Mark 1:2–6 ESV
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.
Isaiah? Yes! The Holy Spirit is weaving a very long, complex, and intricate plotline. It runs all the way from the original creation to the final consummation of the new creation. Think Adam to Abraham, Eve to Elijah, Isaac to Isaiah, Sarah to Solomon, and on we could go. The gospel comes in the way the Holy Spirit has invited us to enter this story through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and made the invitation effective on the day of Pentecost. We must become lifelong students of this story—not as outside observers but as inside players. This is an intergenerational story and this is our chapter. Isaiah? Yes!
The Word of God comes in the wilderness. Ever since the exile from Eden that has been the story. No matter how much we try to dress it up and make ourselves at home, with nice cars and fancy restaurants, and highly edited Facebook lives, underneath it all is a fallen world. It often takes a stripping away of such accoutrements to realize this. Sometimes fasting can help prepare the way for such a realization. The Spirit of God creates the conditions that make for the prerequisite path of holy discontent. No matter how okay things may appear to be, they are not okay. Great awakenings happen when people begin to respond to the Spirit’s movement to make a straight path, to do something different, to interrupt the patterns of so-called prosperity.
What is a baptism of repentance? It signals a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning. It is a decisive marking of a moment that holds the possibility of a new movement in one’s life. To repent means, in the words of my friend Brian Russell, to realign one’s life with a bigger story, a better one. It means recalibration and it leads to renewing. For so many, this isn’t the repentance that comes before deciding to follow Jesus, but the repentance that comes after such a decision. It’s when holy discontent becomes an awareness of our own brokenness and how that has broken others. It happens when we start getting honest with ourselves, with God, and with others. That’s what confession means.
The Holy Spirit is not about creating cool environments for crafty religious experiences. The Holy Spirit creates corporate, collective, and even generational movements. Deeply personal? Yes. Profoundly communal? Yes. When enough of God’s people reach the threshold of honesty about their holy discontent, movement begins to happen. Historians call it “revival.” Look at today’s text. Already, only five verses in, people are coming in droves to hear the Word of God in the wilderness. Revival begins not so much with lost sinners as it begins with saved sinners whose salvation has grown cold. True revival, given a wide berth, always holds the possibility of spilling into the broader culture. This is the stuff of awakenings.
The Holy Spirit works through unlikely characters. At times they can be quite unusual. From coats made of camel hair to a little Pentecostal craziness at times—be discerning, but err on the side of making room for John-the-Baptist types. They often play a forerunning role only a person like them would, or even could, play. It may require some of us shedding some of our dignified religious sophistication if we are to play our roles.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Reflect on a way the Holy Spirit has inspired repentance and realignment in your life.
How might that be happening now?
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