He left Nazareth early one morning.
He said his goodbyes to Mary and the rest of the family. He would not return there to live. He would no longer work in the carpenter shop; James would be in charge. It was time for His Father’s business to become His fulltime work. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. John was baptizing near there in the Jordan River.
He understood what John was doing—calling the nation to repentance. This was a moment of crisis. The sins of the people were many and the cup of iniquity was dangerously close to overflowing. Things had to change and that meant hearts had to change. The only way hearts can change is through repentance and the power of the Holy Spirit. John called the action of the Spirit a baptism of fire. He was specific about the actions of true repentance—drastic changes in behavior not just words spoken in the heat of emotion.
Down to the River
Crowds came every day, leaving the comfort of the cities and towns to swelter in the wilderness and hear John’s fiery preaching. They lined up to publically repent and submit to the well-known ritual of immersion in the muddy waters of Jordan. There was nothing glamorous about it, nothing graceful. It was the dirty business of cleaning one’s soul.
Jesus heard John’s voice before he saw him dressed in camel’s hair and lean from a diet of honey and locusts, a perfect vestment for such a drastic, desperate mission. As Jesus quietly took His place in line, a dialogue developed between John and the crowd.
“What must we do then?” Someone shouted. John answered in terms of those with much sharing with those who had less. After baptism, tax collectors and soldiers cried out to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” His reply was simply to do what was right and fair.
Jesus was guilty of none of these national sins and he had no personal sins of which to repent. The Spirit within Him led Him to keep His place in line. Eventually John saw Him and involuntarily cried out.
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Jesus was next to be baptized. John protested the whole thing.
“I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
Jesus smiled at Him and John lowered his head in recognition.
“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
John obeyed, plunging Jesus beneath the surface of the river. When the Lord emerged, dripping with Jordan’s waters, a voice thundered:
“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The crowd fell into a fearful silence. Jesus recognized the voice of His Heavenly Father, heard so often in the scriptures and in His heart. Out of the shining sun, a beautiful white dove appeared and circled the two men standing in the water until all witnessed its flight. It then came to rest on the shoulder of Jesus.
With the booming voice and the circling, settling dove, the silence of the crowd grew deeper still. Suddenly there was a rush of repenting sinners splashing into the river. Jesus smiled at John and nodded for him to continue his work. He quietly exited the river and found a solitary place to pray.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'” Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
John 1:29 NKJV
…John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Lord, baptize me with the fire of Your Spirit today! Prepare my heart for Your residence! Prepare Your church for Your visitation. Fill in our deep valleys of ignorance. Bring down our mountains of pride. Straighten out our crooked, self-centered ways. Smooth out our carelessness in holy things. Build Your holy highway through us! Let Your glory be revealed in this place, in my heart! Nothing less than the world is at stake. Amen and Amen.
Comfort Ye/Every Valley
From Handel’s Messiah
Comfort ye, Comfort ye, My people
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her
That her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!”
Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, Shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight and the rough places plain
Ev’ry valley, Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight and the rough places plain
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved