Today is a special day in the life of our church and I was I thinking about what I would share, I couldn’t help but reflect on what has been preached from behind this pulpit. Over the last eleven years, in compliance with the unique calling upon me to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) we have traveled through Jonah, The Sermon on the Mount, Daniel, John, Ruth, Nehemiah, Genesis 1-11, Hebrews, Revelation, and Judges, not to mention the many Christmas, Easter, and Summer Mission’s series that we enjoyed together. In every message I have endeavored to do nothing more than to say what he said (that is what God said) and to do this as clearly and creatively as possible so that the Spirit of God might use the Word of God to make the children of God look more like the Son of God. The question that has weighed heavy on me is what would I preach about this Sunday, my final Sunday as your Senior Pastor. As I was praying about what I would share, I found myself drawn repeatedly to a text in John 3:25-30. In it, much like our church is experiencing in this season, a transition is taking place. In it, people are asking questions, some are growing anxious, others are looking for explanations, and still others are trying to figure out what lies ahead. Caught in the middle of this cacophony is John the Baptist who is the primary speaker in this text. You see, he is the one on his way out and he is the one being pursued for answers to what is going on. John the Baptist provides some important insights here that I believe help quell the fears of those who have been following him and will also help provide the kind of perspective we all need as we continue to follow the Lord moving forward.
This passage begins at the emergence of a discussion taking place between the disciples of John the Baptist in response to what Jesus was doing in and around the area (read vv. 22-24). With John baptizing in the area and Jesus doing the same nearby, John’s disciples began to “discuss” issues of purification and its relationship to baptism— Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification…” (3:25). Given the context of this dialogue, it might be that these followers of John were in a dispute around the issue of whose baptism was more efficacious, the Baptist’s or Jesus’. The discussion may also have concerned the clash between John’s practices and other prominent Jewish practices. Lots of people are getting wet for all kinds of reasons. Therefore this small group of disciples begins to have a heated debate on the subject.
The discussion continues with “…And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him’…” (3:26). The manner in which John’s disciples refer to John reflects incredible honor. “Rabbi,” or “my great one,” would have been an esteemed title for any teacher. However, the manner in which John’s disciples refer to Jesus reveals a hint of jealousy on their part. Notice how impersonal they are in their reference to Christ, “he who was with you…to whom you have testified.” It is not as though His name escaped them or was unknown to them. Jesus was a big deal! He had already amassed a large gathering and had performed many signs (one of which involving a very large spectacle in the temple that would have been the topic of many discussions in and around Jerusalem). Even John the Baptist had testified to Him! However, these followers of John were confused about who their ultimate leader was, which is why they extend the kind of respect, awe, and allegiance to John that should have been reserved for Christ.
The passage reveals that both John the Baptist and Jesus had attractive, vibrant ministries. However, one (Jesus’) was becoming more attractive and vibrant that the other (John’s) and John’s followers were none to happy.
The exaggerated statement, “all are coming to Him” reveals, once again, the impure jealousy of the disciples of John. Now that some of John’s disciples were leaving the forerunner and going to Jesus (see 1:35ff), many were beginning to ask questions. What’s the deal? Are you not as special as we thought? You were first man? We know you, like you, enjoyed your messages and have come to appreciate you! These questions/sentiments gave John every reason and opportunity to stake his claim, defend his ministry, and tout his experience.
Faced with a similar barrage of questions, anyone would be tempted to go to one’s own defense for fear of looking weak, obsolete, or inferior—especially after being egged on by a group of one’s supporters. However, that is not what John does here.
A. STATEMENT #1 (I am Not in Control)-3:27-“…John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven…”
Here, instead of running to his own defense or explaining away the mass migration to Jesus, John tells his disciples that he must neither exceed his own calling, nor compare himself with the work of others—“ John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven…” (3:27). As much as it concerned people responding to a message or calling, John submits that Jesus’ is far superior because the calling associated with Him is from heaven. The reference to Jesus’ superior calling coincides with John’s witness throughout this gospel (1:7-9, 15, 26-27, 30). Reminding his disciples of his consistent testimony –Jesus is greater than he is—the Baptist tells his devotees that they should not be surprised that Jesus has attracted a larger following. John ultimately confesses that he is not in control and could not control how people were responding because the God of heaven is at work and moving. God’s sovereignty stands hidden behind all human claims, for a human being does not have anything but what he has received. Believing for one second that John could alter the minds of people or attempting to sway them in his direction and away from Jesus would have been to behave in the worst possible arrogance.
