1) HE INCREASES IN OUR OBEDIENCE
John 3:22–24 (ESV) — 22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
In our text today, we have something peculiar taking place.
• Both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ are baptizing “at Aenon near Salim”.
• And each has his own disciples with him.
• And, in spite of Jesus presence, people were still coming to John for baptism.
Something that makes it even more peculiar is that both groups were doing water baptisms.
How do we know this?
• The geographical location – “Aenon” is a Semitic term meaning “springs” – A. Kostenberger.
• The comment that John was “also” baptizing there (his was a water baptism).
• And the question in verse 25 concerning purification, which was a Jewish concern, “over the matter of ceremonial washing…not on the relative merits of the baptism administered by John versus the baptism administered by Jesus” – D.A. Carson.
• Therefore, “the context requires that this be taken as water baptism, not the baptism in the Holy Spirit the Baptist promised Jesus would administer [Matthew 3:11]” – D.A. Carson.
So what we don’t have going on explicitly is:
• Folks coming to John for his water of repentance baptism.
• And then folks heading over to Jesus for His Holy Spirit baptism.
POI – Did Jesus personally baptize?
• “Only the Fourth Gospel mentions that Jesus baptized, and 4:2 specifies that he himself did not perform the rite but left it to his disciples” – D.A. Carson.
• John 4:2 (ESV) — 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),
So a couple of questions obviously arise:
• Why did John the Baptist continue to fulfill his heavenly call of a water baptism of repentance even though Christ’s ministry was underway?
• The answer I found over and over is “Perhaps John continued his ministry of baptism so as to have further opportunity to bear witness to Jesus as the Christ” – Kostenberger.
• This answer is valid only if the scene as presented in our text today really does “bear witness to Jesus as the Christ” and increases Jesus’ standing while decreasing John’s.
So, this leads us to our second question.
• Did the event described in our text (an overlapping ministry) “bear witness to Jesus as the Christ”?
• To answer that question, we need to get a little background.
POI – What is the purpose of verse 24?
• “Rather than representing a discrepancy with the Synoptics, the Fourth Evangelist seeks to clarify the chronology, indicating that everything that happened up to this point in his Gospel took place prior to John’s imprisonment by Herod Antipas, which is recorded in Mark 1:14” – Kostenberger.
So back to our “bear witness to Jesus as the Christ” question.
Background we need to know:
(1) John was divinely called to do this.
(2) And his ministry was a fulfillment of prophecy.
• Luke 3:2–4 (ESV) — 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
(3) John had “achieved a great deal of popularity as a result of his preaching” – Boice.
• Luke tells us that “crowds”, “tax collectors”, “soldiers” all came to hear him preach.
• Matthew tells us in Matthew 3:5 (ESV) — 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,
• Mark tells us in Mark 6:20 (ESV) — 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
o Even the powerful were attracted to John’s ministry
So from points (1) and (2), we see that he continued his ministry out of obedience to his call and in fulfillment of prophecy.
• And in this obedience he did “bear witness to Christ”.
o John 1:29 (ESV) — 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
And from point (3), we will see that our text today will demonstrate to us the nature of his obedience.
• John’s obedience was a humble obedience not a calculated or self-serving obedience.
• Facing competition and declining success, John could have easily been tempted to:
o Quit and go back to a safe, normal life.
o Or even to join up with Jesus; we know that a couple of his disciples did (John 1:37).
But John kept going in humble obedience.
• How exactly did he do this and how did it “bear witness to Christ”?
• John’s words to his disciples will flesh this out for us.
2) HE INCREASES IN OUR HUMBLE OBEDIENCE
John 3:25–30 (ESV) — 25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
I believe a preview of how John’s humble obedience “bore witness to Christ” can be found in the following observation:
• For John to halt his ministry at the onset of Jesus’ would have been done under the influence of worldly considerations:
o “My ministry is waning and Jesus’ is growing – I should quit while I’m ahead”.
o “My ministry must not be as good as His because I’m losing my own disciples and some of the crowd to His ministry.”
o “My ministry is just a distraction from Christ’s, so it is time to stop”.
But this is not what John the Baptist said or did.
• He used the John/Jesus baptizing event to “bear witness to Christ” with his humble obedience.
• And he did this in at least 5 ways.
John 3:25 (ESV) — 25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.
• As mentioned earlier, this was question about Jewish stuff not Jesus/John stuff.
• Or as Kostenberger puts it, the question was a concern over the relationship between water baptism and “more traditional ceremonies practiced in contemporary Judaism.”
John 3:26 (ESV) — 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
• In the course of this discussion between the Jew and John’s disciples, John’s disciples came to John to point out something that obviously was a concern to them – a worldly one that we alluded to earlier.
• In the words of James Boice, “This was the same as saying, “John, your star is sinking. What shall we do?”
John 3:27–28 (ESV) — 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’
• In reply to their worldly concern, John, once again, “bore witness to Christ” and made much of Him.
• John, in verse 27, discloses a profound truth.
• Our ministries for the kingdom are bestowed by God from heaven to serve Him – (1) God is sovereign.
