And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.Mark 1:4
John announced this great word: that repentance is the way people come to God, and the result is the forgiveness of sins. The greatest blessing people can experience is to have their sins forgiven. This is what the people who streamed out of Jerusalem to listen to John were looking for, and this is what they found. They found forgiveness of sins, and it came by way of repentance.
That is why the prophet Isaiah said John's message would be like a great bulldozer, building a highway in the desert for God to reach the isolated stranger in the midst of the wilderness. Without a road you cannot drive out into the desert in order to help somebody. You must have a road, a highway in the desert. John was God's bulldozer to build that highway. You know how roads are built—exactly as Isaiah describes in chapter 40:
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain (Isaiah 40:4). That is what repentance does. It brings down all the high peaks of pride that we stand on and refuse to admit are wrong. It takes the depressed areas of our life, where we beat and torture and punish ourselves, and lifts them up. It takes the crooked places, where we have lied and deceived, and straightens them out. And it makes the rough places plain. Then God is there at that instance of repentance.
John brought people to Christ the only way they can come—through acknowledgment of guilt. When people come this way, God meets them, cleanses them, and forgives them. John demonstrated that by the baptism he performed. But there is a greater baptism—that of the Holy Spirit. And on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came, Peter stood up and offered people two things: forgiveness of sins and the promise of the Spirit. From that time on, God has made these things available to any man or woman who will begin at the beginning—the place of repentance.
Have you ever repented? Have you ever changed your mind, stopped defending yourself and trying to blame everything on others, and said,
No, Lord, no one else is to blame, only I. This is the way I am—and I need help? That is where God will meet you. He always meets humans at that point, washes away guilt, cleanses, forgives. That is where you will find forgiveness of sins. If you have never repented before, I urge you to do so now. God will meet you right there. In the quiet of your own heart, where God alone hears, you can say to Him,
Lord, I repent. Lord, send me the Holy Spirit through Jesus. And He will.
Lord, thank You that You promise to meet me in this place of repentance. I come to You now on that basis.
A new year can begin with the liberating gift of forgiveness. Have we understood and embraced the means by which this blessing may be known?