By F.B. Meyer
"John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true." John 10:41
Beyond the Jordan! To the Jew living in Jerusalem that meant banishment indeed. The district there was called Perea, and it was comparatively desert. There were a few mountain torrents which made their impetuous way down to the Jordan, patches of fruitful soil, and a few scattered villages; but for the most part the population was poor and sparse, and destitute of the culture which reigned in Jerusalem.
Why then did our Lord come hither to spend the last hours of His life? Would not Nazareth welcome Him to His early home, or Capernaum provide Him a resting place in a marble palace washed by the caressing waters of the lake He loved so well? Would He not be better lodged at Jerusalem in the palace of Caiaphas, the pretorium of Herod, or even the temple itself ?
Alas! All these were shut against Him by the relentless hate of His enemies. Perea alone could offer Him a resting place.
There was a peculiar fascination attached to Perea. It was the place where John had first baptized. Those desolate hills had been black with crowds gathered from all the land to hear the crying of that trumpet voice; those waters had been the scene of countless baptisms; the people around had many a story to tell of the appearance and life of the grand young prophet who had met his tragic end in the dungeons of Herod's castle.
And as the disciples wandered over the ground in company with Christ, memory recalled the spot where some of them had been baptized, or others had seen him designate Jesus as the Lamb of God. Christ's own mind must have been strangely moved by conflicting thoughts as He contrasted the radiant dawn of His ministry in this spot with the overcast skies that had since darkened above Him.
No sooner did our Lord find Himself in comparative safety than He threw Himself into His much-loved work of preaching the gospel, working miracles, and healing all who were diseased. Crowds gathered around Him - many from the immediate neighbourhood, some from a greater distance; but as they stood on that memorable spot, old memories were stirred; the place, with its surroundings, even to the stones that lay in the riverbed, forcefully reminded them of the great life set as a jewel in these rugged scenes.
They confessed the mighty gulf which severed him from Christ - "John did no miracle;" but they gladly emphasized the fact that all things which he had spoken of Christ were true.
I. GOD'S VINDICATION OF APPARENT FAILURE
To the eye of the casual observer the Baptist seemed to have failed. The morning star had paled before the sunrise; the crowds who had gathered round the Bridegroom's friend ebbed slowly and steadily away to follow the Bridegroom Himself. His disciples half reproachfully said, "Master, He to whom thou barest witness beyond Jordan, the same has commenced to baptize, and all men come to Him."
The faithful few that gathered around him must have deeply felt that they were the adherents of a dwindling cause, which was destined gradually to come to an end. And this was only a prelude to the immuring of this brave soul within the dark walls of Herod's dungeons.
Like an eagle with broken wing, the Baptist lay spent and powerless. And there, the captivity, the lack of the ministry of nature, the inability to understand why Christ did not deliver him - if He were indeed the Messiah - led to a still greater lapse, and he sent to ask whether Jesus of Nazareth were after all what he had announced Him to be.
"Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another?"
Finally down the long corridor, the executioner came to his cell, the sword gleamed, the severed head fell from the body, and from that subterranean prison his spirit returned to God.
How sad and disastrous seemed such a termination to a life which had once been the centre of the national thought and movement!
Was it not all a failure? Had not John made a profound mistake in following his lofty ideals? Had not God Himself deserted His faithful servant? Was it after all a real voice that spoke from the opened heaven?
Then God took up the cause of His faithful martyr, and vindicated him through the tribute which the crowds paid his memory as they gathered in Perea. "John was true," the people said. "What he said has been verified by the event."
He had said that Christ was from heaven, and above all, and it was true.
He had said that Christ was the true Bridegroom of faithful souls, and it was true. He had said that the Father did not give Him the Holy Spirit by measure and it was true.
He had said that He was the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world, and it was true.
John had said many other things about Christ, which they had treasured and now recalled. But among them all there was no statement made about Christ which was not true. This strengthened their faith in the Lord Jesus, but it also vindicated the Baptist as the true prophet of the Most High.
Thus it has often been since, and may be for you and me:
Around that mother's grave you may gather and say, "She was not brilliant or greatly remarkable, but she spoke true words of Jesus Christ which will never die." Of some Sunday-school teacher, or minister, who seems to have been a voice crying in the wilderness, and to have passed away before accomplishing any lasting monument: " He did no miracle, but he spoke true words for Christ."
Do not look for success or dread failure. Go on day by day fulfilling the task of the day, and leaving the results with God. You know not what you are doing; you are scattering seeds which will yield harvests when you lie beneath the sod of the valley.
God will vindicate you, and some day, as men recall your memory, if they say that you wrought no miracle, they will also say that whatever you spoke of this Man was true.
II. THE TEST OF EXPERIENCE
These are days in which the Bible is greatly discredited. There are those who appear to delight in hunting out discrepancies in the venerable record of God's dealings with men. The higher critics in many cases appear to me to be devoid of that reverence for the Spirit of God and the religious life of men which should make one inclined to trust them. In many points they contradict each other, and few of their decisions are likely to remain unchallenged when a few more years have passed over.
