St. John the Baptist Day.
The Evangelists have remembered and written of several places in the law sermons of John the Baptist, which are very significant and harsh. One place in John's sermons is written in the gospel of Luke where the words are thus: "I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable." Luke 3: 16-17
We hear from these words that John the Baptist was a man diligent in barking, although it happened mostly through parables. Therefore it is no wonder that the meek people of that time became angry at such a dog who barked so angrily that all the meek whores begged for his head on a platter, and did not receive peace of conscience before John was beheaded. John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Saviour. He was sent by God to prepare a way into the hearts of the people. But in preparing this road he had to pry up with an iron bar those rocks of offense which the enemy had rolled into the hearts of the people already from their youth. The preparer of the way came first upon completely blocked roads. The prophets had truly traveled that road before him and tried to pry up those rocks of offense, which the enemy had dragged upon the road, but the tracks of the prophets could not be seen anymore in the hearts of the people when John began to prepare that same road. With the iron shovel of truth he had to break the snow banks which the storms and tempests of the world had gathered there. Nothing else could be seen there except the tracks of the wolves when the preparer of the road began to wade in the blocked road. The devil had dammed all the schemes of the mind; the understanding and intellect were darkened. They read the Bible backward. Natural meekness and dead faith were the foundation of their salvation. The forerunner had to first tear down these wrong foundations of salvation with the iron bar of truth; the axe of death was laid at the root of the trees. "Every tree, which does not bear good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire." We well surmise that John spoke of the Saviour when he said, "One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose." Here he first confesses his unworthiness in regard to the Saviour, for the people of that time began to believe that John was the Saviour, but the forerunner of the Saviour did not want to own for himself that honor; he confessed openly that he was not worthy to unloose the shoe latchets of the Saviour. Therefore how do some Pharisees and grace thieves intend to give the Saviour a kiss? To equals we can give a kiss, but not to the Saviour, whose shoe latchets John did not feel himself worthy to unloose. Now that part of John's parable comes, which shows what power this man had who came after John. "He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." That word which afterward came from the Saviour's mouth now fits in this place, "I am come to send fire on the earth and what will I, if it be already kindled?" But it is not hell fire, which the Saviour came to kindle, but it is a spiritual fire which is sometimes felt in the heart of an awakened one. When the disciples said, "Did not our heart burn within us," then the spiritual fire was already kindled, but those wretches did not yet understand what it signified that their heart burned. On Pentecost also there were cloven tongues like as of fire seen sitting upon each of them. This now is what John meant when he said that "the Saviour will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." But this fire of the Saviour, when the world saw it, appeared to the crowd of the world that it was the devil's fishing fire. More broadly John says, "Whose fan is in his hand and He will thoroughly purge His floor and will gather the wheat into His garner, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." This is one heart-moving parable. We hear from this parable of John that the Saviour is not so merciful as the grace thieves think He is. The grace thieves think that the Saviour is merciful to all who trust upon Him, but it must be a vain trust, if they think that the Saviour does not make a distinction between the penitent and the impenitent. The sorrowless think that the wheat are meek people who need no repentance. And the grace thieves think that the Saviour has suffered and paid all in their behalf, that they need only to believe that they will be saved, no matter how contrary to the Word of God they live. But what then are the chaff, which He burns with unquenchable fire? They must be the meek whores and the honest thieves and temperate drunkards and the honorable whiskey merchants, who are kept as, the best men in the world. But are the chaff such wild spirits who bark at honorable people? The Baptist was also such a wild spirit and false prophet, who barked so terribly at the best men in the congregation that they had to say, "That man has a devil." Assuredly John was in spiritual pride since he condemned the best men of the congregation to hell and kept himself to be good. One or the other of these are likened to chaff in this place: the world's meek whores and temperate drunkards or these false prophets who do not allow peace of conscience to honorable people. But now the meek whores of this world say, "It is not now like it was at that time