On your Mark
The Jordan River protest movement
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt
around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message:
“After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am
not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8, NIV)
John the Baptist’s clothing certainly was not from Versace
or any contemporary designer of his day. Out in the hot desert he wore a thick
garment of camel’s hair and ate simply.
He had retreated early in life to the shimmering, blistering
desert — the lowest point on earth at 1,200 feet below sea level, just
north of the Dead Sea.
His appearance probably belied his age — burned dark
from the desert sun; calloused heavily on his feet, hands, and knees; hair and
beard untamed by comb and mousse — you would have thought him more an
eccentric hermit in his 50s than a prophet of the Almighty just turning 30.
John the Baptist was the sort of person you would expect to
see at the front of a demonstration. Modern newsmen might have dubbed him the
leader of the Jordan River Protest Movement. But what was John protesting
Religion without repentance: If the religion of the time had
met the people’s needs they would not have walked into the desert to hear John
and be baptized.
John did not appear in the wilderness preaching, “Improve,
for God is about to raise up a new society.” Instead, he proclaimed, “Repent,
for the kingdom of God is at your doorstep.”
Repent! Turn away from yourself, from your inadequate
religious or irreligious experience. Turn to the God of mercy and love.
Many a pulpit today concentrates on helping people make life
better. But life can only be better when we begin with the first word of the
gospel, the good news, REPENT!
Liturgy without salvation: The rivers of the Jordan were
lined with people who found no peace from the guilt of sin even though they had
gone to the temple and offered animal sacrifice, prayed prayers of penance and
trusted in the ecclesiastical system of the day.
Public or private acts of worship afford no guarantee that
sins will be pardoned or salvation will come. Even Pentecostal or charismatic
worship is empty if the performance of it calls attention to ourselves rather
than the God who saves us.
Liturgy without salvation involves performing the external
without affecting the internal.
John called for the response that honestly cries out to God:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”
History without fulfillment: Life in Jerusalem could go on
with little sense of impending crisis. In the desert, John knew history was
headed someplace. The Messiah was coming!
John did no miracles, neither could he forgive sin or grant
eternal life. John knew himself as unworthy. But Jesus is worthy. The baptism
of Jesus is greater because John could only use the external and physical
element of water in which to place a person; but Jesus baptizes with the
Spirit, a baptism that transforms us from the inside out and empowers us to
live for Him.
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies
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