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Repentance;Prepare the Way

December 10, 2023 |Repentance|Mark 1:2-8

JD Cutler

For the sermon audio, click here 

We have come to the second Sunday in the Season of Advent. Advent is a season of anticipation and expectant waiting, by both looking backward at the first advent of our Lord and looking forward to his second advent, and a time of reflection on our preparation for his return. 

When we think about Christ’s first appearance, yes we think of the story of his miraculous birth, the shepherds visiting, and the sovereign events surrounding his birth, but it is almost impossible to tell the story of Christ’s appearance without including the figure of John the Baptist. 

Chronologically, John’s birth was foretold before Christ’s, he was born about 6 months before Jesus and was a distant cousin of our Lord. The events surrounding his birth were miraculous as well. From its announcement by an angel is the temple, to the age of his parents, and including the supernatural muting of John’s father until the birth and naming of John. The scriptures are silent about the details of John’s life until he shows up in the wilderness of Judea as an adult. 

John the Baptist burst on the scene about 6 months before Jesus publicly declared the beginning of his ministry with his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. 

His message was simple- repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, the mightier one is coming, get ready!

His message was divinely inspired, divinely foretold, and divinely empowered. 

His methods were unique. Baptism was not normative in the Jewish life except for converts to the faith.

In the previous two years during advent we looked at the central message of John ‘to repent’ as well as contrasted his baptism with the Baptism we are commanded to observe after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, so today I wanted to do something a little different and look at three implications from the ministry and message of John the Baptist. I am praying that it helps us see the larger picture of the part he plays in Christ’s story, which is the central story, not just around Christmas time, but in all creation and for all time. 

This morning we are going to look at what the gospel writer Mark records for us surrounding John the Baptist. 

We will begin in chapter 1, verse 2 this morning. 

Mark 1:2-8 (ESV) 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,

who will prepare your way,

3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight,’”

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Three implications from the ministry and message of John the Baptist

The first implication is that…

Repentance is necessary for all peoples 

Mark, along with the other gospel writers and John himself all identify him as fulfilling the prophecy that God gave the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before John was born. 

He is the messenger that goes before the Lord, he is the voice of the one crying in the wilderness.Certainly, that is easy enough to see. 

After 400 years of no prophetic voice in Israel, God raises up John who begins his ministry not in the temple, not in Jerusalem, but in the wilderness. He rejects the modern conveniences of life, rather choosing to live like a prophet of old, dressed like Elijah of old, living off of the land, speaking against the religious leaders whose hearts had grown cold towards the things of God. 

God sent him to fulfill the ministry of preparing the way of the Lord.

Specifically, the prophecy says that he will cry out ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’.

This message alludes to the practice in the ancient world. (Reformed Expository Commentary) In the ancient world it was customary for kings to receive a royal welcome. So “when an emperor or some other eminent personage was about to visit a city, the citizens could be required to prepare a well-constructed approach-road along which he could advance with due pomp and dignity on his way into the city.” To make sure that people were ready to receive him, the king would send a messenger on ahead to herald the news of his coming. 

As you can imagine from our own experience, roads break down from usage. For months now crews have been preparing the roads on Highway 80 behind me and before then crews did similarly to Old Hwy 80. Why? Because, with use, roads break down.

So there would be much preparation that went in to getting it ready for the king or emperor. 

Isaiah uses this picture to describe what God is going to do in the future. He envisions more than just smoothing existing roads, for this is no ordinary king, this is the king of kings. He describes what preparation will look like in his prophecy. 

Isaiah 40:3-5 (ESV) 3 A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together,

for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

This complete and radical preparation is indicative of who the voice precedes. 

What’s the implication from this prophetic picture given by God to Isaiah about John the Baptist’s ministry?

In preparation, things had to radically change in God’s people if they were going to be ready to receive the king. 

So what was John’s message to the people who were about to meet the coming king? What did he tell them to do in order to prepare the way?


4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Repentance was the means by which the way would be prepared. Repentance has often been described as a change of mind, or turning from sins, and it is certainly not less than that, but it is more. Repentance is not just changing your mind, it is not just turning away from sin, it is turning towards God, it is looking to him in trust, obeying what he has commanded, practicing what he has prescribed for his people. 

Now, contextually, who was John proclaiming this message to? The nation of Israel. The inheritors of the covenant promises to Abraham, the offspring of Abraham, those who had the benefit of a knowledge of the one true God. But the people had become indifferent, the religious leaders had become puffed up with pride, and the religious system had been corrupted. They thought they were ready for the Messiah to come and John’s proclamation is, you are not ready. Repent. 

And as unlikely as this situation is, and as unlikely as this lone strange individual crying out in the wilderness of Judea would attract much of a crowd or elicit much response, people began to pour out of the surrounding areas in droves. Not only are they coming out, they are repenting evidenced by their public confession of sins, their baptism, and their desire to know how to live in light of their repentance and renewed faith in what God was about to do. 

