In this verse God was confronting the nation of Judah. For they had been practicing religious festivals of their own design in direct rebellion against Him. In other words, they were taking God’s Word – adding and twisting it to fit their own desires and notions. Kinda sounds like religion today where God’s Word has been spun and misinterpreted to become more politically correct and not offensive anyone. But man’s job is not to reinterpret God’s Word in order to make everyone feel better. Man’s job simply is to obey what God has already written.
God’s gracious gift of salvation is for everyone…for He wants all to be saved.( I Timothy 2:4) But we shouldn’t take His slowness in judgement as a sign of weakness, indecision, or wavering…but rather as long-suffering. For it’s only by God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience is He willing to give all of us the time to change our minds and repent.
It tells us in Luke 1:17 that John the Baptist ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah…down to the same attire. For the Prophet Elijah was recognized by what he wore – a garment of hair with a leather belt around his waist ( II Kings 1:8). This garb in fact was so powerful that false prophets started copying his dress in order to deceive the people. (Zechariah 13:4) Initially, the curious crowd might have been drawn by the wild-looking man, but when John shouted, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near!” divine conviction fell upon them.
John the Baptist came preaching repentance. His baptism was a ritual symbolizing spiritual cleansing through the forgiveness of sins to those who repented and believed the gospel, and also prepared the Jews for the coming Messiah. But many in the crowd took offense, wanting rather to put their trust in their lineage or “pedigree” for their righteousness. But it tells us in Galatians 3:6-7, “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.” We will never get to heaven on the shirt-tails of our Godly father, or on the apron-strings of our prayer warrior grandmother. No, the only way is by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ…and it’s only through repentance and forgiveness of our sins that we have the promise of eternal life.
The verse written here was the fulfillment of prophecy first spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) Jesus was the embodiment of light and truth, and His message still rings true today…”Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
This verse comes from the Parable of the prodigal son…a young man, who after squandering his portion of his inheritance, found himself starving to death in the middle of a pigsty. It was in those deplorable conditions, that he finally came to himself…recovering his right mind, and realizing just how far he had wandered away. Repentance is a change of mind…leading to a change of heart…which leads to a change of our actions. Unfortunately for many of us, Godly sorrow is only attained when we find ourselves in the middle of the pigsties of life.
When we compare the actions of Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 we can see quite a contrast. Where Zacchaeus spontaneously offered to donate his great wealth to the needy…the rich young ruler, when challenged by Jesus to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor, left unwilling. True repentance changes us from the inside out. It transforms our heart, causing us to alter our actions and way of thinking to that of Christ’s.