Continued from Tuesday
3. So you could imagine our interest when rumors flew up the Jordan that a man named John was washing people in the River Jordan, not far from Jerusalem. He was calling Israel to repentance. God would restore us as a people, he preached, if we would just turn to the Lord with our whole heart.
Prophets like this one didn't come along very often. There were of course stories of the prophets from long ago, Elijah, Elisha. Even though they mainly prophesied in Samaria, we considered them our prophets because they were from the north, like we were.
About a hundred fifty years ago there had been the Teacher of Righteousness. He was a famous Essene like this John the baptizer. You didn't see Essenes everyday. They tended to live together in small, closed communities like the one at the Dead Sea. I suppose that made John all the more intriguing.
Then there was the way he called out Herod Antipas. Antipas had divorced his wife so that he could marry the wife of his half-brother, a woman named Herodias. She had divorced her husband as well. The situation was abominable in so many ways. First, it was not permitted for a wife to divorce her husband. Then for a man to have his brother's wife! The divorce of his first wife would eventually lead to a war.
Apart from God's intervention, a man like John would not last long. When you speak out against such powerful men, death is never far away. Several of us felt an urgency to see him. On the one hand, we did want to believe that God was about to do something special. Then again, John might soon be dead.
4. John proclaimed that God was about to send a true king. How subversive! If Herod the Great were still around, he would kill John just for saying such a thought in private, let alone in public! At the moment, we did not have a king imposed on us by the Romans. We had that vile Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who brought idols into the city of Jerusalem.
We wanted to believe John, that God was about to raise up and anoint someone to restore the kingdom to Israel. Imagine what that would be like, to live at the time when God raised up a messiah to restore Israel! John was "baptizing" people at exactly the same spot where Joshua led us into the Promised Land. It was like he was preparing the way for God to bring us into the land again, just as Isaiah prophesied about Israel returning from Babylon.
If we would only repent of our sins as a people, God would forgive us. God would restore us. There were plenty of washings, especially in Judea. There were miqvaot, baptismal pools, all over the place. But John's washing was different. He wasn't calling us to wash over and over again. He was calling us to wash once as a people, together. Then God would raise up the anointed one!