"I told you, I am not the prophet!"
"Then tell us who you are!"
The proud Pharisee had badgered John with questions for the last half hour. Their uncomfortable standoff was finally interrupted by a young scribe who stepped forward to offer a more gentle request.
"Please. We need to know."
Frowning, John inhaled deeply. He knew why this group from Jerusalem had come to see him. The Sanhedrin cared only about stifling behavior which looked like rebellion against Rome. The Pharisees cared only for their position. Dash in, create a sensation, flaunt their authority. Then march out, heads held high, waving their robes and flashing their blue tassels for all to see. Just for show.
John's shoulders drooped as a sigh escaped his lips.
"I am merely a voice, crying in the wilderness." 1
The young scribe tugged on the Pharisee's arm, and the group moved away. John returned to the river and the most important thing: God's call to him, and his call to the people on the shore.
He ran his fingers through the cool water, glad to be done with the heated discussion. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he noticed the committee had decided to stay. A change of heart perhaps? John chuckled inwardly. He knew better.
Refocusing on the souls around him, he flung his hands into the air, sending up a spray of water. Smiling to the crowd, he urged them again to be baptized. A young boy trotted into the water as his parents watched, and John welcomed him with open arms.
Minutes later, he heard a sound at the water's edge, and turned to look in its direction, only to see a man standing there. Chills ran across John's body and down his arms, causing every hair to stand. John swallowed slowly, watching the man as he left his sandals with his staff and mantle. The water gurgled around the man as he strode toward John. John felt his heart race. Could it be?
"Behold the lamb that takes away the sin of the world!"2
John's breath quickened. Did he really just say that? Oh yes, he did. He glanced at the shoreline. The Pharisee was glaring at him.
"Baptize me, John."
John's eyes grew wide. Seriously? "But, but, I'm not even worthy enough to untie your sandals!" He looked past the man toward the shore, adding nervously, "That is, if you still had them on."
John winced. Such a stupid thing to say. But his cousin only smiled.
"Come on, John. Baptize me."
John's hands trembled on the surface of the water, and he choked back a sob. Looking up into his cousin's eyes, he whispered, "Jesus, I didn't know it would be you!"
Jesus' hand was on his arm. "John. Do it."
"But you should actually be baptizing me."
Jesus leaned toward John and spoke softly, "You know, John, I think that's already happened."
Now John couldn't hold back his tears, remembering his father's words from many years ago. The angel said he would be filled with the Spirit, even before he was born. 3
"Right. Right. Filled with the Spirit of God. Baptized."
John nodded, unable to speak further. He took Jesus' hands in his, braced himself, and then... slosh! He thrust Jesus under the water with such force, it folded together with a smack. The backlash caught John in the face, mingling with his tears. In mere seconds, he pulled Jesus up just as forcefully, breaking through the water coffin. The runoff splattered everywhere as Jesus stood before John, soaked and dripping.
A rumble of thunder shook the ground. God had spoken! John stepped back and gazed at the new man, now bathed in the Holy Spirit. Jesus' eyes met John's thoughtful look.
Movement on the shore caught their attention. The committee members were chattering furiously, their tassels bouncing up and down. Jesus nodded toward the commotion.
"Think they'll understand?"
John shrugged. "Some will, perhaps. You would know better than I, Lord."
John watched as Jesus strode out of the river, looking back only once to playfully fling water in his direction. John laughed at his cous– no, his LORD – and marveled. Yes, the Pharisees had their showy display of tassels. But John was certain Jesus' life would be a much better public display, for He would disarm rulers and authorities.
1 – author's paraphrase of John 1:23, NIV
2 – author's paraphrase of John 1:29, NIV
3 – Luke 1:15b
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