He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there. (Jn 10:40-42)
“John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” Not much of what John said about Jesus is left for us to know. I think it is safe to say that what we have in the gospels is summary material. John’s whole ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus. John came as law, and there was no sign.
The law doesn’t need much to gain traction. It appeals more or less to our Old man in Adam. It resonates with the law inscribed in our hearts. The truth of it is self-evident. We are guilty we need to repent. The biggest problem we have there, is the scope of our repentance is often to narrow. Too often it concentrates on the second table of the law, to the detriment of the first table of the law. Even atheists know to repent in regards to the second table, but they fail to see that their failure to love their neighbor as themselves, their actions that hurt those they love, and then ultimately hurt them, stem from their failure to love God, and their efforts to be god in his place. So we think of repentance as learning to say “yes mam” to our sick and ill grandmother. It is repentance that gets us to try improve ourselves with self-help books. We even go and seek churches that will give us self-help lessons in the name of sanctification. Our repentance is narrow, and small. Repentance in this manner gets in the way of true repentance. One might say it isn’t even true repentance. It is just more of the same. As long as this repentance does not take into account the first commandment, but is concentrated merely upon us becoming better people in the eyes of ourselves and society, it is just more of the same, more of our old man in Adam trying to play god with our lives, perhaps even trying to play god over God and manipulate him into doing our bidding. And when he doesn’t make us rich, when he doesn’t save our marriage, when he doesn’t heal our dad, when he doesn’t get us that new job we want, we abandon him. We say we no longer believe in him. We have a serious problem praying, “Thy will be done.”
Nonetheless, the law appeals to our hearts. It doesn’t need to be accompanied by any signs. John didn’t do any signs, his baptism wasn’t accompanied by anything spectacular, and yet his forthright barebones teaching attracted all of Judea and the entire country side. Even Roman soldiers showed at the bank of the Jordan. He preached repentance, and then he spoke of the coming messiah, he whose baptism would be accompanied by the Holy Spirit. John did no signs, but everything he said of Jesus, of the coming Messiah was true. So many believed in Jesus there. The law had prepared the way for the gospel, the prophetic words rang true in the miracles of Jesus. Here the gospel had come, the kingdom of God breaking into the world to dwell amongst men in the forgiveness of sins, which alone can accomplish true repentance, because only when we have been brought up out of the Land of Egypt, the land of slavery, and our bonds of slavery to sin broken with forgiveness, can God become our God aside to whom there are no other Gods. Only when our sins are forgiven in the death and resurrection is our repentance from the Lord, and only then is it true repentance, a faith in God rather than in ourselves and our ability to self-improve. And this gospel comes with a sign, the sign of Jonah, death and resurrection.