At the River (an excerpt from BEHIND THE HALO)

Dear Reader, I’m thrilled that Behind the Halo: Exploring the Humanity of Jesus will be debuting in June! In the meantime I’d like to share a few of my favorite stories with you. 

     His dusty feet follow the harsh voice cranked up to fever pitch in the distance. He knows the preacher’s voice by reputation and by blood. The traveler quietly chuckles to himself, thinking how surprised his cousin will be. Then the traveler praises God for this man who is willing to sacrifice everything in order to be his herald. A shadow dips and runs across the traveler’s face as he glimpses his cousin’s ultimate sacrifice for doing God’s will.

     The faces and feet of people seeking encouragement and hope join the traveler as they all draw closer to the voice in the wilderness. Their hearts are hungry, their hands empty. Inwardly, a glimmer of a smile takes seed in the traveler. The growing crowd’s seeking hearts are fertile soil for the message of the preacher, and for the gift only the traveler can give.

     Those walking closest to him notice how his shoulders straighten and his head turns upward. Strange behavior in the heat of the day, under the sun that penetrates deep into you, creating a thirst that can’t be satisfied. Stranger still, the traveler looks straight up, a smile teasing the corners of his chapped lips. As the voice of the preacher becomes a face, then a man, the feet of those starving for his message quicken their paces.

      The preacher’s eyes seek a place to rest among the many who are already gathered along the banks of the river. He looks at each seeker as if he is the only one around. The preacher who came to show how they can be cleansed of their sins seems to understand what lies deep within each man and each woman. Laid bare are the ugly, the dark, the desperation…the hope without reason or promise. The preacher reaches out a rough, brown hand and tells each one that comes to the water that hope lies in repentance, and in The One to Come. 

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 The One to Come, the traveler, slowly squats down among the crowd, then leans against a rock to lovingly gaze at those around him. A tear escapes his eye as he watches them. One by one they hesitantly creep to the shore. He watches with devotion, and something like pride, as they succumb to the blessing of being cleansed, of going down into a pool of grace and coming up forgiven. Each baptism of faith is an affirmation of the calling upon The One to Come.

      It’s nearly time. The starving souls surrounding him hardly noticed him. The One to Come slowly stands and slightly shrugs, as if putting off a cloak. He bows his head for a single moment then looks toward the voice of the preacher… his cousin… his friend. It’s time.

      The raspy voice and rough hand find completion in the one they’re ministering to. With no uncertainty, no guile, the preacher looks at The One to Come, falling to his knees, hitting rock and sand, and cool, soothing water. His hands launch into the air as his face explodes with pure joy.

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            “My Lord! You have come!” The preacher’s voice has become that of a seeker.

            “Yes, I’ve come, just as you told them I would. You’ve been faithful, John.”

            “Lord, I’m not worthy to be called your servant. Wash me and cleanse me, oh Lord, from all unrighteousness. For your sake, not mine,” John implores his cousin, his friend, The One to Come.

            “No, John. It isn’t for me to baptize you. You have been washed and made clean by our Father, who is in Heaven.”

            “Lord, what is your will?”

            “Baptize me, John, for through my obedience men will repent and become sons of our heavenly Father.”

            “But, Lord, I’m not worthy…”

            “Baptize me, John, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

      Coarse, calloused hands gently cradle the holy head and shoulders that would bear the sins of the world. Deliberately, with eyes never leaving the face of The One to Come, who came to seek and to save, John lowers him into the muddy waters of sin.

      With a shout and a tear, John’s arms fall from that sacred head as The One to Come rises with triumph over Satan, sin, and death. The scene of baptism foreshadows his death and resurrection, and will become an outward symbolic gesture by those who choose to follow The One to Come.

     As a blindingly white dove descends upon him, and a voice, strong and loud and sweet, calls his name, The One to Come, who came to save, laughs out loud, knowing with all certainty that the Father lives in him and he lives in the Father.