Saturday, April 29, 2017

Behold the Lamb of God

"Behold the Lamb of God" declared John as he baptized by the Jordan and saw Jesus.  What follows is a short story retelling the events of John 1, Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3.  The aim of this story is to help us think clearly and warmly about this precious historical event in the life of Jesus Christ.  Enjoy!

The Lamb of God

There must have been three thousand Jews by the Jordan River when my Abba and I got there mid-morning.  I was thrilled to hear the Wild Man, the one called John.  Half-man and half-beast, at least that is what I had been told.  It had been a long walk from where we lived outside the walls of Jerusalem, but Abba had brought plenty of food and the donkey so I didn’t have to carry much.  It was also a much closer than Alexandria, where I was born.  Even with all the people, it was rather quiet.  Then, I saw him.  John was down next to the water and his voice carried like a strong wind.  He howled, “What are you doing here?”  Abba and I froze.  My Abba gripped my hand tightly and to this day I remember wanting to run and hide behind a large stone.  John pointed near us to a group of well-dressed priests, probably from Jerusalem who had come up the road to the River before us.  “Who warned you to repent and flee the wrath to come?”  John pointed a finger at the priests.  He was wild.  His hair was long and bushy and untamed.  He wore strange clothes that looked like something my friends and I might make out of spare hay back home.  He was a man, but he looked a lot like a wild lion roaring at the priests.  

The priests just stared at John.  My Abba quickly pulled my hand and we walked into the crowd.  John spoke again, “If you come to repent then do it truly.  You must bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”  Then, John’s eyes flashed as he glanced around to the rest of us.  He walked over to a bush nearby and snatched up a bug, a locust.  He gripped the locust in his hands and shoved the whole thing in his mouth.  The crunching sound was loud because we were all so quiet.  When he had finished he spoke again, “God’s kingdom is very close.  Do you think you are ready?  If you want to be ready for God, then it is time to repent.  Turn away from your sins by openly confessing them to God.  God is holy and will not be made the fool.  He knows.  He sees.  God is also loving.  The time to repent is today.  If you are turning from your sins then make the commitment public.  Do it so everyone can see.  Come down here with me into the water and I will baptize you.  The water is not your repentance, but it will show everyone that you mean to be done with your sins and to follow God’s ways.”

When John finished speaking there was stillness except for a breeze coming down from the hills.  Then two men went to John.  John led them into the water.  He held one’s hand and lowered the whole man into the water then pulled him up out of the water again.  He baptized the second in the same way.  Next four women went to John.  Soon hundreds were lining up to be baptized.  Abba squeezed my hand and smiled at me then started walking down to the water.  I knew Abba wanted me to wait for him.  Abba walked behind a short farmer and a carpenter from Jerusalem.  There were so many people getting baptized.  Shepherds and merchants, even a scribe, and many like us who did not have much.  Then, Abba went to John.  John took his hand and listened as Abba spoke to him and I watched then as my father went down into the water and came up wet and smiling.  He hugged John and began making his way out of the water back to me.

I waited until Abba had come and sat beside me then I hugged him close.  He looked toward the river and said “May the Lord bless and keep us and make his face shine on us.”  I knew to say “Amen.”  As the afternoon went on, John came back out of the water and the priests came up to him.  I looked at my Abba and he nodded, so I knew it was alright for me to get closer to listen.  One of the well-dressed scribes was asking John, “But who do you say that you are?  We are ordered to report to the Pharisees.”  John shook his head and spoke abruptly, “I am not the Messiah.  I am the voice crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”  Abba had made me begin to learn the Prophet Isaiah especially when we went to synagogue, but I would have to ask him what John meant.  The well-dressed priest pointed his finger at John and threw back at him, “If you are not the Messiah then why are you baptizing?”  John sat down and then said, “I baptize with water, yes.  But, among you stands one you do not know.  He is greater than me because He is before me.”  Then, a hand rested on my shoulder.  I looked up.  My Abba was there, “Come my son.  We must find a place to lay down for the night.”

We slept with some other farmers who were related to a close friend and I listened long into the night as the men discussed what the Lord was up to and the happenings around Judea.  As I fell asleep a picture of a great big man with big sandals kept filling my mind.

The next morning, the sun was hidden behind clouds.  A strong wind blew.  After breakfast, John began preaching about true repentance.  Today, my Abba and I sat very close because we wanted to hear everything.  “If you are truly repenting from your sins, then do not withhold good from those in need.  If one of you has two tunics, share with someone who has none.  If someone has extra food share it.”  As the wind blew, I remember feeling my Abba squeeze my hand and head back to camp.  He came back with the cloak that we used for a saddle on the donkey and he handed it to one of the farmers who slept near us last night.  

While John was still speaking, a man came over the hill and down the road towards the river.  When John saw him he stopped.  He said something that only a few close to him could hear.  I heard him. He stammered, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Then, John cleared his throat and spoke loudly like a lion, “This is the man I told you about yesterday, the one who ranks before me.”  The man made his way through the crowd and came to John.  “I have come to be baptized,” he told John.

John looked confused, “I need to be baptized by you.  Why do you come to me?”  The man smiled very warmly at John and placed his hand on John’s shoulder, “This is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  So, the two of them went into the water.  John took the man’s hand and lowered him under the water.  When the man came up out of the water, immediately the clouds began to blow and clear and a bright warm light shone all around.  It was amazing.  When John came back to the shore with the man, he almost whispered, “You may not believe me, but I am telling you that the Spirit of God just came on him and a voice said, ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.’”  My Abba looked at the man John had baptized.  Then, I looked at him.  He was smiling and wet.  He was not big like a soldier or well-dressed like the priests.  He looked like a Jewish man maybe from a poor town.  John had called him “The lamb of God.”  Then, the man walked right by us and looked briefly at my Abba and then down at me.  He looked bigger somehow.  His eyes were so big and warm.  I smiled at him.  Then, he was gone.

“Abba, who was that?”  I asked my father when we were at camp that night.  “I do not know, but Apollos I intend to find out.”

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