The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
Some people always read the last page of a book first. They want to know what is going to happen before they get there. To them, a story is more enjoyable when they know how it turns out in the end because they can focus on the characters and the small details they might have missed rushing through to find out what happens. Often it takes several re-readings of a book to appreciate everything intricately woven together by the author to complete a good story. And sometimes knowing the ending helps us better understand the beginning.
God always starts at the beginning and moves forward. And once something is set in motion, it keeps moving until it comes to completion. And when God’s plan of salvation finally began to unfold, John the Baptist was at the beginning of it. He was preparing the way, setting the foundation, getting the ideas of repentance and remission of sin into the minds of the people.
The Jews had been following the law, making sacrifices for sin. But this was a man at a river, not a priest in a temple. This was something different, something new. And then Jesus comes along and starts preaching, and some of these repentant hearts understand what He is saying. But many people who encountered Jesus didn’t quite get it. They saw Him as a radical, causing an uprising, threatening the powers that be, changing things they were comfortable with.
But after the whole story is told and Jesus is left hanging on a cross, then rising from the dead, maybe they go back and re-read what happened before and start connecting all the dots. It wasn’t about changing a world system or overthrowing the Romans. It wasn’t even about messing with the law and putting the Pharisees out of a job. It was about sin. Because sin would be a perpetual problem without a permanent solution.
Jesus was the answer for sin. His life, death and resurrection was the solution to a problem the people hardly knew they had. And when they looked back to those first pages, there was John the Baptist, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. He set the scene for the drama that would unfold. He tried to focus their vision to the heart of the matter, tried to tell them they needed a Savior and that He was coming. He didn’t want them to get hung up on some tiny detail and miss the big picture or misunderstand the ending. Today, we have the complete story of what Jesus’ ministry was about. We have the good news to share with others. We know the end of the story and how important it is. But we can look back with fondness on the humble beginnings of the story and rejoice in our own beginning in Christ when we first confessed and repented.