And [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:3-7).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” It is the last line in a string of Isaiah’s greatest hits in our reading from Luke 3. “After drawing from Isaiah 40, 57, 49, 42, and 45, Luke concludes by recalling a promise of God from Isaiah 52.”[i] “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” The day will come when, as St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
It is true. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—despite what we see here and now.
What we see now is more like Luke’s list at the beginning of our reading. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod the Tetrarch, and his brother Philip, Lysanias, Annas, and Caiaphas, these were the power brokers, the political leaders, the movers and shakers. “They were in charge in John’s day. It did not look like God was running things.”[ii] It didn’t look like the Kingdom of God was dawning. Indeed, the imprisonment of John the Baptist mentioned in verse 20 raised significant questions about who was really in charge.
Most of these names mean little to us today. Today we have our own power brokers. There are political leaders such as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, who wield power affecting all parts of our life. There are the titans of technology and commerce like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and Jeff Bezos who exert influence through their financial resources and social media influence. The political pundits like Sean Hannity, Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, and Joy Reid seek to shape opinions and dominate the news cycle. You can see who is in charge, and what you see often has little to do with the salvation of God. In fact, it’s frequently in direction opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The world’s power brokers promise safety and security, prosperity and peace. Instead, they deliver political spin and sound bites, censorship, mandates, fear, abuse of power, cancel culture. The world’s power brokers will never be able to deliver the utopia they are promising because they fail to realize we are all fallen people who live in a fallen world. The world’s power brokers have little time for your expressions of your faith and opinions because they don’t fit their narrative.
So, you need to look beyond what you see and experience here and now. Direct your gaze to the day when God’s reign will usher in a life of perfect peace and harmony and joy.
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—and we have already gotten a glimpse.
The glimpse is Jesus, of course. He is our strength and our salvation. He is born in a manger and visited by shepherds and magi. He preaches the truth and heals the sick. He comes to the world and turns it upside down by calling everyone to repent and by offering forgiveness to all who believe.[iii] Isaiah foretold His coming, as did John the Baptist. They were all looking forward to the day when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
We, in contrast, look back. We look back to Jesus. We look back to His Incarnation. It is Advent, after all. But we also look back to His life and ministry. We look back to His suffering and rejection. We look back to His shame and His death. But we do not stop there. We look back, above all, to His resurrection from the dead, and we see His vindication and restoration. When we look back at His resurrection, He directs our eyes toward the future and His promised return. Like Isaiah and John, we look forward to that great and glorious day, trusting the resurrected One will return as He promised. This promise sustains our faith and shapes our lives as we have seen a glimpse of the salvation of God by faith.
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—and it is beginning to show in our lives.
The crowds of verse 10 of our Gospel ask John what they should be doing considering the coming of Christ. How should they prepare? All of Israel should be asking this urgent question in view of John’s ministry, especially the Pharisees and the religious establishment of Jerusalem. But the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers are the only ones to come asking, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10) showing that they are willing to demonstrate repentance by doing what John asks of them. The first sign of repentance is submission to John’s preaching, turning in repentance, and submitting to baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
John is concrete and direct. He gives directions appropriate for their context and vocations outlining how repentance will express itself in daily life. Each instruction has to do with attachment to things of this world. For the crowds, there is a general exhortation to perform deeds of mercy by stripping down the excess of one’s clothing and food and sharing it with others. For the tax collector this means not taking more than their allotted share. For the soldiers it means not using the power of their office for extortion or violence. Such deeds in daily life are “fruits in keeping with repentance.”
The temptation for those who live by the promises of God’s coming salvation is to look past the mundane and the ordinary in anticipation for the joy to come.[iv] But those who believe in Jesus, who look forward to seeing the salvation of God on that last day, busy themselves by serving others in common and daily ways. They fulfill their vocations with faithfulness and (when possible) joy, knowing their labor in the Lord is not in vain.
What would fruits in keeping with repentance look like in your life? It means different things for different people, depending on who you are and where you are in life. Only you can determine the specifics for your situation and vocations.
But there is some helpful general advice for all of us to be found in the Ten Commandments, as you seek to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. This especially true of the positive encouragements of the explanation to each commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism.
How will we bear fruits in keeping with repentance? We will fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We will call upon God’s name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. We will hold God’s Word and the preaching of it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. We will honor our parents and other authorities, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. We will help and support our neighbor in every physical need. We will lead sexually pure and decent lives in what we say and do. We will help our neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income. We will defend our neighbor’s reputation, speak well of him, and explain all his words and actions in the kindest way. We will be content with the people, goods, and gifts God gives us.
I can’t tell you what it specifically means for you to do. But I can tell you how this is done: by the grace of God, that’s how. For you cannot do any of these things on your own. So, the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. The Holy Spirit who brought you to faith in Jesus Christ, sanctifies you by strengthening your faith and increasing its fruit within your life. He gives you new holy desires so you can strive to overcome sin and do good works.
Living in your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance, you put to death that old Adam with all sins and evil desires, so that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. In the waters of Baptism, you have been buried and raised with Christ. Therefore, you should continually resist every impulse of the old Adam until he is drowned once and for all when you die. At the same time, you should continually give free rein to the new man until he rises in final victory on the Last Day.
In individual Confession, the Lord gives you have a safe place to name your sins so that they are no longer carried alone. The Absolution is spoken specifically to you and your sins are removed as far away as the east is from the west. There can be no mistaking to whom these words of Jesus are addressed: “I forgive you all your sins.”
Based on the word of forgiveness, the pastor may give you counsel and help in the struggle against temptation and enslavement to sin. Thus, private Confession and Absolution equips you to stand firm against “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice” (Sixth Petition). This is a natural part of “producing fruits in keeping with repentance. Luther writes in the Brief Exhortation to Confession, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian” (BEC 32).
In the Sacrament of the Altar, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. As Christ gives Himself to you so completely with His body and blood, so, too, the Sacrament strengthens you to give yourself in sacrificial love and service to your neighbor.
Paul’s prayer in our epistle reading is appropriate for you, too: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Gospel: Luke 3:1-20 (Advent 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-31-20-advent-2-series-c-1.
[ii] Gospel: Luke 3:1-20 (Advent 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-31-20-advent-2-series-c-1.
[iii] Gospel: Luke 3:1-20 (Advent 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-31-20-advent-2-series-c-1.
[iv] Gospel: Luke 3:1-20 (Advent 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-31-20-advent-2-series-c-1.