5 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. In the gospel of Luke we find them asking John what fruit should be evident in the lives of the repentant. They understood that a call to repent was not a one time action, but a life change in preparation to meet the coming king.

Let me ask you this, in light of all of that. If Israel, God’s chosen people, who had more intimate knowledge of him than any other peoples on the world at this time needed to repent, how much more does the rest of the world?

There was no one who heard the message of John or who hears it repeated today, who does not need to repent.

The need for repentance is a universal reality, because sin is a universal reality. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Furthermore, everytime we read of the gospel advancing in the book of Acts, it is accompanied by repentance. At Pentecost, the men are cut to the heart and ask, what must we do? When the gospel is proclaimed to the Gentiles by Peter, the bible says they repent and the Spirit falls. Jew or Gentile, in order to be ready to meet the Savior, repentance is necessary. 

For sure repentance may look different in different lives, because the sin looks different in different lives. Using the prophecy of Isaiah as an illustration, I want to briefly highlight four areas or repentance. 

The low place (valley) shall be lifted up (repentance from self-loathing and shame)

The high things (the mountains and hills) shall be brought down (repentance from pride and arrogance)

The uneven things (crooked paths) shall be made even (repentance from the thoughts that are inconsistent with God’s word)

The rough things (impassible places) shall be smoothed (repentance from the actions that are inconsistent with God’s word)

Listen you are neither too bad to repent and you are neither too good to repent.

Additionally, your thoughts and your actions need to change in repentance. But here is the inescapable reality present in John’s message,there is no one ready to meet Christ that is not repentant. 

This is the first implication in John’s ministry and message, repentance is necessary for all peoples, there is no one exempt from the need to repent. 

The second implication is that…

Repentance precedes forgiveness

If the first implication deals with those who need repentance, then this answers the question why they need repentance.

Ultimately, this is what we need to stand before God and not be destroyed in our sins. We need them to be forgiven. 

God is a holy and just God, he is a consuming fire and he will not tolerate rebellion and sin against him. This is what makes repentance necessary, but John did not just proclaim repentance, the bible says he appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This sentence can be confusing if we misunderstand the word for in the sentence ‘proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ 

Nowhere in scripture are we told that their act of baptism was what brought them forgiveness of sins. The physical washing away was ceremonial and representative of what had happened in their hearts when they repented and put their trust in what God was doing. If they wanted to experience forgiveness of their sins, repentance was the necessary prerequisite. 

John’s baptism was a public act of proclaiming one’s repentance indicated by a confession of sins, and it was an act of obedience to what God had commanded John to do in preparation for Jesus’ arrival. 

Don’t miss this. 

It was not the public act of baptism that brought about forgiveness, it was an inward heart change, evidenced by confession and repentance.

Do you see the difference? 

Raising your hand, saying a prayer, signing a commitment card, being baptized, joining a church, these external indicators do not bring about forgiveness of sins. They are merely indicators of an inward change of a repentant heart.

Nothing you can do in your own power can secure your forgiveness of sins. 

Not even in the most elaborate, God-given sacrificial system could sin be dealt with fully and finally. 

This is what the author of Hebrews is dealing with when he says Hebrews 10:3-4 (ESV) 3 But in these sacrifices (The Jewish sacrificial system of the temple) there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

John stood and proclaimed that there was a way to be forgiven of their sins, they had to repent and turn to God in preparation for the coming one who could deal with sin. This is what he proclaimed after Jesus’ baptism, recorded for us in the gospel of John. John 1:29-30 (ESV) 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

This is the one, this is the one whom I was preparing the way, this is the object of your faith and trust, this is who you turn to when you turn from sin. This is where your forgiveness comes from. 

How does one receive forgiveness of sins? 1 John 1:9 says 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. What causes us to confess our sins? Repentance, turning away from the things we once loved, realizing that they are sinful and against God. 

To confess in the biblical understanding is to agree with, to assent, to say the same thing as another. 

Who are we agreeing with in our confession of sin? God. 

He has already pronounced what is sinful, he has already pronounced His judgment on sin. Confession is agreeing that what we have done was sin and that it deserves judgment, it is saying the same thing as God concerning our life and actions. 

Forgiveness of sins is not possible without confession of sins and confession of sins is not possible without repentance from sin. 

John the Baptist, in preparing the people for Jesus, commanded them to repent and upon repentance they confessed their sins and were baptized.

Here is the point. It is safe to say that if you have not repented of your sins, your sins have not been forgiven, no matter what external actions you might have participated in. John shows us that forgiveness comes from repentance, which leads us to the third implication. 

But before we get there, let us walk back through where we have been so far. 

