February 25, 2024 | Doug Sauder
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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 has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”—Matthew 3:1–3 (NIV)
Have you ever heard of a forerunner? The dictionary defines it as “a person or thing that precedes the coming or development of someone or something else; an advance messenger.” I think of the scene in the Disney classic Aladdin where the genie, along with a massive magical procession, parades through the streets of Agrabah exclaiming:
Make way for Prince Ali . . .
Clear the way in the old Bazaar.
Hey you! Let us through!
It’s a bright new star!
Be the first on your block to meet his eye!
Here he comes!
Ring bells! Bang the drums!
Are you gonna love this guy!
The genie was clearing the path and getting everyone hyped and ready to meet Aladdin/Prince Ali.
You see, a forerunner’s job is to get people ready for the coming of something truly great. In today’s passage, we read about John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Savior of the world. His arrival on the scene was actually foretold 700 years before by the prophet Isaiah.
Now, while Matthew gives us a snippet of this prophecy here, I really love the entire section found in Isaiah 40:1–9. It starts with, “Comfort, comfort my people” and continues with “and the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Right smack in the middle, we read about the one who would come to prepare the people for the comfort and glory of the Lord that would be revealed in the person of Jesus.
John’s job was to prime the pump, to begin sharing the message that the kingdom of God had indeed COME NEAR. You see, heaven is more than a place, it’s a person. Think about it: There’s no heaven apart from Jesus. There’s no paradise apart from His presence, no glory without the King of glory. You don’t just die and go to a better place; you go to be with Jesus. This is what it means that the kingdom of heaven had come near!
But consider what else John said as he prepared people for the arrival of the Savior: “Repent . . .” The word in the Greek is metanoeite, which literally means to have a change of mind, to think differently; “to heartily amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.”
You see, when we repent, we’re using our mind to realize, like the lost son in Luke 15, that we’ve sinned against God and aren’t worthy to come into His presence, that we need to hate/regret our sin, and we need to come to our senses. It means to turn away from our old ways, turn toward God and His way, and follow Him.
Sadly, many in the church today are fearful of calling sinners to repentance. Many fear explaining that God’s righteous wrath is rightfully upon us wretched sinners and that only through turning away from our sins and turning to Jesus can we be saved from our sins and reconciled to God. Instead, people are told to “accept Jesus into their heart.” But the thing is Jesus cannot come into one’s heart until that heart has repented and asked Christ to save them from their sins.
May this never be said about us! May we who’ve been made ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation follow John’s example and implore people to repent, turn to the One who brought heaven near, and be reconciled to God.
Pause: Read Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, and Acts 3:19. Why is it important to tell people about the need to repent of their sins? Why can there be no forgiveness of sin without repentance?
Practice: Write down the message of the gospel you’d share with someone who doesn’t know Jesus. Consider how you explain it. Share it with another believer and talk about it.
Pray: Father, I thank You for bringing heaven near in the person of Jesus. Thank You for sending Your Son to save me by paying the penalty for my sins and making a way for me to be declared right with You and be saved. Thank You for doing that which I could not. May I never sugar coat the message of the gospel for fear of offending people. May I remember that the true message of the gospel shows vividly Your loving kindness, mercy, and grace toward we who are sinners and unworthy of being in Your presence. Use me, Lord, to call people to repentance and point people to Your Son. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.