when John preached. Now the time has changed much from what it was formerly. Not one is now so foolish that he thinks he can become saved through meekness or through works of the law, as the Jews thought. The doctrine of Christ is now cleared up to us and people are taught the Word of God, so that no one needs to be in ignorance as to how he should live so that he would be saved. We have been born of Christian parents, and already as children were taken up into God's covenant of grace through baptism. We have been brought up in the doctrine of Christ and have practiced Christian habits. Why are we then barked at as pagans? Although John preached harsh law to the people of that time and condemned besides, such a judgement does not befit us, who are enlightened and old Christians. They were pagans to whom John preached, but we are not pagans." So preaches old Adam when he has received enlightenment from hell through the natural intellect, which shows the natural man where the road goes to heaven. The natural intellect gets its enlightenment from the liver, where the devil of self-righteousness lives, and from the spleen where honor of the world lies, and also from the colon, where the devil of greed has built his home, and lastly from the gall where spiritual hatred drips. All these devil's angels, which lie in a natural person's flesh, give the natural intellect that enlightenment, that this Christianity which now has appeared cannot be any other than the deceit of the devil. Self-righteousness says, "Certainly you will not be saved by this, that you struggle in pain and tribulation of conscience, as these wild spirits do. But live meekly and read diligently." The honor of the world says, "You do not need to cry out to the world, but confess your sins before God if you have done wrong in some place or other." Greed says, "You do not need to begin to repay and reconcile all the trifles. When you are reconciled with God, you are also reconciled with your neighbor." Spiritual hatred gives the intellect that enlightenment that these awakened ones are in spiritual pride when they condemn honorable people. It is also one devil's angel which gives the intellect that assurance that one drink of liquor will do nothing. When the natural intellect now receives such an enlightenment from the flesh, he makes that determination, "God has not created man for that reason that He would destroy him in hell." Has the Saviour Himself not said that "God sent His Son not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved?" And the Apostle John testified, "If we sin, God is righteous that He forgives our sins," from which some wise of the world have concluded that God would be false if He did not forgive sins. "Why then do you fear hell?" says the worldly wise. "It is nothing other than an old story which the priests have dug up because of tithes, to frighten the simple ones. If John the Baptist had preached severely at that time to the Jews, they have merited it, they were pagans who crucified the Saviour. We are no longer so foolish that we would begin to believe such stories and lies of the priests." Look! Such things the natural intellect preaches, and old Adam likes such a doctrine well. Such a doctrine and such wisdom take away all fear and all sorrow over the soul's salvation. It makes a person very bold to mock God and to mock the Christians. What distress does old Adam have now, since God is so merciful that He takes all the goats and bucks, all dogs and swine into the kingdom of heaven without sorrow, without trouble, without penitence, without repentance. Meek whores, honest thieves, temperate drunkards, and honorable whiskey merchants now will reach the kingdom of heaven. But what then are the chaff which He burns with unquenchable fire? What are those unfruitful trees at whose roots the axe is laid? What are the offspring of the viper, which John mentions? They must be natural serpents, to which John preached so severely. Perhaps John's severe reproach was not just so unavoidably necessary to those awakened and graced souls, who through this dog's barking have come into the right knowledge of sin and become reconciled with the Heavenly Parent! Nevertheless since there are many pagans and many grace thieves who need to hear John's biography, and the awakened also need to remember that they have been pagans, for that reason we must observe, according to old custom, how this forerunner of the Saviour, through the preaching of the law, prepares the way for the Saviour into the hearts of the people. May God give him strength and power to pry up the large rocks with the iron bar of truth, and to chop the dried trees with that axe which is laid at the root of the tree, to prune the dry branches from the green trees with the sword of the spirit, to tear up by the roots the old and decayed trees, and to smooth out the holes so that the Lord of glory would get to travel downward from above, and so, more broadly, from the heart to understanding, and from understanding to the conscience, and from the conscience to the will, and from the will to the right life. Hear, merciful King, the sigh of those who are in heavy labor on the road, and give prosperity to their work when they strive to eternity after Jesus. Our Father, etc.