Who needs to repent? Every single person who has not yet done so. That includes you if you have never done it. Why do you need to repent? So that you can have your sins forgiven and be reconciled to God, without which you are not prepared to meet Him upon your death or his return. 

If I have done even remotely a good job conveying the truth to you this morning, the question that I pray is on your mind is, what is repentance and how do I know if I have done it?

The third implication is that…

Repentance is both a response and an action

Let us start with the first statement, Repentance is a response. 

It is a response because God initiated the call. God raised John up, God gave him the message of repentance, God sent him to baptize. Without God’s action there is no John the Baptist, without John the Baptist there is no proclamation, and without the proclamation none of the multitudes of people would have repented. 

This is an important truth for us to understand, God acted first.

His people had in many ways perverted his law, they had failed their calling as a light to the gentiles, they had corrupted the temple and yet, God sent John to prepare the way for his son who would come to his own people with a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Repentance is not something you muster up from within yourself because you are a righteous person or a smart person or a humble person. Repentance is a gift from God. 

This is what Peter declares before the Sanhedrin when they forbid them from proclaiming the name of Jesus. Listen to what he says. 

Acts 5:29-32 (ESV) 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Christ rose from the dead, ascended back to the Father, receiving his eternal kingdom, in order to what? To give repentance to Israel, to give forgiveness of sins, and to give the Holy Spirit. 

All of salvation is a gift from God from beginning to end. 

But lest someone says, Peter specifically mentioned Israel, what about those outside of the nation of Israel? I’m so glad you asked. 

Peter, later before the church recounting his experience among the gentiles says this.

Acts 11:15-18 (ESV) 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

God has also granted repentance that leads to life to the Gentiles. 

The Bible teaches in these places and others that repentance is something that God gives people in order for them to experience forgiveness of sins, salvation, life, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

If that is true, how can we also say that repentance is an action? Because the same Bible says that repentance leads to action.

Romans 10:9-13 (ESV) if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord. Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart, you will be saved.

What I want you to see this morning is that the action follows the response. God sovereignly acts in your life so that you desire him, that you recognize your sinfulness, which leads to repentance, where you confess your sins and place all of your hope and trust in Jesus Christ the one who died for you, the one that God raised from the dead, who is now and forever will be the Lord. 

(Reformed Expository Commentary) The act of repentance does not have the power to take away our sin. Forgiveness comes only through Christ and his cross. But unless we repent we will never be forgiven, because only people who are sorry for their sins will ever admit they need a Savior.

It is in that action of turning from your sins to the savior that you experience what John speaks of when he says, I baptize you with water, but the one who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. This is the language of conversion where God makes alive what is dead, where he brings life and light into the life of the lost. 

To return to our text this morning, God initiated the call to repentance, he drew men and women to John and through the message he had given John he granted repentance to those he called and they responded by confessing their sins and being baptized by John. But ultimately, only those that trusted in the resurrected Lord would experience full and final forgiveness of their sins. Disciples of John the Baptist, like the apostle John and Andrew. Men that responded to John’s call to repentance and then placed their trust in the finished work of Christ, the one whom John pointed to. 


This was the purpose of John’s ministry of proclaiming repentance was to prepare the people for who was coming after him

7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Reformed Expository Commentary) In those days it was customary for students to follow their teachers. They generally did not pay tuition, but they did show their devotion by performing menial acts of service. A great teacher hardly had to lift a finger. His students did everything for him—everything, that is, except unlace his sandals. According to one ancient rabbi, “Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher except the loosing of his sandal-thong.” That would be going too far. Unlacing someone’s sandals was so degrading that a student could not be compelled to do it.

John the Baptist says he isn’t even worthy to do that, compared to the immeasurably worthy Christ, John isn’t even worthy to be the lowest of the lowest slave in the household of God.

If we learn anything from John, let it be his attitude concerning ourselves in regards to Christ. None of us are worthy to follow Christ, none of us are even worthy to be slaves to Christ, not even the lowest slave that would unlace the master’s sandals. 

And yet, in this advent season we remember. 

We remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

We remember that the creator of the universe entered his creation so that men and women might experience salvation.

We remember that Christ came, lived the life you and I could not live and died the death we deserved so that we might live in him.

We remember that Christ promises to come again to judge the living and the dead. 

We remember that none are ready to meet him unless they have repented of their sins, trusted in him for salvation, and have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Some 2,000 years have passed since John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness, repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and yet this morning, his message still rings as truly and as powerfully as it did then. 

And according to our Lord it is the message we are to proclaim until he returns. 

In some of his final moments with his disciples before he ascended into heaven, he told them. 

Luke 24:46-49 (ESV) “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Forgiveness of sins is possible because of Jesus Christ for those that repent of their sins and call out to him.

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