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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 against?

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” (Psalm 51:10).

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 of God.

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