Repentance as ReceptivityMay 17, 2023
Blog by Alan Fadling
John the Baptist came to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. His primary strategy was to proclaim a message of repentance. The prophet Isaiah had spoken about the coming of John centuries before his arrival. He said that John would be
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:3)
John spoke from the wild perimeter rather than the domestic center of the world in which he lived. He was an unconventional person proclaiming a counterintuitive message. He fully embraced the radical nature of the gospel he proclaimed. He fully turned his life toward God, seeking to prepare himself and his hearers for the mighty coming of Messiah.
Our repentance isn’t so much about making something happen but readying ourselves to receive what God wishes to make happen. Repentance readies us for the grace, the mercy, and the kindness of God toward us. Repentance is about receptivity.
We see this in John the Baptist’s challenges to the Sadducees and Pharisees who came out to the wilderness to investigate his ministry and message. Repentance is a posture of the soul toward Jesus, but this wasn’t the posture of the Jewish leaders. They held John in contempt. He hadn’t trained in their schools. He wasn’t an authorized leader in the Jewish community. They were suspicious of his message.
Remember John’s strong words for them? “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8).
John invites these Jewish leaders to embrace the reign of God in their lives. They couldn’t hear this message because they were certain they were already righteous. They felt no need to turn away from anything. They expected everyone to turn to them. They weren’t receptive to John’s message or to Jesus.
Repentance is not a special message for a few especially messy people. It is an invitation to every Christ follower, from the first step of our journey to our last. The Jewish leaders had formalized and externalized faith so that there was no longer any life in it. But the life of faith is found in turning to the One who is Life. John was challenging them to turn their hearts toward the God they claimed to represent.
Repentance is not just a message for us at the beginning of our journey with God. It is a continual posture we cultivate as we learn to keep turning away from that which does us (and others) harm and to keep turning toward the life God invites us to.
- What might be God’s invitation to repentance in your life during this season? What might you turn from that is draining life from you? In what way might you turn toward God and find your life more rooted in him?