Summary: The first step in straightening the paths for the coming Lord is to make the U-turn of repentence.
Matthew 3:1-12 “Be Prepared—Straightening the Paths”
What would it be like to enter into God’s presence? How would we respond if we met God face to face?
Though the Bible is full of stories of God interacting with God’s people, there are very few occasions when people actually come face to face with God. One such instance happened to the prophet Isaiah. In the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah, the prophets recalls the time when he encountered God in the temple. He writes that God’s glory filled the temple.
This is an important question for us to ask, because John the Baptist announces that God (the kingdom of heaven) is drawing near. God is drawing near to the crown of his creation, humankind, in the person of Jesus Christ.
When we enter into God’s presence, we encounter God’s holiness. This fact is contrary to what some Christians believe—that we will encounter God’s harsh judgment when we enter into God’s presence.
Isaiah was overwhelmed by God’s holiness. God’s holiness filled the temple and shook its foundations. Encountering God’s holiness caused Isaiah to be aware of his sinfulness. He cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips!”
Unless one was like the hard-hearted scribes and Pharisees, who encountered Jesus’ wrath, people encountered a person of love, compassion and caring, when they entered into Jesus’ presence. People who encountered Jesus wanted to be different people. They wanted their lives to change.
Entering into God’s presence not only enables us to see God as God really is, it also allows us to see ourselves as we really are.
Repentance is a religious word that literally means to “change one’s mind.” It is a mind change that leads to a life change. The act of repentance, in the gospel text and in the Isaiah text is not caused by God’s judgment, but it is in response to God’s holiness and love.
Isaiah realized that he was a man of unclean lips. Angels flew to him and cleansed him with a coal from the sacrificial fire—enabling him to repent and lead a new life.
People coming to John responded to his call to repent and were baptized to show their desire to live new lives in accordance with God’s will.
Zaccheus is the story of a man whose life changed when he encountered Jesus. His story is representative of many who encountered Jesus and responded to his love and compassion.
The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in us. As the Holy Spirit moves in our lives, we see God’s holiness and ourselves in light of that holiness. We are invited to repent, turn around from where we are headed and travel in the direction that God calls us.
Repentance leads to new life—an abundant life.
The new life that we receive through Jesus Christ does not come by adding more stuff into it. It comes through forgiveness and repentance that leads to a new way of living. We change from bad to good, good to better, better to best.
The new life that we begin to live provides us with the ability to live the abundant life that is ours through the cross of Christ. Though the life of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a servant of God is sometimes difficult and contrary to our human nature, few people have regretted their act of repentance and the new life to which it leads.