I am leading a tour group of pastors through the Holy Land. Our group is about a dozen clergy, spouses, some dedicated lay people from their churches, and a father with his teenage son. A few days into the trip, the father and son asked if the young man could be baptized here in Israel.
Wow. Easy answer. Yes! Of course. “But where?” Easy answer, too. “We can baptize him at the place of our Lord’s baptism.” We made our plans.
Qasr el Yahud has been a busy place throughout history. Joshua entered the Promised Land here. Elijah the Prophet ascended into heaven here. John the Baptist preached and baptized here. And most importantly, Jesus was baptized here. We arrived a minute or two before the Israeli’s closed the site for the day.
The pastors and I stood near the waters of the Jorden River which are, as the song says, still “muddy and cold”. I executed the ‘planned portion of our program.’ Next, the dad and his son entered the water for this deeply moving family moment.
Dad: “Son, I am so proud to be here with you. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and promise to follow Him as your Lord?”
Son: “Yes, dad, I do,” he said.
And in the name of the Trinity, the boy swayed back into the drink, under the murky, frigid water. When he stood upright, those who were there applauded and cheered. The boy stood up, hugged his dad, and walked up the steps.
But someone else had stepped up too.
A man I had never seen before came to me and with a thick French accent asked me to baptize his wife. Okaaaay…I thought. This is a first for me. Usually, baptisms are planned family events. These are ‘ceremonies’ and ‘moments’ at churches or venues where people can be invited and cameras can be readied. But here was a stranger asking me to baptize his wife…in an unplanned moment.
“Where is she?” I asked. “She’s standing there…” and he pointed to a lovely, dark-haired woman eagerly standing at the steps of the Jordan dress in a white robe. I asked one of our pastors to quickly hear this young couple’s story to see if this was a true moment of faith or a holiday photo-op. (One cannot be too careful, you know. Can one?)
Their story was sweet. A young chef from Marseilles, traveling with new Brazilian wife of five months; members of a local church in France; passing through on their way to Bethlehem. They came to the place where Jesus was baptized to see if there might be a little more room in the water today. Sounds biblical.
In fact, it reminded me of the New Testament story of the traveling Ethiopian who asked to be baptized impromptu.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. (Acts 8:36-37)
She entered the water and stood next to the teen’s dad (doing double-duty today). He asked her about her faith. She spoke a smattering of English and answered his question in triplicate. “Do you believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and promise to follow him as Lord?” She said with joy, “Si! Yes! Oui!” And she went under, too.
That’s when the dove showed up. Yes, a dove. A white dove. Also unplanned. But perfect.
This is the Holy Land. Time after time, day after day, events, both planned or surprising, drive the deep truth home again and again. It is all real. It all happened. And it still continues.