October 2013 Yavoh

The Start of Yeshua's Ministry

When Yeshua took the first steps of His public ministry, He chose an obscure location with a relatively small group of people. He joined John the Baptist with some of his disciples out in the wilderness at the Jordan River.

We know that John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah, the voice of one crying in the wilderness and the one who would introduce Him to Israel, but why was the Jordan River location at the edge of the wilderness chosen? For instance, why didn’t John begin the introduction of Yeshua in the temple? He was a priest, and the Messiah is the Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Would it not have made more sense to begin in the temple in Jerusalem to announce the King of Israel?

John the Baptist was a priest due to the fact that his father Zacharias was a priest. He certainly had a place in the temple service and could have certified the “Lamb of God” right there at the temple, but John wasn’t just your average priest. John had also acquired the leather belt of Elijah the prophet, which had been stored at the temple since the death of Elijah. John wore this belt along with some camel hair. He must have been a sight to see. He had the reputation of eating locusts and honey. Let’s be honest, compared to other priests, John was a little bit weird for the average Israelite at that time. Maybe this is why John found himself in the wilderness. Others in and around the temple may have been put off by his outward appearance and personality. As a typical priest, he would have served in the temple during the appointed times and two (one week) periods throughout the remainder of the year.

There is a very powerful and wonderful reason why John was at the Jordan River, at the edge of the wilderness and why Yeshua selected that place to begin His ministry.

If you travel to Israel as a tourist these days, getting baptized in the Jordan River is a popular stop on the tour. The place where most tours go to is called Yardenit. It is in the Galilee area where the Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee and begins its final journey south to the Dead Sea. They have built a nice facility where groups can come and change into white robes for baptism. You can choose one of three areas for your group to pose for pictures, pray together, and walk down into the river to complete your immersion. Once you are baptized, a shower facility and towel await you in a dressing facility. You exit out through the gift shop, and you load onto your tour bus for another site.

However, despite its current popularity, Yardenit is not the location where John the Baptist was preaching or where Yeshua was baptized. It is a beautiful tourist location to facilitate Christian tour groups near other tourist stops in the Galilee. The actual location where John the Baptist ministered is further south near the northern tip of the Dead Sea. It is at one of the lowest elevations in the world. The river is very narrow there, and the specific location is called Qasr Al Yahud—“the Crossing of the Jews.”

Qasr Al Yahud, located in the West Bank region, is the historic location where Joshua and the children of Israel left the wilderness and entered the promised land. There is no big tourist facility there to accommodate groups who wish to be baptized there. The Jordanians tried to promote this location for tourism, but they have not invested in the necessary accoutrements that would be needed for a tourist stop. Tour groups do pass by it, but few attempt a baptism there. It is now under the Israel Park Authority.

Yet it is not about future tourism that caused John to go there or for Yeshua to appear there first. As I said, something far more important and wonderful happened there.

Let’s go back to Joshua and the history of the crossing. Following that, you will see some very important reasons why John ministered from that location and Yeshua started His public ministry from there.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan at the end of the Egyptian exodus, it was every bit as much a miracle as was the crossing of the Red Sea at the beginning of the Egyptian exodus. God stood up the waters of the Jordan River so that the children of Israel crossed on dry land.

So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan. JOS 3:14-17

This passage not only describes the miraculous crossing but gives us clues as to its location. The Arabah and Salt Sea (Dead Sea) are to the south. It is opposite of Jericho to the West and cities of Adam and Zarethan are upstream to the north. The place is called “the crossing of the Jews” today. It is a well-known and recognized location to this day!

In Joshua’s day, a memorial of twelve stones was set up there with great meaning and symbolism.

Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, that the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’” So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.” JOS 4:1-5

They carried these stones from the Jordan to their next lodging place at Gilgal. What was the purpose of these stones, and what was to be remembered? The next passage gives the answers we seek.

“Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” JOS 4:6 -7

God purposed a memorial to be established at the crossing of the Jordan and their first camp site in the land. It is only logical, since that was the completion of the exodus in the wilderness exodus. For forty years, the children journeyed in the wilderness toward the promised land, and this was the place where God fulfilled His promise of leading them into the promised land.

Thus the sons of Israel did, as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the Lord spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place, and put them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day. For the priests who carried the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything was completed that the Lord had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed; and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord and the priests crossed before the people. JOS 4:8-11

Did you notice the procedure of the priests and the Ark of the Covenant during the crossing? There were two sets of twelve stones used in the memorial, one set placed at their first lodging place in Gilgal and another set were set at the feet of the priests holding the ark of the covenant in the middle of the Jordan River. The Scriptures say that those stones in the river are still there to this day. We can assume they were also there in the day that John was preaching repentance and Yeshua came to be baptized! Yeshua began His public ministry at the same place where Joshua began the conquest of the land and placed the twelve memorial stones in the river.

