Repent! (Luke 3:1-18)

John the Baptist Preaching by Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (New International Version)

John the Baptist was the sort of guy that people either loved or hated. When I think of John, I picture a hippy driving a Volkswagen bus with bumper stickers plastered everywhere with sayings like, “Get Right or Get Left,” “Turn or Burn,” “Repent or Regret,” “Jesus Is Coming to Take Over,” “Here Comes the Judge,” “Armageddon Outta Here!” and “Axe Me What’s Next.”

He tended toward seeing things as black and white. John wasn’t much of a gray area sort of dude.

Yet, no matter what one things of John the Baptist, he was affirmed by Jesus as doing exactly what he was supposed to do: Prepare for the coming of the Lord. (Matthew 3:13-17, 11:1-19)

And the best way to prepare, as John pointed out, is to repent.

Repentance is one of those big biblical words that sometimes gets lost as being archaic and out of touch – sort of like a hippy John the Baptist. Yet, without repentance, nobody becomes a Christian and no one lives a fruitful life following Jesus. 

To “repent” simply means to change our minds – to stop doing one thing, and to start doing another. 

Orthodox icon of John the Baptist

Throughout Holy Scripture, repentance means to stop sinning and start worshiping God. “Sin” and “worship” are also words that don’t get used a lot and tend to get relegated as antiquated language.

To “sin” is to say and do things which harm others, or to fail to say and do things which are helpful. (Deuteronomy 15:9; Proverbs 10:19; Romans 14:23; James 4:17; 1 John 3:4, 5:17)

To “worship” means to bend the knee, to submit and honor a deity. (Psalm 95:6; Matthew 4:8-10; Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 11:16, 19:10,

The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in the temple, a self-revealing of the One true God that caused him to be completely unraveled with repentance.

The Apostle Peter saw the Lord Jesus in his immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish. He then fell at the Lord’s feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) 

John the Apostle had a vision of Jesus Christ in all his glory and heard his voice. John fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:12-17) 

Ezekiel the prophet had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory. Then, he fell facedown. (Ezekiel 1:25-28) 

Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous person of all time, saw a vision of God in all his glory and fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and human sinfulness. (Daniel 8:15-18)

Methinks there is so much sin in the world and so much indifference in the church because people are not seeing a vision of a glorious and holy God. Because if they did, they would be completely beside themselves and see sin’s terrible foulness and degradation; they would repent from all the ways in which they have been apathetic and complacent in living their lives.

John the Baptist by William Wolff, 1968

We must, therefore, put ourselves in a position to see and hear God so that we can turn from all the obstacles that prevent us from experiencing Father, Son, and Spirit. 

And those hindrances to experiencing God are legion, including: 

  • Passiveness toward God’s Word and God’s creation, thus causing a lack of mindfulness and attention to the Holy Spirit.
  • Preoccupations and daydreams that prevents availability to the words and ways of Jesus.
  • Poverty of sleep, healthy habits, and an overall poor well-being that dulls the spiritual senses and prevents awareness of God.
  • Paucity of spiritual practices and disciplines that would put us in a position to experience a vision of God.

We must repent of all the ways we do not pay attention to God. The Lord is coming but we don’t perceive it.

  1. What, then, must we do to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God?
  2. In what ways might we corporately foster a sense of the holy God? 
  3. How will repentance fit into both our personal and corporate worship? 
  4. Have we identified and named the things that grieve the heart of God so that we can repent of them? 
  5. What is one action step you will take in response to this blog post?

None of us need to be like John the Baptist in order to be godly. We don’t have to eat locusts and be black-and-white thinkers. But we do all have to repent of the ways we make the road difficult by placing obstacles in the way of experiencing Jesus.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s