passage we have before us is seldom commented upon in modern times. Perhaps
this is because we no longer think of pride – or, in the words of the King
James Version, vainglory – as being a sin. Our time listens to those who
proclaim themselves to be the greatest. So it becomes difficult to understand
the prophet, John the Baptist, as he speaks of becoming less so that Christ may
become greater. But we shall see that there is great wisdom in his words.
22After this, Jesus and his disciples went
out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and
baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near
Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to
be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An
argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew£ over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with
you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is
baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27To this John replied, “A man can receive
only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I
am not the Christ£ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the
bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the
bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.
31“The one who comes from above is above
all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from
the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his
testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified
that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the
words of God, for God£ gives the
Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed
everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal
life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on
John’s Troubled Disciples
disciples are all too human. They are sheep, following a shepherd – and they
know that theirs must be the best shepherd. Deep inside all of us rest the
same motives they had.
The desire for exclusiveness
a recent trial
a woman was convicted of shoplifting. One of the items she took was a purse,
priced at $850 (if memory serves). My first reaction to the price was one of
incredulity. How could a purse – excellent versions of which can be purchased
for much less – be so costly? The answer lies in our desire for
exclusiveness. The inexpensive, functional purse carries with it no air of
exclusiveness. With such possessions we feel we are “in” and the others are
“out.” We desire this so much that our purveyors know that they can charge a
high price for it.
can see that desire in John’s disciples. Please note that they were not
complaining about a slack in business because of this Jesus; they had their
hands full baptizing the repentant who came to John. It’s not that Jesus stole
their customers; Jesus destroyed their exclusiveness. If you think this
doesn’t apply today, ask someone about the book of Revelation. There are so
many who are delighted to have the exclusive, “right” interpretation. Ah, to
be the one “in the know!”
can see this quite clearly in their request. The argument is about ceremonial
washing – the complaint is about Jesus baptizing. Remember that “Rabbi” is old
Hebrew for “guy with all the answers.”
They’re just determined to keep it that way.
The desire for vindication
of the reasons Jesus taught us to settle our difficulties quickly,
on the way to court, was so that we might be delivered from the desire to be
vindicated. The disciples have not run to John for answers; they want
argument ammunition. They want to set this person straight by proclaiming
John’s supremacy – and, of course, this would rub off on them.
can see it in their request. They call John “rabbi” but Jesus is “that man.”
The implication is clear: we’re with somebody, you’re with nobody – which
makes us right.
The desire for vainglory
is an old word; it means, as it sounds like, a type of glory which in the end
is completely useless. It means the honors of this world. It is such an old
word that we must begin with a clarification. If you do a good job, and
someone says to you, “Hey – great job!” you should feel a certain sense of
satisfaction. We, as human beings, need that. Call that “positive feedback.”
It turns sour, however, when we leap from “great job” to “great person.”
Because you praise me, I begin to think that I really am somebody both
important and wonderful. When that leads to ,”I’m better than anyone else” it
how John’s disciples have fallen into this. Their argument might be put this
recommended this fellow – and now look! He’s stealing your business!”
we were here first.”
our guy is a real prophet!”
we must learn is that all these human reactions, while very common, are contrary
to the kingdom of God.
kingdom of God is not exclusive; it is inclusive, for he summons “all who
kingdom of God seeks no vindication; indeed, Christ himself did not avoid
the Cross. He did not deserve it; but he did not even attempt his own
kingdom of God seeks no vainglory. The kingdom of God is ruled by
servants. If you wish to be the master of all, you must be the servant of
John’s gentle reply
does not reply as his disciples might have wished. Indeed, his reply does not
contain the answer they would like – and it certainly is not in the spirit they
would like. His reply blunts their anger with its gentleness. Why these
gentle words from so fiery a prophet?
he wishes to ensure harmony in the kingdom of God. His disciples are
envious; they must be restored gently.
he wishes to ease the transition. Soon he will begin to “decrease” – even
to the point of dying in prison. He wants to make their change to Jesus
as painless as possible.
his soft reply has a reason: soft words require the hearer to listen.
Have you ever tried this with small children? When you whisper they get
quiet – so that they can hear what you say.
A man can only receive
we are reminded of the principle of gifts: the Holy Spirit gives us gifts for
use in the kingdom of God. We do not choose them. We can only choose to use
or lose them.
in a sense, is a matchmaker. He is assisting the groom (Jesus) with his bride
(the church). It’s not his wedding, so to speak. But do you not see that this
applies to us as well? Every one we bring to Christ is a repetition of this.
We are not the important one; Jesus, the Christ, is. So we introduce others
to the one who is really important. We are matchmakers between Christ and his
returns to his testimony about Jesus. It is the central point of his
does it in words. He proclaims the truth, gently but without hesitation.
does it in action. If his disciples run to this Jesus (and some already
have) he does not care; rather, he applauds.
would seem to some to be very discouraging. After all, he’s poured a lot of
himself into these disciples. How can this be a good thing?
this: John is a craftsman. He has been given a task to perform, and he has
performed it well. He has a craftsman’s satisfaction with the work; he has a
runner’s satisfaction with reaching the goal. We would do well to imitate
The Supremacy of Christ
should be noted that verses 31-36 are not necessarily “red letter” verses for
John. They may be the comment of the Apostle.
early church was very impressed with what is called the “condescension” of
Christ. The word has passed out of favor; today it means a snooty attitude by
the rich and famous as they patronize the poor and anonymous. What it really
means, in this context, is that Christ gave up the splendors of heaven to be
human for us – so that we might become like him. We see this exemplified in
is said to be “above all.” It is a sweeping statement by John the
Baptist. There were many authorities in his day. But it has stood the
test of time. There are no more Caesars; but Christ remains “above
all.” His authority is still supreme.
see here that he has the Holy Spirit “without limit.” “Without measure,”
says the King James. This simply tells us that the Holy Spirit is in
Christ to the full extent – so that Father, Son and Spirit are one.
speaks of him as the bridegroom. In this time (alas, not in ours) this
would imply his authority over the bride. In terms we might better
understand, he is “Prince Charming” to our Cinderella.
The Nature of Christ
understand this, we need only look at the message and the messenger. The
messenger, Jesus, is from heaven. That alone teaches us that his message is
going to be different. It will reveal things to us that we could not find on
notice the messenger’s method. He testifies to what he has seen and heard. He
is one with the Father, and therefore his words are the Father’s own.
speaks the words of God – whether we accept such or not. In glory and power
Christ is without equal. But we also see here his obedience, indeed
submission, to the Father. That obedience is for our sake. Would that we
would imitate it.
well and good,” you say. “But what does it mean to me?” The lesson comes by
we must reject vainglory, the honors of this world. How can we do that? By
setting our honor in comparison with His, not with others. What does my
standing matter compared to his? We should compare ourselves to him – and
imitate him in all things. Keep your eye on the prize.
we must be “friends of the bridegroom.” In our attempts at personal
evangelism, we must remember that we are not showing off our piety; we
are not displaying the wisdom of our teachers; we are not touting the
“relevance” of our worship services. No doubt we should be pious; our
teachers should be wise; our worship services relevant. But the point is
Jesus Christ – not us.
we do this, we will be fulfilling the joy set before us. How do we do
this? The matter is one for the Holy Spirit. Do we know what gifts the
Spirit has given us? Do we use those gifts to perform the work set before
us? The answers are important. Soon – perhaps very soon – you will be
asking, “Is his return a joy – or a terror?”