My calling to this ministry and the next is a calling from heaven that supersedes the calling that I desired for my own life. Therefore I have to recognize, just as John’s disciples and as John already knew, that I am not in control, and neither are you,…God is. In the grand play of life, He calls the shots as the director of the show and if His direction involves something unexpected or averse to your preconceived notions about life, then so be it.
Recognize that as far as your life is concerned, you are not in control. As a result, it is incumbent on us to refrain from the tendency we all have of ever believing that we are calling the shots in our lives.
B. STATEMENT #2 (I am Not the Christ)-3:28-“…You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but I have been sent ahead of Him.’…”
John, unlike some of his followers, is not perturbed by the news of Jesus’ growing popularity. For starters, he had always made it abundantly clear that he was not the Christ.
John 1:20-23-“and he confessed and did not deny but confessed “I am not the Christ.’…I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness,’ make straight the way of the Lord.’…”
With Jesus’ popularity on the rise and John at the height of his popularity, the issue of John’s relationship to Jesus needed clarification. Here, he succinctly provides this clarity by saying, “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but I have been sent ahead of Him.’…” (3:28) –i.e. “by the way, I am not the Messiah, I’m just the messenger for the Messiah.”
Indeed, John had prepared the way of the Lord and His ministry, by its very nature was intended to result in people encountering the Christ (Messiah/Anointed One). Both Jesus and John had been given their roles from heaven and John was content to play his part well. “Act well you part, there the honor lies.”
Over the last eleven years God has reminded me time and time again that I am no savior, builder, or hero of anything, let alone God’s church. Neither are YOU! Jesus, however, is the Savior of his people, the builder of his church and the hero of the unfolding story. This doesn’t apply exclusively to this church. That marriage that is on the frits, that addiction you are trying to hide, that relationship that is broken is beyond your saving capabilities. Only Jesus is suitable for saving your life, because only Jesus is God. In the grand play of life, Jesus not only calls the shots as the director, but is the main event in which the real actions takes place, leaving you and I as a preshow pointing to the main attraction.
Understand, although it can be hard at times and although the world ad your flesh might try to convince you otherwise, that you are not God, Jesus is. We ought to say along with John the Baptist often and loudly that we are not the Christ.
C. STATEMENT #3 (I am Not the Groom)-3:29-“…He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full…”
John next provides a similar comment by means of an illustration—“…He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full…” (3:29). Here, he likens himself to the best man at a wedding who stands ready to do the bridegroom’s bidding. In the first century, the role of a best man included organizing the details of the wedding and presiding over its success. He would find his greatest joy in watching the ceremony proceed without a problem, and in knowing that the groom and his bride were being united with great rejoicing. In light of the Old Testament background where Israel is depicted as “the bride of God,” John the Baptist is suggesting that Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited Groom. In keeping with the ancient law, the Baptist as the “best man” would have been forbidden to ever marry the bride. Rather than try and steal the attention that belongs to a bride and groom on their wedding day, John, as a good best man stood on the side and “rejoiced greatly.” John is ecstatic, not bewildered or threatened, that many are responding to the voice of Jesus Christ. He, for one, realizes his ministry, his life, and everything else is about people responding to the Messiah, not him—the groom, not the best man.
