What’s so special about the Jordan River? Today, Dr. Sri helps us look at the baptism of Christ the way a first-century Jew would have, explaining the symbolism behind his ministry.
Snippet from the Show
“This is the inauguration of his messianic mission. His public ministry begins now.”
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”Matthew 3:1-2
The Jordan River
All throughout the Old Testament, the Jordan River has been symbolic of new beginnings. The most prominent example of this was in Exodus when the Israelites were traveling to the promised land. Just before ending their 40 year-long journey from enslavement, they crossed the Jordan River, symbolizing the new beginning the promised land would bring them.
In the Wilderness
“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”Isaiah 40:3-5
Not only was the Jordan chosen for a specific reason, but the area around the Jordan as well. John chose to go to the side with the least fertile land, desolate from the rest of the area, and into the wilderness. This too was to symbolize the Exodus story, but as a symbol that Christ would lead the people out of the wilderness and into the land following his baptism. It was to show the Jews that the Savior is here and to instill hope for a new beginning.
“Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”Matthew 3:4
Even the clothes John the Baptist was wearing said something to the Jews about Christ’s mission. In the book of 2 Kings, we read that the prophet Elijah was famous for wearing haircloth and a girdle around his waist.
“They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins.’ And he said, ‘It is Eli′jah the Tishbite.’”2 Kings 1:8
John is purposefully dressing like Elijah to show that he has been sent by God as the new prophet, as the new Elijah. This was a very known prophecy to the Jews and was explained in the book of Malachi.
“Behold, I will send you Eli′jah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”Malachi 4:5
This was the last prophecy that was given to the people. Following this passage, no more prophets are sent. The Jews hear nothing by silence from God for centuries and await the new Elijah to make way for the Messiah. Through the clothes John the Baptist wears, they know it’s him.
The Example of John the Baptist
John’s entire life was dedicated to paving the way for Christ and leading others to God. The baptism of Christ launches his public ministry as the Spirit descends upon him. In the Old Testament, this often happens when a king is anointed, and the same is true here. As John baptizes Christ, he is entering into his messianic ministry, and stepping into his role as king. Let us hold John the Baptist as an example to pave the way for Christ and bring all those we encounter to him through our daily works.
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Meet Your Host: Dr. Edward Sri
Dr. Sri is a theologian and the author of several best-selling books. He holds a doctorate from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. A founding leader of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), Dr. Sri currently serves as its vice president of formation. He appears regularly on EWTN and resides in Colorado with his wife, Elizabeth, and their eight children.
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