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John The Baptist, Jesus, and Baptism
 Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
  March 14, 2021

 All Rights Reserved

 



MEDITATION

Human consciousness isn’t static. It’s in a dynamic relationship with the transcendent. Jesus’ realization that all is God and that God expressed through him was reflected in everything he said and did. The first words of his public ministry were, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

I invite you to close your eyes and for the next few moments, just feel the loving Spirit of God surrounding, enfolding, loving, and breathing you.  Affirm:  “God is breathing me.”

In this time of prayer let us focus our power of concentration on God as the one presence and power in the universe and affirm our belief that all things are working together for our highest good and the highest good of all concerned. Whenever thoughts about the  responsibilities or challenges of life threaten to disturb your peace of mind take a prayer break. Find a quiet place where you can be alone, close your eyes and silently take stock of your strengths and skills. As you think about what lies before you on your path ask yourself, “Do I believe I am capable of handling this? Do I believe that with God I can be healed? Do I believe that all things are working together for my good and for the highest good of all concerned in all the comings and goings of life?”

In the stillness of prayer, remind yourself that there is nothing to fear. You are not alone or powerless. Quietly affirm, “God is everywhere present and God is my constant partner and companion in life.”

You have everything you need to overcome. Allow the Christ Mind within you to speak words of Truth to your human self until you feel God’s love flowing to you and through you as  a deep sense of inner peace. Repeat them to yourself throughout the day.

“I believe that God is always with me. I believe in God’s indwelling presence. I believe I can do all things that are mine to do with God as my partner. I believe that God guides and empowers me to make my world one of harmony, accomplishment and love. God is my help in every need. I believe in the strength of God in me and the power of God in all life. With God as my partner, I can overcome situations that have limited and imprisoned me in the past. God within me has the power to calm every storm. I believe in God’s power to heal and to bring divine order into every situation and condition of my mind, body and affairs. There is no situation beyond God’s help. Appearances that seem scary to my human mind can be transformed with God’s help.

God is everywhere present. I see through the eyes of God and what I see is good and only good. I see God in all persons everywhere. I hold to the realization that I am a spiritual being, created in God’s image and likeness. Through God’s spirit which is alive in me, I am able to stand strong and steady. I do not give way to fear or give up. I know that there is more light, love, wisdom, power and strength in me to draw upon and to release into the world.

I am open, receptive, excited and tuned into God and this wonderful adventure called life. I believe in God and because I know that God is within me, I believe in myself.  I am excited and joyous as I watch my life change and blossom. God has given me the ability to see past all the appearances of this world of form. I radiate an optimistic and positive attitude toward myself and life as I leap forward with spiritual courage to do the things that are mine to do.

As you turn your attention within and consciously experience the loving energy that created you and all of life, let go of any feeling of anxiety, fear or frustration. Feel the loving energy of God dissolving any thoughts or attitudes that keep you from expressing your Christ self, your true self.

There’s only one presence and power at work within you and within the world.  Whatever you are praying for, whatever your need, it’s really God that you’re seeking to know and express in your life. Relax into this loving presence and feel the power of Spirit of the God in the silence of prayer. (pause)

You are a spiritual being on a spiritual journey.  And into this healing consciousness of pure love, bring those people you are praying with.  See them as they truly are; whole and free spiritual beings. With every breath, let this loving Spirit flow from you into the world. The Spirit of God is upon you, it flows through all of us.  And for this truth we are deeply grateful. 

And so it is . . . Amen

JOHN THE BAPTIST, JESUS AND BAPTISM

Many of us struggle with our concepts of the church, Jesus, religion, God and the nature of reality. We find it hard to unlearn old concepts and open our minds to new ones because we receive these images in what’s called a state of ‘precritical naiveté.’ A childhood state in which we take for granted that whatever the significant authority figures in our lives tell us to be true is true. But in late childhood or early adolescence  we begin to develop critical thinking and are headed for a collision between our childhood beliefs and the modern worldview. A collision between our image of God and the image of reality we acquire growing up in the material world. As we continue to grow we have ‘Ah-ha experiences’ and moments during which we’re filled with a sense of connectedness, awe of nature, or an overwhelming experience of the mystery of life.  These experiences can carry us beyond the intellect to a discovery of the true experience of Spirit.

