As we journey through the Holy Land of Israel for our Spring Churchwide Groups series, God of Miracles, we're taking a hike down to the Dead Sea and Jordan River, where the ministry of Jesus began. In Mark 1:1-11, we meet John the Baptist. See, John was Jesus' cousin, and he was a bit of a strange guy for his time. He lived in the desert and Mark 1:6 tells us he "wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." However, God used John the Baptist mightily by fulfilling prophesies in the Hebrew Bible that he would prepare the way for the Savior, or Messiah. He even baptized Jesus in the Jordan River!
Now, you may be wondering why John was so different from other Hebrew men of his time... See, John lived in the desert and baptized his followers in the Jordan River. This river feeds the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on our planet at 1,300 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is the location of one of the most important archaeological discoveries of our lifetime... the Dead Sea Scrolls.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
See, these scrolls are actually the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament ever found, and were hidden in the hills surrounding the Dead Sea for thousands of years. They were written by a sect of Jewish monks, called the Essenes, who lived in Qumran and worked as scribes writing manuscripts of the Bible while they waited for the Messiah to arrive. In fact, the origin of Christian baptism can actually be traced back to the Essenes, who would baptize themselves in a ritual bath as a way of purifying themselves before God. Many scholars actually believe John the Baptist lived in Qumran like the Essenes, which is where he likely picked up the ritual of baptism!
THE NEW ELIJAH
Just like that, John the Baptist became Israel's first prophet in over 400 years! See, John believed in his heart that his cousin Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. So, John baptized his followers in the Jordan River as an expression of repentance, which actually had incredible symbolism... Since the water in the Jordan River flows south to the Dead Sea, as people were washed pure in baptism, all their sins and shortcomings were washed away to the Dead Sea! All guilt...shame...failings...Dead and gone to sea!
The Gospels reveal to us that baptism is a change of mind that leads to a change of heart...To a change of values...To a changed LIFE! Now, you may be thinking...If Jesus was perfect, why did he need to be baptized? In being baptized himself, Jesus actually identified himself with us. He didn't step into the Jordan River out of his own need to be washed pure... but for ours! By wading into the waters of repentance, Jesus identified himself with all of sinful humanity... and through his baptism, in Mark 1:10 we get a glimpse of our awesome God!
Just as God called John to prepare the way for Jesus, God still calls ordinary men and women to give their whole lives to Him today! If you haven't called Jesus your Messiah yet, what are you waiting for? The time is now... repent and pray to receive God's Holy Spirit into your life and heart today!