In the Old Testament, God promised to send a forerunner for the Messiah, one who would prepare the way for the Christ. In Matthew 3:1-12, Matthew talks about the ministry of John the Baptist and identifies him as the one preparing the way of the Lord (vs. 3, where he cited Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist was the one who preached in order to prepare the people of Israel for the Messiah.
John the Baptist was certainly an interesting guy. His clothes were made out of camel hair, and the dude ate bugs. No wonder people were intrigued and wanted to hear him preach! The clothing was a throwback to the Old Testament prophets (namely, Elijah – see Zechariah 13:4 and 2 Kings 1:8), and the locust were the food of the poor (some commentators think John had taken the Nazirite vow and refused to eat meat or strong drink, although the text does not indicate this). This interesting man had a simple but powerful message: repent!
John the Baptist preached repentance. He commanded the people to turn from their sin and turn to God in faithful service. His simple message must have shocked his listeners. It was so different from what they were used to hearing. As Clinton Arnold said:
Here is no rabbi, reasoning and giving options; here is no priest, leading ritual; here is no scribe, prescribing adherence to a set of rules. John speaks with a thunderous voice, demanding a new relationship with God (Arnold, Matthew, Kindle Location 2161).
John was bold in his proclamation. He was not afraid to challenge the religious leaders. He told them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (vs. 8). The religious needed to repent just as much as the irreligious, because religion cannot save anyone. Only Jesus Christ saves. Therefore, John tells them to repent and points them to the only One who can save them: Jesus Christ!
Jesus Himself preached about repentance. Mark tells us that Jesus showed up preaching repentance. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This is an essential component of the gospel. We turn from sin (repentance) to Christ (faith). This truth has major implications for us, two of which come to mind. First, we must practice repentance. We must repent and believe the gospel, and we must repent of the sins we commit as we follow Christ. Second, we must call others to repent. We have not truly shared the gospel if we have failed to call sinners to repentance. Let us watch our own lives and repent when we fall into sin, and let us faithfully share the gospel and call others to repentance.