John the Baptist’s ministry was to “prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight.” What does this mean? As we read on, we learn that John had a “ministry of repentance.” John’s name— “the baptizer”—came from the fact that in his ministry of repentance, John was in the business of baptizing people, as baptism was the outward symbol of the forgiveness of sins. But once again, how does repentance “prepare the way of the Lord”?
The full significance of this reaches back into the OT story of Israel’s time in the wilderness. God came to Israel in the wilderness in the OT. The great climactic moment of Israel’s wilderness experience was when God’s holy presence descended on the tabernacle in their midst. The holiness of God, however, required that provisions be made for his presence to come down and not consume everything in its reach. Sins had to be forgiven and atoned for. Before God could come, sin had to be dealt with.
Repentance is necessary for God’s presence to come and be with us. The good news of the gospel is not merely that our sins are forgiven, but that God in the Holy Spirit actually comes and dwells in us. This is the miracle, the wonderful, life-changing news of the gospel. God is with us.
What keeps God’s presence from being with us, however, is sin. Sin is what prevents God’s presence to enter our lives, which is why John’s ministry of repentance makes straight the way of the Lord. This is a way of saying that John’s ministry of repentance removed the obstacles preventing God from showing up. John’s ministry was to call people to repent from their sin to create an inroad for Jesus. John’s ministry was to fill every valley and make low every mountain in people’s lives that prevented them from an encounter with Jesus. This translated into a ministry of repentance.
The major takeaway from this is that if you want to drink from the deeper wells of God, examine yourself and ask for the courage to repent. The Holy Spirit helps us. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and administers the power that we need to confess and repent. We can say all day long that we want more of God in our lives, but we’re not willing to be honest about our sin. We can’t have both. James says, “confess your sin and be healed” (James 5:16).
Another major takeaway is for those of us in full-time ministry. As ministers of the Gospel, we are like John the Baptist. Our job is to create an inroad for Jesus. We are merely the friend of the bridegroom. We merely point to Jesus. This means that one of our primary jobs as a Kingdom of Priests is to call people to repentance. Our job is not to be fancy, polished preachers, or even to develop programs or build buildings. Our job is to remove the obstacles keeping people from an encounter with Jesus, and the primary obstacle is sin. We must take sin seriously.
Do you want a revival in your life? Repent. Do you want a revival in your church? Repent. Do you want a revival in our nation? Repent. Do you want to make straight the path of the Lord so that nothing hinders him from flooding our hearts with his love? Repent. The Kingdom of God begins with repentance. If we want to be baptized with fire, we must first be baptized in the waters of repentance.