I saw in my journey through the scriptures, the Lord Jesus Christ stepping into public view after years of obscurity. “The Way, the Truth and the Life” is there presented for the nation to see and from that beginning – the whole world. The nation of Israel had been waiting for a prophet to come and open the way for the promised Messiah. John the Baptist fit the mold. He was like they had envisioned Elijah. He was bold, he was different even in his clothing and food. His lifestyle suited their picture of a prophet, and he practiced what he preached. His preaching was plain, easily understood and challenging. The man God chose as the forerunner to prepare the way of the Lord, moved many in the nation. Even by being at the Jordan River where God had renewed His covenant with Israel before they entered the promised land many generations before, prompted the people to make the journey to the river to hear again the terms of the covenant.
Repentance is not a complicated matter, but it is a matter of the will. Salvation is not a birthright even for an Israeli. There must be a moral and spiritual preparation. Involved in repentance there is a complete halt and 180 degree turn after admitting, “I am wrong.” Wrong actions in a self-centered life of deceit, hypocrisy, gossiping, abuse, taking revenge and immoral living – are admitted to as sin and deliberately turned away from. When a person admits they are a sinner and turns from sin to God, God is there to receive that person. Only God can get rid of sin. We have to come to Him before the problem of sin can be dealt with. Many in Israel were moved to come and hear John the Baptist out of curiosity and some came in repentance. John told them there must be evidence to see if the behavior backs up what we confess. The fruitless tree (or person) is about to be cut down if there is no real fruit. The fan will separate wheat from chaff. So, there is no right or reason to go through religious forms without inward reality.
Baptism follows repentance and the proofs of repentance are a changed life and a fruitful person who follows the way of the kingdom of heaven. When a person enters that kingdom, it includes the kingdom of God now, “the kingdom of God is among you,” but also indicates submission to the Messiah (Christ) as King and Judge on earth as well as in heaven. That is when God’s will for this whole world, will be done. The changes in those who were baptized then, as well as now, were outward signs of an inward change that was real. It is not a rite that changes people. Rather, it is a testimony that a change has been made. So, whether it was the baptism of repentance for Israel, or believers’ baptism of today, it testifies to a 180 degree change inwardly that is lived out daily all through our life as those that are in “The Way.”
“Then came Jesus.” He was really here in this same world I live in. As I read this, I was moved to wonder at the silence of most of thirty years. And then the Lord Jesus Christ walked boldly into public view and in a most public way, to identify Himself with the nation of Israel. Jesus was baptized – not for repentance, for He was absolutely sinless. His baptism was uniquely His own. His was “to all righteousness,” a requirement for proof of His Messiah-ship. His baptism was also to announce the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah, and the start of His public ministry. In His baptism He identified Himself with Israel as an Israeli, and it also gave us an example of His obedience to God.
The Pharisees, the religious legalists, were watching this. The Sadducees too, were watching. They were the political people. Others from Judea and Jerusalem, and all the region around Jordan were there when the Father spoke from heaven identifying the Lord Jesus as His Son – “This is my Beloved Son…” The Father also identified Him as the Servant of God – “I am well pleased.” The Father gave His support – “pleased.” As the Son of God came up from the water, the observers not only heard God’s voice, they also saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and sitting upon Him. This public evidence was a significant start to His public ministry. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit all joined publicly to let us know that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” From the bank of the Jordan River and all through the years of His ministry, Jesus could truly say, “I do always those things that please the Father.”
The way is now opened to God. The instructions are clear. “Repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” is the way that was made when “then came Jesus.” John did his homework well. He was a great prophet who did exactly what God wanted him to do. The message was given and was heard by the nation. Now they had to act on what they heard the prophet say. The lesson is clear. We have no choice but to respond in one way or another to the call to repentance and the warning to “flee from the wrath to come.” The decision today is the same as it was to those who saw Jesus step publicly and physically on to the pages of history. Who is Jesus? Is He God? Where is He? What do the facts say about Him? What will I do with Him? The destiny of each person is decided as we are called to respond to Him. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” They made their choice. I have to make mine and live – and die – with that decision.