When John the Baptist came on the scene to prepare people for Christ, two thousand years ago, he had a simple message. He called people to ‘repent’.
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 3:1,2
John called people to Change their Ways. The word ‘repent’ means to turn around. Stop going in the direction you are going and go the other way.
It is interesting how universal the word ‘repent’ turns out to be. John didn’t list off the sins of the people. He simply said ‘repent’. Each person was to recognise in their own heart and life things that had to change.
In effect the message was, “Your ways are out of order and you’d better change them right now for God is close at hand.”
Each person’s conscience told them of their need to change. Some would have been aware of obvious sins, such as immorality, abuse, bitterness, jealousy, theft, violence and so on. However, we learn that just about the whole populace went out to John and was baptised to show their change of heart.
Surely not everyone was a murderer, or a criminal. Each persons’ conscience convicted them of where they were out of order before God. For some it may have simply been selfishness, living as if they were king, when God is Lord of all. For some it may have been independence, resisting parental authority, or being stubborn and rebellious. For some it may be that they were complying with instructions on the outside, but seething with resentment on the inside.
Multitudes came to be baptised by John and his disciples, to say to God, “I am changing my ways. I am putting off my wrong lifestyle, in the fear of God.”
When Jesus began His ministry he started by doing the same as John. Jesus called people to repent.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17
People came to Jesus and His disciples to be baptised, just as they went to John.
“They came to John and told him, Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, about whom you testified, behold, He is baptising and all men are coming to Him.” John 3:26
The call to repent was not invented by John the Baptist. The great prophet Ezekiel called people to repent, in the years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.
“If the wicked turns from all his sins he committed, keeps all my statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he will surely live; he will not die.” Ezekiel 18:21
“Have I any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord God. Would I not prefer he turn from his ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23
“I will judge you, each according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so your iniquity will not become your ruin. Cast away from yourselves all the transgressions you have committed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 18:30,31
“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:11
The list of sins that people can commit is extensive and some of them were mentioned by Ezekiel. He included idolatry, immorality, theft, oppression, murder, extorting money and cheating, abuse and selfishness.
On the positive side Ezekiel mentioned caring for the needy and making just judgements. Earlier in Ezekiel’s visions God showed an angel that would go through Jerusalem and mark those who were acceptable to God. These were the ones who did not like the evil that was going on.
“The Lord said to the angel, Go through all the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the men sighing and groaning over all the abominations done there.” Ezekiel 9:4
God respected those with a tender heart, who grieved at the rise of evil. Others, however, would have seared their conscience, so it stopped pointing out to them their wrongs. They justified whatever they were doing.
“Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” 1Timothy 4:2
Don’t be like the adulteress, who is described as one who sees no wrong in what she is doing.
“This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, I have done no wickedness.” Proverbs 30:20
God is always calling us to repent.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30
You are called to repent. So let God’s Holy Spirit challenge your heart about the things in you that offend God. God’s Kingdom is right here, so you had better get right with God.
I call on you, as John the Baptist and Jesus did centuries ago, to Change Your Ways. Repent of your evil actions and your evil heart. Actually change direction and stop the things you know God does not approve of.
Get on your knees before God and ask Him to forgive you, and turn from your selfish and sinful ways. Serve Him with humility of spirit, not serving yourself, but living for God.
And may God have mercy on your soul, lifting you out of your shameful ways and setting you on a rock, to live in freedom and victory as a shining light for the Kingdom of God as you Change Your Ways.