Kvutzat Kinneret, Northern District, Israel

October 6, 2019

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11

The exact spot in the Jordan River, stretching from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist could not be ascertained. Tradition placed it on the east bank opposite Jericho. That Jordanian site had not been developed for visitors, however. In its place, Yardenit Baptismal Site was established further upstream at the Sea of Galilee’s southern tip. It had become the go-to place for Christian pilgrims and tourists to be baptized or renew their baptismal vow in the Jordan River.

Baptism in the Jordan @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret
Yardenit Baptismal Site @ Kibbutz Kinneret

Yardenit offered white robes for rent and enclosed baptismal areas with metal fences. The chest-deep, lazy waters of the Jordan proved ideal for total immersion, the actual meaning of baptism. It was our tour group’s final stop for the day, but the site was still busy. Quite a few Protestant believers had formed circles in the river, singing the hymn I Surrender All in a strange language. Four from our group decided to follow Jesus and changed into their baptismal attire.

Group Water Baptism @ Jordan River, Yardenit Baptismal Site

The Jordan River had been spiritually significant since biblical history to both Jews and Christians. Its exposed riverbed cleared the entry of Israelites led by Joshua to the Promised Land. Its mild waters delivered God’s healing to the leper Naaman the Syrian. Perhaps the river’s role in these transformative events made it the perfect choice for the site of Jesus’ baptism. Christians had since declared their belief and faith in Jesus Christ through water baptism.

What, then, is the path to holiness? It’s the same as the path to wholeness. And we are never “there” yet. We are always just in the river. Don’t try to push the river or make the river happen; it is already happening, and you cannot stop it. All you can do is recognize it, enjoy it, and ever more fully allow it to carry you.

Richard Rohr
Group Water Baptism @ Jordan River, Yardenit Baptismal Site
TTT @ Jordan River, Yardenit Baptismal Site

My sister and brother-in-law along with two friends donned their white robes. I was tasked to document the proceedings. Our pastor, Hizon Cua, delivered the baptism message, focusing on two biblical accounts. He began with Cornelius the Centurion who came to know and believe in the Christ through Peter. The Roman army commander and his household were immersed in water to symbolize their conversion and newfound faith.

“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:47-48
Pre-Baptism Sermon @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 

Acts 8:36-39

The other account was that of an Ethiopian eunuch who came to faith in the desert and was baptized by Philip. A controversial interpretation, not our pastor’s, suggested that the aforementioned eunuch was the first gay Christian. Regardless, both accounts were about the conversion and baptism of non-Jews – in other words, Gentiles. The message emphasized the radical, not only racial, inclusivity of Christianity that Jesus Himself demonstrated in His earthly ministry and commanded in the Great Commission. He was woke before it became a convenient, self-serving buzzword.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20
Baptism in the Jordan @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret

My sister, previously baptized, renewed her public declaration of faith in solidarity with her hubby who finally decided to go through with it. Water baptism was a one-off ritual unlike the Holy Communion. I could still remember my baptism when I was a boy of 10. It was no less definitive in the church’s baptismal pool as in the River Jordan.

Baptism in the Jordan @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret
Post-Baptism Prayer @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret

The river also gave a glimpse of the land’s flora and fauna. Wading water birds were constantly scouring the shallows for fish, unmindful of religious comings and goings. It was like an oasis teeming with life. The lower Jordan, though, was said to be dying with human waste and industrial pollution.

Ram @ Jordan River, Kibbutz Kinneret
Heron @ Jordan River, Kibbutz Kinneret
TTT @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret

What a blessing to have seen the life-giving, environmentally and spiritually, stretch of the Jordan. I reflected on an aspect of Jesus’ baptism not commonly discussed – the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. My pastor, Herman Moldez, described it as akin to seeing the invisible presence of God. While baptism itself was simply symbolic, the anointing of the Spirit was the actual transformation. It ushered in Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was His resurrection after His crucifixion. It was the breath of new life to a new believer.

I think that Resurrection (what ever it exactly means) is so much profounder an idea than mere immortality. I am sure we don’t just “go on.” We really die and are really built up again.

C. S. Lewis
Lupine @ Yardenit Baptismal Site, Kibbutz Kinneret

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