Editor’s Note: This post is written by guest blogger, David Hundert. David is a current Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary.
Do you know what ancient sedans look like? That sedan above is old, but I’m not talking about antique cars. I’m talking about ancient sedans. Keep reading below because ancient sedans will help us understand repentance.
In the previous post, we looked at a phrase from of Israel’s ancient prophets, Isaiah. In Isaiah 40:3, as quoted in Matthew 3:3, we learned about one who would build a highway for God in the desert. Were Isaiah and John the Baptist referring to a literal road or a metaphorical one? If it was literal, what would it take for royalty to travel back then? You know that it would have to be in style, right? What would it have looked like? What kind of imagery does this bring to mind?
Would it look like this?
These are ancient sedans! In Egyptian history, they looked something like this:
Imagine if one of the slaves carrying the Pharaoh stumbled? If Pharaoh took a header off of the platform, that slave wouldn’t last long would he? When royalty would travel like that, they would have to take every precaution, to make sure that accidents like that didn’t take place. They would have to send out people ahead, to prepare the way.
We did that in the military. When our unit was to go on deployment overseas for a period of time, we would send out an “advanced party” to prepare the barracks, and to square away the hangers, so that when the main force arrived, they can focus on the mission from day 1. Did ancient royalty have an advanced party?
In the country of Japan, in the time leading up to World War II, whenever the emperor, who coincidentally was worshiped as a god, would travel, people would travel ahead of him, to make sure that all windows were closed, all the blinds would be drawn and the shutters closed so that people wouldn’t even glance at him. If you were found to have looked at the emperor, you were immediately put to death. Royal travel has always been considered serious business.
Today, when the King of England travels, the people living in the area that the king is traveling to, get excited. They prepare the area by sweeping and washing the outside of the buildings, they put on their best clothes, they want to put their best foot forward. They want the King to feel welcomed. Preparing the way, meant putting on their Sunday best.
In the case of what John the Baptist was preaching, to prepare the way was both metaphorical and literal. In this case, the prophet was referring to the people preparing their hearts and minds. It was preceded by repentance on the part of the listener, followed by a tangible step of obedience in baptism. This was and still is today, an outward sign of an inward commitment.
The repentance talked of here in Matthew 3, sounds similar to the prophets of the Old Testament, calling the people into a right relationship with God that must affect every aspect of their lives. Indicating “to change one’s mind,” repentance in the Old Testament always called for a change in a person’s attitude toward God, which would then impact one’s actions and overall direction in life. External signs of repentance regularly included confession of sin, prayers of remorse, and abandonment of sin. Why was this needed?
We’ll find out in the next post!
Photo by Bertrand Borie on Unsplash