There is more. Joshua was elevated by the Lord before the eyes of all Israel, and he was the one who called for the Ark of the Covenant to actually enter the promised land.

On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they revered him, just as they had revered Moses all the days of his life. Now the Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, “Come up from the Jordan.” It came about when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord had come up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before. JOS 4:14-18

When exactly did all of this happen? We know forty years had gone by with the journey in the wilderness. We know that the exodus began with the Passover. It follows then that the season of Passover should be occurring when the children of Israel first enter the land. Joshua records the date of entry.

Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. JOS 4:19

The tenth of the month of Aviv (also called Nisan) is four days prior to Passover. On the tenth day, the lambs were brought into the houses in preparation for Passover. They would use those four days to examine the lambs to ensure that they were fit for Passover use. God promised Israel that He would bring them out of Egypt and in to the land. That promise was given to Abram and restated to Israel at the first Passover. They were also instructed to teach their children in the future to remember those very same promises.

Now at the crossing of the Jordan, commemorating the time of the original Passover, the Lord gave this instruction about the crossing location and the memorial stones connecting the start of the exodus with its conclusion.

He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” JOS 4:21-24

When John the Baptist came to this place centuries later, what do you think his message was to the people? What was he proclaiming? I submit to you that the memorial stones and their meaning were part of his message. He wanted to remind the Israelites of God’s former redemption and deliverance from Egypt and to build upon God’s faithfulness to introduce the Messiah. John denied that he was the Messiah when other Levites and priests came to him in the wilderness, trying to understand who he was and what he was doing. Given the anticipation for the Messiah to come, it would have been reasonable to question him in that regard. Instead, John said that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as Isaiah the prophet said." JOH 1:23

They then asked why he was baptizing. This is an important question. Baptism was very special to the Hebrews at that time. Those going to the temple would be baptized (immersed in water) prior to going up to the temple courts to present a gift or sacrifice to the LORD. This is where baptism (mikveh in Hebrew meaning immersion) as a religious ritual began. This was the custom based on Israel taking a bath at the command of the LORD before He gave the Torah at Mount Sinai. Observant Hebrews also recognized that baptism was a reminder of crossing the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan! They were preparing their hearts to come before the LORD, to do the business of their souls with the LORD. Even the Apostle Paul reminds us in First Corinthians Chapter 10 that following the pillar of cloud and crossing the Red Sea were baptism actions for the children of Israel. It is later, after the resurrection of Yeshua, that the ritual of baptism also came to picture the washing away of sins and the death, burial, and resurrection (being born again).

John’s purpose for baptizing, therefore, was based on the past understanding of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and the crossings of the Red Sea and Jordan River. He was not baptizing for repentance of sin but to prepare the people to HEAR the Word of God, coming as the Messiah. John’s exhortation, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” reached all way back to Abraham’s definition of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is composed of three elements: the King (you must have a king to have a kingdom), servants of the king (these are the promised descendants of Abraham), and finally the land (the promised land). John was in the land, there were servants of the Lord present, and he was announcing that the King was about to come. As the forerunner of the Messiah, that is the right message! Therefore, John’s answer to why he was baptizing was to bring the message of the coming King.

When the children of Israel were baptized to hear God speak the Ten Commandments and receive the Torah, it was tremendous event. God actually spoke and the people were terrified. What were they to expect this time with the Messiah coming? The people had asked God to not speak in that manner again, or else they would die. So, God promised them that He would send someone from the mountain (heaven) to speak directly to them, but that God would require it of them. John seems to refer back to that agreement and emphasizes the importance of the “someone” who would be coming to speak with them.

John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” JOH 1:26-27

Again, the testimony of where John was baptizing is re-stated.

These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. JOH 1:28

With this as a background understanding, the day comes when Yeshua appears before John where he is baptizing.

The next day he saw Yeshua coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” JOH 1:29-30

This is an incredible statement being made by John. First, John is a priest. Only a priest can make the determination and declaration that a particular candidate for sacrifice was acceptable to be a sacrifice. Essentially, a man could bring a lamb, but the priest would be the only one declaring it to be a sacrifice (and the type of sacrifice) that was acceptable. John’s statement was required according to the Law of Moses for Yeshua to be the “Lamb of God” sacrifice as the Messiah. It was upon this declaration, in accordance with the Law that the initial disciples began to follow Yeshua as the Messiah. John then re-iterates his statement that the One following him would be much greater than him.

We are not sure how well John would have known Yeshua. Their mothers (Mary for Yeshua and Elizabeth for John) had known each other, so there was some family connection. However, Yeshua grew up in Nazareth in the northern areas while John grew up in En Kerem near Jerusalem. They probably did not grow up together but may of have known of one another. Regardless, John’s sudden pronouncement was stunning. He may well have spoken by the Holy Spirit. The other Gospels recount how John’s view of Yeshua was confirmed.

