“On Your Mark”
Changing Grace (Chapter 1 Verses 4-5)
The message John preached was threefold, that the people should be baptized, signifying repentance, in order that their sins be forgiven. The baptism he proclaimed was connected to repentance, that is to say, that it was repentance which made a person eligible for John’s baptism. John would not just baptize anyone who requested it. We actually see him refuse to baptize certain impenitent people. There had to be a change of mind, and a turning with the entirety of one’s being from sin and rebellion against God. There was a deep spiritual significance to what John (and the Bible as a whole) meant by repentance. It was a change of heart, turning from sin (Acts 2.38), and its consequent guilt to God (Acts 3.19), for forgiveness and cleansing (Jeremiah 31.34). We tend to think of repentance as being a negative thing, but on the contrary, it is very positive, it brings spiritual refreshment from the Lord. And as both John and Mark tell us, John emphasized its necessity for Divine forgiveness. You begin to see what Mark means about good news? That there is mercy with God, forgiveness in abundance? The very conception of the Gospel plan tells us that. But O, that there is forgiveness (Romans 4.7; Micah 7.19; Isaiah 43.25), there is a way for real guilt to be dealt with, and a way back to God from the dark path of sin (Isaiah 30.21). O the matchless grace and favour of God!
The word used for forgiveness here is one of the sweetest in the whole Bible. It means the sending away of sin (Psalm 103.12), so far away that on the day of judgment, not even God can find it. As though the writing on the page had been blotted out (Isaiah 43.25). Can there be sweeter, more wonderful news for a sinner? All of them, the mountains of them, the huge ones, the open and secret ones, the gross ones, all of them (1John 1.7). What blessed relief when Jesus knows all about them, comes into the heart and says, “they are all gone, forgiven, all gently washed away”? Many people came to John confessing their sins v5. It’s good for the soul to confess sin. But it is important to realize what is meant is that the people confessed their sin to God, not to a man, not to John the Baptist. The Bible is clear on this, God gives the authority to forgive sin to only one, the man Christ Jesus (1Timothy 2.5; Mark 2 1-12). There is no one, no matter what ecclesiastical authority they carry, or dress worn, who has the authority to say, “your sins are forgiven”. Only God himself, in Christ, no other (2Corinthians 5.19). Go and tell Him, now!
(© James R Hamilton, written September 1996)