Our brother Hannes made a public confession of faith in Jesus this past Friday morning at the traditional baptismal site of the Jordan River. Hannes is 23-years old, from Germany. In the past year he has become an important member of our community, volunteering in total four months. So at his baptismal, everyone was with him to celebrate.
Friday morning a caravan of two vans and one car rolled downwards through the Judean Wilderness towards the Jordan River. Any illusions we had of an intimate and serene gathering were punctured the moment we arrived by the foghorns of half a dozen 50-passenger tour busses, also at the river. Adjusting our expectation, we found a remote corner of shade to sit in together.
Jonathan shared thoughts from Romans 6 about the powerful symbol that baptism is, the death of the old man and righteous life of the new man, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Messiah.
Then something beautiful happened: looking down to the platform next to the water, we saw it empty, and no tour group in queue. We clambered down the stairs together, and gathered around the water for the quiet togetherness we had given up on. Jonathan and I waded into the water, which was pleasantly cool, and Hannes after us.
The waters of the Jordan are significant. The children of Israel crossed over them, leaving the wilderness behind and pressing forward into the promised land. Jesus too met these waters in his baptism, leaving youth behind him and going out to preach the gospel. However, it is not magic liquid, nor do the experiences of the Israelites or Jesus allow us to expect an easy path. Directly after the Jordan the Israelites fought the battle of Jericho. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted.
I shared these thoughts with Hannes in the water, encouraging him in the dual-reality of struggle and victory which followers of a crucified and risen Lord may expect. I asked Hannes if he is willing to embrace the wilderness of discipleship as well as its promised land, and he said “Yes, if necessary.” Jonathan quipped with a laugh, “O, it’s necessary!”
Hannes had asked for a theme verse for his baptism. Thought and prayer was given to this beforehand, considering who Hannes is as a person. In the autumn he begins studies at the University of Tübingen, one of Germany’s finest schools. He will be enrolled in Near East studies, learning Arabic and Hebrew, with a future in journalism. Knowing the man of promise our brother is, and the rich opportunities before him, we chose this verse: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33). Presenting him with this verse while in the water, our community also gave him a gift: a pocket-sized, multi-lingual Psalter in Hebrew and German.
Finally, it was time to get wet.
A couple of still shots:
The group on the shore was smiling and laughing, some clapping, and began singing one of our favorite songs, “Seek Ye First.” Hannes distributed wet hugs. It was like a resurrection.
By this time also, a tour group had finally queued. It so happened that they were Germans, and while waiting their turn at the water, they began singing German hymns, perfect for our brother Hannes!
We spent another hour at the site, enjoying pastries, coffee, and fruit, singing songs together, and sharing words of encouragement with Hannes. The whole event had the flair of New Testament hope and unity, like the early church flying off the pages into the heartbeat of our community.
Brother Hannes, an exciting future is ahead of you, we love you, seek first the kingdom!
PS - kicking ourselves for not getting a good community photograph!