By David C. Cook III
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CRACK! Out of the blue
the skies open before me. I can actually hear the sound of the CRACK as it
breaks the time barrier. Traveling back through centuries of time and space
faster than mind can think I awaken to the warmth of the sun on my closed
eyelids. The pleasant scent of wild growth and the peaceful sounds of birds
chirping reassure me, so I open my eyes. I am looking up through lacy branches
watching sun beams radiate down in rhythm to the soft breezes. Slowly I arise
and discover that I am standing on what appears to be a narrow animal trail.
Both sides of the path are bordered by huge trees, dense underbrush and marshy
grasses. Walking along the trail I see a scattered growth of gnarled sycamore
trees, their branches twisted outward in a myriad of mystical shapes. Vines curl
around the tree trunks spiraling upwards through thick foliage intermingling
with leaves and branches. Occasional bird calls reverberate throughout the
forest. The decaying leaves, moss, marsh and wild flowers fill the air with a
pungent but pleasant odor.
Now the trail grows
smaller. Long thin branches scratch my face and hands as I break my way forward.
The path turns soft and marshy. Thick foliage blocks my passage. I have reached
a dead end. I am closed in - by the woods - by the swamp - by scrubthorne bushes
- by every living thing excepting the trail which led me to this perilous spot.
Which way shall I go? To my left? To my right? Straight ahead through the
pathless forest? Something seems to draw me onward. I will turn to my left and
forge my way through the wilderness, shoving my way through thickets and
stagnant pools, stumbling over rocks and roots, gasping for air, I push on. The
sharp edges of tall reeds and bramble bushes grasp and rip my flesh and
clothing. I am overcome by a sense of urgency to free myself from these perilous
surroundings. I am afraid I might be permanently trapped in the midst of this
huge wilderness. Perspiration drips from my forehead into my eyes distorting my
vision and I hear my own voice crying out, "Oh God, help me."
Suddenly I crash out
of a cluster of reeds onto a small grassy glen. Stopping in these peaceful
surroundings, I can feel my heart racing and taste the salty sweat in my mouth.
"God heard me," I say
to myself. "He heard me - even me. And He led me out of my bewilderment in the
dense woodlands to this haven of safety."
A large rock rests in
one corner of this small meadow. As I sit on this stony resting place I begin to
recover my senses while observing the scenery around me. A fresh spring emerges
from one corner of the rock beneath me creating a crystal clear poof leading to
a quiet stream beyond. Sprigs of wild grass and clumps of moss are interspersed
with tiny wild flowers around the water's edge.
There is an atmosphere
of mystery and sheer delight in these surroundings: My mind reels with
speculation and wonder. Perhaps even Jesus Himself may have sat upon this very
rock meditating upon the glory of the world around Him. Perhaps He often visited
this secret trysting place when He was a boy or as a man and listened to the
words of His Father, enraptured by His Presence, His Wisdom, and His Love.
Surely there were times and places where the Father unfolded to His Son the
divine plans for His life here on earth. Perhaps some of these revelations came
to Jesus on this spot right where I am, The aroma of the flowers and the
evergreens, the virgin cleanness permeating the forest and my thoughts of Jesus
all combine into a penetrating realization of His Presence with me.
The Master is here
worshipping with me in this very place. I feel I can almost touch Him though He
is nowhere to be seen. I even search among the branches of the trees and peer
into the dense foliage expecting to find Him there. But I find no outward
physical evidence of His Presence with me, only a deep abiding experience of His
Love in the midst of the majesty of these surroundings. It is almost as if I
know intuitively that Jesus is really near - or virtually here, It is a knowing
- a divine insight that is only revealed from within. It is beauty and love and
wisdom personified. I feel the presence of Jesus close to me. This is a mountain
top experience in a terrestrial forest scene - filled with long mystical moments
of wonder, inspiration and amazement. Long silences of the woodlands intercepted
by occasional bird calls create a deep feeling of personal spiritual peace. - -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
I stand up in
wonder. How long has it been since I came to this trysting place? I cannot tell.
I only know that this has been an experience of unspeakable joy. As I survey my
surroundings an almost hidden opening between the foliage comes into view. I
step through the lacy doorway onto a well worn pathway. After walking peacefully
and unafraid for a short time along this path, I see another sign of hope off in
the distance. The angular rays of the sun burst over a distant mountain top. The
sunlight reveals a trace of willow trees ahead. Then, the willows come sharply
into view meandering in double rows along semicircular pathways. And, yes, the
bubbling sound of waters swiftly flowing is audible in the background. I rush
hurriedly along the trail until I am stopped quickly in the marshy undergrowth.
