as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. Mark 1:2-6 NIV
Mark’s gospel begins with the wild eyed messenger, who seems to simply appear in the Judean wilderness. He comes, according to Isaiah’s prophecy, to prepare the way. This idea of preparing the way, can refer to the preparation for the arrival of a great King. In ancient times, when Kings would travel the countryside, they would send a crew ahead to turn the footpaths peasants used to travel between towns and villages, into roads wide enough to contain an entire traveling court. This crew would quite literally create a road before him, trees would be cut down, earthen bridges built, and a road would be prepared.
John’s message is one of repentance. In order to prepare the way for the coming King, one who would usher in an Eternal Kingdom, the inner lives of His people needed to be prepared. The first step of this preparation then is repentance, which is a change of heart, mind and attitude, in fact a complete change of direction. To the Jewish people who flocked from both the countryside and the city to hear this message from God this was a fresh word. It had been 400 years since the last messenger brought fresh news from the Throne Room. This message to confess and repent shook God’s chosen people, whose lives were shaped and guided by the Levitical law. Where the temple sacrifices were offered day in and day out, year in and year out, always working to cover the sins of the people with the innocent blood of animals. This fresh call to confession and repentance was shocking and needed.
The multitudes that came to hear John’s message received a difficult word. Luke tells us
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, “were safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.” That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowds asked, “what should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” Luke 3:7-14
John’s message was one that pointed to the inner workings of a life, to the heart. Are you so concerned with your own wellbeing, you have no time or interest for your brother, your neighbor, or the poor? Do you have plenty while others have none? Then confess and repent. Are you taking advantage of your position, at the expense of others? Are you taking more than is yours? Are you compromising the truth to win? Are you never satisfied? Then confess your sins and repent. Are you relying on your own pedigree, your family name, your adherence to the law (or custom) as the reason you are accepted? Are you looking to your own sacrifices as proof of your right standing? Then confess your sins and repent.
Imagine the scene, multitudes are flooding out to the Judean wilderness where John preaches this fiery message of repentance. Then they come to him and publicly confess their sins and are baptized as a sign of the that repentance or changed direction. What might we have heard as the people confessed their sins and were baptized.
“Father forgive me, for the anger I hold toward my brother.”
“Father forgive me, for holding too tightly to my possessions while my sister goes without food, or clothing, or shelter.”
“Father forgive me, for taking more than I was entitled to, for stealing from my brother.” “Father forgive me for lying about my sister.”
“Father forgive me for hating my sister, because she has more than I do.”
“Father forgive me for my ungrateful heart.”
Confession and repentance always prepares the heart to receive from God. As John the Baptist prepared the multitudes to be ready to receive the Good News. As we long to receive all that He has for use, we too need to begin with confession and repentance.
Reflect: Imagine you are standing at the Jordan River with John the Baptist preaching to the multitudes. As the fiery preacher calls the people to repentance, what are you thinking about? What are you feeling?
Respond: Take a few minutes to write out your own confession. What do you need to confess today? Where do you need to change direction?
Receive: What is the Lord speaking to you through this message?