rent an appropriate venue for this. That's not where the catering was good. In fact, it was really poor as we read about in a moment. John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness to drive home a point, namely that God's people were in the wilderness. They were in exile. They may be back in the Promised Land, but spiritually speaking, they were still reeling from their sin and their rebellion and disobedience.
You see when God's people sinned, God sends them into exile, particularly to wander in the wilderness. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were exiled out of the Garden of Eden into the wilderness. Later under Moses, when God's people refuse to believe and obey and enter into the Promised Land, God kept his people wandering in the wilderness for 40 years until those who did not believe fell dead in the wilderness. Then eventually after the Kings of Israel and Judah failed their people and led them into all manner of wickedness and idolatry, God once again sent his people into exile, scattering them to the winds for the northern ten tribes and carrying off the tribe of Judah into captivity in Babylon. Well, they've returned from Babylon, and they are in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, and yet they're still in the wilderness. They are still struggling with their sin and rebellion and John the Baptist mission is to prepare the way for the king.
So the second thing we see is his message in verses two and three. If his mission is to prepare the way for the king, here is his message in verse two, repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent is the first word he uses, and it's really at the center of his ministry, it's characterizing his preaching as well as the baptisms that he's performing.
So what does repentance mean? Well, repentance, I'll give a simple definition, repentance in the Greek language very literally means a change of mind. It's not just to sort of adjust your thinking on it, I do think that sin. This repentance, this change of mind is a change of mind that stems from a change of heart in the depths of your soul. A change of mind that stems from a change of heart, not just to change your opinion about something. Rather to start to hate your sin, start to find your sin filthy and odious as what our confession says, which we talked about in the Sunday school class. It's a change of mind that stems from a change of heart that spills into a total change of life. It'll change your life. It'll change the way that you live.
John the Baptist is preaching this need for repentance among the people of God. Why do they need to repent? Why is this part of the preparations for the coming of the King? Well, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The Kingdom of Heaven is drawn close, the Kingdom of Heaven is nearly here John is saying. In fact, the king is just around the corner. We'll read about him in the passage that we're going to study next week Lord willing in verses 13 and following.
The king has arrived and John is pressing the people, are you ready for the drawing near of this king? Now Jesus himself, when he begins his public ministry, he's going to carry this message exactly. These words he himself will preach in Matthew 4:17, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." It's still Christ's proclamation, in addition to being John the Baptist's.
So what is this Kingdom of Heaven? Well, this isn't a place. Normally when we think of a kingdom, we think of a place, so you think of the United Kingdom, that's a place you can draw its boundaries on a map. It's not a place, but a power. Or, as Leon Morris puts it, it's not a realm, it is a rule. It's wherever the reign and rule of God breaks into the hearts of his people. Again, to bring about a change of heart, which leads to a change of mind and spills out into a change of the way that they live their lives. That's where the Kingdom of God is. It's here this morning in this in our midst and it's around the world as God's people are gathered to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and as people repent and submit to the king. Even this morning, Lord's Day by Lord's Day, just like we are doing here in Omaha.
What John is saying in this preaching is fulfilling a prophecy from the Old Testament. Matthew draws a connection to Isaiah 40:3, where Isaiah had written, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.'" It was announced beforehand that a forerunner would come to not just vaguely say that one day something like a messiah was coming, keep your eyes peeled he's going to come. Rather to actually stand in point, that's the man. That's the one. Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is John the Baptist's roll, and he's proclaiming that the king is coming.
It's important to recognize that it isn't that the king is the one who needs the preparations. It's not as the king is coming and he's being stymied or he's being kept out of the city because we haven't made the appropriate preparations and he has to sort of wait out and twiddle his thumbs until we get our act together. No, the king needs no help in coming. It's we who need to be prepared for the entrance of the King. We'll say more on that in a moment.
The third thing that we find out about John is his manner. We saw his mission, prepare the way for the king. His message, repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Now his manner. This is one tough dude. This is a guy who is wearing uncomfortable, scratchy camel skins, and he has a leather belt strapped around his waist. This is a guy who is used to living in harsh conditions of the wilderness, eating the poorest of food. His caterers were a joke. They brought him just locusts and wild honey. Yet on this, as he ate very poor food, he was fed with the rich spiritual fare of knowing that Jesus Christ, the coming king, was right around the corner. His manner is that he was a stern, tough prophet, as Jesus will announce in Matthew, 11. This is not a reed shaken with the wind. This is not one who sits in King's Palace is wearing fine clothes. This is one tough prophet. That's exactly his manner.
