Matthew 11: 7 :
“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” (NLT)
One of the things travelers returning from Israel commonly say is that it brings life and deeper meaning to the passages they read in the Bible.
I can confirm that.
A very popular stop for tourists in Israel is the site where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus. In Arabic, it is known as “Al-Maghtas” which means “immersion.” In English, it is called “Bethany Beyond the Jordan.” It is located less than six miles north of the Dead Sea and a little over six miles from Jericho. The area surrounding this spot on the Jordan River is not pleasant. It is hot, dry, and desolate. Yes, there is a green strip on either side of the river, but it is less than a hundred yards wide. While there are flowers and beautiful landscaping in the area where tourists get off their buses to be baptized themselves, there are no luxury hotels located here.
While many sites in Israel are thought to be the place where such and such a thing happened but we’re not really sure, there is not much controversy that this site is indeed the place identified in the Bible. (See John 1:28.)
This is where John the Baptist preached hellfire and brimstone, a message of repentance for the masses because the kingdom of God was at hand. (See Mark 1, Luke 3, and Acts 13 among others.)
But what I could not get out of my head as I stood there in 100-degree heat in May, overlooking hundreds of people muddying the waters of the Jordan, is that this would not be an easy trek for a first-century people. This dusty little speck next to the river is at least 20 miles from Jerusalem and 60 to 70 miles from the northern shore of Galilee where Jesus had His home base.
And yet, Mark 1:15 says,
“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”
Great crowds must have walked for days to come to this place. Even with a donkey or a camel to carry food and water, this was not an afternoon stroll. And why come to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins when priests offered sacrifices in the temple for precisely that reason?
The answer is the reason for the call to repentance as we are told in Matthew 3:1-3:
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” (NIV) (See Isaiah 40.)
The Jews had been praying for centuries: “I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach (Messiah). And though he may tarry, I shall wait anticipating his arrival each day.” John’s message was that the Messiah, the King who would rule over His kingdom, had come and all of their waiting was over!
That’s what drew the people to this place. Prophecy was being fulfilled! The promises of Isaiah 40 were about to unfold and be revealed!
“O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Verses 9-11, NLT)
Make way for the King!
And this is the same message you hear on Kinship Christian Radio every day. Jesus is LORD! The King has come! This is the real Good News proclaimed in every believing church and in the heart of every disciple of Jesus Christ. My KING has come and He reigns!
“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (NLT)
Photo by author.