To summarize our last lesson, Jesus was deeply Jewish and remained so all of his life. He didn’t intend to establish a new religion.  He saw himself as having a mission within Judaism.  He spoke as a Jew to other Jews.  His early followers were all Jewish.

The historical Jesus was a ‘Spirit person’.  A ‘spirit person’ is different than a holy person, which implies a piousness or a moral quality.  A Spirit person is a mediator between the appearance that there are two worlds. The world of invisible Spirit and the world of visible matter. There is only one presence and one power but that presence and power has the unique ability to exist in different forms just like ice, water and steam are all H20 but are three distinct forms with different functions.

All of the Gospels (as well as the book of Acts) connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to his baptism by John the Baptist. Let me share a funny story about this topic with you.

History tells us that King Aengus was baptized by St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century. Sometime during the rite, St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the King's foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king's forgiveness. The Saint asked, “Why did you suffer this pain in silence?” The king replied, "I thought it was part of the ritual." His understanding of baptism obviously came up a little short. My main question for you to consider today is: Do you understand the full meaning of baptism, Christian or otherwise? Have you ever been baptized by immersion?

Water Baptism originated in the prehistoric Goddess rituals. A child was born, the community gathered in a circle with the women and newborn and its mother in the center and the baby was squirted with milk from the mother’s breast and named. The community recognized: “This Being is dead to life in the womb but reborn to life with us.” This still occurs in many African cultures today. Traditional peoples celebrate life as a series of births and deaths. At twelve or thirteen years of age, youths go through initiation rituals. They go alone into caves, sweat lodges, or to the middle of the desert to break down their focus on their lower nature so their inner nature can emerge.  They die as children to be reborn and guided in discovering their contribution to their tribe or culture. Many people in today’s world believe they are here to just get and often struggle trying to get their needs met. We are created in the image and likeness of God, the great giver. God gave us life and the gift of free will to live that life and make our own choices. Have you ever paused to consider that God intends you to give through your gift of life to your family and community? Have you ever asked God in prayer, “God, what would you have me do today? God what would you have me say to _____?”

So, the Christian idea of Water Baptism and the image of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden actually came from the Egyptians, predating Christianity by 1500 years. The Tree of Life rests in Paradise and Isis is up in the tree, pouring out to all who are initiates in her mysteries, eternal life. Water is a feminine symbol representing the waters of birth, the unconscious and Spirit, rather than ordinary material reality. The waters of the Nile gave life to the land and were considered sacred. Using the name Isis, a person would be ceremoniously dipped in the Nile or water from the Nile would be brought to the Temple and they would be cleansed, initiated and reborn into the mystery of life.  In India today, The Ganges River is sacred and Hindus believe bathing in it changes your life.

For John the Baptist water baptism was first and foremost an alternative to the requirement of animal sacrifice taught and practiced with great gusto by the Temple Priests (Who also controlled the resultant meat, leather and wool trades). Both the New Testament and the Jewish historian Josephus present John’s baptisms as a form of social protest and it was perceived as such by the Temple Priests in Jerusalem. Many people couldn’t afford the Roman Taxes and the cost of required Temple Sacrifices. If you didn’t pay Roman taxes they would punish or kill you. If you didn’t pay the Temple Priests their tithe you became a ‘non-observant Jew’ and labeled an ‘outcast and a sinner.’ John the Baptist offered such people an alternative path to God and a way to become a part of God’s family. Today, many modern Christians still associate baptism with joining a specific Christian community or church but have lost the original rationale for this act.

The Gospel of Mark 1:4, says John preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ In John’s time ‘sin’ just meant that you were considered a ‘non-observant Jew’ because you couldn’t or wouldn’t fulfill the requirement for Temple Sacrifices or tithes.

