God is good. The three words of this sentence are so simple, and childlike, that even when we agree with them we often miss the depth of their truth. So good is God, that we have a hard time appreciating it. One of the reasons for this is that we, by comparison, are not good. Not by a long shot.
If you’ve spent a lifetime judging others, you have an even harder time seeing the goodness of God. When we judge other people we slot them into categories of good and bad. Or maybe we get more granular with very good on one end of the spectrum and very bad on the other, with varying shades of difference in between. All this attention on human behavior, however, distracts us from the glorious goodness of our Creator. We have all sinned and fallen far short of it.
For this reason, John the Baptist was sent before Jesus to prepare the way. You may recall that John preached a message of repentance. He told people that they needed to make a straight way for the Lord if they wanted to see Him. If John had not prepared the way for Jesus with the message of repentance, even fewer people would have recognized Jesus for who He was than did.
Repentance opened the eyes of the first century Israelites so that they could perceive Jesus and the message of the kingdom that He was bringing. Jesus’ early disciples had been disciples of John the Baptist. They had accepted the message that they had been living for themselves and needed to confess their sins and be forgiven. (If you’re forgiven, you want to live right; if you haven’t repented, you just want to justify yourself and defend your behavior.) The audio-visual aid that John used was baptism. That is, he called people to come to the Jordan River and be washed to symbolize their acknowledgement of sin and need for repentance and cleansing.
Even Jesus Himself submitted to this baptism. Not that He had any sins of His own, but He was here to identify with us so He did not put Himself in a “holier-than-thou” category (though if anyone had a right to, He did). Jesus own disciples continued to baptize followers, though Jesus Himself did not.
This history demonstrates the necessity of repentance for one who wants to perceive God. The ritual of baptism itself is no longer important, but the repentance it typifies absolutely is.
Even when you think you are living a life pleasing to God, you may still find that a barrier has arisen between you and God. Whenever that happens, repent. No matter how right you may think you are, repent. Job is a great example of this situation.
The Old Testament book of Job tells the story of a man who was so pleasing to God that God bragged about him to all the angels of heaven, good and bad. Satan challenged God saying that Job only served God for the benefits he received. God accepted the challenge and Satan went about destroying Job’s life – eventually taking his family and everything he had, including his health. Covered with boils, Job cried out in agony for help. He had three friends come and commiserate with him and try to counsel him. The four of them kept going around and around in a fruitless discussion of why this had all happened (none of them knew about the conversation in heaven) until a younger man finally interrupted, saying Job needed to quit talking so much and repent. God then took up the same tack and Job finally acknowledged that he’d been speaking foolishly and that he was going to repent and be quiet. At that point, God instructed Job to pray for his friends, which Job did. Then God completely healed Job and gave him double of all that he had lost.
The story of Job demonstrates that even the most righteous human still has reason to repent before God. It also shows that a big part of repentance is that we stop yacking at God and start listening instead. A repentant person goes to Jesus to listen, not to talk.