The first time I saw Him was down by the Jordan. We had gone down there to see for ourselves what this man John was all about who was drawing such crowds, word about him had travelled as far north as Galilee, and we wanted to find out for ourselves. All our lives the whole of Israel had been buzzing with rumours of one potential Messiah or another, and we were tired of rumours and hearsay. So, innocently enough, we came down to check him out. We had no idea that this was the beginning of a sequence of events that would change all our lives forever, and, in fact, would change the whole world, though the world knew it not.
John the Baptiser was not like anyone we had known before, and we were convicted by his message of repentance, and joined with the many people who were confessing their sins and coming forward to be baptised. We knew what baptism meant: re-entry into the covenant with all its implications that we had been outside of it beforehand, and we acknowledged that we had been walking astray. We hung around: fascinated and energised, we became John’s disciples. We cheered inwardly when he put the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their place; none of us would have dared to call them a ‘brood of vipers’, or berate them for the hypocrisy we had often suspected. But as he lambasted them for claiming that descent from Abraham was all the holiness we needed, we wondered who Abraham’s true children were and what true holiness looked like. Surely one didn’t have to dress in itchy camel’s hair like John and be a wild man of the desert in order to be what God wanted? And who was John anyway? He claimed, over and over again, that he was NOT the Messiah, just a voice crying in the wilderness. We had a keen sense of anticipation that something more was going to happen.
Then He came. There was nothing, at a glance, to set him apart from any of the others, he simply lined up with the other men waiting for John to baptise them. It was John’s reaction that made us aware that this man was very different to all the others. “Behold,” he said to us, “this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
We had no idea what he meant, but we glanced at each other, and moved in closer. As the man came up requesting baptism, John became perturbed: “No!” he gasped, “it is you who should be baptising me!”
“No,” replied the Stranger, the Holy One, the Creator of all things, “ this is the way it must be done in order to fulfil all righteousness,” and John, with a strange look on his face did so.
We watched intently, certain that something important was happening, and thus we saw what took place when He came up out of the water, though most of the crowd heard nothing but a loud noise. But we saw and we heard and we bear witness that the heavens opened directly above this man and the form of a dove came down and lit upon Him, and a voice spoke out of heaven saying, “This is my beloved son. I am well pleased with Him.”
We watched, we listened and we marvelled; some time later when He called us, we became His disciples. But it was a long, long time before we understood.