Summary: John's message of repentance is still as true for us today as it was 2000 years ago!
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have entered into a time when rational thinking, reasonableness, honesty, truth, and even humility is considered substandard; considered to be the enemy of progressiveness, seen as distasteful even. We live in a time where feelings, where emotions, where personal opinions trump truth, and the only way to balance the scales, if you will, is to raise up this false god, this idol called tolerance.
In other words, we cannot call a spade a spade; we cannot call sin what it is – because to do so would be intolerant, and hurting the feelings of another over something like stealing or slandering...
Look at our government. Our politicians, the people that WE elect, they can get away with just about anything. And instead of fessing up to what they do, they evade or they point their fingers and say “well what about that other party, what about that other politician?”
Feelings and opinions have trumped truth and reasonableness. Even in our schools, truth isn’t taught. Sure 1+1 is still 2, but how much history has been lost or reshaped in order for some group or some agenda to be pushed? How often is a hypothesis or a theory taught as absolute fact and truth rejected and trivialized and called things like “archaic” or “unprovable” or even “laughable”?
Rather than speak the truth, rather than say “we are wrong”, groups and organizations and individuals spend immeasurable effort on trying to make the other group, the other organization look like the villain.
Ask a college student today “what is truth” and they will likely answer “whatever you make of it”, or “there is no real truth, only opinions”. Ask a high school or college student the difference between right and wrong, and they’ll say “it doesn’t matter – because it’s all about what makes you feel good.”
Some of the most reviled pastors and Christians in this world today are the ones that say and echo John the Baptist’s word: “repent”, “change your thinking”, “change your direction”.
You know even in the church repentance has become an unpopular word. You would be surprised to know that there are a LOT of churches in this nation and throughout the world that have concluded that sin is not that big a deal; they have changed their definition of sin, of good and evil, redefining it in a culturally relevant and less offensive way.
Instead of calling people to repentance, to confession, to admitting their sinful state, church leaders will say “eh, it’s not that bad; you’re not hurting anyone; Jesus loves you and doesn’t want to pressure you or cause you any offense or make you uncomfortable.”
Remarkably the LCMS is one of the few church bodies left in the world that has not succumb to the pressures of compromise when it comes to sin, to repentance, and to God’s Word. However, this also shows in our dwindling membership nationwide; the truth is a hard thing to swallow and people would rather believe a lie than face the truth.
John the Baptist’s message to repent was a rejected message during his time – rejected by the proud, the powerful – and it is a message that is rejected today.
But the truth is – the reality is – God’s Word does not change. We can change it! I can take my bible right now and rewrite, reduce, redact, take out all the uncomfortable stuff, the hard to swallow stuff, the stuff that makes me feel bad – but it doesn’t matter, God’s Word doesn’t change.
And John the Baptist’s cry to repent also doesn’t change. Just as the message of repentance called from the wilderness some 2000 years ago, the same message “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” still cries out to us today.
Most people don’t care. Most people would rather justify themselves, justify their lifestyle, justify their thinking and their feeling, try to prop themselves up while making everyone else look bad. And that’s because repentance is a need, a necessity, which cuts to the hearts of the human condition, which reveals the weakness and the frailty that is humanity, and it calls all mankind to trust, not in the self, not in reason, not it personal strength, but to trust wholly on God and His mercy.
But what is repentance? Why bother confessing sins if God is love? Well the truth is that confession and repentance is a work of God – a work done to us, in our lives, by His Holy Spirit. We confess, we repent, because by God’s grace we know our fallen state. We know that without God we would be lost and condemned creatures. We know that without the work of Christ on the cross we would be as good as dead, that every moment of our lives would be meaningless, would be shameful in God’s eyes, and would be a disgrace to His kingdom.