The fourth thing we find out about John the Baptist is his ministry. As I said earlier, his ministry is characterized by one word It's a ministry of repentance. It's a change of mind stemming from a change of heart overflowing into a change of life. So we see that when the people are coming from all around the area to be baptized by John in the River Jordan, we see that they do so at the end of verse six confessing their sins. They're confessing their sins. This isn't just an external, formulaic, ritualistic event, this is a spiritual thing they are doing. They're doing they're confessing their sins, and this is as John is going to say, in verse 11, baptism with water for repentance. His ministry is characterized for repentance.
Now the Old Testament background for these baptisms or baptisms of purification. In the Old Testament, whenever you became unclean in some manner, you needed a baptism, a washing and there were a number of baptisms prescribed for a number of different situations. For example, if you came in contact with the dead, if you had to bury a loved one, you would be made unclean and you would have to be baptized, washed, in order to be made clean again, to be purified again.
What John the Baptist is doing by this baptism of repentance is explaining that this isn't just a physical reality, you touched a corpse and now you were physically ceremonial and clean. He's saying your impurity is spiritual and it's in your soul, and you need to be purified and cleansed from your sins and repentance is a necessary part of that.
So let's talk a moment before we move on about what it takes to prepare for the coming of a king. Commentator Leon Morris writes about this passage, this, he says, "In antiquity, when it was known that the sovereign was coming, every effort was made to ensure that the road was as smooth as could be. The great one must be able to travel easily and quickly."
Now we still do this to this day. I remember when I was just starting here at harvest. It was early in 2016. The president of the United States came to Omaha, Nebraska. He flew into Offutt Air Force base and then he gave a speech at Baxter Arena. As he drove through town, they shut down the interstate. They shut down I-80 at rush hour to make sure that the president could travel smoothly and easily. Now understand this preparation was partially to ensure that the president could get wherever he needed to go very quickly. One of the prerogatives, I guess, of inhabiting the Oval Office.
It was also for the safety of others around. Imagine the Secret Service and how jumpy they might be if the president was caught in standstill traffic somewhere. It wouldn't be good for anybody. In fact, if you go to the visitor’s bureau website of Washington, D.C., they have a lovely page, it's a wonderful attraction, experiencing your first presidential motorcade. It tells you everything about how you too may be stuck in traffic as you wait for the president or whoever to pass by. You go on here and it said, understand you can take pictures, but don't make sudden movements because these Secret Service people there no joke and they're trained to handle threats in a split second.
It's the preparations for the coming of a king that go even beyond this. We need to prepare for his coming. The king will be fine. He's surrounded not only by his security, but we are talking about the Almighty Son of God. He will be fine. The question is, will we? Are you ready for the coming of the king? Preparation involves John the Baptist tells us, repentance from our sin, and it requires purification from our sin. Not just outward washing of water, but a deep spiritual cleansing that even John the Baptist is going to acknowledge he can't provide. Jesus doesn't need John to make his entrance, but the people need John to prepare them for Jesus. Again, are you ready for the coming of the king?
Well, we are going to see is very much that this isn't outward, I've said that, but I want to show you in the next section how that is true. This requires more than just outward external formalistic, ritualistic religion. This requires spiritual fruit.
The Fruit of Repentance
So in the second section, as we deal with the Pharisees and Sadducees, we are going to see the second section of the fruit of repentance. Now, we've just met John the Baptist for the first time, and here we meet the Pharisees for the first time. Matthew speaks of the Pharisees more than any other gospel writer and here we meet them for the first time. So it's worth saying a few words about who the Pharisees are to frame our understanding of these people. Everything we need to know about the Pharisees, you see, emerge in this passage. You see that these Pharisees are people who think themselves righteous, but whom John denounces as a brood of vipers. Those who do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance. They think they're righteous, they act as though they are righteous, but they are not righteous. They think they are righteous because they are the biological children, the biological descendants of Abraham. What John says is that outward biological descent is not enough. This requires preparation for the coming of the king, requires a deeper spiritual reality of bearing true spiritual fruit in preparation for the coming of the king.
