The Act of Repentance
The last time we looked at the story of God, we were in the wilderness. Of all the places God could have led the Israelites, he chose to take them to the wilderness for a while. They were in the Sinai wilderness region when they received the 10 commandments. They spent 40 years in the wilderness before they were finally able to enter the promised land.
We are going to skip ahead for a bit and look at the Gospel of Luke. John is in the wilderness.
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight! 5 Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, 6 and everyone will see the salvation of God. 7 He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him. 11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.” 14 Some soldiers also questioned him, “What should we do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing shovel is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.” 18 Then, along with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people. // Luke 3:2–18 CSB
When you think of the wilderness, what comes to mind? Tropical, green, overgrown? That is NOT this wilderness. The wilderness we are talking about is described by Jeremiah as:
6 They stopped asking, “Where is the Lord who brought us from the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines, through a land of drought and darkness, a land no one traveled through and where no one lived?” // Jeremiah 2:6 CSB
Though places right along the river could be green and provide shade and vegetation, the majority of the region was desolate. Even to this day, you will see areas settled around the Jordan River and then a vast, uninhabited section of wilderness to the West, towards the Sea.
The Jordan River is what the Israelites had to cross, under the leadership of Joshua, in order to enter the promised land.
For some strange reason, in my mind, I have always picture this as being just outside Jerusalem. People exited the city gates and just walked to the Jordan. From Jerusalem it was still 10-15 miles to the closest part of the Jordan River. That is the same distance as going from our location this morning to public square in Watertown.
If you lived in downtown Jerusalem, the trip to the site where it is believed John was baptizing was about 80-90 miles. To give a perspective, that is like traveling from here to Destiny USA Mall in Syracuse.
People were walking from Jerusalem to the Jordan wilderness. That would be a 4-5 day journey just to get there for some. On foot. Through the wilderness.
Imagine you just traveled through rough wilderness 5 days to get to the Jordan and see John. You are dusty, tired, probably hungry. As you arrive to meet the famous John the Baptizer, he looks at you and the crowd with you and says, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath”?
Hardly complimentary! Basically, he is saying, “you children of the serpent (from the garden), why are you here? You deserve to be judged and punished””
I think it is safe to say that John did not have many friends, as a matter of fact, he made enemies with his bluntness and at the end of our passage we are drawn to this fact:
19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to everything else—he locked up John in prison. // Luke 3:19–20 CSB
Later, Herodias would have John beheaded.
John’s goal was not to win the masses by coddling them or telling them how blessed they were to be Abraham’s descendants. His purpose was not to have so many followers that he could build the Church of John the Baptist and draw big crowds and not have to live in the wilderness any longer.
His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus by calling people to repentance.
Our passage says that he preached a message of “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”
There are three parts to John’s message that I want us to focus on this morning. Lord willing we will hit the 4th part next week.
The word baptism is our English direct translation of “batisma” which means to dip or wash.
The term baptism derives from the Greek for “to baptize” (βαπτίζω, baptizō), which can refer to either the forgiveness of sins or mundane purification before eating meals (Luke 11:38). The related word “washing” or “baptizing” (βαπτισμός, baptismos) refers to the act of dipping or immersing an object in water as part of a purification ritual.
John baptized by dipping people in the Jordan River. Jesus was baptized by John (Mark 1:9). Later, Jesus commands his disciples, you and me, to go and make disciples and to baptize them (Matt 28:19-20). Then, as we see the early disciples do that in the book of acts we see people believing and being baptized. That is the order, believe and be baptized. (Mark 16:16, Acts 8:12, 16:15, 18:8)
30 … Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household. // Acts 16:30–34 CSB
Notice the entire household believed and the entire household was baptized.
When it comes to our view on Baptism, as a church, we believe the NT teaches that baptism is by immersion (or dipping) and it for all of that that have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Of course, at the time that John was baptizing, Jesus had not appeared on the scene yet, and the work of baptism was not full understood. It was commanded by God, but the entire meaning of it would not be realized until after the death of Jesus.
3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. 5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. // Romans 6:3–5 NLT
NOTE: baptism is not what saves. It is a public profession, and it is for all who believe. John’s message is what we hold to as the NT practice of baptism: that all who repent & believe be baptized.
The interesting thing is that the Jordan river is NOT a clean river! Most of the year it is quite murky. Perhaps this helps us to realize that it is NOT what is on the outside that makes you clean, but what is on the inside. Jesus will confront the Pharisees about this eventually: Matt 23:25-28
REPENT: This word carries with it a fair bit of negative connotation. We do not see it as a positive to say that we must repent, and yet this is a beautiful word and one we need to embrace more.
Most basically it means a change of mind or change of purpose and often connotes a reversal or 180 degree about face.
Repentance is what we do when we realize we acted in anger and ask for forgiveness. It is what we do when we break a promise and make it right. It is what we do when we cheat on our diet and then decide to go back to it 😊
Repentance is also the way to God. It is admitting that we messed up what he created and that we have sinned and broken our relationship with him and that we want to make it right.
Simple, really. Repentance towards God is an apology that restores a broken relationship.
I love the quote that John the Baptist uses to explain this. It is from Isaiah.
4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight! 5 Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, 6 and everyone will see the salvation of God. // Luke 3:4–6 CSB
What Isaiah was saying, and what John was this:
Every obstacle, every speed bump, every detour that has ever kept people from God is now being removed. Jesus, the Messiah is going to:
- Take the bend out of the road
- Fill in every valley
- Lower every hill
- Fill in all the potholes
Do all of the things that could make it hard to be with God. All of the obstacles, laws, rules, sin, everything that makes it difficult for you and me to have a relationship is being taken out of the way.
You do realize that it is NOT God that needs a straight path, right?
The path to God is super simple and accessible to all (everyone will see – Jews & Gentiles). That means even you and me.
- You do not need $ to come to God
- You do not need a spiritual pedigree to come to God
- You do not need a bible education or a certain Bible translation
- You do not need the right clothes
- You do not need to have it all figured out
You simply need to be willing to apologize. “God, I have messed up. I’m sorry. Please forgive me and restore my relationship with you.”
This is where repentance starts. It starts with admitting our wrong and confessing it.
9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. // 1 John 1:9 NLT
That brings us to the last part of the message:
When we are willing to repent, God is ready to forgive. Wow. How powerful is that. You do not have to wonder if God will forgive you. He will.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. // Ephesians 1:3–7 NLT
13 [God] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. // Colossians 1:13–14 NLT
Jesus purchased our freedom, from the slavery of sin, by shedding his blood. Not only the forgiveness of the punishment we deserve, but of the guilt as well.
THE STORY OF GOD: The picture being painted is that there is a way to cross over from the wilderness to the promised land, it is through the waters of repentance.
The way to God is simple. It simply takes a humble prayer of apology, repentance, to be restored to God. God is so interested in a relationship with you and me that he paid the price (we need to money) he made the sacrifice (we have none to give), he came to us (because we would not go to him) he shows us love (while we are still hostile). He took away every excuse, every obstacle, every challenge because he wants us to be in relationship with Him again.
Today, this very day, with a simple prayer of repentance, you can be forgiven and have a fresh relationship with God.