When the Aramaic was translated to Greek the word ‘sin’ used was an archery term which simply meant ‘missing the mark.’ It had nothing to do with what Christianity came to regard as ‘sin’ as a black spot on your soul.

The Jewish Historian Josephus is one of our primary sources for first century Jewish history. He often refers to John the Baptizer and his ministry but barely mentions Jesus, his ministry and the manner of his death. Several reasons for this are: John’s following was huge. His movement lasted longer and is historically traceable for hundreds of years following his death.

He says of John, “He baptized not simply for the forgiveness of sins, but for the purification following sin.’  In other words, John’s Baptism had a function similar to the animal sacrifices described in Leviticus 4:2, 6:6, etc. It may also have been a sign of joining the community of John the Baptist but neither the Four Gospels or any of the over 1000 references to John that have been examined suggest this and in fact seem to imply that many admirers outside of John’s community came to be baptized and they came multiple times and then went back home. “And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem”-Mk 1:5) It seems the baptism by John was an act that could occur many times.

Much of our knowledge about Jewish Christianity comes from three early Christian writings: the Recognitions of Clement, the Clementine Homilies and the Panarion of Epiphanies of Salamis. The Homilies and Recognitions are third century documents supposedly composed by Clement of Rome, an early church leader. It’s conceivable that in some earlier version they really were written by Clement, though most scholars don’t believe this and refer to them as ‘Pseudo-Clementine’ literature.

For our purposes it isn’t important whether or not Clement wrote them just that they contain a lot of Jewish Christian ideas. At least one fourth of each is of very early Jewish Christian origin and refer to Jesus as the ‘true prophet’ predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy (in contrast to John the Baptist). This debate was a characteristic early Christian theme. Scholars know this because of the extensive descriptions of Jewish Christians by Epiphanies in his most famous work ‘Panarion’, which translates, ‘Medicine Chest’ (Medicines to be used against the disease of heresy.), written in about 380 CE, over a half century after the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. ‘Recognitions’ includes a unique account of James the brother of Jesus in the temple and records the debates between Peter and Simon Magus. Epiphanius is an excellent source on early Jewish Christianity for several reasons:

1.  He has talked to individual Jewish Christians. He has copies of their writings in front of him and liberally quotes them.

2. He is a hostile source. He despised Jewish Christians and Jewish Christianity, thus he can’t be accused of manufacturing evidence favorable to Jewish Christians. If there was ‘any dirt’ on Jewish Christianity to be had, he would have it.

3. Epiphanius describes and liberally quotes from a number of Jewish Christian groups that held similar beliefs including the Ebionites, Ossaeans, Elchasaites, Nazoraeans and a Jewish group called the Nasaraeans. Newly translated Nag Hammadi scrolls confirm that he had original documents and the actual gospels of these groups before him. The Ebionites got their name from the Hebrew term ‘ebionim’ meaning ‘the poor.’ They believed in simple communal living, were pacifists and vegetarians. Jesus’ family is thought to have been a part of one of these groups.

These writings are important because they represent independent traditions of what John and Jesus said and did outside the New Testament and Orthodox Christianity and because they are Jewish.  After all, Jesus was a Jew who said, “I come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”

The earliest Jewish Christians believed that the primary function of baptism was explicitly a substitute for animal sacrifice. According to Recognitions 1: 39, “When God decided to do away with animal sacrifices, he instituted baptism to replace it.”  The Jewish Christians also believed that baptism symbolized or conferred forgiveness of sins. It was a ‘ritual’ to be practiced daily (Panarion 30:15.3), rather than a once-only sign of identification with a Christian community. While Homilies and Recollections contain no specific reference to daily baptism, there are frequent references to the disciple Peter engaging in ritualistic bathing. This is very important information which sharply contrasts with the later Christian church’s ‘doctrine of atonement’, in which, it is now Jesus’ death for us that achieves forgiveness of sins. Later in the New Testament, it is the shedding of Jesus’ blood that atones for sin and becomes the replacement for animal sacrifice. For example, in Ephesians 1:7, Paul writes, “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood.”