What is that? Do I hear someone speaking? Perhaps I am not alone after all. Or
is my imagination taking over again? An exchange of voices becomes audible in
the distance. I can hear one voice clearly louder than all the rest. Now I am
certain that a group of people is present not far away.
I find myself running
along the trail, eager to find the comfort of human companionship. Suddenly
nature's panorama appears before me in all its glory. The sweep of a river
flowing rapidly before me. Tide pools swirl and bounce over stony rapids before
sinking back into the depths of living waters: The water is mud brown as it
carries a wealth of sediment in its wake. The stream is flanked by listing
willows with branches of twirling leaves draping to the shoreline, decked by
glorious red anemones blossoming in profusion. Dwarfed by the immensity of the
panoramic setting is a small cluster of men varying in
age gathered around a
large dynamic man wading ankle deep in the waters. An animal skin is wrapped
around his body held by a leather girdle. His hair, long and shaggy, moves back
and forth with the wind. His angular face is covered with a coarse beard and his
muscles protrude like bronze bands of molten power. He is surrounded by a crowd
of people of all descriptions standing in subdued manner before him, At first I
think they are shepherds since they carry long sticks in their hands ... which
could serve as a shepherd's crook or staff.
Most of the observers
are dressed in loose fitting garments which are woven into squares with holes
left for head and arms. Some of the robes are drab, a few of them are
brightly colored, and
many are lined with black stripes. But look at the bright colored mantels that
cover some of their shoulders! Small bands of green and blue and crimson circle
the scarves around their foreheads. And the younger men! Some of them are not
dressed in robes at all. They wear long shirts in rough homespun colors which
fall almost to their knees. Surely not all of these are shepherds of the flock.
I approach one of the bystanders who has a friendly look on his face. "Who is that loud man talking over there?" I ask in wonder.
"Don't you know?" the
fellow asks, "Haven't you heard of John the Baptist, man of strength and
prophecy. Without waiting for a reply, the fellow turns his attention back to
As we stand
there listening to this wilderness preacher, I become aware of the penetrating
look flashing from his eyes. Their radiant gleam seems to look deep into the
hearts of his listeners.
John notices my attempt to squeeze through the crowd and he stops talking. Everyone looks my way. What a sight I must be. My shirt is torn from sleeve to sleeve by my run through the forest. I pull a kerchief from my pocket and wipe my face. It comes off dirty and caked with dry blood. I am painfully aware of the scratches from the thorns that tore my face and limbs when I ploughed through the woodlands.
John beckons to
me with his finger. "Come forward," he commands. The throng of listeners breaks
a pathway before me. I am surprised to receive this personal attention and
ashamed of my disheveled appearance, Again John speaks directly to me, "You have
come a long way to seek repentance," he declares. This revealing statement
startles me by its depth of insight. Yes, he does seem to understand. Perhaps he
is telling me the very reason for my pilgrimage. It is just as though he knows
how much I stand in personal need. Then he looks at me with those piercing eyes
of his. I bow my head before his searching gaze.
When I lift my eyes
again I see that I have become a part of this seeking group and stand among
them. I have been accepted. Perhaps it is because John has called me forward. I
feel a sense of oneness with this group of searching Jewish people.
John starts to
converse with us by quoting Scripture. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah. His
rolling voice sounds out the words of Scripture, "For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the
Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. --- The bricks are fallen down, but we
will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them
into cedars. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is
stretched out still."
The sermon which
follows these Scriptural quotations fairly seethes with judicious power. We see
our lives stretched out before us like vivid memories. We are stabbed by his
realistic interpretations. Our true motives for action are related to us in
telltale terms. John demands absolute repentance without exception. He commands
us to give up our pretentious ways.
Soon someone in the
crowd behind me starts to cough followed by another person and another. My eyes
go blurry. I have heard enough. I try to stop listening. But John is ever
knowing, ever on the alert. He senses the tension of the crowd. He stops
talking. There is a long silence. We stand there motionless, wrestling with our
consciences. The only noise which we hear is the lapping of the waves on the
river bank - and the mating call of a turtledove from above. Silently I unveil
my heart to God in a sincere spirit of repentance. I renounce all the habits of
sinfulness which have plagued me for years. I ask forgiveness for my many
failures of the past. The searing words of John have compelled me to come clean.
John walks over and
touches me, knowingly, with a protective hand. Again he is giving me the
personal attention that is beyond my worthiness to easily accept. He calls upon
me with words of understanding to repent and be baptized. He knows that I am
ready. He leads me into the depths of the river Jordan. I wait silently during
moments of spiritual expectation. He performs the sacrament of baptism with
water of forgiveness and mercy and a balm to the wounds of my spirit.
with deep emotion, "The Kingdom of God is at hand!"
Then I am
strangely aware of eyes upon me. I look up again. My eyes slowly come into
focus. Am I looking into the eyes of John the Baptist? Surely not. These eyes
have a different appearance. These eyes are filled with a look of love and
compassion. "Behold, the Lamb of God!" John declares with flourish.
The person standing
erect before me has a radiant appearance, ruddy from the sun and wind. He is
manifestly masculine in character with a broad chest and shoulders and is
stripped to the waist. He is a muscular man who undoubtedly is accustomed to
hard labor. His hair is a dark rusty brown and sweeps over and around his ears.
There is a luminescence about his countenance, emanating an aura of charm and
compassion. He has glowing brown eyes filled with warmth - a spiritual glow that
speaks of love - it is a glimmer that is assuring with a sense of knowing all
things. He looks at me with a gaze of loving kindness that is more tender than I
have ever encountered before. I gain strength by his look of sincere approval
expressed through His smile, His eyes, His facial expression, through the very
magnetism of His personality. John calls this man the "Lamb of God"? Could I be
looking into the eyes of Jesus?
"Are you really the Lamb of God? Are you truly Jesus, the Christ?" I ask in awe.
His answer is
given in mellow tones of love and authority, "I AM THAT I AM."
Now I know for
sure that this is Jesus for these are the identical words that God spoke to
identify Himself to Moses. "I AM THAT I AM." Surely these identifying words are
symbolic. Jesus is not yet ready to declare Himself openly to the world. The
overwhelming truth of these final insights convinces me completely. It is true,
I know that I know that this is Jesus Christ the Son of God. "I AM THAT I AM."
My mind reels as
I look into the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth. He has come to the Jordan to be
baptized too--but for a different reason. Jesus has come to be baptized as an
expression of His humanity - of His kinship with all mankind - and to fulfill
the law. He was subject to temptation even as the people He came to save. His
relationship with me now is a blend of human experience and an expression of His
divinity. A heavenly beam of love passes between us. Jesus takes my hand in His
and places it upon His shoulder. At that very moment a sensation of electrifying
warmth passes through my Entire body. It. is like a great wave of energy that
courses its way from my hand up my arm and throughout my entire being. I know
that the spiritual ecstasy it creates in me
is a divine
transmission of the power of love. Suddenly, silently, marvelously all of my
weaknesses, burdens, and feelings of guilt are consumed. My sins are released!
My wounds both physical and spiritual are healed. Surely, I am born again. I am
absolutely convinced! No one can ever take this sense of freedom away from me
me. He helped to prepare the way. But Jesus loves me. He loves me for what I am
as I am right here and now. "I AM THAT I AM." Yes! I am one with Jesus. I am a
new person with added dimensions. My soul seems deep and wide. I will be what He
wants me to be. I experience the glorious joy of salvation. The flame of divine
love continues to flood through my heart like a passionate fire as Jesus
continues to bless me. My hand still rests upon His shoulder. He places one of
His hands on mine as He declares, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name that will
I do." He gives me His divine blessing. Now I know for certain that my life
belongs to Him, that He governs my life completely. I continue to realize a
sense of spiritual warmth coursing throughout my whole being. The water of the
river Jordan feels cool as it rushes past my legs. I know that this sensation of
glowing radiation is evidence of His divine power.
Then the truth
floods in upon me like a shining light. I have already reached the goal which I
sought on this quest for spiritual recovery which I came to find. I came for
guidance but I received the Guide! I looked for forgiveness, but I have found
the perfect Forgiver! I have found the Person who governs our lives
completely through threatening shoals. My burdens have been placed on the
shoulders of a Master who could bear it all. I have looked into the eyes of
Jesus, the Christ, believing, and His perfect love has set me free.
After this electrifying experience with Jesus I return to the border of the wilderness to reflect upon what has happened. I select a low hanging branch from a nearby tree as a convenient resting place on which to ponder. I think about this entire transforming experience in the river Jordan--my encounter with John the Baptist--my sacred meeting with Jesus. Time stands still for me as I store these precious experiences in my heart. Then I see that this entire Christian adventure possesses within it intrinsic and basic truths which apply to my whole life and to all our lives today, as well as to the days of the Bible.
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Copyright 2000 Bruce L. Cook