Day 17

The Promised Messenger

from the Advent 2019: A Thrill of Hope reading plan


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.

Post Comments (34)

34 thoughts on "The Promised Messenger"

  1. Tracie Nall says:

    Isaiah 1:18 rang out in my memory as I was reading today’s devotional, “though my sins are as Scarlett, they will be washed whiter than snow”.
    I so appreciated your writing today, the encouragement to come to God and “settle this” honestly and humbly confessing the crimson stains I am clothed with and accept cleansing through the washing of The Word became flesh!

  2. Erica VaughnJackson says:

    Repent ! On my knees ! Thank you God for helping me each day

  3. Jana Jones says:

    This hit me with all the conviction today. I needed it. I needed this refinement. Thank you!

  4. Melissa Mcronney says:

    Powerful read. Praise God

  5. Elisabeth Lind says:

    It hit me today that John prepared the way for Jesus in the WILDERNESS. Not in Jerusalem. Not in a city. Not even in Bethlehem. But in a desert. And then He promises that Jesus will make a way through that desert. He will level mountains, fill in valleys, smooth rough places. He will make a way where there seems to be no way. He comes to our wilderness. He comes to our deserts and He is the WAY. This is the incarnation. He stooped down so very low to make us great. Praise the Lord.

    1. Bessie H says:

      I know what you mean, Elisabeth. Our pastor on Sunday was talking about the highway that God built in the dessert for us. A road, with guard rails, that shows us the way home. We don’t have to wander around trying to find the way. He shows us the way. I love that image.

  6. Kassidy Ellis says:

    Loved the section on “what good is a savior to someone who doesn’t know…”
    The realization of our “normal” is key to receiving a new normal.
    Perishing…. [saved]
    Dirty…….. [clean]
    Sick……. [healed]
    Dead in sin…. [arise!]
    Repentance gives me my new normal.. [Alive!]
    Only Jesus. The kingdoms was near then… it’s near now. Jesus calls us his friends if we do what he commands, and the sooner we realize it’s the only friendship we cannot live without, the sooner our new normal becomes “Do you not know? Have you not heard?”
    May we preach this great love with passion like John.

  7. Elle says:

    I’m thankful that even today through the words and telling of John the Baptist’s story we are reminded of how much we have someone (Christ) to intercede on our behalf so that we can freely draw near to the throne of grace that is extended to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. What a gift it is to know that we can “draw near” and receive mercy, and find mercy in our time of need(Hebrews 4:16)!
    Thanks be to God, we don’t have to fear a lack of waiting arms to receive us and forgive us of all we’ve done wrong, because it was God’s plan all along for us to be reconciled to Himself!

  8. Diana Fleenor says:

    I’m grateful for the confirming words the Lord brought to me this morning through this devotion. My heart grieves this very reality of so many who do not see their need for a savior. I have family members who have expressed to me the belief that they find thinking in terms of ‘sin’ is harmful to their self-esteem. Because of this rejection, they do not embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This has led them to embrace cultural ideology which calls good evil and evil good. Interestingly though they don’t completely reject the notion that Jesus Christ is real, but their futile minds have twisted who he truly is. As I ponder all the conversations I’ve had with them and the potential ones to come, I know how important it is to acknowledge the log of sin in my own eye before attempting to speak truth in love and grace to them. I have not been faithful to the Lord in so many ways and I want to heed this call to repentance, receive the forgiveness and cleansing of all my sin and then be prepared to give an answer to whoever may pepper me with questions about my beliefs. When they are angry because the truth is offensive to them, I pray that I will remain respectful yet firm in conviction. May my motive be to love God first then through that love, this person in front of me. I pray this for all of you who are seeking to be messengers of the good news as well!

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