Two of the most memorable summers of my life were spent travelling to new places and being in ministry once I got there. One summer I went to Yellowstone National Pak and during the week I worked as a short order cook in a restaurant and on Sunday’s helped lead worship in the campgrounds.
|This was the restaurant – what a great location to work!|
|Thanks Scott and Cassie for the picture of the store!|
|And this was the view we had at work every day!! Not bad!|
We are going to spend the next 6 weeks traveling to the Holy Land and exploring the places where Jesus walked. We will not only have the opportunity to see these places, but we will also reflect on the things Jesus did when he was there. Each location and ministry of Jesus speaks to us in different ways, some locations call us to surrender fully to God, some call us to learn, some call us to reach out and help others and some call us to have strength and courage in times of need, but they all call us to be more like Jesus – and that is my hope. By the end of our journey I want all of us to be a little bit more like Jesus.
We are going to start our journey where Jesus started his, at the Jordan River.
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. Other than a few early stories about his childhood found in the gospel of Luke, we know very little about Jesus until he shows up at the Jordan River to be baptized by John. It is significant that Jesus chose this location to begin his ministry because the Jordan River was the place that marked the beginning of life in the Promised Land for Israel.
While Moses helped to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he never got them into the Promised Land. When Moses died, the people were camped out on one side of the Jordan River with the Promised Land on the other. Then the day finally came when the people entered into the land God had promised them, Joshua 3:15-17.
So the Jordan River was a symbolic and holy place. It was a place of new beginnings and of new life for God’s people. Over time, the river also came to be known as a holy place. In 2 Kings 5 there is the story of a man called Naaman who was healed and cleansed when he washed in the Jordan River. Beyond healing and new life, many people believed the Jordan River would be the place where the Messiah would first be announced. The very last words of the Old Testament talk about the coming of the Messiah and it says that before he comes God was going to send the prophet Elijah to prepare the way. Do you know where Elijah was when he was taken up into heaven? That’s right, the Jordan River, so many believed that Elijah would return at the Jordan River and announce the coming of the Messiah.
So that Jesus chose to make the Jordan River the place to begin his ministry was no accident. The Jordan River was a place of cleansing, healing and new life and so it was the perfect place for Jesus to begin his journey. It was also the perfect place for the ministry of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was actually a cousin of Jesus’. John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah and Elizabeth was Jesus mother’s cousin, so that would make John and Jesus distant cousins – but cousins none the less. While we don’t know if John and Jesus knew each other growing up, I like to think that they did and that they understood the unique role each of them was going to play in God’s plan.
While we don’t know much about John the Baptist, what we do know is that he wore camel’s hair clothing and a leather belt around his waist. Now we don’t get this much detail about what Jesus wore so this must be significant – and it is. In 2 Kings 1:8 we find that the prophet Elijah wore the same exact clothing – which means that John was making a statement. John was aligning himself with the prophet Elijah and therefore he was working to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. That John chose the Jordan River also connects him with the prophet Elijah who people believed would return to the Jordan and usher in the reign of God. So John chose the Jordan River not because it was close to where he grew up (which it was), he chose it because it was a place of healing and cleansing, it was a place connected with the ministry of the prophet Elijah and the coming of the Messiah and it was a place that signified a new beginning for God’s people. And all of these things is what John preached. John called people to repent and be cleansed, he called people to live a new and life and while he didn’t claim to be the Messiah he did prepared people for the coming of the Messiah and the way John did this was through baptism.
Many people have ask where this ritual of baptism came from because we don’t find it in the Old Testament. Baptism as we know it was not a ritual of the Jewish people, but water purification was. There are many places in the OT where people were called to wash themselves with water to symbolize becoming clean spiritually. In fact, in the village of Qumran, not far from where John baptized people in the Jordan, there was a community of Essenes who were religious leaders devoted to voluntary poverty, simple living and abstaining from earthly pleasures and they practices a ritual of daily immersion in baths to make themselves clean, not clean outside but inside.
These baths were called mikva’ot and some had two sets of stairs so you would come in dirty and sinful but leave clean and pure. In other words, you would enter the water one way and then leave ready to face a new day and live a new way, which is very similar to our understanding of baptism.