In the meanwhile, it is doubtless a matter of concern to many Christians to know how to hold to their confidence in that sacred volume which they had been accustomed to consider the authoritative Word of the Most High. To read the books which are constantly pouring from the press would take more time than most of us can afford; to understand and combat their objections would take greater scholarship than is within our reach.
Even if we were to canvass the matter to the bottom, it is not probable that our evidence would be taken, in the court of general opinion, as against scholars and literalists.
What, then can we do?
May we not adopt the method suggested by our text, and vindicate the truth of the Bible by comparing its statements with what we have discovered through personal association with the Lord Jesus ?
The Bible says that the peace of God comes to those who trust in Him who died on the cross under Pontius Pilate, and was raised again according to the Scriptures. We have come, and trusted, and found peace. All that the Bible said in this respect is true.
The Bible says that if we open our hearts to the Spirit of God He will infill them with a holy hatred of sin, and with the hunger and thirst of a new life. We have acted upon the suggestion and have been delivered from sins which had cursed and defiled our whole life. All that the Bible said in this respect is true.
The Bible says that if we make our requests known to God through Jesus Christ He will abundantly answer them; and hundreds of answered prayers, as we review them, attest that what the Bible said in this respect also is true.
The Bible says that Christ's gospel is the antidote of death; that for those who believe in Him death is abolished, and the fear of it at an end. Now, we had been all our lifetime subject to bondage, but have forgotten to fear since Christ has shed upon our hearts the rays of immortality and life. In this also what the Bible said was true.
In these and in many other particulars we have verified for ourselves the Word of God, and are able to affirm, from the platform of personal experience, that all it says of Jesus Christ is true, and therefore it shall still be our guide through the unknown.
III. THE OPPORTUNITY OF MODERATE ABILITY
You may be very discontented with yourself. You are no genius, have no brilliant gifts, and are inconspicuous for any special faculty.
Mediocrity is the law of your existence. Your days are remarkable for nothing but sameness and insipidity, always spent within the same small room, tethered by the same short string, and surrounded by the same ignorant and uncongenial people. Yet you may live a great life, and one on which angels on their way home to God may loiter to look with admiration.
John did no miracle, but Jesus said among those that were born of women there had not appeared a greater than he.
Set yourself to say true things about Jesus Christ. Perhaps you cannot preach the set speech or studied discourse, but you may always set forth what you have known and seen of Him who still manifests Himself to loving and believing hearts. John's main business was to bear witness to the Light, that all men through Him might believe; and this business may be yours and mine also.
Do it privately
John did not only speak of Jesus to the throng, but when standing with two of his disciples, looking upon Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Let us use the opportunities of daily life to speak of our dearest Lord.
Do it experientially
"I saw, and bare record" said John. We cannot have the opened heaven and the audible voice, as he, but these are not the best evidences. For though John had enjoyed them, he doubted. We have a more sure basis, because we may daily see and handle the good Word of life.
Do it unostentatiously
John was content to be only a voice, if men would think of Christ. Be willing to be only a voice, heard but not seen; a mirror whose surface is lost to view, because it reflects the dazzling glory of the sun; a breeze that springs up just before daylight, and says, "The dawn! The dawn!" and then dies away.
But this can never be till we are altogether taken up with Christ; and when that happens there will be no effort to speak of Him, nothing unnatural, forced, or strained, no breach of the laws of Christian courtesy.
"You should have told him to mind his own business," said a gentleman to his wife, when she told him that a man of God had spoken to her about her soul.
"If you had heard him speak," was the reply, "you would have thought that that was his business."
Do not long after wealth. The men who have done most for the world have been those who could truly say, "Silver and gold have I none."
Do not long after position. Some of the worst men that ever lived were nobly born, while the uncrowned kings of the race have sprung from the ranks of poverty.
Do not long for genius. It is very doubtful whether mere genius has done much for the world. It is inclined to be spasmodic, fluctuating, unreliable.
Be content if you can do no miracle; live to give the world a true conception of the unseen Lord.
Put away self-indulgence, whether of the sense or thought, for this will undermine the better qualities of the heart. Carefully check impatience, uncharity, and insincerity of speech or manner.
Embody in heart and life the meekness and gentleness, the purity and truth of the Lord Jesus.
Do the commonest and smallest things as beneath His eye
Are you beset with chafing irritations and annoyances ? Bear them as the martyrs endured the pillory and the torture chamber.
If you must live with uncongenial people, set to their conquest by love. If you have made a great mistake in your life, do not let it becloud all of it, but, locking the secret in your breast, compel it to yield strength and sweetness.
You may do all these things by the peace of God, and without brilliant talent; and acting thus you will do more real good than:
Rank - with its aristocratic bearing,
Wealth - with its golden shower, and
Genius - with its meteoric flash.
We are doing more good than we know, sowing seeds, starting streamlets, giving men true thoughts of Christ, to which men will refer one day as the first things that started them thinking of Him; and of my part, I shall be satisfied if no great mausoleum is raised over my grave, but that simple souls shall gather there when I am gone, and say, "He was a good man; he wrought no miracles, but he spake words about Christ which led me to know Him for myself."
John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true.