The priests . . . stopped in the middle of the Jordan . . . until the whole nation had completed the crossing.
— Joshua 3:17
After Israel’s long sojourn in the desert, God opened a way for them through the Jordan River into the promised land. The waters upstream “piled up in a heap,” perhaps like the “wall of water” on the right and left as Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 14:22). Both stories say that the people passed through “on dry ground” (Joshua 3:17).
Although God had been faithful to Israel, keeping his promises to rescue them and bring them to the land he had promised them (Genesis 12:1-8; 15:13-16; 28:10-15; 46:3-4; Exodus 3:4-10), the people turned away and rebelled. They did that again and again in a long history of unfaithfulness (Exodus 32; Numbers 14; Judges 2:10-23; 2 Kings 17:1-23; 25:1-21). Eventually they were punished and sent into exile, but God, ever faithful, brought them back again (Ezra – Nehemiah).
Then, about 30 years after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1; Luke 2), God called John to prepare the way for the Messiah, who had come to be the Savior of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). In Mark 1 we see John preaching in the wilderness, calling people to repent and baptizing them in the Jordan River. And here the people are called not to cross the Jordan but to be baptized in it. God calls them to make a new start through repentance, to seek forgiveness, and to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Savior.
O God, when we rebel against you, remind us that you have called us to repent and be forgiven, in Jesus, that we may live for you. Amen.