Now we don’t know if John the Baptist lived in the Essene community of Qumran, but it was close to where he grew up in Ein Karem and it was close to where he began his ministry in the Jordan River so it seems likely that John’s use of baptism as a ritual of cleansing came from this Essene community. To me, it’s helpful to know that this ritual of baptism has its roots in the Old Testament and continues to flow from the work of God we see throughout history. God has always wanted us to cleanse ourselves from sin and rise up to live a faithful life and that is one of the meanings of baptism.
When we are baptized as an adult it is a ritual of spiritual cleansing, and seeking forgiveness for our sin. We come to and enter the waters of baptism as a sinner who wants to be washed clean and as someone who wants to live a new life and while we obviously don’t enter the actual Jordan River, this water symbolizes that river and all it stands for.
If we were to actually stand at the Jordan and think about our baptism, we might gain some new understanding because the Jordan River flows to the Dead Sea where nothing can survive. So picture it, we enter the waters of the Jordan and our sins are washed away and literally carried to place where they are forever destroyed and no longer have any power over us. And if we were to stand at the Jordan River and think about the people of Israel crossing over into the promised land we might think of our baptism as the gateway to a new life lived in the presence and the kingdom of God. So the Jordan River helps us think more deeply about our own baptism and adult baptism, but what about infant baptism?
We don’t normally think about infants needing to have their sin washed away and they certainly aren’t able to go forth from their baptism and intentionally live a new life – so what does the Jordan River have to teach us about infant baptism? One thing it teaches us that we are now part of the family of God. When the people crossed through the Jordan to enter into the promised land – everyone went over, young and old alike. They went as families and a community, children being carried on the arms of their mothers and fathers into a new life. In many ways that is what infant baptism is. Mothers and Fathers carry their children to the waters where we not only see ourselves as part of God’s family – but we make commitments together to enter into new life and live according to the values and principles of God’s kingdom. So whether it is young or old, the Jordan River can deepen our understanding of baptism and what it means to walk with Jesus.
So our journey begins where Jesus’ did, at the Jordan River. We start here because the Jordan River is a place of purification and cleansing and to be more like Jesus we need God’s grace and mercy to wash over us and cleanse us from sin. We start here because this is where the people of God started their new life in the Promised Land and my hope is that we all want to experience the blessing of a new life with God. Remembering our baptism is always a good place to start because it reminds us that we have been forgiven, our sins have been washed away and through Jesus we can enter into a new and eternal life.
If you have never been baptized and would like to be, I would love to talk to you more about it. If you have been baptized, then I want to invite you today to remember what that means. It means that through the grace of God we have been washed clean. It means that we have been forgiven and God has removed our sin and the power of sin from us. It also means we are committing ourselves to living a new and faithful life. In Qumran, the Essenes immersed themselves in the baths every morning to remind them of God’s grace and their commitment to live a faithful life. While we don’t baptize people over and over again, we need to ask God over and over again to forgive us, cleanse us and help us live a faithful life. May we do that today? Let us ask God to once again wash us clean as we remember our baptism and let us picture ourselves rising from the waters of the Jordan River to walk in the way of Jesus.
The Way ~ The Jordan River
1. Study the Old Testament stories that took place at the Jordan River. How might these stories help shape our understanding of baptism?
• Joshua 3: The people of Israel crossing into the Promised Land.
• 2 Kings 2: Elijah being taken up into heaven.
• 2 Kings 5:1-19: The healing of Naaman.
2. When we baptize a child we make this promise: With God’s help we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
• How can you surround people in ways that encourage and strengthen their faith?
• How can you help establish the faith of children, youth, families, and seniors?
• In what ways to do you need others to help support and lead you in the way? Who can you ask for help?
3. If you have been baptized, reflect on what it means to you and share your thoughts with others. (Share in small groups or through our online small group on facebook)
4. If you have not been baptized, consider being baptized at the end of our study in July. Contact to Pastor Andy for more information about baptism: firstname.lastname@example.org.