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My Joy Is Fulfilled

John 3:22-36

The 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 him.”£

John’s Troubled Disciples

John’s 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

In a recent trial[1] 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.

We 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!”

You 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.”[2] They’re just determined to keep it that way.

The desire for vindication

One of the reasons Jesus taught us to settle our difficulties quickly[3], 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.

You 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

“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 finds trouble.

See how John’s disciples have fallen into this. Their argument might be put this way:

  • “You recommended this fellow – and now look! He’s stealing your business!”
  • “Besides, we were here first.”
  • “And our guy is a real prophet!”

What we must learn is that all these human reactions, while very common, are contrary to the kingdom of God.

  • The kingdom of God is not exclusive; it is inclusive, for he summons “all who will.”
  • The 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 vindication.
  • The 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 all.

John’s gentle reply

John 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?

  • First, he wishes to ensure harmony in the kingdom of God. His disciples are envious; they must be restored gently.
  • Next, 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.
  • Finally, 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

Here 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.

John, 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 bride.


John returns to his testimony about Jesus. It is the central point of his ministry.

  • He does it in words. He proclaims the truth, gently but without hesitation.
  • He does it in action. If his disciples run to this Jesus (and some already have) he does not care; rather, he applauds.

This 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?

Simply 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 this.

The Supremacy of Christ

It should be noted that verses 31-36 are not necessarily “red letter” verses for John. They may be the comment of the Apostle.


The 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 this passage:

  • He 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.
  • We 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.
  • John 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

To 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 our own.

But 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.

He 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.


“All well and good,” you say. “But what does it mean to me?” The lesson comes by example.

  • First, 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.
  • Next, 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.
  • When 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?”

[1] The actress, Winona Ryder

[2] Of course, it actually means “teacher.” But didn’t you feel that way about your second grade teacher?

[3] Matthew 5:25-26

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