“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepared the way of the Lord; Make his paths straight.’ (Matthew 3:2)
What is the meaning of John's message to the people who were listening to him in Judean desert when he said: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"? First, he tells people that it is possible to reorient their lives and live victoriously. Second, he tells them how to do it.
1. Reorienting Lives and Be Victorious Is Possible
With precision John points out that every human heart is possessed by love for cherished idols, harboured fears, guilt and misguided passions. The fact that his message resonated with people of Judea and Galilee indicates that John was great in assessing the spiritual condition of human heart. The sheer numbers of people flocking to hear him testified to the fact the people agreed that their lives were desperately worshipful yet hopelessly in bondage to their cherished idols. John’s clear and crying voice only confirmed what they already knew through the conviction of the Holy Spirit that John was right.
However, it is one thing to make the assessment and make the proper spiritual diagnosis, but it’s quite another to give a proper solution and bring about a transformational change for human heart. In fact, one can argue that a diagnosis can bring with itself a unsolvable problem and take you down into depression if permanent solution cannot be found. It’s one thing to say, ‘You have a terminal illness’ but it’s quite another to say, ‘But, there is a cure’. So, did John have a cure for seemingly terminal state of human heart? John’s crying in the desert was both the shout of bad and good news. The end note of his cry was all good news. Here it is: ‘Repent FOR…” Repenting or turning away is possible. Turning away from wilful and desperate bondage and slavery to sin to someone who can make you free is possible. This became John’s main part of the message.
2. How Is it Possible?“
Repent for THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR.” John told the very attentive crowd that among them was someone who was millennia’s long messianic desire of humanity. His mission was to replace the power of sin in their lives for Himself. The change from idols is possible. The change from hate, misguided passion and fears is possible. The change is possible ‘for’ or ‘because’. You see, John’s ‘repent’ cannot stand on its own. It cannot stand without ‘for’ or ‘because’. So, what follows after ‘for’ or ‘because’. Here it is; ‘…The kingdom of God is near’. Repent is possible because literally among them was someone who is human’s heart ultimate desire and therefore the only legitimate and proper replacement for cherished idols of the heart. He both takes away idols and replaces them with love for God as He pours His love for people.
Remember, this is exactly how Matthew, the gospel writer pretty much begins his gospel. In the words of the angel, who heralded the birth of Jesus, he said, ‘His name shall be Jesus for He shall save people from their sin.’ In addition, Matthew also calls Him, ‘Immanuel, God with us’. In other words, the solution for sin is in:
a) Replacement of idols for Someone who is gloriously better
b) Someone who will take care of sins. But how?
c) By being ‘Immanuel, God with us’