The Time to Fade
It was a humid day in the Palestinian territory of the Roman occupation. The hot sand jumped into his sandals, burning the bottoms of his feet. As he neared the Jordan, his eyes swept over the mass of people. It seemed as though this was the only place in all Israel where everyone could gather, regardless of social or economic status. Business people, tax collectors, soldiers, the average Joe. . .are those Pharisees over there on the edge of the crowd? No, no I don't think so, but one has to admit, it is an impressively diverse assembly.
Above the low-toned murmuring of the crowd, a solitary voice rose, strong and gruff. Although the people continued to talk, the voice sounded across the plain with unwavering pitch and strength.
"Bear fruits worthy of repentance and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our Father,' for I say to you that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones! And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Those who were listening stepped back in an awestruck hush. This man pulled no punches. He was not only unconcerned with pleasing and pacifying people, but he seemed to almost go out of his way to shock and offend, especially the pseudo-religious crowd. Who was he, this camel skinned, bug-eating desert lunatic? The only thing he would say about his identity was some cryptic quote from the prophet Isaiah, something about a voice crying out in the wilderness. Yes, that was easy enough to see, but who was he?
By the time the man had picked his way through the crowd and to the edge of the water, there was already a line of people waiting to be baptized. He stood quietly and patiently with the rest of them. The Baptist handled each person with authority and surety, knowing that his message and mission had been ordained for him by God. As he reached out to take the stranger's hand, he glanced up into his face and immediately shrunk back. Fear would be the wrong word. Wonder, perhaps. Struck dumb for a few moments, he looked innocently into the man's face, confusion mingled with hope. It seemed as though the Baptist must have been having a telepathic argument for after a few moment of silence he quietly said, "No. No, I need to be baptized by you and are you coming to me? I am not even worthy to lose the straps of your sandals, let along baptize you for the remission of sins?! You - "
"John, let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."
With trembling hands he received this simple, strange man into the waters of the Jordan. As he came up, the Baptist heaved a heavy sigh, as though relieved to be finished with this task. But no sooner had the responsibility been lifted from his shoulders than his face turned towards heaven as a sound echoed across the landscape. Some said it was thunder, but John swore it was the voice of God bellowing from the clouds, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The skies parted and something like a dove alighted on the man - the Spirit of the Living God.
Moments seemed to stand still and the scene became posed as a snapshot, as if waiting for artists of future centuries to paint it. This once roaring lion had become a gentle lamb, and the great prophet that crowds had thronged to see was now diminutive in the presence of this young Nazarene. The man turned and walked away, heading out towards the desert. When he was half-way through the crowd, words burst forth from my lips and I, I John the Baptist, cried out with all the strength that was in me, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!!!!"
There is was, my last hoo-rah. Even after I spoke I questioned what I'd just said. This man? Was this man really the long awaited Messiah? His callouses testified that he was a working man. His simple garments were typical of an ordinary peasant. He was not tall, or muscular, nor even particularly handsome. In short, there was nothing at all even remotely impressive about him. He was a simple man, not the warrior King we'd all been expecting.
But as I watched his lone figure fade into the distance, my mind raced back to the Messianic prophecies that spoke, not of a king who would conquer the Romans, but rather of a king who would conquer the hearts of men. He would not save us from the oppressive tyranny of Rome but from the oppressive tyranny of sin. His kingdom would not be of this world. He had come to set things right between a holy God and a rebellious people. But before he could win our hearts, he must first become like us, clothed in mortality, with all of our frailty and needs. Yes, this was He, the Messiah. He came with nothing but a thunder clap and dove to announce his arrival, but he had come.
I realized something else in that moment. My job was done. My purpose in life was completed. At the age of 30 I had accomplished my mission. The promise was about to be fulfilled and there was absolutely nothing I could do to move the process along. The Desire of Nations had come, and now, he must increase and I must decrease.
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