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“As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Mark 1:2-3 (Read v. 1-8)

John the Baptist was not a Baptist, but he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord by calling upon all to repent of their sins and evil ways and to be baptized in the name of the one who was to come and who would make atonement for the sins of the world by bearing upon the cross the full punishment for the sins of all.

As the Bible tells us in v. 4, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” And John pointed his hearers to the one who was coming after him but who was mightier and greater than John. He pointed people to Christ Jesus, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

John was just a messenger to point people to Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world. John baptized with water; Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

As we expectantly await Jesus’ return, we would do well to heed John’s message and repent of our sinful ways, looking to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. Only through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus can we be ready and stand in His judgment! (Cf. Acts 3:19; 4:12).

And we continue the preparatory work of John the Baptist yet today, calling upon all to repent of their evil ways and to place their faith in Christ Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again and is coming in judgment to establish His everlasting kingdom. We call upon all to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38-40; Luke 24:46-47; Mark 16:15-16). We baptize with water according to Jesus’ command (Matthew 28:19); Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-6; Titus 3:3-7).

Have mercy on us, O God, and wash away our sins in the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we might be ready for His return; and grant that we too would be a voice crying out in the wilderness calling others to repent and look to Jesus for eternal salvation. In His name, we pray. Amen.

Scripture is taken from the King James Version of the Bible

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“Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Psalm 130:7-8

We await the Lord’s coming – His return in judgment – but if the LORD God were to keep track of all our sins and hold them against us – who could stand in God’s presence (Psalm 130:3; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23)? Of course, the obvious answer to this question is no one! As sinners who fail to love the LORD God or keep His commandments, we all deserve only the eternal wrath and punishment of God!

But the Psalm continues (v.4): “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”

God graciously forgives sins and pardons sinners for Jesus’ sake. What a wonderful truth this is! It is for this reason that we are directed to place our hope in the LORD.

The Psalm says: “Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:7-8).

The people of Israel were directed to place their hope in the LORD for forgiveness and eternal salvation. They were not told to trust in themselves, or to try to appease God’s wrath by living a good life under the Law! Rather, they were directed to trust in the LORD God to have mercy on them and to forgive their sins! They were assured that with him is plenteous redemption. They were comforted by the truth that God is merciful, and that in Him is full and complete redemption from sin and its eternal consequences (cf. Psalm 86:5). They were comforted by the promise that “he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

This is none other than the promise of the Messiah and Savior who would come and die in their stead to redeem them. It is for the sake of this coming Savior that God called His people to repent of their sins and hope in Him and His mercy (cf. Isaiah 55:7).

It is for the sake of the promised Christ and the redemption He would accomplish that God assures all who trust in Him of complete forgiveness and life everlasting (cf. Psalm 103:8-12; Psalm 23:6; Psalm 16:11).

This ancient promise was fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ. As the angel said, He was named JESUS because He would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus has come and has died upon the cross for the sins of all. Our Lord Jesus Christ rose again from the dead on the third day in triumph, assuring us that in Him we have “plenteous redemption” (cf. Rom. 4:24ff.).

Our God calls upon us also to place our hope in Him. We cannot appease God’s wrath against our sins by our own lives or works; but “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2). In Him “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Let us also place our faith, our hope, in Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from all our iniquities!

Dear LORD God, we thank Thee for redeeming us from our sins and iniquities through the innocent sufferings and death of Jesus Christ in our stead. Grant that we place our hope and faith in Thee alone for eternal salvation. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Musical Setting of the Psalm

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Christianity is in decline in America and most mainline churches have more and more empty pews on Sunday mornings.

According to a November 2017 article in The Lutheran Witness, a publication of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Christianity is on the decline in America and almost every major denomination in the United States is feeling the effects.

The LCMS reports an approximate 10 percent decline in members per decade.

The article cites an attack on Christianity and Biblical values on every side as the cause. As an example, the attacks on family and family values have caused a reduction in family size and contributed to divorce and split homes, which in turn contributes to fewer children being baptized and instructed in the Christian Faith.

One paragraph summarizes the problem this way: In short: From a young age, Americans are indoctrinated by their televisions and their schools to have an anti-biblical worldview on the origins of life, the meaning of the human condition, sexuality and a hundred other topics. This puts up barriers to the Word in evangelism that must be torn down. And even more insidiously, this is an attack on the hearts and minds of Lutheran youth, alienating them from the faith.

What can be done to change the course in America? The Biblical answer is to preach the Word and pray for the Holy Spirit to use the Word to reach the lost and change hearts. Christians, both young and old, need to be studying the Word and be able to answer the objections of the world and point out the errors of the modern worldview taught in our public schools and advanced by almost every form of the media.

Apologetics is important, and Christians should be reading and studying so they might defend the faith against the attacks of the secular world. Peter writes (1 Peter 3:15-16): “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

As this passage of Scripture makes clear, Christians need to know how to defend their faith against those who would speak against and defame the truth revealed in the Scriptures, including pointing out the fallacy of modern-day views which contradict the Bible’s teaching. And, Christians need to live in such a way that the world may not discredit them as hypocrites and evildoers.

It is most certainly a time to heed the words of the apostle Paul to the Christians in Colosse and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16); and to do as Paul directed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2ff.: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

The full “Lutheran Witness” article may be read here.

Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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