A Man Named John
(The Jesus Diary Continues)
The excitement of having seen Jesus again at the temple soon dissipated as I unfortunately lost sight of him again. Years went by, but my memory of this remarkable young man never went away. I couldn't forget the precocious maturity and poise that allowed him to interact as an equal with the Rabbis, including Gamaliel and my friend Yohanan.
As a result I continued my efforts to rediscover my lost Jesus, keeping an ear to the ground at all times. Whenever I heard a rumor of a stranger with miraculous gifts or a unique event no one could explain I jumped at the opportunity to check it out, as those were the kind of situations where I might find Jesus. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities were fruitless.
So, it was without much enthusiasm that I sought out a peculiar man named John, who was beginning to gather some followers with his unique style and message. He was preaching doom and gloom and urging repentance for sin. People said he lived alone in the wilderness and ate weird things, like grasshoppers and wild honey. He talked of something called "baptism." I wasn’t sure what that was. But thinking there might be a chance he could lead me to Jesus I sought him out.
I found him at the Jordan River, where he was preaching about judgment and perdition. Most people were taking it very seriously, but a few were laughing and joking at his appearance and style. I tried to get up close so I could hear him better.
He certainly was unique! He was wearing something that looked like the skin of an animal. I don't think he had bathed in weeks. But he looked healthy enough. Maybe all the bugs he was eating were more nourishing than I thought. He had a strong resonant voice.
As I listened to him rage about how we were all sinners and needed to repent, a number of people approached him and asked about this "baptism" he was talking about. Some of them wanted to try it, it seems, for they followed him into the water. He dunked them for just a few seconds and then said some words to them that I could not hear.
I thought this was very strange, but what came next knocked me off my feet. It happened so suddenly I almost didn't realize what was taking place. John's eyes blazed with excitement and his voice grew louder and faster. Then he calmed down and stared into the back of the crowd. Someone had attracted his attention. Then he startled us with a booming voice as he stretched out his arm and pointed a quivering finger.
"Behold! The Lamb of God!"
I turned to look, and there he was! Jesus! I recognized him immediately. He walked slowly through the crowd, which parted as he came through.
"He takes away the sins of the world!" John shouted.
There was no doubt this was the same Jesus I had seen so many years ago. He had the same confident look and piercing eyes that I could never forget. He glanced my way and I think I detected a glimmer of recognition. Later I would understand that of course he knew who I was, because he knows everything.
They spoke quietly together as if they were relatives, which they were. Jesus was asking to be baptized and it seems John was reluctant. He said Jesus was the one who should be baptizing him! Together they stepped into the Jordan.
All the while John continued calling Jesus the Lamb of God, and claiming that he takes away the sins of the world. I asked myself: What is a Lamb of God and what are the sins he is taking away? I was confused, and it seemed so was everyone else.
For as long as anyone could remember, there had always been a promise of a Messiah, a savior, a great prophet who would appear in Israel and rebuild the nation. He would be a new king who would overthrow the Romans. It was a very popular concept and people liked the idea of a strong powerful Israel.
Was John saying that Jesus was this Messiah, this king? If that was true then those strange men from the east who traveled to Bethlehem were right. And so was Herod.
I could not believe my eyes and ears at what happened when Jesus stepped out of the water.
The sky burst open with a bright ray of sunshine and a bird, a large dove, glided swiftly down. It hovered right above Jesus.
A thundering voice shook the earth: "This is my beloved son! I am well pleased with him. Listen to him!"
Just as suddenly, the skies closed and the bird was gone. The crowd was stunned into deathly silence. Then one voice was raised: "We have just seen the Messiah!"
The words echoed through the crowd, with everyone jostling to get a better look at the man John called The Lamb of God. If there had ever been any doubt in my mind that Jesus was someone very special it was instantly erased by this earth-shaking event.
Could it be? Could Jesus be the One? Could that small child whose birth I witnessed thirty years ago really be the king who is to come? The new King of Israel? The Messiah? The thought made me dizzy with excitement and anticipation.
I could not get that mighty voice out of my ears. It had called Jesus "My beloved son." Could this be who Jesus was talking about in the temple when he said he had to be about his father's business?
I recalled Rabbi Gamaliel's words that day when he predicted that Jesus would be making a name for himself at some time in the future. Perhaps that time was now. Today's experience left no doubt in my mind that Gamaliel was right about Jesus. I vowed to never let him out of my sight again.