He was told by the Spirit of God that he would see a dove land upon the Messiah and that would be the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This sign given to John is a very common symbol used today to signify the Christian faith and the work of the Holy Spirit.

I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water. John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” JOH 1:31-34

Since Christians equate baptism to the washing away of sins or acts of repentance, the entire question of why Yeshua was baptized has been a kind of mystery to the Christian world. This certainly was not the case of Yeshua. He is the Messiah, He does not have any sins to wash away, and He does not need to repent. So, why did He require John to baptize Him despite John’s own hesitation? Yeshua’s answer is intriguing.

But Yeshua answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him [to be baptized]. MAT 3:15

What is Yeshua saying? What righteousness was being fulfilled?

The answer is found not in the act of baptism itself; it has more to do with the location of where they were—at the crossing of the Jordan and memorial God had commanded Israel to establish there. Yeshua’s ministry was beginning where the Egyptian exodus ended. It was beginning in the same place where Joshua met a very interesting figure.

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand, and Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No, rather I indeed come now as Captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to Him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The Captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. JOS 5:13-15

Judaism says that this Captain of the Lord's host was an Angel of the Lord. Christianity says that it was a manifestation of the Messiah preparing to lead Joshua in the conquest of the land. I agree with both. I believe the Messiah did appear to Joshua here. Did you notice His instruction to remove his sandals? This is what happened to Moses at the burning bush. And didn’t John say something about the Messiah and sandals?

It is He [the Messiah] who comes after me [John], the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. JOH 1:27

Various Christian teachers have tried to explain John’s reference to untying sandals. We need not look beyond the Scriptures for the understanding. It is a reference to being in a holy place with the very person of God! John’s statement that he was unworthy to untie His sandal is a direct reference to the holiness of Yeshua. It is a comparative way of saying that he (John) and all others should be removing their sandals, not the Messiah.

Turning back to Joshua meeting this special person at the crossing point, there is an incredible coincidence in the name of Joshua and Yeshua. Joshua’s name and Yeshua’s names are very nearly identical. Joshua in Hebrew is “Yehoshua,” meaning, “God is Salvation.” Yeshua is the shorter version of the same name “Salvation.” There are some Messianic brethren today who assert that Yeshua’s name should be pronounced “Yah-shua,” restating the meaning of Joshua’s name and emphasizing the “Yah” part, a direct name of God (YHVH). This originates from the fact that the King James Bible transliterated Yeshua as Joshua. But most English Bibles use “Jesus” as the dominate expression, which is a Greek transliteration of the name. Regardless of the etymology of the names, there is a direct relationship between the Messiah and Joshua leading the people into the promised land.

Many Christians believe that the Messiah came to do a completely new thing and that His ministry was setting the stage to move away from the nation of Israel and Jerusalem to the Church age and what Christianity has become. I completely disagree. The Messiah, according to His own words, came to fulfill all righteousness (that which had already been established by God with the Fathers and with Moses in the Torah). The word “fulfill” does not mean to abolish. He was saying that He was filling it up full of meaning! So, what was He fulfilling (filling up with meaning) at the crossing point of the children of Israel into the land? It has to do with God’s promise of the land and His promise of a Messiah to come. They are linked, not separate. Therefore, Yeshua’s statement that He was fulfilling all righteousness is the very linkage to the past story of deliverance.

Yeshua’s introduction to Israel at that moment as being the “Lamb of God,” the Salvation of Israel, and the Righteousness of God is consistent with the prophetic Scriptures about the Messiah-to-be. Here are just a couple of prophetic Scriptures explaining how the Messiah was to be introduced to the whole world.

The Lord has made known His salvation [Yeshua]; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. PSA 98:2

I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I will not restrain my lips, O Lord, You know. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation. PSA 40:9-10

Yeshua was introducing Himself to Israel and all of the nations at the Jordan River through John the Baptist in accordance with the promises of the Messiah. He was fulfilling all righteousness by coming up out of the Jordan River, just as God had come up out of the river when the Ark of the Covenant came into the land. This was God’s part of announcing that Yeshua of Nazareth was and is the Son of God! This is why John and others heard the same voice that spoke at Mount Sinai when He came up out of the water.

Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased." - MAR 1:10-11

Let me conclude with a point I made earlier.  Yeshua’s first steps of His public ministry as the Messiah began where Moses’ steps ended. He was the same One who met Joshua earlier at the beginning of the conquest of the promised land. Yeshua is not doing a new thing that is separate or different from the past. He was part of the past and He was continuing to go forward with the “Good News.”

If we fail to see Yeshua’s first steps and their purpose correctly, we could easily be misled by those wishing to change the path and purpose of God. Yeshua said that we must believe the words of Moses first in order to be able to believe (and understand) His words. I submit that a clear example of that is Yeshua’s words, “…to fulfill all righteousness.”