The Gospel: Luke 1: 57-80.
From the gospel we heard Zacharias, John's father, prophesying that his son must prepare the way of the Lord and give the people the knowledge of salvation, and give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Following this we must, through God's grace, consider how John the Baptist prepares the way for the Lord Jesus into the hearts of the people. May God, the great Creator, allow his work to prosper. May the great Crossbearer allow His trouble to lighten the travel of the poor travelers, and may the Holy Spirit give the right enlightenment, how he must prepare this way, that the Lord of Glory would get to travel. — It is first a greatest trick how he must find the way into a person's heart. Many have sought for that road but have not found it. The prophets before him have certainly sought for that road and have partly found it. But they are so few, who have sought for the way into the hearts of the people, that even those who have found it have not been able to prepare it so that it would have remained a longer time. For while the prophets were opening it by force, that while the tempest of sin closed it. But from the time that Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, all the prophets according to the commandment of God have gone and measured the road from Mt. Sinai to Golgotha; however, this aforementioned road which the prophets had measured was so blocked by the storm, that John had to quickly open it again by force., Paul testifies that the veil of Moses was always hanging before the hearts of the Jews when the Old Testament was read, that the chief priests certainly did not find that place where the way went into the hearts of the people. Nor did the chief priests truly care so much to seek, for they thought, "If only we would find the way into the memory and understanding of the people, then we certainly have prepared the way for the Lord." Even yet the high priests figure that the way to a person's heart is through the intellect. Whoever has not seen Mt. Sinai, nor has seen those flashes which proceed from Mt. Sinai, nor has heard the thunder roar with a terrible sound on Mt. Sinai, says, "Certainly the road does not go that way." Why did Moses become so terribly wroth in God's behalf when he came down from Mt. Sinai that he broke those tables of stone which were in his hand? Now the chief priests say, "Must we take those pieces of stone which Moses left there, and begin to cut the hearts of the people! We will not do that at all. They would soon flee from the church like the children of Israel fled, because of fear and trembling, far from Mt. Sinai." So the chief priests figure that all the crowd would leave the church if they would begin to roar the curse of the law, as God roared on Mt. Sinai. But never mind: that light-minded and worldly people, who cannot bear to hear the curse of the law on Mt. Sinai, will nevertheless not get along without God. They say to the chief priest, "Make us gods who will bring us to the land of Canaan." And this chief priest was ready to follow after the mind of the people. He commanded all the beautiful girls to tear off their earrings and gold rings, not for that reason that they would give them to the school or to the poor, but for the reason that from that gold a god would be made for them. And assuredly they, who have a gold heart in their bosom and gold chains on the neck, worship that gold god, for not all of the beautiful women and girls have dared to give them to Aaron. But what good or what kind of thanks did Aaron get because ha went after the mind of the blind people and did as they commanded? It was not long after that the same people wanted to stone him. Such thanks that priest will finally get, who sees the foolishness and blindness of the people, and does not reveal to them that misfortune which will finally follow that worship of idols. He thinks, no doubt, like one Catholic bishop, who saw how the people had been deceived through that false faith of the Pope, so he said to himself, "Since this people wants to be deceived, let them be deceived." But Moses did not speak so when he came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the foolishness and blindness of the people of Israel. He became terribly wroth in behalf of God, and in that zeal he broke those tables of stone upon which God had written the ten commandments, and commanded Aaron to burn the golden god to ashes and put the ashes upon the water, so that the children of Israel could drink their god of gold in the ashes mixed with water. That gold which they had borrowed from the pagans because of adultery, and placed upon the women folk for finery, had to finally smart in their intestines, where the devil of greed lives. So it happens even now that the gold which the beautiful girls buy in the foolishness of youth will finally smart in their intestines, when they become poor because of adultery and the intestines begin to get thin; in their old age they can eat ash porridge because they have borne a gold heart in their bosom. This gold heart is made