Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jordan River Confessional (Mark)

If God sent a letter to you, bursting into flame as it shot down from the sky, explaining His intention to come in 6 weeks and judge the earth, how would you handle that? I mean, besides panicking. Maybe you would go nuts and stand in traffic and try to turn people from their sins as motercyclists drove menacingly too close to you. Maybe you would spend a lot of time confronting yourself in front of the mirror. Maybe you'd be excited, or afraid, or sad, or hopeful, or confused, and maybe you would cry and maybe you would laugh. You would do all sorts of illogical things that made sense because the world is ending in 6 weeks. I think about these kinds of things when I think about John the Baptist. How would it feel to open a letter from heaven and read, "prepare the people for God's arrival upon the Earth"? How would you prepare them? Or yourself?

Looking At Mark 1:2-9: (Part 2 of 4)
"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.' In those days Jesus came..."
-Mark 1:2-9 (ESV)
John the Baptist never wrote a book (that we know of) about 5 Easy Steps to Repentance. He never tried to market "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" coffee mugs or designer sandals. I don't think he believed that he had that kind of time. When he preaches about the coming of Jesus in Matthew 3:7-12, it sounds like he is expecting something pretty cataclysmic to happen right away. But what if John the Baptist hadn't been killed by Herod and had gone on to be a leader in the Christian community? What if he had written a letter or wrote a book about what repentance and preparing to meet God looks like? Here are some of the steps that he, rest his soul, might have outlined for the sake of future believers:

#1: Realize That You're a Sinner
Mark writes that people were "confessing their sins" in the Jordan (more on confession later). The only way that you can meaningfully confess that you're a sinner is if you realize that you're a sinner. That is what the first step of repentance is. You stop defending yourself. You don't try to compare to other people anymore. When the self-esteem authors and seminars come to town to sell you t-shirts and books and make you say "I'm a great person", you don't fork over your money and attempt to believe them. You don't self-medicate or try to distract yourself. You realize that you're a sinner. In the moment when we realize this about ourselves, all there is, is us and God, and the realization that we need His forgiveness.

#2: Don't Try to Hide What You Know
It was only because Israel realized their sin that they could confess it. And while it's important sometimes not to confess to everyone, it is important to confess to someone, especially someone who you can trust and who will give you good advice about what to do next. Most of the people seem to have confessed to John the Baptist. Maybe for you that would be your pastor, or a trusted friend, or a biblical counselor at your church. Or it could be someone who you hurt and you need to ask for forgiveness. Maybe there isn't anyone, and you just need to admit to God that you need HIS forgiveness. Some kind of confession is key, though. When I mess up and hurt my girlfriend by acting selfish, it's important that I repent and admit my sin and ask her forgiveness. I just figure that God deserves at least the same courtesy that I give my girlfriend.

#3: Listen to Older Christian Mentors
Getting advice is a lot like making a confession. You shouldn't do it with everybody, but you should at least do it with somebody. The crowds that came to John the Baptist really model this for us in Luke 3:10-14. He is preaching "repent" in the open air, and some people go and stop him to ask "how?" They just go up to him and say "hey John, I'm a soldier, and my friend over here is a tax collector, and my other friend doesn't know what to change first in his life, and we're all pretty confused about what to do with ourselves now; what do you suggest?" And John actually makes some suggestions. To the tax collector, he says that repentance looks like not taking more than what the government makes him take, even though that's understood to be one of the perks of the job. The soldier gets told not to extort money from people anymore. The random guy gets told to share what he has with people who need it. I have about 3 people that I can name off the top of my head who I can trust to ask this kind of stuff from. It's got to be someone who knows the Bible. And it has to be someone who doesn't just live inside of a library all day. Like I said, you shouldn't do this with everybody, but you should at least do it with somebody.

#4: Act When You Know You Should
The goal in this is to prepare to meet God. In John's ministry, and in life, in repenting we are preparing for the day when God will come back "to judge the living and the dead" (see Nicene Creed). And this is the turning point. After we've taken ourselves to the woodshed, been honest, looked in the mirror, and faced the truth about ourselves, after we have confessed and asked for help, it's time to do something about it all. Maybe you disconnect your internet. Or you actually take the step of returning what you stole. Or you admit to him that you have been cheating on him. Sometimes it's the stuff in your mindset that makes you sin, so maybe you go to rehab or you get counseling or you submit to a psych evaluation. Maybe you give away all your money. The most important part of repenting is repentance. Because we all have to own up to our sin. And we all have to learn how to change our ways. That's honesty and humility and teachability. And it's hard.

#5: The Prodigal Son Returns
So far in John's ministry we've seen people model knowledge of sin, confession of sin, asking for counsel about sin, and repentance from sin. There is one more piece left: restoration from sin. It's that moment when you formally come back into the community of God and show -somehow- that you are a part of His Kingdom. We don't just think of John in the Jordan, we think of John the Baptist in the Jordan; this rite was his way of offering a symbol of forgiven relationship with Yahweh. And for us maybe that looks like communion next Sunday. The bread and wine will sit at the front of the church; they will be distributed; the elders will pray over the elements; and we will bow our heads, and smile, and thank God for His grace. And we will bring our hands down from our mouths, restored.

If we can do all this daily, and await daily for the return of the King (not the movie), then might we truly become a people prepared for God, and a straight highway in the wilderness of our own sinful generation.

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