This is an important piece of information to understand because if we accept the numerous accounts of Jesus’ baptism from all of these different (often unrelated) sources, then we also have to accept that there was already in place an alternative method for purification from or forgiveness of sin ‘before’ Jesus ever approached his death on the cross. The fact that the rejection of animal sacrifice existed in the beliefs of Jewish Christians before Jesus’ death renders the whole later church doctrine of the ‘atonement’ superfluous because what the Doctrine of Orthodox Christianity said Jesus’ death is supposed to have replaced was already replaced before and when John baptized Jesus.

All of the Gospels, as well as the Book of Acts, the newly translated Ebionite Gospel and many others sources connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to his baptism by John the Baptist. John baptizes Jesus before Jesus begins his public preaching ministry.

Let me share alittle of what we know about John. According to the Gospels, John suddenly appeared one day in the wilderness, the desert area along the Jordan River bordering the Dead Sea to the south. Separated by river and sea, the territories of Judea and Perea served as the principal, if not the exclusive local of his public ministry. The Essene community of Qumran, once associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls is nearby. Now mostly translated, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found to have beliefs opposite of the Essenes who believed in animal sacrifice and in eating meat. (All things considered, scholars now believe they are possibly Pythagoreans.)

John is described as a vegetarian whose diet included locusts (a plant) and raw honey. He may have dressed himself in a garment of camel hair with a leather belt around his waist.  This was the traditional garb of a Prophet (Zech. 13:4). Dressed like this he would have resembled the prophet Elijah, and possibly he did this in a conscious imitation of Elijah as described 2Kings 1:8. This becomes an issue in early Jewish Christianity and we find these questions being repeated: Is John or Jesus the reincarnation of Elijah?  Which is the true prophet? Which is the true Messiah?

These questions were openly debated. The evolving belief of many scholars today in light of new evidence is that they both were because the true prophesy was that two Messiahs were required for the birthing of the New Age of God with Man. We’ll cover this in later lessons so that you can understand why the relationship of John and Jesus (cousins) is stressed in some of the Gospels but not all of them.

At one time John may have been an Essene but there is absolutely no evidence that this is so, only that John preached baptism and administered baptism himself in some personal way. Although his method isn’t described anywhere, it was probably a form of an immersion rite performed in the flowing or living waters of the Jordan River. John was also well known for his passionate call for repentance as a radical change, saying, “It is not sufficient to be children of Abraham.” In other words, it is not sufficient to be born Jewish. (A reference to the Temple Priests saying the only true Jews were the people who had been taken into Babylonian Captivity, remained pure, and returned to rebuild Jerusalem.) John called all people to an intense personal relationship with God and all who responded to that call had the right to be called Jewish.

John’s baptism is best understood as a form of social protest against the huge temple establishment in Jerusalem. His baptism provided an alternative to the functions of the Priests in the Temple who preformed animal sacrifice and became rich as a result. We’ll talk more about that in a later  lesson called ‘The Lost Lamb of God.’

John was very popular and had a contemporary named Jesus. Contrary to later claims, many scholars now believe that it’s improbable that they were biologically related, however there is little doubt that John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River before Jesus begins public preaching. This baptism is also the occasion on which the divine inspiration for Jesus’ ministry begins. On the occasion of his baptism, Jesus reportedly had a powerful, personal, spiritual experience, possibly a visionary experience. The gospels report that momentarily he saw into another world or dimension, as if through a door or ‘tear’ in a veil. “He saw the heavens open and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove.” And he heard a voice, which declared “Thou art my beloved son; with thee I am well pleased.”

This is a typical beginning in the Jewish tradition for a Prophet. A call is heard from another realm. A serious relationship with God usually begins after an intense personal experience of the Spirit of God.  We’re all called but we don’t all choose to listen. As Jesus said, “Many are called but few are chosen.”

