Advent 3C Bible Study / Sermon (2006)

Bible Study/Sermon for Sunday, December 17, 2006
[Extemporized around the following verses and points]

Luke 3:3 John the Baptist went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins….

Question of the Day: What is the best way to urge repentance, a changed path in life, in another person? With the threat of wrath, punishment? Or with the promise of mercy, unconditional love?

Think of raising children. Which is best in the long-run: punishment or building self-esteem for an ingrown sense of rightness?

Think of alcoholics. Punishment or loving “intervention”?

Now think of our human repentance before God. John the Baptist seemed to favor the “wrath” approach.

Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Luke 3:16-18 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Note: the better translation in verse 17 should be “winnowing shovel.” The winnowing fork was used to separate the wheat from the chaff. The winnowing shovel was used to scoop both up afterwards – the chaff into a fire.

The question is whether Jesus agreed with John’s approach to inducing repentance. Jesus brought the Holy Spirit, but did he also bring fire in the sense that John means here with the winnowing shovel image?

John the Baptist himself had doubts about Jesus. In Luke 7, John, from Herod’s prison cell, sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

St. Paul’s Transformation of “wrath of God” in Romans
[See “My Core Convictions” for elaboration on theses verses]

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

Romans 1:19-28 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done…. Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2 You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” 3 Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Romans 2:8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

Romans 3:5-6 But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?

[“inflict” in the Greek is epiphero, whose more literal translation is “bring upon,” often with the sense of bringing a message or “pronounce.” The Greek translation of the O.T. (Septuagint), for example, uses this word to say in Gen. 1:2 that God’s Spirit “pronounced” over the depth of the waters.]

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

Romans 5:9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath [of God]. [“of God” is not in the original Greek text of St. Paul’s! The translators added it!]

Romans 9:22 What if God, desiring to show [the] wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; [Another translation problem: the NRSV reads “his wrath” applying the “his” at the end of the phrase in the Greek to apply to both “wrath” and “power.” The above rendering is a valid, if not preferable, translation.]

Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath [of God]; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [Once again, “of God” was added by the translators when it is not in St. Paul’s original Greek text.]

Romans 13:4-5 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. [The “servant of God” here refers to authorities of the state.] 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

Bottom line: Jesus not only came with the approach from God of mercy and forgiveness, of unconditional love, to win our repentance. But he also came to show us that one of our chief sins is to inflict wrath on each other and to blame it on God by saying it is God’s wrath we are inflicting on each other. Wrath is our way; love is God’s. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ — who allows himself to be inflicted with our typical wrath in the name of our false gods of wrath — we come to see fully both divine and human nature. And we are saved from our human nature of wrath (the First Adam) that we might begin to truly live by God’s nature, the love of Jesus Christ (the Second Adam).

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