May the Lord's story be exalted more than our own.
I sure enjoyed sharing about John. For me, I get a lot out of preparing to share. Where we’re going in the weeks ahead is that I want to sort of share the life of John as he prepares the way for Jesus, wrestling with some of the things that he’s going to have to wrestle with very instructive for us. Then what we’ll do as we head towards Easter as a church is shift a little bit of the discussion to how Jesus was all-in. How he lived all-in. How he went all-in on the cross. How he went ultimately all-in on the Resurrection. For now, I want to focus on John. We’ll just pick back up with where we were. All four of the gospels all refer to John.
However, the gospel of John was from the disciple named John, who was the brother of James, son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’s primary closest disciples often called the apostle of love. John’s gospel which focuses so much on the love of God also gives us a unique insight into John in the very opening movement of John’s gospel. The first chapter where it talks about ‘in the beginning was the word.’ It’s just this amazing expansive declaration. John actually has a mention in there, and it reminds us that he has a critical role to play as Jesus comes into this world and reveals Himself. I want to pick it up, this is in your handout. If you have your Bibles, you can follow along. I’m going to move to these two little passages here as a starting point, John 1:6-9. Again, if you have your Bible app follow along there as well, but it is in your handout.
We read in John 1, “There was a man sent from God. His name was John. He came as a witness to bear witness about the light that all might believe through him. Now, John, he was not the light, but he came to bear witness about the light, the true light, which gives light to everyone coming into the world.” The purpose of John was to bear witness of the light. He was utterly committed to that purpose. Jump forward in the chapter. It says “The next day again, John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as Jesus walked by. He said, ‘Behold, there He is, the lamb of God, look the lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus.” We talked about this. We mentioned it last week.
The lamb of God was John’s primary designation for Jesus. Earlier on he actually added the day before another phrase, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John was the son of a priest. Remember we talked about Zechariah. The series before we explored the miraculous birth of John. For John, the idea of Jesus being the lamb of God was not just a coincidental happenstance kind of designation. It was something that was embedded deep into him. Remember he had been raised as a son of a priest. He was very familiar with Israel’s history. He understood Israel’s history. He understood and anticipated the meaning and the significance of the sacrificial system that you read about when you read the Old Testament, it has all these sacrifices and things. John was aware of all of those things. When we talk about his familiarity with the scriptures, he grew up around the sacrificial system. He understood the Passover lamb and what it represented for the people of God, for the nation of Israel.
He understood all that entailed. So when he sees Jesus, he understands from the beginning that Jesus is coming to give Himself away as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That he was born to die again. Later on in John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have life evermore, everlasting, overflowing without end now and yet to be.” All of that wrapped up in Jesus. For John, he clearly understood that his work was to introduce Jesus.
At that moment he sees Jesus and recognizes him as Messiah, two things are happening there. One, he recognizes that the fulfillment of all that has been anticipated is happening right in front of his eyes. Everything that they, the system of the nation of Israel, the law of Moses, everything, every aspect of it was being fulfilled right before his eyes. He saw it. Then, even more than that, when he sees Jesus, he sees not only the fulfillment of a promise, if I can put it this way, he sees also the fulfillment of everything that he himself has been assigned to do. Remember, in his mind, he had one purpose for his life, to prepare the way for Messiah. Everything about what he had been doing was for that purpose. Now his work was accomplished. He had pointed people to Jesus. The Messiah had come. It was a fair question to ask, as he stands on the top of the mountain, imagine the image of someone climbing to the top. He gets there. He does what he’s supposed to do. He sees Jesus. He sees the promised one. His very purpose fulfilled. The problem is he’s 30 years old and he’s already accomplished everything he was born to accomplish. What do you do next? What was he supposed to do next?
He didn’t know. His clarion cry had been “Make way for the coming king. The king is on his way. God is on the march. A new thing is about to happen. When he comes, you’ll know what I’m talking about.” Now Jesus had come and John had called him out. It begged the question, “Now what?” He even talked. He even told people “Don’t follow me anymore, follow Him.” Even as close as some of his closest disciples, recognizing what John was saying said, “Okay, I think that we better do that.” They left him, and we talked about that.
When you read here in John, 1:35, that designation is the last time ever recorded that John lays eyes on Jesus. He doesn’t know it at the time, but it appears it will be the last time he’ll ever see him. I wonder what he felt as he watched his two disciples go with Jesus. The reason I bring that up is that if you look at the phrase there, it says, “He looked at Jesus.” In the Greek language that the scripture is translated from, sometimes we have one word for something that they have more than one word for. It’s true of love. A lot of times what’s translated love in the scriptures can be from the Greek word, philia, agape, and eros. These are stored. There are different kinds of love.
The love of God evidenced by Jesus is always agape. It’s love at its deepest, most profound giving levels. We could just do a study and talk about love and its different ways. Philia, the idea of brotherly love. Eros, erotic love. It’s just different kinds of love. The point is, this is the word for different ways of looking. It says that John did not just cast a casual glance at Jesus as he stood there. It speaks of a penetrating, pondering, almost perplexed look. Again, try to see it in our mind’s eye. John declares Jesus passing by “the lamb of God”. There He is. I told you, there He is again, the lamb of God, the one who was born to take away the sin of the world. That’s Him. That’s the one I’ve been telling you about who has come.
As John watches Jesus, there’s a part of him standing there trying to understand everything that God is doing. He’s watching Jesus and I’m sure there are a wide variety of emotions inside of him as he looks to understand what is God doing? What is happening here? What about me? What’s all going down? How is this going to go down? He looks deeply into it. Jump to John 3. This is also in your handouts. The passage we’re really going to focus on. It says “After this Jesus and His disciples went into the Judean countryside and he, John, remained there with them and was baptizing.” Well, Jesus was there baptizing. “John also was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim because water was plentiful there. People were coming and being baptized” for we’re told parenthetically John had not yet been put in prison, which will happen. We’ll talk about that. But we have to see that there was a period.
