The other day, our local news reported on an event at the convention center. Some of these people had come from hundreds of miles away to seek assistance. What kind of assistance? They were looking for help on their mortgage.
The people of Jesus day lived under a great burden themselves. In fact, one could say they lived under two great burdens. The first was the rule of the Roman conquerors. The second was the religious oppression of the Pharisees.
It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to live under the rule of another country who did not have your best interest in mind, and used you. It is something like the experience of many Europeans who lived under the communism of the U.S.S.R. Their freedoms were severely curtailed, and they were taxed beyond reason.
Those who lived in Israel of Jesus’ day faced a similar (if not worse) circumstance. And, to add to the insult of being occupied by another country, their own religious leaders placed the burden of additional regulations on them on top of the already plentiful laws from the Old Testament. The saying “between a rock and a hard place” definitely applies here.
The people wanted relief; not just a trip to a spa in Palm Springs for the weekend. They wanted relief from the constant burdens that they lived under. They wanted relief from the feelings of judgment and guilt placed upon them by those who should have encouraged them. They wanted … a new start.
And John the Baptist was willing to give that to them. Matthew records this in the third chapter of his gospel:
1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Notice that John calls on them to repent. Most of the people who came all the way out to see him were probably already repentant. That’s why they were seeking John out. He was going to complete that process by cleansing them. They would get that new start they needed so badly.
We need a new start too, sometimes. Maybe it’s a mortgage adjustment. Or, maybe it’s something more. Maybe it’s forgiveness for treating our spouse or children in harsh ways. Maybe it’s laziness or inappropriate behavior. Maybe we need a new start at our work where complaining has replaced gratefulness.
I like the confession we make at the beginning of each service, “I am by nature sinful and unclean”. To this, God answers, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Why does he do this? Because Jesus is our forgiveness; both now and forever.