Along the muddied banks of the Jordan, thin reeds, the color of sage, reached toward the sky, bending gently in the breeze. A silver mist clung to the water’s surface, and as the sun pierced the clouds, the haze glistened in the morning light. I would have preferred solitude, being alone with my thoughts and reflections. But there were other travelers standing along the water’s edge this morning. They had come, like me, to pay homage to this sacred place and all that had transpired here.
A surreal sense of tranquility hung in the air. Human voices had faded to muffled whispers, as if to acknowledge the respect and silence that the river demanded. The only other sounds were those created by God himself — the fluttering murmurs of the birds in the trees and the gurgling melody of the water as it made its journey to the sea.
I leaned against the cold steel of the railing, a modern-day boundary built along the river’s edge. Its bright blue paint symbolized a contrast of the new versus the old, a reflection of our world today versus our beginning. I watched the flow run steadily past me, carrying leaves from the palms that dotted the banks. There were deep furrows etched along the surface, like scars on an ancient warrior.
The river was narrower than I had imagined, hardly twenty yards at its widest point. The eddying stream was the color of burnt jade, dark and murky. The ripples spun and turned along their path. As I reflected on all that the Jordan had witnessed over the centuries, I was suddenly struck by my own frailty and insignificance.
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it must have been like. As the warmth of the sunlight touched my cheeks, I began to see it unfold before me.
There to the south, in the shallowest part of the river, stood a man. He had appeared one day walking out of the desert wearing clothing of camel hair and a leather belt. His name was John. He was gaunt, with hair the color of wood smoke and a beard tangled and twisted as a fisherman’s net. His face was dark as tarnished bronze and weathered. Even from a distance I could see his deep-set eyes gleaming in the sunlight.
On the shore behind him, a small fire burned, sending wisps of blue smoke curling into the air. Huddled near the flames, seeking shelter from the morning chill, sat two of his followers. These men had left the lives they had known, committing themselves to his teachings and to the God he had been sent to prepare the way for.
I peered through the slate-colored mist and could see a second figure emerge from the opposite bank. He was tall, clad in a simple alabaster robe that hung to His sandaled feet. Hair, the color of cinnamon, fell to His shoulders, and I could see His mahogany eyes shining in the sunlight like a candle flickering in a gentle breeze. I knew instantly who He was, and I felt my heart race. I watched Him as He stepped into the river and made His way across to the other side where John stood. Waiting.
When they came together, Jesus gently caressed the man’s face, like a father’s loving touch of his only son. Then they waded toward the middle until dark streams of water swirled around their waists. And I watched as John baptized Him, just as he had done to so many others before Him.
As our Savior’s head emerged through the surface, a dazzling beam of light cascaded through the clouds like a dove sailing toward the earth. And a thunderous voice sounded from the heavens, shaking the ground around me: “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Wind gusted across the surface of the Jordan, churning a pale blue mist into the air before disappearing, as if sucked into the clouds. As quickly as it had departed, calm once again settled over the ancient river.
The images in my mind began to slowly fade. My eyes fluttered open, and I squinted into the morning sunlight filtering through the trees. There was a sweet smell in the air, like honeysuckle, and I took a deep, calming breath, awed by the moment. I knew I could never fathom what it would have been like that day. Had I been standing there in the shallows when the Holy Spirit spilled down from heaven, the beauty would have been like none ever seen by human eyes.
Below me, the dark water flowed. Always moving. Relentless in its journey. This river had seen many extraordinary miracles over the centuries. Sins had been washed away. New lives had been formed. Like so many of us in our modern world, there would have been people who had lost their way. People who had stepped into the water, broken and full of despair, only to emerge with joy and peace in their hearts. Free of the bondage of sin.
I knew this moment along the Jordan would remain with me for as long as I lived. Overwhelmed with gratitude, I knew I would always be reminded of the power and glory of God in one of His greatest creations.