I am continuing with my thoughts on how Jesus did not have the “Defects of Virtues” (please read my post of 25 January 2013). Today we will see how Jesus never flaunted or forced his authority but always submitted to God the Father at all times, and at the same time showed great respect to fellow man and their rightful place. One man I am alluding to is none other than John the Baptist. We will briefly look first at John, then at Jesus, and finally, the two together at the Baptism of Jesus by John, inaugurating Jesus’ mission on earth.
Jesus was almost unknown. However, unseen or unheard, the Holy Spirit has been orchestrating events behind the scenes. Already the cry from the wilderness has started rising and the people’s heart has been stirred up, despite the long delay and accompanying doubts or disappointments about the coming of the Messiah. Suddenly there was a softening of heart and a national surge at Bethabara on the banks of Jordan, to hear John pounding away his proclamation Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. That was where all the action is taking place. The location was a strange and unlikely place for public meetings; the lonely and rough area on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the haunt of robbers and bandits and where many fell among thieves.
Who was this person that motivated the multitudes to come and be baptized? In Jesus’ own words “what went ye out into the wilderness to see?” What kind of a man was John? Today we can call him the fire brand. His preaching was fearless and downright practical. He was not the typical seminary-trained or one of the Scribes or Pharisees with a comfortable lifestyle, with broad phylacteries, luxurious robes and exclusive privileges. His clothing was different with leather girdle and camel-hair mantle. He drank from the river and his menu included locusts and wild honey. The crowd came from every part of the country. By the way, this should say something when leaders are trying hard to attract the world to the churches! He rebuked the tax collectors for their extortion, soldiers for their violence, wealthy Spiritual leaders for their formalism to the extent of calling them vipers of a viperous brood. He told King Herod the Great where to go! He was the voice from the wilderness, far from the popular and esteemed Schools of Hillel or Shammai. Yet, they thronged to him, listened, repented and were baptized. No wonder he is compared to Elijah the Tishbite, the fiery prophet.
Though great and successful as the response of the multitude demonstrated, that was not the only compulsion or main strain of John’s mission. Many today would be joyously satisfied with that kind of success. It should be noted that John was so popular that a deputation came all the way from Sanhedrin (parliament) consisting of Priests and Levites. They asked him if he was the Christ. Note the simple but emphatic response John gave – NO! He was the voice in the wilderness, indeed, the fore-runner of the long-awaited Messiah! This part was equally important. Nay, it was more bold and hopeful. Someone much greater than him, whose shoe lace he is not worthy to loosen is coming very soon. Although he was baptizing with water, the one coming after him will baptize with fire!
Another surprising aspect that I should not miss is how John recognized Jesus. John was his kinsman by birth. However, their lives were far apart. John’s father Zacharias was a priest and lived in the far south. On the other hand, Jesus’ father Joseph was a carpenter and lived in seclusion in the valley of Galilee. Jesus had not yet publicly revealed himself as the Messiah; no public teaching or a single miracle yet. Had Zacharias his father ever told John about the miraculous visit of angel Gabriel, and the importance of his own name? Had his mother Elizabeth ever mentioned the visit of Mary with her unborn child? Or was it long forgotten after 30 years? Whatever it was, John who prepared the way, did proclaim emphatically that “he knew him not”. Apart from the Holy Spirit, whom John proclaimed Jesus would baptize in fire, I dare say that something in Jesus’ face, his look, his sinless beauty (altogether lovely) and authority convinced John. John could confront the kings and top leaders of his time, no sweat, but to this yet unknown, simple carpenter, John the national hero, became like a young student. He even thought it was inappropriate to baptize Jesus, and humbly tried to dissuade Jesus.
One of my favourite and humbling experiences in life was to baptize a Believing crowd in the north-eastern part of India, near the Mizo Hill Country back in 1964. To reach the muddy pond we had to trek down the hill. It was cold and standing in the pond for a long time gave me cramps and leg muscle pain. But it was a great spiritual experience for me. With that indelible memory in my life, I can never erase a mental scene of the baptism of Jesus in Jordan; Jesus standing in submission, along with the publicans, soldiers and sinners. Jesus, who knew no sin, is now lining up, not for a private ceremonial pouring a table spoon of water on the forehead, but for a full dunking sinner’s baptism! Oh, the Son of Man!
Notice how Jesus handled the situation. John, who heard the confessions from both great and small, now like a lamb, said to Jesus “I need to be baptized by you”. This same Jesus, who in his famous Sermon on the Mount, with one sweep of his hand, set aside Moses, the very supreme law giver of Israel and said “you have heard of Moses, but I say unto you, suffer it be so now”. He told John simply “for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness”. By the way, you would have noticed, this is the second recorded words of Jesus in the whole of Scriptures. The first was his response at 12 years of age to Mother Mary during the temple visit “wist ye not that I must be about my father’s business?”
I must admit that there is an element of mystery here which is beyond me and for that matter beyond anyone else to expound. How did Jesus know, that after 30 years since birth, 18 years of waiting after his visitation at the temple, that this was the time and place – that Jesus should hang around near John the Baptist at this peculiar place? Did he get any special indication from God the Father? Or did he, as the Son of Man, take one step at a time like anyone else; or a combination of both? I will say in praise of both the Baptizer and the Baptized that they were in God’s will and not simply seeking God’s will.
John, a mere Man. Jesus, the Son of Man. Both experienced something great together; John heard the Son of God and saw him. Jesus heard from God “thou art my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” and saw the Holy Spirit in a bodily form of a Heavenly dove.
God bless, Danny Paul
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