AFTER SOME months the news was brought to Nazareth that John the Baptist had come up the river Jordan and was now preaching at a place about twelve miles south of the Sea of Galilee.
The place where John was preaching had two names. It was called "Bethany beyond Jordan," there being another Bethany quite near Jerusalem; and it was also called "Bethabara," a word which means "the place where one can walk across the river"; for there the river Jordan was so shallow that people waded across it.
John had chosen this place because the sloping shore beside the river was fitted for the crowds to listen to his preaching, and the shallow water was near at hand for baptizing the people.
Bethabara or Bethany was about twenty-five miles from Nazareth; and over the plain just across the hill was a road leading down to the river at that place, where people used to cross the Jordan on their way to the land of Decapolis and Perea beyond. Nearly all the people had heard John preach, and most of them had been baptized by him as a sign that they promised to turn from evil and do good and look for the King who was soon to come.
Jesus felt that the time had now come for him to begin the work to which God had called him. He had told no one of his purpose, not even his mother; but one day he left his carpenter shop to his younger brothers, who were now young men and able to care for their mother.
He walked down the valleys, came to the river Jordan, waded the stream, and at Bethabara, in front of a crowd of people from every part of the land, for the first time he saw John the Baptist. No doubt Mary had told her son all the story of the angel by the altar, of John's birth and of his early life; but in all the years Jesus and John had never met.
Jesus listened to the words of John, and then with the others he came forward to be baptized. John looked at this strange young man who was drawing near, and as he looked the voice within him said:
"The long-promised King has come! This Man is He!"
John felt that here was one who needed no baptism; for he knew that this man had no sins to give up, and was already doing God's will perfectly. He felt unwilling to baptize him, and said:
"It is not fitting that I should baptize one so good and so great in the sight of God as you are. I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
But Jesus answered him:
"It is best that it should be so. Whatever is right for other men is right also for me. Let me do this as my duty to God."
Then John yielded to the will of Jesus and baptized him. Just as Jesus rose out of the water a strange thing happened.
While he was praying a light flashed from the sky and seemed to rest upon the head of Jesus like a white, shining dove coming down upon him; and a voice was heard somewhat like a peal of thunder. Those standing on the shore felt that some words were spoken, but they could not understand them. John alone heard and understood. It was the voice of God, and John afterward told the people that these were the words spoken:
"This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased."
At that instant a mighty Power came upon Jesus. The Spirit of God had always been with him and had caused him to feel that the Lord was fitting him to do some great work. But in that moment when the light from heaven fell upon him and the voice of God was heard, Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God as no man, not even the greatest of the prophets, had been filled before. He knew now that he was not only a prophet, one who hears God's voice and speaks God's words; but more than a prophet, he himself was the Son of God.
He saw as in a flash what was God's plan for his kingdom on the earth; and that it was a kingdom far different from that expected by the Jewish people. He knew that he, who up to that moment had been the woodworker of Nazareth, was from that hour to be the Prince of the heavenly kingdom.
He was to lead the people to God and to show in his own life how men should live. He was to bring God down to men and to bring men to God. All this and more that we cannot understand came to the soul of Jesus as he stood on the brink of Jordan with the light of God upon his face.