1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' "
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
John the Baptizer, Jesus’s cousin and the first one to recognize Jesus as the savior of the world was sent into the world to prepare the way for the saving work of Jesus. He proclaimed a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His message tells us that we prepare to enter into the kingdom of God by repenting of our sin and receiving God’s forgiveness. But we have questions. How do we repent? What assures us of forgiveness? And how is a call to repentance good news?
William Barclay reminds us that repentance begins with being honest with ourselves, with those we have wronged, and with God. We start by examining our lives and seeing where we have allowed our will to replace God’s will, where we have placed our desires ahead of God’s offer of a loving relationship, and where we have allowed other gods (money, status, power, etc.) to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts. We also become aware of the things we have allowed to get in the way of our relationships with those we love and those who love us. Once we realize where we stand, we need to confess our sins—to ourselves first, then to those we have sinned against, and finally to God(i). Repentance begins with conviction and confession.
But to repent means more than just being sorry for our sins. The Greek word Metanoia means to turn around. It means to turn away from our past and to turn toward a better way of living. Repentance means that we abandon the path we are walking and begin again on the path that leads us into the presence of God. Repentance changes our perspective on our own life, our outlook on the world, and our relationship with God. Because of the great change, others can see the fruit of our repentance in how we act and react toward others.
How do we know that our repentance leads to forgiveness? In this we need to trust the word of God. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”(NRSV). We can trust God, after all, it is God who loves us so much that he sent his son so that we would have eternal life.
So here is what makes this such good news. As many people who have tried to turn their lives around can tell, repentance is nearly impossible when we try to do it by ourselves. Our power to truly repent is not ours. We cannot change our ways alone. We can only do it through the grace of God. It is God who convicts us of our sin. It is God who emboldens us to confess that sin to ourselves, our loved ones, and to God. It is God, only God, who empowers us to turn away from that sin and toward God. And it is God who forgives our sin, welcomes us into God’s presence and walks with us to show us how to live. That’s the good news; that God’s grace never abandons us and constantly draws us closer to God’s kingdom. Thanks be to God!