They were beaten, abused and overworked as slaves to the Egyptians for more than a 100 years. And then on day they are told that deliverance is on the way, that some God is about to rescue them and lead them to a place called the "Promised Land." But this is hard to believe when the Egyptians discover this and work them even harder. Nevertheless, the deliverance comes as promised. Their leader guides them south and east on foot toward the Red Sea. The Eygpitans, however, change their minds and are in hot pursuit. The slaves are cornered at the shoreline. Someone forgot to arrange for a boat to transport them. Just as they wonder whose bright idea it was to escape bondage using this particular route, a great wind blows down and splits the Red Sea waters in half, creating a dry trail in the middle. What's even better, the second the slaves have all safely walked the trail, the waters return and drown the incoming Egyptians.
The Jordan River was the natural barrier between the desert and the Promised Land then known as Canaan. When the slaves, now known as the Israelites, approach it, they believe it's an obstacle and a setback. But there's a reason why God expects them to cross it. They've been vagabonds in the desert for more than 40 years while God has been patiently teaching them to trust him. The generation that witnessed the Red Sea parting, sadly, didn't live long enough to reach the final destination. The kids have grown up and have to continue on, but this is terrifying. This is the rainy season, so the river is flooded and, according to their assessment, too dangerous to cross. They're convinced God is sending them on a suicide mission. But as soon as the first person in line gets his feet wet, the river calms and recedes.
At the first crossing, God is demonstrating his faithfulness to the Israelites. At the second crossing God expects the next generation to demonstrate their faithfulness to him.
God uses the physical landscapes of rivers, seas and desert to lead, guide and reveal himself.
Two young men greet each other warmly and converse for a few moments. Then they wade in the might current of the Jordan River until they are waist deep. One gently dunks the other, and then they hug. Suddenly a dove descends from somewhere and flutters around the pair. "This is my son, with whom I am pleased," booms an unseen voice.
Jesus knew he needed to be baptized before beginning his ministry and there was no one more appropriate than John the Baptist. It was an initiation rite and he was setting the example for his followers. Baptism today symbolizes initiation into God's family as well as "washing away" of sin.
These events are as relevant today as they were to all the early followers of Christ. God continues to demonstrate his faithfulness to believers and he also still expects his followers to demonstrate trust and obediance, although it's often not quite as dramatic or literal. The scriptures are drenched in water imagery. There are many more examples of how God uses water in a literal and figurative way to teach, guide and communicate.