Epiphanius provides us with the Jewish Christian account of the event when he quotes the Gospel of the Hebrews to show the Jewish Christian idea of how Jesus became God’s son. The Gospel of the Hebrews differs in a single but crucial respect from all the other New Testament accounts of this event:  “And a voice from the heavens said, “You are my beloved son; I am pleased with you,’ And then the phrase is added, “This day I have begotten you.” (Panarion 30:13.7) And this little ‘fact’ is why this is so important for the church to keep this information hidden.

(Note: We knew there were multiple other Gospels and writings. Many Gospels didn’t make it into the Orthodox Bible and were labeled heresy, banned, burned or hidden. These early writers obviously had these documents in front of them and quoted liberally from them. Scholars would ask the Vatican “Do you have a copy of?” They denied that they did or explained them away as ‘false teachings’. The discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi library (also known as the "Chenoboskion Manuscripts" and the "Gnostic Gospels" is a collection of early Christian and Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945 that changed history. At first the Organized Church denied these writing and actually said that someone evil from that time or perhaps even Satan had written them and buried them in the sand and in caves to be found later to confuse the faithful.)

The Ebionites chose the moment of Jesus baptism by John as the key moment in which Jesus became God’s son, rather than the moment of his birth. Jesus became God’s son by being ‘adopted’ by him rather than by being literally fathered by God and born of a virgin. (A spiritual birth or rebirth after physical birth so to speak through personnal transformation. This is consistent with Paul’s teachings.) This idea is called ‘adoptionism.’ There are two very strong reasons for thinking that this critical phrase was part of the original story and an actual event that happened involving Jesus and John that was edited out by the Orthodox Church.

1. The phrase “This day I have begotten you” directly quotes Psalm 2:7, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” This phrase and debate was still around in the second century and found also in the writings of Justin Martyr.

2. The whole thrust of the story of the Baptism by John with the image of the spirit descending from above is an Adoptionist Metaphor that completely contradicts the virgin birth story. The spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, which is one of the most celebrated of all Christian images, in both the Canonical version and the Ebionite version.  If Jesus were already the Only Son of God since the beginning of the world and already fully divine before his physical birth, this image would be completely unnecessary.

The most obvious explanation of the image of the spirit of the Lord descending on Jesus is that, at this moment, the Holy Spirit entered Jesus, even though this contradicts the Orthodox idea that Jesus was fully God even prior to his birth.

The Ebionites rejected the idea of the virgin birth and believed that Jesus was the human offspring of Mary and a Jewish and Roman man conscripted into the Roman army and sent to Gaul, where he lived, died and was buried. Joseph agreed to marry Mary and accepted the role of step-father to Jesus. According to the Ebionites and early Jewish Christianity, Jesus was a very human prophet who preached simplicity and nonviolence. If you read the Gospels again with this in mind, you will find that this is exactly what Jesus says about himself. He never claimed to be ‘the only son of God.’

It’s more conceivable that some later Greek or Roman, non-Jewish editor of the Gospel of Matthew who was unaware of Jewish history and custom (of which we know there were many) eliminated the phrase, (“This day I have begotten you.”) to preserve the Orthodox Doctrine of Divine Incarnation through virgin birth, not realizing that just the story of spirit descending upon Jesus, which was left intact, had straightforwardly Jewish adoptionist intent. Many Jewish Christians recognized this fact and resisted the push of this church doctrine.

This text also shows how different the concept of being ‘God’s son’ for Jewish Christianity is from modern Christianity. The saying in Psalm 2:7, (“You are my son, today I have begotten you.”) was originally addressed to David; but it doesn’t indicate that David was God incarnate. But rather, it is saying that David had a special relationship to God as his messenger or agent.  The Jewish Christian Gospel is making a parallel claim for Jesus.

For Jewish Christianity, Jesus never claimed to be God. Recognitions 1:45 says, “The same oil that anoints Jesus is poured out for all believers.” This is precisely what’s affirmed in the “Lord’s Prayer’, in which Jesus urges his followers to pray to ‘Our Father in Heaven.’ His meaning is that all believers are in some sense God’s children.