of yellow rock, which must be taken away from their bosom, for it is dead and devoid of feeling. "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh," says the Lord, "and I will give them a new heart and a new spirit," says the Lord, "and I will give them an heart of flesh, which is not so devoid of feeling as the former heart of stone." But the heart of flesh must also be circum-cized, and as Zipporah, Moses' wife, took a sharp stone with which she circumcised her son, so also has John taken the sharp pieces of stone from the tables of the law, which Moses in his zeal broke at the foot of Mt. Sinai. And with those sharp stones John has circumcised the fleshly hearts when he first has found the way into a person's heart. He also took such heart-moving parables of rocks and trees, axes and swords, wheat and chaff, serpents and fire, so that God's severe righteousness, which formerly was written on tablets of stone since people had a heart of stone, through these parables became written on the tablets of the fleshly hearts as Paul testifies. But it is to be surmised that the heart became sore when God's law was written in the fleshly hearts. Formerly when people had a golden heart in the breast, this heart of stone was devoid of feeling; nothing effected there. No matter with how sharp a stone the letters of the law would be written there, a heart devoid of feeling feels nothing. And what does the stony heart feel? But John went to Mt. Sinai and found there those sharp stones which Moses had thrown there in his zeal, and with them began to write into the fleshly hearts of men, began to circumcise the foreskin of the fleshly heart. From that some received a sore and sorrowful heart, they began to feel their sins. And to those who had a broken heart, John pointed with his finger to the Saviour, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." This was John's intention, that the heart would become sore through the circumcision, sorrowful and broken, that they must become sinful and as such to go to the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world. But that makes the chief priests and lords of the world feel badly, that the publicans and sinners run to the Saviour. John was already kept as a fool and it was said that that man had a devil, when he did not eat or keep doings or celebrations as other lords did, nor did he drink liquor or punch as other lords, but only barked and reproached honorable people as whores and generation of vipers. "Was he a person who in that way spoiled the nation, that people began to become delirious and to run after the Saviour?" The chief priests could not even clean the devil's dung from their own hearts, what then from other's hearts? How do the chief priests and the lords of the world know what lives in another's heart, who do not even know their own heart, since they have a heart swollen with spiritual hatred and natural pride. Then they say that John has a devil. For this confessor of the truth began with the iron shovel of truth to work and scrape the devil's dung which had dried in the people's hearts; then the seeds of the serpent began to squirm in the bottom of the heart. The meek whores especially were angry at John. The meek whores did not get peace of conscience before John's neck was severed and they could have John's head on a charger.
But that is not enough that John finds the hearts of the people, which the lords of the world have not found, for the chief priests have not studied or pondered upon how they could find the hearts of the people, but they have studied more in what poor clothes he was clothed, how he deceived the people, and how they could get some legal grounds against him. But although John the Baptist now finds the hearts of the people, and the people also come from many directions to ask advice of what they should do, as it is written in the third chapter of Luke, it is not known if they all follow his teachings, or if they go back into the world, since he does not promise grace to the Pharisees and hypocrites, without true penitence and repentance. Some nevertheless ask him, "Who are you?" Or what are you who cries out in the wilderness so and barks at honorable people? Are you Christ? Or are you Elias since you so shamelessly bark and condemn people? The same question was also brought to the Saviour when He began to reproach the lords of the world because of greed and hypocrisy. Then they said, "Whom makest thou thyself? Are thou the Son of God?" And even if God the Father would have come from heaven to admonish the evil people, surely the lords of the world would have asked, "Who art thou?" Are you God who condemns meek and honorable people to hell? Perhaps, say I, John the Baptist found the people's hearts and thereby was able to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. Certainly there was still much left unprepared when the Lord Jesus Himself came and began to purify with the gospel the hearts of those who had awakened from the law sermons of John. Man is not such a creature that he becomes loose from the world all of a