HEAVEN AND THE RIVER
 ALL this time Jesus had been living at Nazareth.
It is likely that during these unrecorded
years Joseph died, for we hear no more about
him. In that case, Jesus, as the eldest son,
became the head of the family. Probably he
worked at the carpenter's bench, with plane and
saw and hammer, and built houses and mended
roofs; and the neighbors sent for him to make
their doors and tables, and yokes for their oxen.
The family grew up about him, from boys and
girls to men and women. At least two of the
brothers, James and Jude, married: St. Paul
tells us that. And there were small nephews
and nieces. When our Lord took little children
in his arms he knew how to hold them. There
was always a baby in the carpenter's house.
The life of the great world went on
outside, with its business and its battles, with
ships putting out to sea, and soldiers marching,
and streets of cities full of eager people.
 From the hills of Nazareth one looked down
on the great roads which ran across the plain:
from Egypt, traveled by merchants; from
Jerusalem, with pilgrims coming and going;
from Damascus, with caravans. To the north
of the village lay the highway from the sea,
along which Roman legions made their way,
with sound of trumpets, the sun glittering on
the points of their spears, and all the Nazareth
boys perched on high rocks and in the trees
to see them. Nazareth was a station on these
lines of travel, like a town where railroads
meet, and was kept acquainted with the world's
news and knew the world's ways. It had a
bad name among the villages of the neighborhood;
so that our Lord, growing up there,
did not live a sheltered life, in which it is
more easy to be good than to be bad, but was
exposed to continual temptation. He knew all
the trials which boys have to meet in public
schools and in the streets of cities. He was
tempted in all ways just as we are: with this
difference, that he never sinned. All his life
long, he never did a wrong deed, nor said an
 evil word, nor even had in his heart a sinful
thought. Thus the years went by.
Then, one day, the word came that a new
preacher—perhaps a new prophet—was
preaching at the ford of the Jordan. Somebody
who passed by said so; or perhaps some
Nazareth neighbor going to Jerusalem, to the
temple or the market there, had gone to hear
him, coming back with great accounts of the
speaker and the sermon. People talked about
it in the street after supper. And our Lord
determined to go down and hear the preacher
with his own ears.
Probably he went on foot, in a company of
the neighbors; but it is likely that he walked
alone, at a little distance from the others,
thinking his own thoughts—for he had much
to think about. Eighteen years had now passed
since he sat as a boy in the temple and listened
to the teaching of the doctors. During these
years he had gradually come to see that he
was different from other men. As he grew
tall and strong, his mind and his soul grew
and became great. He felt his strength of
 spirit as a strong man feels his strength of
body. More and more, as he talked with James
and Joses and the others as they worked together,
he came to see that his thoughts were
not as their thoughts. As he stood alone on
the heights of the hills, and looked out across
the world and up into the sky, he felt that
God was wonderfully near to him, so that he
could almost touch him with his hand. He
heard, like John, a voice in his soul, calling
him away from the carpenter shop, away from
Nazareth, to be a leader and a helper of men.
As yet, however, all was dim and vague. He
increased in stature and in wisdom, but he had
not yet come to a full knowledge of himself.
So he arrived at the ford of the Jordan,
and there was John the Baptist, in his great
cloak, preaching, the crowd pressing close about
Sometimes the people asked John questions.
The men who came from the rulers asked him,
saying, "Who are you? are you Elijah?"
"No," he said. "Are you the King of Glory?"
"No." "Who are you, then, that we may
 have an answer to take back to our masters?
What do you call yourself?" He said, "I am
the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make straight the way of the Lord.' " "Why,
then," they said, "do you baptize, if you are
neither Elijah nor the King of Glory?" "I
baptize," he answered, "with water only,
teaching people to prepare their hearts for
the coming of the King. The King will come. Yes,
he has come already. Here among you in the
crowd he stands, even now, unknown." And
John stretched out his great arms right and
left, as if he were inviting the King to come
forth and declare himself. And Jesus stood in
The soldiers were much impressed when
John spoke of the life which a true man ought
to live, and they said, "What shall we do?"
And the publicans said, "What shall we do?"
And he told them to be just and honest and
contented, and to do good to others.
Sometimes, John the Baptist spoke very
sternly, seeing the wickedness of the world,
and crying out against it. He especially
re-  proved those who seemed to be better than
they really were, telling them that God would
judge every man according to his works, and
that already it was as when a woodsman marks
with his axe where he will strike the tree.
And he looked straight at a company of gentlemen
on the edge of the crowd, so that everybody
knew whom he meant, and the gentlemen
turned away in confusion and anger, saying
one to another that the speaker was but a
Meanwhile, between the answers and the
speeches, people were coming up in little
groups to be baptized, wading out and plunging
with a great splash into the river, or
standing while John poured water on their
heads. And among them Jesus came that he
might be baptized. It is not likely that John
the Baptist knew him, having spent so many
years in the woods; but the moment he saw
him he perceived that he was some great person.
There was a light in his eyes which made
him unlike anybody else. Indeed, when John
looked again, he was almost sure that here at
 last was the King of Glory. And he said, "I
must not baptize you. It is for you to baptize
me." But our Lord insisted, and into the water
they went, the two together, the herald and
the King, with the river beneath and heaven
above. And John baptized him.
This ceremony did not mean what baptism
means now. Baptism, as we have it, is the service
by which persons are admitted to membership
in the Christian society, the church.
Our Lord's baptism was like what we call ordination.
It was the act by which he entered
into the ministry.
There he stood, then, between heaven and
the river; and a wonderful thing happened.
The divine voice, which had spoken so often
in the soul of John and in the soul of Jesus,
seemed now to them both to be speaking
straight from the sky. They two felt that
they were surrounded by a blaze of glory,
the heaven being open and shining down
upon them. The herald saw a form, dim and
shadowy, as of a fluttering dove coming down
and resting on the King. It was the sign
 which had been promised him long before
in the wilderness, by which he should recognize
his Lord and Master. And the voice said,
"Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics