Today we marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry by visiting the traditional site of his baptism by John in the Jordan River. For most of the 30 years I have been coming to the Holy Land the Jordan River was totally inaccessible in the region where Jesus was baptized because it is the border between Jordan and the West Bank. Recently both the Jordanians and the Israelis have developed facilities for pilgrims at this spot and have opened it up so now we can visit it.
One of the most powerful experiences of the trip so far was the privilege of renewing our Baptismal Covenant with God in the very place that the heavens were torn open, the Spirit was poured out, and the Father said, "This is my beloved Son and in him I am well pleased."
After our moving and refreshing time in the Jordan River reflecting on the baptism of Jesus, we headed, like he did, into the unforgiving Judean desert wilderness. Wadi Kelt has the only spring for many miles around, so we can say with some certainty that this was the vicinity where Jesus fasted for forty days and sparred with the devil. We took a hike down into this dramatic ravine to visit the ancient Saint George Monastery.
Unlike most desert monasteries, Saint George's has been known since the sixth century for it's warm hospitality. The monks served us cold drinks and strong Turkish coffee as we wandered the ancient corridors and took in the beautiful views.
On our hike back out of Wadi Kelt we were besieged as always with Bedouins offering us everything from a cold drink to a donkey ride up the trail! Back in our vans we headed to a nearby desert overlook where we made lunch and enjoyed it together with some young Bedouins while soaking in the amazing desert scenery.
After lunch we had a moving time of worship and reflected on Jesus' forty days of fasting and testing in the wilderness. For many of us our concept of "wilderness" was radically altered by the seemingly endless barren ridges and valleys stretching for untold miles in every direction.
To top off the day we headed back down to New Testament Jericho and explored the excavated ruins of Herod the Great's Winter Palace situated on the mouth of Wadi Kelt as it opens up just west of Jericho. It was a chance to see an archaeological dig in process and get another glimpse into the opulence and self-indulgence of this self-appointed King of the Jews. It was fascinating to realize that Jesus and the disciples would have passed right by this huge palace every time they "went up to Jerusalem."
We have had an amazing four days in and around Jerusalem following in the Footsteps of Jesus! Tomorrow morning we pack up and head north to Galilee where we will learn more about how Jesus made disciples and built a spiritual family on mission. Can't wait to see what God has in store for us there ...