Over the course of the last many years, my wife and I have been in or I have officiated many weddings. I am always interested in what the best man has to say about the groom in his speech at the reception. It is the one time the best man is allowed to take center stage and yet, even still, the main attraction is often the look on the groom’s face and his reaction to what is being said. Similarly, John’s life and ministry was intended to point all attention and focus to Jesus. In this he found incredible joy and no cause for worry or shame. However too often in our lives, the platforms God gives us at our jobs, or in our families, or among our friends are used for selfish gain instead of pointing people to Jesus. Even ministry can be misused this way! Too often our source of joy is how many people are looking at us, instead of looking at Him. In essence, we become guilty of trying to steal the people’s attention for ourselves which is no better than the best man trying to run off with the bride at the wedding reception! In the grand play of life, Jesus is not only the director calling the shots and the main action that takes place on the stage; He is the lead role who receives all of the attention from the audience and from the minor roles around Him.
Give focus to Jesus as the groom instead of trying to steal people’s attention from where it is supposed to be. God’s people would do well to give up a worldly obsession with the sound of our own voices and begin tuning them people around them to the sound of the only voice that saves.
D. STATEMENT #4 (I am Not Trending)-3:30-“…He must increase, but I must decrease’…”
John correctly perceives that his ministry is changing. The transition from the Baptist to Jesus represents a crucial salvation-historical watershed from the Old Testament prophetic era to that of the Messianic era. In other words, the time for looking ahead to Jesus was coming to a close and the time for the emergence of the Messiah was at hand. Therefore, John concludes, in a most reflective tone, that it necessarily follows that “Christ must increase while he must decrease” (3:30).
John finds his satisfaction in wholeheartedly embracing God’s will and the supremacy it assigns to Jesus Christ. John’s language is reminiscent of the increase and decrease of light from heavenly bodies. The more radiantly the sun begins to shine in the morning, the more John’s star would grow faint.
One of the shows my wife and I like watch from time to time is America’s Got Talent. At the live results show, they will often talk about how an artist/performer is trending on twitter or on Itunes, meaning that a specific act is being downloaded by huge number of viewers or receiving a lot of attention on social media sites. The artist wants to be trending because that means their popularity is growing. In the case of Jesus and John the Baptist, Jesus was trending, and would continue to trend throughout His ministry. Some might even make the case that He continues to trend as His kingdom grows throughout the world. However, Jesus’ growth of popularity necessarily meant that John’s popularity and influence was depreciating and would have to suffer. Similarly, our lives must be spent make ourselves smaller so that Jesus can trend on our platforms (not us!). What it is that we broadcast should only result in Jesus becoming more and more popular in our corner of the world. In the grand play of life, Jesus is not only the director calling the shots, the main action that takes place on the stage, and the lead role who receives all of the attention, He ought to be the name on the billboard that draws the masses to Himself.
Instead of broadcasting yourself and your will to the world around you, choose to use yourself as a channel of God to broadcast Jesus Christ and His will in order that He might trend in the lives of those around you.
As a final challenge both to myself and this church in lieu of the transition that is taking place, I would charge you given what God has shared in this passage that we all adopt a “self-loss” program this year that includes these realizations: I am not the Christ, I am not in control, I am not the Christ, I am not the groom, I am not trending. Post them on a mirror, in your car, on a frequently opened door, and write them on the tablet of your heart. Recognize that Jesus is in control; He is God; He is the center of attention; and He should be the one trending in popularity. Today’s Christians have a real obsession with self as demonstrated by the questions they ask and the attention they seek. “How can I be a better husband or wife?” “How can I manage my money better?” How can I know the best decision in this particular situation?” “How am I supposed to fix this or that?” Applied to the church, the enemy would love nothing more than to convince people to rely on their own talents, expertise, experience, and insights so as to play the part of savior of the church, especially now in light of this season of transition. Here is the dirty little secret. YOU CAN’T! And no three or four-step process will provide you with the salvation you need in any of these areas. But Jesus can. He is a great husband; He manages everything well; He knows all things; He fixes all kinds of problems. Instead of focusing on becoming better version of ourselves, perhaps we need to focus on becoming a smaller version of ourselves so Jesus can become a bigger influence in our families, our churches, our culture, and our world. John the Baptist, understood this, and in response became the biggest loser. And so I say, with all due respect, as someone who has learned this lesson the hard way, step aside, move out of the way, and let God move. He must increase, and you and I must decrease.