Jesus’ first vision is followed by a second vision. Spirit drove or led him out into the wilderness for 40 days, to be tempted by Satan to use his charismatic powers in self-serving ways. The word temptation doesn’t mean enticement to do wrong. It means a time of testing. A shift in consciousness is always followed by a test or temptation. Can you remember a shift in your consciousness, a shift in your thinking and believing immediately followed by a time of testing?

In the desert, Jesus underwent a period of extended solitude and fasting. This spiritual practice often produces changes in consciousness and perception as vital life energy (Kundalini) is directed from externals to the internal world. Native Americans describe this as a Vision Quest. It’s part of the initiation into the world of Spirit.

Part of the reason people in the modern world have such difficulty with the reality of Spirit is the disappearance of the deeper forms of prayer from our experience. We’re most familiar with a form of prayer where God is addressed with words, either out loud or internally for a brief time, often no longer than a few minutes.  Verbal prayer is only one kind of prayer in the Jewish/Christian tradition.  In fact, it’s only the first stage of prayer; beyond it are the deeper levels of prayer characterized by internal silence and lengthy periods of time during which one enters into the deeper levels of consciousness.

Moses and Elijah spent long periods of time in solitude and communion with God. Josephus writes “Galilean holy men regularly spent an hour stilling their minds in order to direct their hearts toward heaven.’ Jesus grew up practicing this tradition of prayer. This is also the classic discipline in Unity for altering our state of consciousness so that we can become intimate with the world of Spirit. Prayer, Meditation, sitting in silence and solitude and practicing the presence of God are all spiritual disciplines intended to shift the focus of attention from intellect to the heart and from the outer world to the inner.

The image of Jesus as a Spirit-filled person in the charismatic stream of Judaism is crystallized in the words with which, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began his public ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Jesus’ baptism signaled the beginning of his earthly ministry. The early Christian church wanted to be like Jesus, so they baptized new adult converts. However, the symbolism changed. When you were held under the water you were dying with Christ. When you were pulled out of the water you were being resurrected with Christ. We call that form of baptism immersion. Were you ever baptized by immersion?

Everyone would have been immersed if it wasn’t for the Dark Ages. For it was during that horrible time period baptism, itself, again changed. Moms and dads have always loved their children. The problem was that during the Dark Ages, the infant mortality rate was sky high. Parents were afraid their children wouldn’t make it into heaven without baptism, so they ran their newborns to the church to be baptized, just in case the unthinkable happened. Their desire was to wash away the original sin from Adam so they could enter into eternal peace. It is for this reason the vast majority of the western Churches practice infant baptism.

In the traditional Christian sacrament of infant baptism two things happen. First, we wash away the original sin of Adam. Within each newborn is a flaw that leads them to sin. Second, we recognize the importance of environment. Children are not born into isolation. They are born into communities. Part of that community is family. Part of that community is the church. The goal of infant baptism is salvation. We are promising to influence the child toward Jesus, our only hope of salvation. We want the child to wade into the faith gently. All of the doctrine that developed as the ‘one true church’ would be completely foreign to both Jesus and John.

Whereas John’s ministry was in the wilderness, Jesus would take his ministry north to the villages of Galilee and eventually to Jerusalem itself. Jesus would also contrast his own behavior and style of ministry, with that of John. John was an ascetic, eating only from his environment and not drinking any alcohol. In stark contrast, Jesus ate and drank liberally. He also enjoyed life, laughed, celebrated friendships and loved and cared for his family.

Throughout the ministries of John and Jesus, the ruler of Galilee and Perea was Herod Antipas. A woman named Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother but divorced him. Herod desired to marry her (forbidden as incest by Jewish law) but he was already married to the daughter of King Aretas IV, the King of Nabatea. When she learned that Herod planned to divorce her, she returned to her father. A war resulted from the insult in which Herod’s army was soundly defeated. This war caused by Herod’s unbridled lust for his brother’s wife created terrible hardships for the everyday Hebrew/Jewish people. John the Baptist strongly and very publicly denounced and criticized Herod for all of this.

