The Promised Messenger
Open Your Bible
Luke 1:5-17, Malachi 3:1-4, Isaiah 40:1–5, Mark 1:1-8
BY Guest Writer
My family didn’t go to church much in my younger years, but I had a set of little Bible story records that I listened to in my bedroom on my yellow plastic record player. (Incredible technology, I know.) I listened to those records over and over again, mesmerized by the characters and stories.
I was especially intrigued by John the Baptist. Who wouldn’t be? The longed for, yet totally unexpected, son of an aging and barren couple, the priest Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth (Luke 1:5–17), John was a miracle baby, whose life was the fulfillment of prophecy (Malachi 4:5–6; Matthew 11:13–14). He grew to be a rather strange guy, living and preaching in the wilderness, wearing camel-hair clothes, and eating locusts and honey. I’ll never forget the wild voice crying out from my record player, “Repent! Repent! The kingdom of heaven is near!” Interestingly, I wasn’t afraid of his peculiar message—I was drawn to it.
John’s message was an urgent wake-up call; the long-awaited Messiah, the promised deliverer of the Jewish people, would be coming soon. There would be judgment, but also redemption. And before any of that, there must be repentance.
His message to the people was powerfully clear and simple. God would be sending the Messiah to them now. But they were corrupt, sinful, dirty, having not kept the commands of God. They had not been faithful to Him, and they needed to be cleaned of their transgressions. And so John offered an invitation to come, and get washed in the water. “John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). He was preparing the people, urging them to see their sin problem, to see their desperate need for a Savior, for Jesus.
After all, what good is a Savior to someone who doesn’t know they are perishing? If I don’t know I’m dirty, I don’t crave a bath. If I don’t know when I’m sick, I don’t search for a doctor. And, if I don’t know I’m dead in my sin, I won’t hope to arise by the power of God to make me alive with Christ.
When John cried out, “Repent! Repent!” it was a call to the people intrigued by a desert preacher, and it’s a call to us today to be honest about our sin-sick souls. Ultimately, it’s a call to run to Jesus, who would come to baptize with more than water—He would come to baptize us “with the Holy Spirit” (v.8).
Right now—in a moment of quiet at home, or in my car surrounded by the hum of traffic, or alone at my desk at work—I can answer this call to repent. It’s an invitation to exhale and honestly, humbly agree with God that I am not faithful to Him either. None of us are, in our strength. Like John the Baptist’s listeners, we do not follow God’s ways and instead devote ourselves to our attempts at being in control of our own little kingdoms. John prepared the way for Jesus because the kingdom of heaven put on flesh to come near to us. He is the one who washes away the dirt and decay of our sin, and makes us clean.
Patti Sauls lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Scott and daughters, Abby and Ellie, where they serve alongside the people of Christ Presbyterian Church. Prior to living in Nashville, the Sauls planted churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis and served at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. A trained speech therapist, Patti also enjoys serving behind the scenes, hiking with friends, and reading good books.