"In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heavenhas come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2).
Welcome to Day 8 of our Advent Journey! As we unpack Gift Bag 8 we meet a man. We already met his Dad – Zechariah; we already met his mum – Elizabeth; today we meet the man - a man with a message. And that message is really what I want to focus on in today’s devotion.
Elizabeth gives birth to John in Luke 1:57--58:
"When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy."
We fast forward about 30 years to the Judean desert/wilderness. Throughout history, it has been (mostly) uninhabited. A place of isolation, loneliness – dryness.
The stillness of the wilderness is suddenly broken. Not by the screech of a bird of prey; nor the scurrying of some insect or another. But instead by a lone figure. Is it some sort of wild cave-man? A hermit perhaps who had lost all touch with reality? He is wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, and he has a leather belt around his waist. His food is locusts and wild honey.
But then he opens his mouth, and the words that come out are not those of a mindless hermit, but rather of a man on a mission; a man with a message!
That figure of course was that of John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
His mission – to prepare the way for the coming of Christ.
His message – ““Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Literally the Greek (metanoeo) means, "to change one's mind." In the Hebrew language (which the OT was written in) – the meaning goes even further (shuv) -- "to change one's ways." It involves more than just thinking in a different way. Repentance is a willingness to change from one’s self-centered existence to a life directed by God! Where self and sin is no longer the master, but Christ is.
Somebody said – “Basically it is a new attitude, a new world-view, a new master”.
We are walking in one direction (not the boy band), where everything we do, think and say is governed by sin and self. When we repent, we make an about-face turn. Not 45 degrees/90 degrees, but a 180-degree turn, walking now in the opposite direction.
That’s what John was calling for as he preached in the desert.
The interesting thing is, when John uses the word "Repent," here, it’s in the present tense, which means it’s an ongoing, repeated action:
- "Keep on repenting!"
- "Continually be repentant!"
So, in other words, it was not just a once off event, like a door we pass through once, that gets us into the kingdom. So now one can live as one pleases. Repentance is the ongoing lifestyle of God’s people.
John the Baptist challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:8 to
"Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
In other words, he was calling them to walk the talk; to let their actions reflect on the outside what they claimed had taken place on the inside.
Around the Baptismal pool that day; under the voice of John the Baptist – the playing fields were level; there was no distinction made; all those present stood in the desert – a place of dryness and death. They all appear to have the same need for life to be brought to their dead bones; refreshing to their parched souls. Hope, forgiveness and salvation was needed by each of them.
The call of the Baptist on the bank of the Jordan echoes through the wilderness to all who will hear; it’s the call echoed by Jesus to men and women through the corridors of time; it’s a call that reaches each and everyone of us living in the 21st Century. As we examine our own hearts, dear friends, only we can know what needs to be repented of in our lives. Only we know if there are things in our lives which we need to walk away from this morning; those things that we need to leave at the altar of sacrifice as it were. Stuff we’ve perhaps been holding onto for way too long.
John goes on to say –
““Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The word for “near” here (eggizo) can mean near as in time, or near as in space – as in when one person comes closer to another.
Well, right there is the nugget of hope friends. Right there is the light breaking through the darkness of despair. No longer does God have to be worshiped from a distance.
The God of Heaven has made the first move – His kingdom has broken into human history. He has entered our personal space! He has come near! His name shall be called Immanuel – God with us!
That’s who John prepares the way for. That’s Who he points people to. Away from themselves, away from the heritage and traditions many of them were depending on – to the One Whose sandals he was not worthy to carry; to the One Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and Fire!
Help me Lord to see my faults, errors of my ways,
Highlight those things displeasing to You;
Turn my heart away from prejudice, pride, self,
To your will, your way, the right and the true.