sudden. Even though the conscience was awakened, even if the heart was broken, and even if one had felt the feelings of grace of the Holy Spirit, surely nevertheless satan shoots his darts from the flesh toward the heart, and wants to confuse some and get them on a wrong road. The enemy especially wants to sift their souls and make them into flour, who after the first awakening own for themselves the promises of God's grace too soon, although the old man is not crucified by spiritual sorrow, as for example Peter, who kept himself to be the best Christian before he felt the deceit of the heart and satan's deceit. Certainly many are yet in that same self-deception, who keep themselves to be the best Christians and cannot stand the judgement, but only want to own the promises of the gospel. If formerly in the sorrowless condition such have had a golden heart, finally they get a silken heart where self-righteousness lays hidden like a bear in the moss. They become holy and sinless through grace, so that they no longer have much temptations, and also want to draw others into the same faith in which they themselves are, namely into spiritual sorrowlessness. Such false prophets are praised by those who are in natural sorrowlessness, for they do not wound the old Adam as John the Baptist, who barks and bites. There are also those who stop at the first awakening of the law and decay in the net of the Holy Spirit, since the fishermen are lazy in examining their nets. Such are baptized by John into the law or bound to the law; they stand under the law and cannot go farther, they cannot come into grace. Paul found twenty of those kind of men in the city of Ephesus,who were baptized with the baptism of John the Baptist, but he commanded that they be baptized anew in Christ. Nevertheless, Paul did not have that intention that they who are released from under the law into a condition of grace can trample the law, as the thieves of grace who make Christ a servant of sin and commit sin upon grace, thinking that all things are pure to the pure. It is true that all is pure to the pure, when the question is what kind of food would be allowable for Christians to eat. But nevertheless sin is not allowable for a Christian to commit. But the reverser of the eyes wants to make some sins allowable, as for instance: the sin of laziness. Old Adam does not want to trouble his body, and many imagine they are doing good to God and bad to people when they lie lazy at home or travel in the town and eat from the substance and trouble of others. Old Adam wants to be quite the lord. "A Christian does not need to serve," so thinks the old man. But who will finally be serving, since a Christian does not want to serve? Must the devil, who the Christians have formerly served, now begin to serve them? Why not, if the Christians promise their souls to him, surely he will then serve them, but if they promise their flesh to satan and their souls to the Saviour, then old Adam must come into a bind, as Paul says, "Deliver the body to satan that the soul might be saved." That signifies that he must suffer trouble and be in chastisement so that the soul would be saved. For old Adam is such a lord that he does not want to serve anybody. The sorrowless are just such ones who do not want to serve for a reasonable wage. They are free lords who serve the devil, but not God. Who knows how it will finally go with them, the free lords, if they must finally eat straw and pine bark before they die, and even after death can regret their foolishness. So it happened with the former free lords, who had despised the voice of one crying in the wilderness. They have said that John has a devil. What do they now say in hell? They probably must now preach thus: "We have followed dangerous roads, the sun of righteousness has not shown for us, we have despised all warnings in the time of grace, we have blasphemed the preachers of truth, we have borne hatred toward those who have demanded repentance, and now we can regret our foolishness eternally." But the voice of one crying in the wilderness now sits in the kingdom of heaven and cries out, "Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world." Now he sits on the high roof of heaven and cries, "Hosanna to the Son of David, and blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord." Now he beholds the Son of God face to face and his face shines like the face of an angel. So he preaches to the heavenly wedding throng. The friend of the groom rejoices when he sees the groom coming with His bride. The friend of the groom is John, who came to prepare the way of the Lord, and he has cried out so powerfully in the wilderness that the ears of the deaf finally open. And our hope is that everyone who cries out repentance in the wilderness must rejoice at the voice of the Groom, and sit on His right side in the heavenly wedding, and he must see the Son of God coming in the clouds of heaven to judge the quick and the dead. And then he must go in and cry out to all the children of God, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Amen.