Now understand the common thinking about Pharisees and if you don't hear anything else, I think this is really important. The common thinking about Pharisees is that the Pharisees were legalistic because they were too strict about the law. In fact, that is not what Jesus critiques them for. Jesus critiques the Pharisees for being too lax about the law. He makes this very clear in Matthew chapter five, two chapters from now, when he says in Matthew 5:19, where Jesus himself,
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19-20, ESV
Now, how can this be, how can they have relaxed the laws if they had all of these rights and rituals and purification, if they obeyed every jot and tittle of the law, how could their view of the law have been too relaxed, too low? Well, the 20th Century Presbyterian New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen and I have this, if you have the either the sermon notes or the sermon worksheet, I've printed this quotation out in full because I think it's really important, he writes this. He says, "The legalism of the Pharisees with its regulation of the minute details of life was not really making the law too hard to keep, it was really making it too easy. Jesus said to his disciples, and he quotes the verse that I just quoted Accept your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." Machen goes on to say this, "The truth is it is easier to cleanse the outside of the cup than it is to cleanse the heart."
If the Pharisees recognized that the law demands not only the observance of external rules, but also in primarily mercy and justice and love for God and men, they would not have been so readily satisfied with the measure of their obedience, and the law would have then fulfilled its great function of being a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. Now here's the point Matron closes with this line, "A low view of law leads to legalism in religion. A high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace."
You see, the Pharisees thought they could boil down the law to just principles and methods and tricks and tactics that if they just do all these things, if they check the right boxes that they were in right standing with God. They did not understand that the law reaches to the highest heavens because we are called to do nothing less than to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Now, if you see that in a demolishes, any hope you have of measuring up on your own. It leads you, as Machen says, not to be a seeker of trying to prove it yourself, but to be a seeker after grace. Which is exactly the gospel that John the Baptist is preaching about the coming of Jesus and the Jesus himself will take up in the church has been proclaiming ever since.
This is what's counterintuitive about the coming of the kingdom, it's repentance. It's not that you have to train like an athlete like I did for my debate team. The counter intuitiveness is that you look around and you see a physical gathering here and you see the physical right of baptism and the Lord's Supper and you say I can endure however long this guy is going to preach at me. I could sit through that. You think it's a physical kind of a thing. You read the right words, you sing the right songs and you say, I've checked the boxes, right? God requires something much more, to pierce to the heart. To bring about a change of heart where you see with hatred your sin and you turn from it and repentance to embrace the grace that is offered to you in Jesus Christ.
Now, Jesus does want your life to change, but it's a matter of how it changes. John the Baptist talks here about bear bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Then he says a little bit later that right now the axe is laid at the roots. The Bible is always talking about the roots of our faith and the fruit of what grows from it. The roots are where we are drawing our strength from, is it from the flesh, is it from our ability to keep the law? Or are we drawing from the nutritious soil of grace, of Jesus Christ and him crucified?
If we do that, then we are going to bear good fruit. Again, that change of heart, which leads to a change of mind, will spill out into the fruit of a changed life. But if we're still drawing on our old lives, if we're still drawing on our flesh and, on our strength, I can do it this time, then the fruit we bear will continue to be just as evil as it always has been. A low view of law, and I can do it view of the law leads to legalistic religion. A high view of law makes a man a seeker after the grace that we have in Jesus Christ.
There's a music group that produces children's music called "Rain for Roots". It has a lot of really good stuff. I'd recommend it, it has all these Bible songs. One of their songs is simple it's called "Good Fruit". It makes these profound declarations like apples don't grow on pear trees. Did you know that? Or bananas don't grow on plum trees. Again, not an arborist, but I knew that. Then they say these other really insightful things like you can't glue an apple on a pear tree, you can't tape an orange on an oak tree, or my personal favorite you can't staple some cherries on a maple. You can't do it. I mean, you can, but that doesn't make those trees into fruit trees.
That's what the Pharisees were trying to do. They were trying to staple some cherries, some fruit to their lives, look at these works that I'm doing, but it didn't change the kind of trees they were. Their trees were unhealthy and they were continuing to bear bad fruit. King Jesus wants a good fruit from you. He wants to transform lives. But there's a process to this. There's an order to this. There's a way this works in a way this doesn't. If you're trying to live on your own strength, it doesn't work that way. If the roots of your life sink into the nutrient rich soil of the gospel, where you acknowledge you can't do this and you acknowledge you need Jesus and you turn from your sin and repentance and look to Christ in faith. That's where you can't help but as your heart change produces a mind change for the life change to spill out of you. Preparing for the coming of the king requires us to see how short we fall from the glory of God because of our sin.
