In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. – Matthew 3:1-6
Welcome to the New Testament and the Gospel of Matthew. I have passed by the confluence into a “new river”. In the beginning of the book Matthew goes to some lengths to establish Jesus’ earthly lineage through his father Joseph back to Abraham. I think this was for the benefit of the Jewish leaders who might be more accepting of this unconventional King if his lineage could be traced to David and Abraham. Matthew also makes it clear that this baby’s true Father is God through the Holy Spirit. I think His earthly lineage is not so critical in establishing His credentials, at least from my perspective.
According to biblical scholars Matthew’s Gospel is structured and written to point out similarities and linkages between the life of Jesus (Yahweh saves in the Greek) and the history of the people of Israel, connecting the old water to the new. In the first two chapters Matthew is already pointing out “signposts” along the “old river” from Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2,4, Hosea 11:1, Jeremiah 31:15. All of these signposts were pointing to a savior that was to come and save His people, the Messiah.
This brings us to today’s passage which contains a very important “signpost” from Isaiah 40:3, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” This “signpost” was the subject of my post way back in October of 2015 and it was called “In the Hollow of His Hand“. I went back and reread that post and what struck me was one part of the post when God said through the prophet Isaiah “his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.” At the time I was puzzled by this part of the passage and I am still, but at the time I wondered if what God meant was that the reward for His coming was in fact us, the ones He came to save. This idea “swept me away” then and it still sweeps me away now.
The water reference here, the first one I have come to in the New Testament, is about the Jordan River. John is baptizing people in the river who have confessed their sins, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. The people who came to be baptized were being washed clean by the Jordan River, and the Spirit of God, who will soon show up in the form of Jesus.
The Jordan River has always represented a crossroads of sorts for the people of Israel, a point of decision. It has also represented a barrier between where they were (wandering in the desert) and where God wanted them to be (the promised land), a river that no one could cross. It is very interesting that John is using it here to commemorate a very important decision being made by the people coming to be baptized. They are at a very important crossroads in their lives. They are deciding the path, and Person, they will follow for years to come.
I made such a decision many years ago now when I was in college and God found me while I was looking for Him. God provided many signposts for me along the way to help me. That crossroads in my life has resulted in many adventures and a lifelong journey with God; part of which is this journey I am on exploring water references in the bible.
Prayer: God thank You for providing so many signposts to the Savior for me and others. Help us to heed their messages and seek out your Messiah every day.