When Jesus was about 30 years old, he visited John the Baptist at the Jordan River. This was some six months after John began his preaching and it was not merely to pay a friendly visit, nor for Jesus to know how John’s work is progressing. Jesus comes to ask John to baptize him.
But John understandably rejects. John says, “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14). John is aware that Jesus is God’s special Son. He also understands that the baptism he is performing is for those repenting of their sins. Yet, Jesus is without sin. Despite John’s objection, Jesus insists saying, “Let it be this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous” (Matthew 3:15).
The Bible tells us, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). What a moment this must have been for those gathered at the Jordan River that day.
Baptism is something that has marked the response of people to Jesus for 2000 years. In the New Testament, every time someone started following Jesus, they were baptized. For those who have decided to follow Jesus, baptism is the next step. There are two foundational purposes of baptism. In Christianity, baptism is not intended to be a private experience. When you claimed Jesus as your personal Savior, it was an intensely private experience. But once you have entered the family of God, there is nothing private about it. You are a part of the Church, the Body of Christ, brothers and sisters related together in God’s family.
Almost everything of spiritual significance that happens to you after your salvation happens in connection with your family – the extended family of God. And that includes baptism. Baptism is an ordinance of the Church of Jesus Christ. John baptized people. People didn’t get baptized on their own. In the early Church, following the Lord in the waters of baptism was the official, public pronouncement that a person was a believer in Christ and was part of the Christian movement. When a person chooses baptism, they are saying, ‘I am not just a ‘lone ranger’ for Christ. I am part of God’s family.’ Such a person comes into a family of mutual commitment, love and relatedness to one another.
If you desire to take the next step in your journey with God and follow the footsteps of Jesus, you can get baptized in the same part of the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized located in the Wilderness of John the Baptist!
One of the most popular baptismal sites and pilgrimage destinations is Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan– it is situated on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. All four Gospel writers mention Jesus’ baptism, but only John specifies the location as Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. John 1:26-28 says, “’I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan where John was baptizing.” Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan welcomes pilgrims from around the world.
The site consists of two distinct areas: Tell al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill) and the area of the churches of St. John the Baptist. Elijah’s Hill is where early Christians believe that Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire. Closer to the river, the extensive archaeological remains of early Christian churches is at the very spot where they believed Jesus was baptized. It continues to be a place of great religious significance to the majority of denominations of Christian faith, who have accepted this site as the biblical location where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
This site where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River became an important pilgrimage site from the 4th century CE. It encouraged generations of pilgrims, monks, hermits and priests to reside and visit the site, and leave behind testimonies of not only their religious activities, but also their devotions. The sick and disabled also came to Jordan for healing, as Jacinthus the Presbyter related in the late 11th century, “On the feast of the Epiphany cripples and sick people come and, using the rope to steady themselves, do down to dip themselves in the water: women who are barren also come here.” Even today, people come to those same waters for physical and spiritual healing.
The Jordan River plays an important role in the Old Testament as the border of the land that God gives to the Israelites. In the New Testament, John’s baptism of Jesus forms a seminal moment in the life of Jesus and marks a defining event in the Christian Church. It also altered the spiritual status of the water of the Jordan River. The Jordan was seen as the archetypal “river of life,” but also the site of a divine manifestation of God, for just as water had been the basic element that witnessed God’s creation, the Jordan had witnessed the beginning of the Gospels.
While many pilgrims flock to the Baptism Site, a rustic nature still exists that allows those who visit to enjoy the wilderness that Jesus experienced when He was baptized. Just outside of the protected park, many churches and guest houses have been built to accommodate pilgrims of varied denominations.
Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples their marching orders. These were His final words to them – the things He really wanted them to remember until His return. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Because baptism is a symbol of God’s grace and because it is a way to publicly pledge our allegiance to Him, Jesus commands it for His disciples. If you are ready to follow Jesus’ command, consider being baptized at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan.