Israel and Jordan – 7
“John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.”
Today, we departed the hotel in Aman at 7:00 a.m. in time to arrive for a beautiful service at Bethany beyond the Jordan. In the Old Testament, the region was Moabite territory. Ruth’s native people were from this area. Here is the traditional place where Elijah departed in a whirlwind in 2 Kings 2 and Naaman the Syrian washed in 2 Kings 5. According to the Gospel of John, this is the area where John baptized Jesus. Archeologists have excavated 6 ancient churches likely built for baptism.
I taught from Mark 1, and Darrell Thompson read the scripture. Our group reflected on Jesus’ baptism, his identification with John and the people, and his commitment to the task ahead. Each of us passed a bottle of water and poured a small amount into another person’s hands to commemorate Jesus’ baptism.
After crossing the border, we met our Israeli guide and bus driver. We loaded the bus and drove to Qumran for lunch and a tour. The Essenes lived here during Jesus’ day. This reclusive community believed the end of the world was near. They followed Jewish law in community and were led by a “Teacher of Righteousness.” Because of their location in the desert, simple ways, opposition to the temple, and apocalyptic teaching, most scholars think John the Baptist was influenced by them.
This is the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. These famous scrolls include writings from the Hebrew Bible and other historical and sacred literature from the 3rd century B.C.-1st century A.D.
Following Qumran, we traveled to Masada, a vacation home built by Herod the Great that he never visited. This place became the last stand by the Zealots during the fall of Jerusalem. Josephus Flavius records the famous suicide of the last remaining families. Our guide recited several sections from their leader Eleazar’s last speech in this place. Our final stop was the Dead Sea before traveling onto the hotel in Jerusalem for the night.
When Jesus crossed over the Jordan into the historic land of the Moabites, he retraced the steps of the Israelites. Now as the new Joshua, he was ready to lead God’s people into a new kind of promised land– not one marked on a map, but one of heart, mind, and strength. It’s a place where God reigns “on earth as it is in heaven.” From this place, he committed to bringing in the kingdom of God and invited us to follow him.
It’s fascinating to think that as Jerusalem was falling in A.D. 70, the Gospel of Mark was being written. In response to the devastation of their capital, zealots retreated to Masada and eventually died. By contrast, the early Christians retold and wrote the story of Jesus to share a message of good news with the world. That news still lives today.