Summary: John the Baptist called for each of us to repent. What does that mean? How do we get turned around when we find we are on the wrong road?
About 15 years ago, I was on my way to an orientation and open day at the seminary. I had never been to the campus before, and the freeways in California can be tricky. In this case, the 57, which I was taking, and the 60 joined together for a couple of miles before they split apart. Somehow I misread the signs and ended up heading east on the 60 instead of continuing northeast on the 57.
Since I wasn’t familiar with the area where I was going, I wasn’t alerted that I was on the wrong road for several miles. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw a signpost for Ontario Airport that I realized my mistake.
We have all been there. Maybe not quite as turned around as I was that day, but turned around and lost. We get lost in cities and sometimes we even get turned around on country roads. And when we get turned around, there are three steps that need to be taken.
The first step is that we need to recognize that we ARE on the wrong road.
The second step is that we need to stop and get turned around.
Finally, we need to get back on the right road.
Strangely, that is exactly what we need to do when we get turned around on the wrong road in our spiritual life. The word John uses in this passage is repentance. It means all three of these things. The thing is that every single one of us have at one time or another been on the wrong path. The important thing is to recognize it.
There are many signposts that we are on the wrong road. Paul talks about them in Galatians 5. It is funny, but while most of us can quote the fruit of the spirit that show we are on the right road, we seldom even mention the signposts that show we are on the wrong road. Let’s take a look at a few of them – here is the list using The Living Bible:
19 But when you follow your own wrong inclinations, your lives will produce these evil results:
• impure thoughts,
• eagerness for lustful pleasure,
• spiritism (that is, encouraging the activity of demons),
• hatred and fighting,
• jealousy and anger,
• constant effort to get the best for yourself,
• complaints and criticisms,
• the feeling that everyone else is wrong except those in your own little group—
• and there will be wrong doctrine,
• wild parties, and all that sort of thing.
I sincerely hope that we have at least left murder and encouraging demonic spirits off of our lists, but I can’t help but think that most of the others have shown up in our lives at one time or another. Who hasn’t felt anger, hatred, been jealous, complained, thought everyone else is wrong?
As I said before, these are signposts that you are on the wrong road. Somehow you have gotten turned around and God is no longer at the center of your life when you begin noticing these things happening around you.
And that is where you need to take the very first step. As you look at your life and the area where you are struggling, you need to stop. You are going in a bad direction. You have stepped off of the path.
This is where we hear John the Baptist calling us out into the wilderness. It is here that we need to come to terms with whatever and whoever is leading us in this wrong direction. It is here where we need to begin to repent.
The next thing we need to do is to turn around and head back to where we got lost.
Our scripture today tells us what John had to say on the subject:
John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
That is correct; we need to take action, confessing our sins. In order to get back on the right road, we need to forsake the wrong road. For John, it was through the waters of baptism and confession of sins. The purpose of confession is that it is an acknowledgement that we are on the wrong road. Only by acknowledging that this is a road we should be on can we begin to move in the correct direction.
Finally, we need to get back onto the right road.
That isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Back when I got turned off onto highway 60, I encountered a problem getting back to the 57 to finally get to my destination. Instead of being an easy connection, like it should have been, there was construction going on, and the connector from the 60 to the 57 North was closed.