John’s activities and his popularity posed a threat to Herod’s ability to maintain peace and stability. Therefore, he had John imprisoned and executed for political expediency at Machaerus, his fortress-palace in Perea, east of the Dead Sea. The method of John’s death is unknown. It’s possible that Herodias requested the execution of John but scholars believe it unlikely because in this patriarchal society, and from what history knows of Herod,  what Herodias, or any woman thought or wanted didn’t matter.

It is possible that her daughter, who is identified by the name Salome only by Josephus in his history of the Jewish people, danced for him and his court, but it’s also unlikely that a young, aristocratic Jewish woman would be asked to do this under any circumstances. It’s improbable that the daughter asked for and got John’s severed head on a platter.  This image and the dance is the product of Hollywood. A fine example of how fact and fiction can interact and how overtime create an alternate and totally false ‘history.’

What we do know today is that the disciples of John the Baptist continued to honor him long after his death and the Baptist Movement eventually spread to the Greek Jews. Among them was a man named Apollos, whose own baptizing activities intersected with the missionary work of Paul at Corinth and Ephesus some twenty or so years after the deaths of both John and Jesus. This is recorded in Acts 18:24-19-1; 1Cor.1-12, 3:4-6.

The movements initiated by John and Jesus were probably rivals during their lifetimes and there is historical evidence that this most certainly happened after their deaths.  John may have wondered whether Jesus would be his successor. The public may have considered Jesus to be John’s successor.  Jesus himself may have considered himself to be John’s successor, but it is more likely the recognition of Jesus as John’s successor first came from Jesus’ own disciples, some of whom like Andrew had originally been followers of John.  From the accounts of his life, scholars conclude that John the Baptist was much more in harmony with the Jewish Christian teachings than the later Orthodox Christian Church for which he is thought to have cleared a straight path – for the coming of ‘Jesus Christ.’

The picture of Jesus as one ‘anointed by Spirit” is reflected in the impression he made on others, his claims to authority, the style of his speech, the healings, exorcisms and miracles. There’s an authority in the speech of a Spirit person. A penetrating way they see, a power about their presence. Jesus was widely known as a man of Spirit. “Those who followed were filled with awe.”  “They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority.  It isn’t surprising that he attracted crowds.  “The whole city was gathered around the door,” “People couldn’t get near him because of the crowd.” “A great crowd followed him and thronged about him.”

Jesus called disciples as was common for a teacher within Judaism. But Jesus’ disciples are different because they left their homes and work to follow him. According to Mark, shortly before Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem, the inner core of the disciples saw him Transfigured, his form and clothing suffused with light and there appeared to them Moses and Elijah and they were talking to Jesus.  Spirit people glow.

The overall impression is that Jesus was one of those figures in human history with an experiential awareness of the reality of God.  He was a Spirit-filled person in the tradition of Judaism, which reached back to the beginnings of Israel.  His relationship to Spirit was both the source and energy of the mission he undertook.

He was Charismatic.  A person in touch with the power of Spirit who became a channel for the power of Spirit to enter the world of ordinary experience.  He was a Sage and teacher of wisdom who regularly used parables and short sayings to teach an alternative wisdom.  He was extremely intelligent and often turned the tables on those who tried to trap him with words. He was a social prophet, who criticized the political, economic and social elites of his time with an alternative social vision and was often in conflict with authorities.  He brought into being a Jewish renewal movement that challenged and shattered the social boundaries of his day, that eventually became the early Christian church.

Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17, Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 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 alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Questions for reflection and discussion:

1. Do you understand the full meaning of baptism, Christian or otherwise? Have you ever been baptized by immersion?

2. Do you believe in miracles, visions, and the other activities and experiences of a Spirit-filled person?  Have you had any of these experiences?

3. Do you remember having a shift of consciousness followed by a test? What happened?

4. Have you ever paused to consider that God intends you to give through your gift of life to your family and community? Have you ever asked God in prayer, “God, what would you have me do today? God what would you have me say to _____?”

   

 
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