I have to say that I love our small group. We are not a large group at all (sometimes just five people). But it is what it is: a small group. We have challenged one another and prayed for one another. The challenges we have face in the Scriptures and through each other’s thoughts have provoked many of us to struggle with the Word of God in a very healthy way. For this group, I am most appreciative.
Tonight, one member from our group shared with us something completely blew my mind. It is such a familiar passage of Scripture. I guess that is the problem I have most. When I know the Scripture well enough, there are times I just skip over it and go on to more “deep“ issues. Tonight was different though. I don’t know if it was because I had my head on straight or something but it jumped out at met like it had never done before. It is found in Mark, chapter 1 (the first eight verses).
This is the even of John baptizing people in the Jordan River. As I said, it is familiar. The part though I had never really thought about was that John, in the River Jordan, in the wilderness, was baptizing them. I never took time to consider the significance of baptizing people in the wilderness (some versions might say “desert place/region.” It carries the same significance either way).
Why the desert area/wilderness? The Jordan River is not a small river at all. He could have baptized them closer to the main city. He could have had a nice place in town and did his work down the street. I believe there is something more here to this event that we oftentimes overlook. It says that many people were coming from Judea and Jerusalem to be baptized by John. If that is so (and we believe it is), then there would have been a lot of people of all different types that came to him there. Rich people (perhaps tax collectors), poor people (beggars and such) and all those in between. Baptizing these people in the wilderness allowed for people to shed themselves of their status and confess their sins (big or small, many or few) on equal ground. There was no one to judge them or look down on them. It was a place where they could share all they needed to share and not feel guilty or shame for what they had done.
I am sure many people were surprised by who they saw while they were waiting their turn to be baptized. I wonder what it would have been like to see a Roman solider come out to the desert to find a man who he had previously thrown in jail for stealing bread on the riverbank. Could you imagine seeing these two men’s eyes met and see one another at the same place? What about a man who had sex with a prostitute? What if he saw that same prostitute on the riverbank when he arrived himself to confess the sin he had just committed with her? Could you imagine the awkwardness of the situation?
They were in a secluded place now. They could confess their sins and be baptized. The significance I find in this is when those people came to the river, they had a weight on their shoulders and as they left, they were able to shed off the weights of their sins and return to their towns changed and different. They really could be repentant of their sins (making a 180 degree turn from sin). I wonder what it would have been like walking back from that place, knowing that you were free from your sins. How would you or could you explain it to another person you worked with or knew in town?
Finally, I want to give some credit to John for his hard work. He listened to people’s confessions and then gave them hope. He did not beat them up or make them feel bad. He told them that there was someone coming who was greater than he. He could not even untie this man’s shoes. This man was going to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Each one left, knowing that something bigger and greater was going to happen. They were given hope to live (to the best of their abilities), as sinless as possible.
I wonder how John dealt with all that he had heard. How did he sit there and listen to so many people confess their sins? How did he go home that night and not think about what he had heard others tell him about their lives and secrets? The only thing I know is that God must have been truly gracious to John for all he had done.
I hope you will go and read Mark 1 and find the first eight verse of this amazing chapter convicting and challenging as I have. There is a lot of information about confession, privacy, and character in these few verses. I am so glad we looked at this tonight.