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John the Baptist: Faithful Messenger

(Matthew 3:1-11; 11:7-10)

Lesson 5 -- first quarter 2003
December 29, 2002

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2002, Christian Light Publications

You, repent!

The call to personal repentance does not ring out very often in the Old Testament. But now as the old covenant draws to a close in preparation for the new, John the Baptist heralds a new call for change in each individual's innermost being. No longer will God deal with people on the basis of their national heritage. Now He will call people as individuals without regard to any sort of heritage. No longer will God's people be able to establish their spiritual identity by looking back to their physical kinship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now God's people will find their spiritual identity by looking back to a personal conversion experience based on repentance and trust in Jesus Christ.

John's message prepared the way for Jesus' message. In Matthew 3:2 we hear him announcing the new kingdom by proclaiming, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Not long after, Jesus launched His ministry with the same message: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Thus, the transition from the ministry of John to the ministry of Jesus freed nobody from the need for repentance.

No one can enter the kingdom without first repenting. And no one can continue in the kingdom without experiencing ongoing repentance. Given the importance of this heart disposition and life view, we ought to know the nature of repentance.

Repentance is most simply understood as a radical change of mind and heart. In a Biblical sense, repentance entails shunning evil and self in order to embrace God (Acts 26:20). Thus repentance has to do with changing for the better, with turning from that which is wrong to that which is right. This shows the deeply personal and spiritual nature of repentance. Genuine repentance touches and affects our very person.

So you see, repentance is not remorse, which is mere regret or grief for having done something wrong. To be only sorry I did something will not pass the test for repentance. But if that remorse leads me to turn away from that behavior and accept a better value system, then I have experienced repentance. The Bible puts it this way: "Ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner.... For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:9,10).

We also should understand that godly repentance comes to us as a gift. In 2 Timothy 2:25 we learn that God gives repentance. Romans 2:4 talks about God's goodness leading us to repentance. If you have not yet experienced repentance, ask God to grant you this essential gift.

Prove it!

Both John and Jesus spoke very severely to those whose righteousness did not touch their hearts. Both of them rejected righteousness for show, yet both of them demanded that righteousness show.

If I say I have experienced repentance, the inward change I profess should be very obvious outwardly. In other words, what I am will always reveal itself with visible fruit. Just as a lemon tree produces lemons, so repentance produces right living. If I say I have changed but you can't tell I have changed, have I really changed?

John stated plainly, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Then he gave this warning of a coming test and judgment: "Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10).

Let us also give life-changing heed to these words of the Master: "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.... Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 7:17,19). Thankfully, Jesus also assured us, "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

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