Read Luke 3:1-21
The two most important bridge people between the Old Testament story and the New are Mary and John the Baptist. John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, a voice –like many of Israel’s former prophets– that called the people to repent and come before God ready for a fresh start. Repentance is where the rubber meets the road between those who are serious about letting God’s will be done in their heart, and those who only like to tell others what they want to hear. Metanoia, the Greek word for repentance, surprisingly had its start as a money changing term. When a person left one kingdom and entered another, money needed to be converted to the currency of the new kingdom, it needed to be exchanged. Repentance has the idea then of “turning” one thing into another–one thing that no longer works for one that does– and in light of Jesus’ proclamation about the kingdom of God this speaks of exchanging the “currency” in our lives for what works in the economy of his kingdom.
Repentance and forgiveness are not exactly the same thing. Forgiveness could be envisioned in light of the previous example, as granting someone’s request to help make this exchange happen. When someone does wrong, damage is done. And just as if someone came from a rival kingdom that had been an enemy of our own, if they came into our bank where we hold all the rights to all the legal tender contained there, and where we hold all the cards–when someone wrongs us we have the choice before us as to whether we will let them complete the transaction they seek, or whether we will take advantage or refuse to help.
God’s example, as demonstrated in John the Baptist’s ministry, is to take all sincere comers and give them the fresh start they desire. John takes them down to the river and helps their outsides become clean to match the new work God is doing within them. In Jewish culture, this would be the opposite of say someone tearing their outer garments and putting on sackcloth and ashes to show the world how they were feeling by making their outsides match the brokenness in their hearts. John helped the crowds that came seeking a fresh start to realize physically and externally what God was doing with them spiritually and internally. And John’s baptism was one that looked forward to Jesus and the ultimate baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit to come at Pentacost. Wherever God’s Spirit is at work walls of division are broken down, whether that means socio-cultural and language barriers as was realized at Pentecost, or the barriers of repentance and forgiveness that were crossed on the banks of the Jordan.
At the last group activity we broke some ground on the importance of repentance. Repentance is important for justice to be realized, but so is its counterpart: forgiveness. Sin causes relational damage to the individual and to the individuals relationship with God, but also the direct recipients of our wrongs and even echoes out into the community. Forgiveness is often accepting this exchange and letting it happen, but it is also about providing the grace of a way back to restoration. Repentance without forgiveness by the community is not what God desires, nor is forgiveness without repentance that undermines justice and cheapens grace. Yet no one can force forgiveness. We have the choice to cling to our unforgiveness, or let go of our claims for bounty in the currency of another kingdom. As we stand, like a banker before a person from a former rival kingdom seeking refuge, by God’s grace we can learn to see them as human and accept their “exchange” with humility, fairness, and grace. We can choose like John the Baptist, to aid God’s work that had led them this far, and give them helpful advice about how to live in the Kingdom of God. Some damages cannot be undone, but as those who walk the path of restoration through the 12 steps know, sometimes the only way you can make amends for the past is to break the cycles of the past, and walk a new direction in freedom with God’s help.
In your group of on your own, share/reflect on a time you received forgiveness after coming to that place of repentance. If you can, share briefly one story of your experiencing mercy and grace from another. Afterwards, if you have time, share one experience of forgiving someone who has wronged you. If anyone is still resistant to choosing forgiveness in some are of their life, pray for the Holy Spirit to break down this barrier and bring about restoration. Close in prayer.