Here is our second summer devotion as we continue our study in Mark. Today’s passage shows us the ministry of John the Baptist. God sent John as an advance messenger to prepare people’s hearts for the ministry and message of Jesus Christ. God still uses Spirit-filled, powerful preaching today to reach people with the gospel.
“As it is written in the Prophets, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.”
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.'”
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission [forgiveness] of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 1:2-6)
It had been 400 years since the people of God had last heard from a prophet of God (Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament). The Lord had been silent, the people eagerly waiting for their Messiah to save them. And then God sent John the Baptist. He must have looked like a wild man. Dressed in camel hair, living in the desert, surviving off a diet of locusts (a grasshopper type insect) and wild honey. Like an ancient Bear Grylls (Google him if you don’t get the reference). But John wasn’t out there in the wilderness trying to prove how tough he was. No, God had sent John to call His people’s hearts back to Him, to get them ready for Jesus. John’s ministry was to call on God’s people to publicly repent of their sins and give their lives to God.
Imagine the fire in John’s eyes as he looked at the masses of people streaming out a full day’s walk from Jerusalem to meet him at the Jordan river, near the ancient city of Jericho. Traditionally, baptism had been a ritual for Gentiles (non-Jews) to go through when they wanted to unite with Israel, to become honorary Jews. To ask people who had been born Jews to repent must have seemed crazy. It implied that they needed to be saved, that they were not born right with God but needed to be made right by repenting in their hearts and turning to him in personal faith. This was a bold challenge to Israel. But God’s Holy Spirit was on John, working through John, and the people came to the river by the hundreds and perhaps thousands. They came to publicly repent of their sins and prove it by submitting themselves to baptism. They came to John one at a time, confessing their individual sins and sinfulness and receiving God’s mercy and grace.
There was nothing magical about the waters of the Jordan River, just as there is nothing magical about a lake or a heated baptismal pool today. The waters do not cleanse our souls. The baptism that John offered was one of repentance and faith (check out Jesus’ similar message in Mark 1:15). God forgave the people because they honestly and publicly turned from their evil and selfish ways to love and follow Him. The inward change of heart, made possible by the faith that God gives us, that is what saves us from our sins. In the longer description of John’s ministry that Matthew gives us, we see that some of the Pharisees and Sadduccees, the cold-hearted religious leaders who would oppose Jesus throughout His ministry, tried to come to John for baptism, too. He rejected them. John called them a “brood of vipers” and warned them that real repentance would “bear fruits,” or changed lives that came from truly changed hearts (Matthew 3:7-9).
We had a lot of public repentance in the Class of 2023 this past spring. Praise God! Our joy meter was going through the roof! Our prayer as a school is that the salvations and rededications were all real. The summer and fall will show the reality of your faith. Keep seeking God each day. Stay daily in His Word and in prayer. Trust and obey the Lord each day and let the work that His Holy Spirit began in your life continue this summer. Walk in the love of Jesus Christ and you will bear the fruits of repentance. God will give you assurance of your salvation as you see His ongoing work in changing your life to be more like Christ.