Finding Goodness in Repentance – Luke 3
I don’t normally think of John the Baptist as a “good news” kind of guy. To be honest, I might use the words “abrasive weirdo.” This, after all, is the guy who wandered the desert wearing camel’s hair and eating grasshoppers. In Luke 3, he begins with the winsome, sensitive strategy of calling his audience a “brood of vipers,” then threatens them with fiery judgment. Twice. His last line in this passage is a dire threat: “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (v. 17)—and then Luke sums up John’s ministry with this unexpected description: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (v. 18). Wait a minute. Did I miss something?
If I had to distill John the Baptist’s ministry into a word or two, I’d go with “repent,” not “good news.” But Luke cuts sharply through the false dichotomy, reminding me that repentance is good news.
My older son, a kindergartner, had a snow day last Monday, and my mothering was especially awesome that day. Instead of enjoying some extra quiet time while my boys slept in, I lay in bed repeatedly hitting snooze and then messing around on my phone. Instead of grabbing a stack of books or pulling out the watercolor paints they’ve only used once before, I retreated to the computer. Instead of engaging them in games of Uno or hide and seek, I reacted to their fighting and yelling with my own out-of-control screaming, then numbed my irritation with my hidden chocolate stash. To say it wasn’t pretty is too kind.
I’m tempted to shift the attention to my children: “If they would listen the first time, I wouldn’t have to yell.” “If he wouldn’t be so mean to his brother, I wouldn’t get angry.” Don’t we often default to a victim mentality, blaming our problems on our circumstances or on someone else’s actions? This seems, at first, a comforting thought—It’s not my fault! I’m innocent!
But if I bear no responsibility, I am also powerless. I cannot change the outcome by making different choices. I am helpless in the hands of other people, a victim of their choices.
To say to myself, “Your pursuing your own agenda and ignoring them is compounding this problem. You don’t have to yell; you are choosing to scream instead of being proactive and responding to their sin with patience and grace”—this seems discouraging at first. I don’t like to be confronted with the ugliness of my sin. “YOU are the problem” sounds cruel and heartless, not like good news.
But if my sinful heart is the problem, there’s hope. Because there’s a Savior. Seeing that you are guilty is good news when a remedy for guilt is available.
John the Baptist’s message, REPENT!, is good news because of what John says in verse 16: “he who is mightier than I is coming.” Jesus is about to arrive on the scene, and when He does, everything changes. The first-century Jews had to take John at his word, repenting and hoping that forgiveness was available. Me? I get to look back at the cross, confident and grateful that my forgiveness was fully purchased there.
Certainly, not all of our struggles can be directly traced to our sin. We suffer at the hands of others’ sin, and we suffer in the reality of a fallen, broken world. Still, I see that so often in my own life, whether I want to admit it or not, my problems do come as the consequences of my sin. I reap what I have foolishly and selfishly sown.
When I see that, I have a choice: I can wallow in despair, hopeless that I’ll ever really change. I can berate myself and crack the whip of determination to try harder and do better, believing that somehow my own strength will magically be enough next time.
Or I can heed John’s advice and repent. I can fall at the feet of the One “whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (v. 16). When I see the nail holes in those feet, I can praise Him for bearing my guilt and loving me in the midst of my sin. I am not a helpless victim; at the cross, I became a beloved daughter. I have a compassionate and merciful Savior and Helper. And I can let this Jesus pull me up, with His gentle strength, so I can turn away from my selfishness and fix my eyes on Him as I do the next thing, by His grace.
image used by permission – Kelli Campbell
Amy Kannel often suffers from spiritual amnesia, easily forgetting who Jesus is and what He has done for her—so she writes to remember His faithfulness and help others see Him as the Main Thing. She makes her home in the Nashville area and will be forever grateful to the South for introducing her to tomato pie. When she’s not writing, you might find Amy making said pie and other kitchen messes, singing to her three-year-old son, reading with her six-year-old son, or ballroom dancing in the living room with Mr. Wonderful. And if you’d told her ten years ago that she would even think of mentioning cooking in a bio, she would have declared you certifiably insane…which just goes to show that she serves a God who’s in the business of changing people. You can find more of Amy’s writing at Choosing Hallelujah.