Updated: Dec 29, 2022
In Matthew 5:18, Jesus states that not one “jot or tittle” (KJV) should pass away before all is fulfilled. It is clear from the context that Christ is speaking of His fulfillment of all of Scripture, particularly as He looked ahead to His own death and resurrection. Yet there is something within His stating that even the smallest letter of Scripture being upheld that brings great importance to everything we read within the pages of Scripture. We can all admit that throughout our years of Scripture reading, we are inclined to focus on the parts of Scripture that seem to be the “important parts”. Our eyes go to the glaring point of a narrative or even our favorite part of a poem, therefore neglecting the mundane or that which seems like “extra information”. In our text for this morning, the writer John adds a piece of information that can easily be glossed over in verse 28. John writes that “these things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28)
At first glance, this verse is a simple location marker for the reader. It is a way for the Apostle John to solidify the reality that what he is writing is indeed a true account. The Jewish readers would have remembered where they either saw or heard about John the Baptist. As important as this location marker is, there’s a good chance that John the writer is indicating much more. John indicates a specific Bethany because there is more than one Bethany both in the life of Jesus and in the Gospel of John itself. The Bethany mentioned here is the northern Bethany. The second Bethany is further south. This second Bethany is the home of Jesus’ friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 12). It is here at this southern Bethany where Jesus is anointed by Mary as preparation for his death, raises Lazarus from the dead as a sign not only of His power but of his coming resurrection, and is where Jesus would begin his trek towards Jerusalem hailed as a king, but coming to die. So, what does this all mean? One could suggest that John the Apostle is setting the scene for Jesus to begin His public ministry in the north only to make his way “down” to his death.
We can test the waters even more (pun intended) when thinking about the fact that John is baptizing in the Jordan river. I will not be dogmatic in my contemplation, but it seems at the very least interesting that John is baptizing in the same waters as the people of Israel crossed on their way to the promised land. To add, Joshua and Jesus are translations of the same Hebrew name Yeshua. The Lord saved the people of Israel through the work of the strategic warrior and leader Joshua, and now in a greater and fuller sense, he saves through his own Son, Jesus. While the people of Israel would have surely been looking for a warrior like Joshua, John the Baptist states in the next words out of his mouth: “behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) In other words, salvation is not coming through the typical conqueror but through a sacrificial lamb.
Putting my speculation to the side, one can see how fascinating Scripture is. The writers are not careless with their words. Through the Spirit’s guiding, the writers of Scripture are constantly inserting these small details that prove not only helpful for our reading, but simply interesting. Therefore, my encouragement is simple: let us not gloss over the details of Scripture no matter how mundane. There may be a treasure chest of gold waiting to be found. Praise God for His Word and thank Him for these “jots and tittles” that help bring the story together.