The problem is, we so quickly, so easily look to other sources, other grounds for our justification. We want to point to the good works we've done. We want to highlight the good achievements we've made. We want to point to the good families from which we descend. We want to talk about the good status or standing we have in our communities or our workplaces or our schools. We want to appeal to our good reputation. The king sets aside all of those and judges them as insufficient. If you're leaning on those, you're not ready for the king. So again, I ask you, are you ready for the king?
The Spirit of Repentance
This, of course, raises the question how do I get ready for the king? And that's what Jesus lays out in the third section, the spirit of repentance in verses 11 and 12. The spirit of repentance is when John differentiates, distinguishes his baptism from the baptism of Jesus, the one who is coming. He says, "I baptize you with water for repentance." This is precisely what Andrew did today, he baptized with water, pointing to repentance. "But he who is coming after me is mightier than I", John says, "whose sandals I'm not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."
Now, John isn't separating the two baptisms, the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus, but he is distinguishing them . They are connected and they're connected in a very important way. One points to the other, one finds its fulfillment in another. They're not separate, but they are distinct. John's baptism is outward and physical, and you say, well, wait a minute, you just told me this isn't about physical, external religion. That's true, but the baptism of John and the baptism that we practice here, even this morning, is physical and it is external. We use physical, real water.
What this is doing is pointing to a greater reality. As Andrew said, this doesn't magically wash someone clean of their sins on its own. This doesn't magically change someone. It certainly doesn't justify someone just by putting physical water. Yet Christ uses that physical water, just as he uses his word. He uses the sacraments to sink our roots down more deeply into the soil of the Gospel of Grace. He uses the outward administration of baptism in order to communicate to us something of the benefits of the redemption that he has accomplished. What Jesus did is that goes even beyond symbolism. Is that Jesus sends his Holy Spirit into the world, who takes his accomplishment of redemption and applies it to our lives. He does this and through baptism, he does this through the Lord's Supper and he does it, especially in the proclamation of his word. It's these biblical means of grace are the tools in Jesus's toolkit. Where he sends his Spirit to work in our lives, applying and using those tools as he brings to us what Christ has done for us at the cross.
John also gives us a warning in verse 12. He says it doesn't mean this is just going to automatically flow to you again, this isn't just external, something internal and spiritual must happen. Verse 12, John warns his winnowing fork is in his hand, that's what you separated the wheat from the chaff, you toss in the air and separate it. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff, he will burn with unquenchable fire.
You see the king's baptism is a flood water that flows in two directions. The king's baptism both cleanses his people, that's what the promise of baptism is. The king's baptism or waters that also drown and annihilate and immerse and destroy. Baptism brings us through judgment that would rightfully condemn us, but we are brought through by grace. It still condemns others while we are kept safe through faith. We see this in 1 Peter 3:20-21, Noah's family in the Ark was a baptism. They were brought safely through the floodwaters that immersed and drowned everyone else. In 1 Corinthians 10:2, the Israelites were brought in their baptism, baptized into Moses at the sea. They were brought safely through a water that immersed and drowned the Egyptians who pursued them. The water, fire and spirit of Christ baptism purifies his people, but it destroys those who are not prepared for the king. Are you ready for the king?
Several years ago, I heard of a book written by a man named John T. McNeil, who is a theologian and historian, whom I really respect. If you have the version of John Calvin's Institutes, he's the editor of that volume. So he wrote a book that I heard about and I wanted to get it because it had a really interesting title, it was called, "A History of the Care of Souls." Now I'm a pastor, so I was intrigued by this. What techniques, what methods, what practices, what processes was I going to be able to glean from the history of the church that I could apply in my own ministry, from the history of all the church and all its traditions? Now this book exceeded my expectations, but it also did so by defying my expectations. It wasn't what I expected. It wasn't a list of processes and scripts to use and tricks and techniques. What Dr. McNeil showed through this book is that the history of the whole church, in every culture and every age and every language, every generation after generation, after generation that the church has always had one surefire way of doing ministry, one surefire way of working toward the care of souls. It's by leading people to repentance.
Again and again, chapter after chapter, age after age of history, you can read this. It was all characterized by how the church led people to confess their sins to turn from their sins to repent from their sins. Not just formally and externally, but a change of heart that led to a change of mind overflowing into a change of life. It was all about repentance and how the church has led people in repentance, both informally and through formal means of preaching in public ministry as well as through church discipline.
