Feasting with God #45
Food of Penitence
Text: Matthew 3:1-6
1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
With the advent of our Lord approaching, we have to be prepared. It was John the Baptist’s purpose to prepare hearts for that very coming, hence his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
At the end of the world, when Jesus returns in glory, “he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32). You remember that story, when the King will recount to the sheep and goats their deeds (or lack thereof), demonstrating the evidence of a righteous or a wicked life, and the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).
Going through the deeds of the wicked and the righteous, if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that we often slip onto the side of the goats. Or maybe we think we’re fine. Think of the Christmas story: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). How many of us haven’t thought, “If Mary and Joseph came to my town, I would give them a room!”? That’s a nice sentiment, but how honest is it, really? Have you ministered to all of “the least of these” that you’ve met (Matt. 25:45)? Have we started to claim that we’re pretty good, that we try our best, that God has to admit that we’ve done everything we’re capable of?
Such claims are pointless, trying to make ourselves feel better for our own shortcomings. Claiming, “I’m doing my best,” assumes that God is content with “the best” of someone who is corrupted by sin. The truth is, God demands perfection: not one bit less. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). This is why John baptized and demanded repentance. His whole life was a demonstration of this attitude: he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” He gave up any comforts or soft fabrics and wore the itchy camel’s-hair to remind himself of his sinfulness. He relinquished any delicacies and ate only the things found in the wilderness, locusts and wild honey. His image and his message made an impression, and people were awakened to their sinfulness and their need for salvation.
Realize: it’s no use trying to hide your sinfulness. Saying, “I’ve done my best,” means nothing; only trying to hide your true wickedness from yourself and from God. But there is a promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is how we get on the side of the sheep: we repent, we are baptized, we are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ covers our unrighteousness.
This is John’s message, and it applies now more than ever, with the kingdom of heaven so close at hand. It’s coming; are we on the side of the righteous or the unrighteous? Cross the river Jordan in baptismal repentance, by confessing your sins and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.
Lord Jesus, as your advent nears, prepare us by your grace and forgiveness. Return us always to our baptisms in repentance, and when we confess our sins, cover us in your righteousness, so that at your coming we might stand on your right and join you in eternal glory. In your name we ask it. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.