4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
“He said he was sorry. He apologized,” I reminded her.
“But he’s not sorry enough!” she said, her finger jabbing at the air in front of her.
I could not really argue with that. How could he be sorry enough for what he had done. What was sorry enough? Was there a repent-o-meter somewhere in the basement of church that I had overlooked? Perhaps there was a chart in the back of one of my theology textbooks at the seminary which would have indicated proper sorrow levels for various sins. What was sorry enough? How would I recognize sufficient sorrow if I saw it?
I knew what she was trying to say. I have tried to say it too. I think Christians have struggled with this question from the very beginning. I read somewhere that grievous sins in the ancient church were only forgiven after lengthy periods of penitence. For something like murder, a man might have to stand outside the church for years, every Sunday, in sackcloth, asking people to pray for him during the services. After several years, the penitent might be allowed in, but only to listen, not to partake of the supper, not yet. He had to show that he was sorry enough.
A wise and new Christian once asked me what Jesus was doing in that line of sinners in this reading today. After all, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus had no sins of which he needed to repent. Why was he there? Or did he have sins. He has taken upon himself the sins of the whole world. He bore them from this Jordan river all the way to crucifixion upon Calvary’s cruel crest, the propitiation for all those sins. Was he repenting this day of my sins because I am not very good at repenting? Have I even failed to be adequately sorry for them? I think you know the answer to that question, and so do I. Praise God that Jesus has borne my sins and fully repented of them on this day when he walked into the Jordan river to be baptized by John.