Now, this emphasis on repentance is so counterintuitive today because we live in a thoroughly therapeutic culture. What the world sees as good is helping you feel better about you. You don't need to change. You don't need to be transformed. You don't need to repent. You need to learn to actually cultivate and give expression to you.
Well, the Bible cuts against that. The Bible says you absolutely must change. That repentance is what you need to do to prepare for the coming of the king. This has been the message of the church throughout all her generations. Through the Old Testament highlighted the pinnacle of the old covenant in the ministry of the Prophet John the Baptist. Especially in the Ministry of Jesus, who says the same thing in Matthew 4:17, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." All the way through the history of the church since. Are you ready for the king?
The application, then, is just this prepare the way for the king. Are you ready for? Jesus, the king, the eternal son of God, has indeed taken upon himself a human nature. He was born the son of David, the lawful heir to the throne of Israel, to be a king whose kingship was despised, rejected so that he, the king, the Lord of Glory, was ultimately crucified at the hands of wicked men. This king conquered his enemies. He conquered and defeated sin, death and the devil, and rising victorious over all of that. The king has come the king has established his own kingdom so firmly and unshakable that all the gates of hell can now no longer prevail against it because Jesus has conquered. The king is reigning. He's ascended into heaven. He is reigning at the right hand of the father he is right now, putting every enemy under his feet until the end, when he even puts death itself under his feet, the last enemy. The King of Heaven is at hand. The Kingdom of Heaven is here, but the Kingdom of Heaven is coming in its fullness and its glory. Are you ready for the king?
King Jesus is still calling us through his word to prepare ourselves for his kingdom by repentance and purification from sins. Confess your sins. You've got to acknowledge yourself as a sinner in the sight of God. Repent from your sins. Repent from a change of your heart, leading to a change of mind overflowing into a change of life. We need baptism, we need the Lord's Supper, week after week to call us back to the sacraments to repentance in faith in Christ.
Well, how then do we grow when we grow ultimately, not by these external rights, although these are connected to and they point to, and Christ uses them as tools in his tool belt to build us up in his kingdom. The kingdom only is built by the work of the Holy Spirit. That's it. The Holy Spirit alone builds the kingdom. When King Jesus ascended, he poured out his promised Holy Spirit as the spiritual baptism to his people once and for all. You don't simply need external, outward, physical, religious rights in ceremonies. You need the reality toward which the true ceremonies point. Toward which the gospel that we proclaim week after week by the word and the sacraments point, to Jesus Christ and him crucified. You need Christ's baptism of the Holy Spirit poured out once for all for his people. This isn't the second experience for Christians. This is the first experience which leads us to become Christians, which leads us to repent from our sins and look to Jesus in faith.
So how do you grow in this? Very simply, pray for God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. If you've never known Christ, if you're still trying to find Christ, pray that God would give you the Holy Spirit. But ongoing we are exhorted in the New Testament to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Now why? What's the purpose of this? Well, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit was poured out and sometimes the manifestation at the beginning was great signs and wonders. Those had a purpose and a place to confirm the message that the apostles were preaching. But those are no longer the reason to gain the Spirit.
We pray for the spirit because to pray for the Holy Spirit, the lord and giver of life is to pray for Christ as our king. Because it is the Holy Spirit, we are told who takes away the veil of our blindness, he is the one who gives us eyes to see ears, to hear hearts, to understand. He is the one who convicts us of our sin to lead us to true repentance from the heart and faith in Jesus Christ. He is the one who sanctifies us who makes us holy by giving us growth in Christ toward true spiritual fruit. The gospel is that the king comes with good news, he loves you so much that he died in your place for your sins. He promises to cleanse you of your sins by his blood and righteousness through your repentance and faith, which is accomplished by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The king has spoken a great word. He is really said to you, wash and be cleaned. Will he not do it?
Will you not look to Jesus in faith because the king is coming. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire and the fires of hell for all of eternity. Flee the wrath to come. 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. The king is coming. Are you ready for him?
Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would make us ready, prepared for the king. That is counterintuitive, as true spiritual repentance is that you would lead us into the fullness of it. To look to Christ alone, to the work of your Spirit, who is shed abroad in our hearts, bringing us the love of God, the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. That we would know Jesus Christ, whom you have sent Father. And have eternal life through life in his name, it's in Christ's name, we pray. Amen.