The Voice Crying in the Wilderness (4)
The message declared by the voice crying in the wilderness is summarized by the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5, which is quoted in Luke 3:4-6: "As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
The imagery here is that of a great king travelling in his royal chariot to part of his realm. But the road is poor, for it is crooked and bumpy, with many hills and dips. The way must be fixed since the sovereign is coming. Level it, straighten it and fill in the potholes!
Who is the coming One? Luke 3:4 refers to Him as the "Lord," who is Jehovah, rendered "Lord" in Isaiah 40:3, which also identifies him as "God." Thus, Jehovah God is coming! This proves the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity incarnate.
Luke 3:6 calls Him not merely our Saviour but "the salvation of God." This fits perfectly with the annunciation of the angel Gabriel: "thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
Isaiah 40:5 hails Him as "the glory of the Lord." Thus, the message of John the Baptist is centred on the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ and His salvation.
What did John the Baptist command? He commanded the people to prepare the way for the coming king, like those who fix the road before the visit of the sovereign. They were to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, who is the Lord, Jehovah salvation, the glory of God.
But what is it to prepare the way of the Lord? What is the truth conveyed by this attractive imagery? It is summed up in one word: Repent! Matthew 3:2 encapsulates John’s message: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
What is repentance? First, repentance is a radical change of mind and thinking with regard to ethical and divine things. You no longer imagine yourself to be a good person, for you realize your own sinfulness. As regards your works, you discover that they are not virtuous, never mind meritorious, for they are all "filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). You understand that Almighty God is infinitely holy and not to be trifled with. You see that your security is not to be found in external religious observances or mere church connections. It finally grips you that you deserve to perish in hell for your sins.
Second, true repentance results in fleeing from the wrath to come, in the language of Luke 3:7. The sinner is gripped with a fear of divine judgment and punishment. He no longer loves and rejoices in evil attitudes, speech and deeds, but hates and detests his iniquities as evil that deserves God’s wrath. Thus he earnestly turns from his transgressions, and seeks salvation and eternal life in the cross of Christ.
Third, true repentance issues in confession of sin (Matt. 3:6). No longer do you excuse your iniquity, but you confess sin as sin, worthy of God’s righteous judgment. With grief and sorrow, sins are confessed to God and, where appropriate, to those whom you have wronged or to the church (Westminster Confession 15:6).
Fourth, true repentance brings forth good fruit, what John the Baptist calls "fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). Where there is repentance, there is always faith, for these two are inseparable so that you cannot have one without the other. Faith and repentance are produced by regeneration, the new birth, which makes the tree, and therefore its fruit, good, to use the language of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 7:17-18; 12:33, 35). Thus, those who are really repentant bring forth good fruit: they break with sin, they live according to all God’s commandments in principle, they are humble before God and man, they produce good works, they persevere in the truth and they suffer for righteousness’ sake by the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit. Where there is no good fruit, there is no real repentance, merely hypocrisy.
Fifth, there is an important connection between repentance and baptism, both real, inner baptism and external, ritual baptism with water. This is the testimony of Luke 3:3, concerning John the Baptist’s ministry: "And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." John proclaimed an inward, spiritual baptism which renewed God’s elect people so that they would be brought infallibly to repentance and receive the forgiveness of all their sins. This spiritual transformation and acquittal was signified and sealed in water baptism.
In John’s day, the kingdom of God was at hand, so he called people to repent and so prepare for the (first) coming of Christ. In our day, the kingdom of God has come, with the incarnation, cross and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Those outside the kingdom must repent and be converted, humbling themselves as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, and those who are already citizens of God’s kingdom must continue in the way of repentance and faith (Matt. 18:3-4; Col. 2:6)!
This is the first of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses: "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." This was also the message of John the Baptist, as we have seen, and it is and must be the preaching of the true church today! Rev. Angus Stewart, pastor Covenant PRC, Ballymena, N.Ireland
- Volume: 15
- Issue: 9
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851