People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Matthew 3:5-6
It wasn’t an easy thing to travel in antiquity. Some rode horses, or donkeys, or in carts. Some rode in chariots, or were carried in litters. But most walked. Remember that when you learn that, according to https://www.distancesto.com/il/jerusalem-to-jordan-river/history/847809.html, the Jordan River is 105 miles from Jerusalem. By car, that’s about a 90-minute drive, but cars have only been around for since the late 1800s.
When was the last time you walked 105 miles? Most people don’t walk 105 miles in a week. A 20-minute mile is a brisk but still leisurely pace to walk. That means you walk three miles in an hour. At that pace it would take you 35 hours to walk from Jerusalem to the Jordan. Break that up into 10 hours a day of walking (because it wouldn’t have been safe to walk at night), and it’s a 3 ½ day walk from the Temple to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist preached. You camped in the open overnight because there weren’t enough inns for all who traveled. Robbers were everywhere.
See where it’s no small thing to say “people went out to him from Jerusalem?” People in the city, 3 ½ days away, heard of the eccentric preacher in the desert who preached that the kingdom of God was approaching. That they were to make straight the paths in their lives so that the Son of Man might walk into them. That the leaders of the church were corrupt.
Would you walk three and a half days to hear someone say that? Not only, but people were traveling that great distance to confess their sins, then be baptized. Me, I don’t like confessing my sins to other people anymore. I understand how it feels good to let go of the bad things we’ve said and done. Some of my sins are dark, nasty, cruel, and downright evil to God. But, more and more, I don’t like talking about them, especially to strangers.
These throngs of strangers were doing just that: walking out into the desert to meet this strange teacher who taught that God would wash away their sins in the waters of Old Man Jordan, and that they could walk out of that water renewed. Carrie Underwood sang it best: “there must be something in the water.”
Would you walk 105 miles, between three and four days under difficult conditions, to meet a wild stranger who could dunk you in the river just to declare that you’ve been saved? Plenty of folks in John’s time did exactly that; plenty still do today. Plenty more of us badly need it.
Lord Jesus, all praise to You for baptism, for our yearning to be forgiven and washed clean by you, no matter how long it takes to get to You.