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A Message of Hope

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In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1, 2).

John the Baptist was a prophet of the Most High and full of the Holy Spirit. No wonder people were drawn to set aside their jobs and everyday lives and travel into the wilderness to hear and respond to his message of repentance. They were attracted by the hope of a new beginning that John’s message, baptism, and the resulting spiritual formation held forth. Matthew writes, “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (vv. 5, 6).

We don’t usually associate repentance with hope, but it is related to it. Repentance is available for all, and God desires for all to repent. That gives us hope! And it’s just the beginning. Repentance is the promise of confidence and commission, redemption and transformation, in Jesus Christ and the work of God.

We will see here that John’s message of repentance is one of hope because it reminds us that God is for us, God wants to work in us, and God wants to work through us.

God for us

The Lord used John to remind His people that He was on their side. God wanted them to know that He was breaking into history once again on their behalf: “The kingdom is at hand.” God was bringing to pass that new age of salvation that had been spoken of by the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. The Holy Spirit worked through John to announce the coming of the Messiah: a time of new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

At this time in history, God’s people were in a mess. Without the clear voice of the prophet, the Israelites had divided themselves into various spiritual parties and factions. Three of the largest were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Each group claimed the high ground of spiritual authority, dismissing the others. Alongside these were the disciples of the rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai, who claimed their way was the true and orthodox way. The waters of theology of that day were as muddy as the Jordan River.

Added to all of this was the corruption of the office of the high priest. Shortly after the time of Malachi, it had been bought and sold to whomever could most afford it. The office had lost its spiritual integrity. The Levitical priesthood was seen as fraudulent as the priests interpreted the law for their own personal gain.

In the midst of all this trouble and turmoil, the Lord’s message came through John the Baptist. There at the river Jordan, far from the religious confusion of Jerusalem, was a voice anointed with the Holy Spirit. Through John, the Lord called Israel back to Himself, back to the hope that He was on their side and bringing forth His kingdom into the world and into their lives. Apostle Paul summarized the power of this divine work: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31; cf. Psalm 56:9).

God in us

Psalm 51 is sometimes called the great psalm of repentance. After King David was confronted with the truth of his sins, he turned to the Lord for cleansing and forgiveness. David knew all he could do was repent and confess his sins to the Lord.

Psalm 51 captures David’s open and honest humility. In repenting, David did not hold back but confessed his sins. He wasn’t concerned about portraying any false image of himself or protecting himself. He acknowledged his sin and brokenness, experienced great sorrow, and vowed to never repeat that same sinful behavior.

What David sought was the same message John the Baptist preached: hope in repentance — the hope that God is not only for us but is at work in us, in our hearts, minds, and souls.

The repentance that John taught was not a stale or static experience. It was not just some mental exercise. By repent, John meant

  • acknowledge our powerlessness and brokenness because of our sins;
  • decide we no longer want to live under the penalty and power of sin;
  • confess our sins to Almighty God, holding nothing back;
  • believe that He will forgive us, cleanse us, and make us white as snow.

The powers of evil are doing their best to convince our world that there is no truth. There is no supernatural being called God, and if there is no God, then everything is relative. People who think like this note that just a few years ago society labeled abortion, fornication, drinking, and drug use as sinful. People caught doing these things were shamed and encouraged to repent. But over time our society has decided that these things and others are not sin or even wrong. They are simply lifestyle choices. We have the right to decide what is right or wrong.

Only God in us can break through the pride and rebellion with conviction. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to confession. That is our message of hope, that God’s “Spirit of truth” will reprove the world of sin and that “He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17; 16:8; cf. Psalm 51:10, 11).

God through us

The message of repentance comes with a message of fruitfulness. John challenged his listeners to bear fruit in keeping with this repentance (Matthew 3:8). He knew that when we repent, we will also change. We are no longer the same person, nor will we live like the person we once were. We are made new!

The hope of repentance is the hope of another way — a new way. In repentance, God begins to redeem, renew, and restore the old us into a new us. The Lord desires that we allow the Spirit to raise up and transform us: body, mind, and emotions.

At this moment, we are no longer earthbound creatures but born-again people, no longer dedicated to or dictated by earthly things from below but focusing on heavenly things that are above where Christ dwells. In Colossians 3, Paul gives a clear description of the old and new, above and below. Put to death sins of sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness; cast off anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene language. We are no longer taken in by sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, dissensions, divisions, and drunkenness.

Instead, the hope of repentance in Christ means that we put on the garments of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We clothe ourselves in forgiveness and peace. We bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do not, and cannot, do all this of ourselves but only because of God working through us. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

God for us. God with us. God through us. This message of hope is John’s message of repentance. It is not eternal fire insurance; it is an invitation to walk with God as His holy people.

Ubong Edet
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Ubong Edet is the president of youth ministry in the Church of God (Seventh Day) Calabar District, Cross River State, Nigeria.