At the Jordan
Rev. Sudha Mehta©
Group Baptism photo by Sudha Mehta
Baptism site in Israel photo by Sudha Mehta
Baptism came early on the tour. My friend and I were surprised. A large number of people were baptized, though not all. It is very much a choice, and I myself chose not to. My friend did get baptized along with many others.
The place of baptism in the Jordan is not the same where John baptized Jesus. Perhaps that played into my decision. In any case this location is chosen for reasons of safety for all by the Israeli Government.
The river at this place is not very wide or deep. The river meanders from North to South, and we saw places where it was quite a swift river, indeed some rapids as well, and other places where it was just a trickle. We saw places where it was quite wide, and other places where little tributaries gently poured in.
I was also surprised by the number of people getting baptized. Hundreds were there with their various groups. Each group had a time and a location set up for them. It is a large and crowded place with vendors, shops selling souvenirs. It is quite a tourist attraction, and people come as pilgrims.
Somehow, even though I chose to do without a dip in the Jordan river, I appreciated the awe that people felt. I took pictures and watched clothes, shoes and purses for some while they went to renew their commitment. There was the sweet presence of God and I could see the joy and awe in the faces of people. People from many races, nationalities, speaking different languages, all came for the same reason . . . Jesus and their love for Him.
There was a group right next to my group that sang lovely hymns of praise as they went through the ritual. Their song filled the air and I reveled in His presence just listening to the sound even though I understood not a word of it. It was a language I did not know. One of them asked me to take her picture just by tapping my shoulder, we understood each other and smiled as sisters without knowing the language.
Two groups being baptized photo from Sudha Mehta
One thing you should expect if you go is that the changing rooms are very wet!
Similar was the ritual of the Mikvah (a Hebrew word) in the Old Testament. The Mikvah is understood as a cleansing by total immersion in water. The Book of Leviticus is where you should look for the many reasons and times this cleansing ritual was required.
It was to be done before men entered the Temple, certainly all the priests went through this before ministering in any way before the Lord.
Ancient Ritual bath AKA Mikveh photo from BAS library
The reasons were numerous even for the average person to bathe ritually and be clean spiritually. The point here is that this ritual was not a once in a lifetime event meant to spiritually clean and wash away your sins forever. It was repeated many times in the life of an Israelite.
Among other things that were ritually important:
The Mikvah was a ritual performed when a person made a decision to repent from sin.
The Mikvah was a public declaration to turn away from the path the person had been on.
The Mikvah was a public demonstration of a decision to take a step in a new direction.
The Mikvah was even performed when a man decided to become a disciple of a Rabbi. It was a turning point in one’s life.
In essence, it was a Mikvah that John came offering to the populace.
The Greek word is baptizó, which means a complete change accomplished through immersion. A full immersion was required whether it was called a Mikvah or Baptism.
That said, John was the voice “crying out in the wilderness.” His was a call to repentance, an invitation to turn away from sin, and to prepare the “way of the Lord.” John gave the warning that the kingdom of heaven was at hand:
Matthew 3: 1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent you: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.(AKJV)
Now Jesus had no need for repentance, He committed no sin, yet He went through this in order that all requirements be fulfilled for righteousness. So, what was He demonstrating? What was His declaration?
Clearly at this point in His life Jesus knew it was time for Him to set aside all things, turn and start His ministry. The Baptism demonstrated this decision. This was the beginning point of His journey that three years later led to the cross. His declaration was that the time to fulfill His Mission had arrived. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him attesting to this life changing, direction-modifying event when He came up out of the water. At this point the Father spoke audibly also attesting not only to the fact that Jesus was His Son, but that He was well pleased with Him.
The Holy Trinity was present at this point to launch the Mission . . . Selah!(think about it!)
Matthew 3: 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, see, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting on him: 17 And see a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.(AKJV)
dove descending on Jesus photo from lovinggrace.org
It was after His baptism that Jesus was led away into the wilderness. The first miracle was done after His return from the wilderness once He had been tested and tempted by the devil. It was after this that Jesus was called a Rabbi.
So, from this perspective, understand that the Baptism that you and I are commanded to go through as Christians is one that demonstrates both to us and to those that witness, that our decision is to repent of our sins, to turn away from the path we had been on, to be His disciples and follow Him, our Rabbi.
Baptism for a Christian is required only once. Important to note is that Baptism itself does not save us, rather it gives evidence of our salvation which is provided simply by our faith placed in our Lord. The decision to change course and to follow Jesus by faith is what saves us, then we go through our baptism as a demonstration of our decision. This public declaration solidifies in our mind and the minds of those that witness that we have made a life change. It is a serious subject before God.
So, how is a dip in the river Jordan different? The fact that Jesus Himself was baptized in the Jordan makes it special for many people. For most pilgrims this becomes a re-dedication of their lives, although, I am sure some get baptized for the first time as well.
Understand that since Baptism is required only once, dipping in the Jordan is not a must-do act. It is only if you wish. If you wish to do this for you, do it . . . just know that being baptized there brings no special favor or points from God. It is a personal decision.
On our trip, many in our group chose to get immersed, but some including me did not. I was perfectly happy watching the personal effects of others that went in the water, and I took their pictures. My friend was baptized, some baptized themselves, while many were baptized by our tour leaders.
Jesus Himself was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist.
Matthew 3: 13 Then comes Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of you, and come you to me? 15 And Jesus answering said to him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.(AKJV)
Jesus commanded that we be baptized:
Acts 2: 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call. (AKJV)
Baptism of Jesus photo from LDS.org
The important thing is that once you been baptized, pay attention to your behavior. The evidence that the baptism provided needs to be lived out post baptism.
It is sad when people make the decision, go through the public declaration, and after that continue with their life with little regard to their lifestyle or behavior. I have seen this many times in my ministry. It makes me sad! How much do you think it grieves God?!
I realize none of us become instantly perfect in our behavior as soon as we get saved or baptized. Yet it is grievous when we don’t work in the direction of being better people each day.
I realize He said He will finish His work in us to present us Holy and perfect before the Father, yet we also have a responsibility to walk Holy as He has directed. He has said:
Leviticus 20: 7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be you holy: for I am the LORD your God. 8 And you shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you.(AKJV)
Anyway, the whole experience was very special, even though I chose to sit out and just observe. I recommend you go.
Jesus Baptism site Jordan photo from Christianitytoday.com
Even though we were not the exact location where Jesus was baptized, the fact that this was the river, and this was the land that He came to on this planet, made it special. I can truly say . . . I left a part of my heart in Israel! There was a connection I felt such as I have not felt to any other place I have ever visited.
It felt like “Home.”
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