• They are not bestowed by man to serve the interests of man.
• That means, for John, not only was his ministry but Christ’s also was bestowed from heaven.
• And as measured by John’s words and actions, he, “was entirely content with his” ministry – D.A. Carson.
This wisdom expressed by John discloses another profound truth – (2) a right understanding of his ministry.
• The value and effectiveness of His ministry was not determined by comparing it to another’s, but by following the ministry through, in all obedience, no matter the cost.
• In other words, John is not capitulating to the circumstances and reluctantly accepting his “defeat”.
• He is wholeheartedly embracing God’s will both in his ministry and Christ’s!
And it is this attitude of John the Baptist that enables him to be humbly obedient in spite of the worldly concerns of his disciples and worldly temptations that were buffeting him.
• He declares, in recognition and full acceptance of the ministry given him by God, “I am not the Christ”.
• “For John the Baptist to have wished he were someone else, called to serve in a way many would judge more prominent, would simply be covetousness by another name; if the person he envied were the Messiah himself, he would be annulling the excellent ministry God had given him” – D.A. Carson.
So the message given by John loud and clear to his disciples and to us is:
• “If the newcomer was attracting and winning more followers than John himself, this was not because he was stealing them away from John or acting dishonestly in presenting his claims. It was because God was giving them to Christ to be his followers” – James Boice.
• And the benefit to anyone’s ministry in recognizing “that all spiritual insight and advance comes from God is to be freed from jealous efforts at comparison” – James Boice.
John goes on and continues to “bear witness to Christ” in his humble obedience in 2 more ways.
John 3:29 (ESV) — 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.
• John makes mention of the bride, the bridegroom and the “friend” or best man.
• Clearly, John sees himself as the best man.
• He sees Jesus as the bridegroom.
• And, “In light of the OT background where Israel is depicted as “the bride of Yahweh”, the Baptist is suggesting that Jesus is Israel’s [the bride’s] awaited king and messiah” – Kostenberger.
o And we know that ultimately, the bride of Christ is the Church as Paul says in Ephesians 5:25 (ESV) — 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
So with these words, John is downplaying himself and not only (3) fixing his eyes on Christ but also (4) pointing all in the direction of Christ.
• The fact of this can be demonstrated with the following cultural insight.
• In the A.N.E., the best man was “absolutely prohibited” from marrying the bride.
• So when John identifies himself with the best man, he is acknowledging that the salvation of Israel is Jesus’ God given ministry and not his.
• His support and his eyes are firmly fixed on the heavenly ordained ministry of Christ.
• And he invites us and his disciples to do the same, thereby pointing to Christ as Messiah.
• And he explicitly states that in this knowledge his joy “is now complete”.
o As mentioned earlier, another example of embracing and expressing God’s will.
And finally, John brings us to one of the fundamental truths of any effective ministry, and the 5th way he he uses the occasion to “bear witness to Christ”.
John 3:30 (ESV) — 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
• With these words, John reveals what ultimately defines a successful ministry – (5) the glorification of Christ.
• Whether his ministry succeeded in the eyes of the world (his disciples) or not was irrelevant.
• His aim was humble obedience to his heavenly ordained ministry.
• And in seeking to understand the practice of John’s humble obedience, we can point to the words of A.W. Pink, “Humility is not the product of direct cultivation, rather it is a by-product. The more I try to be humble, the less shall I attain unto humility. But if I am truly occupied with that One who was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ if I am constantly beholding His glory in the mirror of God’s Word, then shall I be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Cor. 3:18).”
• John’s ministry truly led to the “by-product” of humble obedience!
• And this statement was again an affirmation of God’s sovereignty, for who would determine when John’s time had come and his ministry was over?
So this leads us back to our second question from the beginning of our lesson.
• We saw that John was simply being obedient.
• But we wondered how that obedience could be helpful at this point in the story.
• How did John’s ministry during the onset of Jesus’ ministry “bear witness to Christ”?
It did so because John’s obedience was a humble obedience as demonstrated in the following (Boice):
• (1) Recognizing and submitting to the sovereignty of God.
• (2) Knowing and understanding his ministry in light of God’s will, directives and expectations, not the world’s.
• (3) Fixing his eyes on Christ and His desire to save and establish his Church – John was only the best man.
• (4) Pointing and leading others to Christ.
• (5) “The final factor in John’s humility was his knowledge of the fact that whatever might happen in this world, whatever glory the world might or might not give him, the ultimate outcome would be increase of the glory given to Jesus Christ and the bowing of every human knee before him” – James Boice.
At first glance, it made no since that John would continue in his ministry after Jesus’ started His.
• In fact, the other three Gospels leave this info out all together.
• But, clearly, we have seen that what can make little worldly since, can make heavenly since.
• However, one necessary ingredient for this to be the case is humble obedience.
• John the Baptist has unequivocally set that example for us.
Lesson for Us:
• What is your heavenly ordained ministry in the Church?
• How do you evaluate its success – with heavenly or worldly standards?
• Do your actions and attitudes “increase” Christ or yourself?