Jesus and John were very different. Jesus, Himself, didn’t baptize directly. We were told from other passages that the disciples baptized on his behalf. It was called Jesus’s baptism. John himself did baptize. What seems to be happening here is that for a short time, they were on a parallel track. John, not knowing what to do next, Jesus didn’t say, “stop doing what you’ve been doing.” There wasn’t even much of a discussion that took place beyond recognition and a declaration on the part of John. Remember Jesus leaves after that, goes into the wilderness, to be tempted, driven by the spirit to be tempted by the devil in the wilderness. John himself, staying back when Jesus returns, John calls Him the Lamb of God, confirms that, declares it two days in a row.
After that, there’s no interaction that’s taking place. John doesn’t know what he said. So he does what he thinks he’s supposed to be doing. He keeps baptizing people under repentance. He still has a large following. He’s still very famous in the region, but he decides to go to a different place, not where Jesus is. In a lot of ways, he cedes the place to Jesus, to baptize, to do his ministry. John goes somewhere else, but he’s still baptizing. That’s the context for what’s about to happen, we’re about to read. We’re told here that something remarkable occurs. Try to imagine a conversation. John has ardent followers who are still committed to him. They believe in him. They believe he’s from God. They are loyal to the core. So what happens is we’re told in verse 25, that there’s this discussion that takes place, maybe even turns into a minor kind of argument.
John’s disciples are very passionate. We’re told, it says “a discussion arose between the” look at verse 25, “between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification”, that they were all Jewish. So remember that. Many people believed it was a Pharisee who had come from Jerusalem to have a discussion with them about the theological implications of John’s baptism. Remember they had other discussions before, like “By whose authority do you do this?” Things like that. But this particular conversation is a catalyst for one of the most amazing declarations of anyone who’s ever followed, Jesus.
It starts off innocently. There’s an argument. They start talking about baptism and evidently somewhere along the way, as they’re talking about the validity of John’s baptism. Again, baptism was something that people were doing to identify and to prepare. It meant something and it still does. What happens is there is a conversation that occurs and this devout Jew evidently connected to the temple starts to challenge them around the baptism and principally speaking. He must’ve said something about how, “Hey, did you know that Jesus”, that John pointed to “is baptizing as well.” Listen to this. “Way more people are going to Him than are coming to you guys”. Look what it says John 1:26, “And they”, after this conversation occurs, they come to John and they say, “Teacher, rabbi, rabbi, he who was across with you. He who was with you across the Jordan. The one that you said bore witness to you called him the lamb of God that, look, you know what he’s doing now, he’s now baptizing. That’s what we do. Now he’s doing it.”
Look at their phrases. “All, everybody is going to Him.” They come off this conversation and that’s what’s on their mind. Do you know what they’re basically saying? Do you see what’s going on? They come to John, they say, “Do you see what’s going on? This is our turf. We do the baptizing, not him and his group. That’s ours. That’s what we do. We baptize people under repentance.” It was evidently a sore point for some of John’s followers, who perhaps agitated by the man who pointed out to them, they’re now the diminishing influence. It’s actually fascinating to consider the entire episode because it’s so human. It’s so real. They had been bothered by Jesus’s apparent baptismal success at their expense. Then it was rubbed into their faces and it made them more upset. They go to John to share their heart and their feelings.
There can be no other way to view it. When they went to John with their concern, it wasn’t an offense. “If the evil one had his way, he would drive at the very outset, the infancy, a wedge between John and Jesus.” Do you see what I’m saying? Because John’s followers, as loyal as they were, were being used, if you will, to incite John. There can be no other way to really view it. It was a trap that lesser men would have fallen into. As A.W. Robinson pointed out, “it was such a speech.” I would just read this “that would have played havoc with a little mind and an unprincipled soul. Never are the suggestions of self-love so dangerous as when they are whispered in the ear by the flattering lips of sympathizers.” Now what John is being appealed to is “Can you believe this? Rabbi, you can’t let this happen. Even this we have to give up? They’re all going to him. What are you going to do about that? We’ve got to stop this.”
The implication is this cannot be allowed to continue. “But John, master teacher, please. What do you think?” At the court, John is going to have to process it. As he processes it, remember, it’s not all clear to him what he’s supposed to do. He’s 30 years old, in his prime. Is he going to hold the line? Jesus was different from him. Perhaps, maybe he starts to wonder, “Was I mistaken having yielded the field?” Will he begin to waver? It was at the core a test of loyalty, infidelity. Could he hold his line at this moment as they were appealing to him to fight for himself? Could he hold his line? Could he stay in his lane? Watch what happens. I love the 27th verse. It says, “John answered. He said, ‘listen, I want to tell you something. A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given to them from heaven.'” Let’s start there. So he starts with this broad principle, a declaration.
This is basically saying this is God’s call, not mine. This is God’s call. He decides. He decides not me. I know you want me to do something. I know it bothers you that now even the baptism, everybody’s going, but He decides not me. John says, “Look” You can see it. “You yourselves, listen, you bear witness. You heard me say it with your own ears, I am not the Christ. I’ve been sent before Him, but I am not Him. Remember who I said I was and what I had come to do, to prepare the way. I didn’t ever say that I was the one.” Then, oh, watch this. He gets into this marvelous analogy.
Watch what happens, it’s awesome. He says, “Look, the one who has the bride, that’s the bridegroom. Don’t ever forget that.” The friend of the bridegroom stands, hears him, and rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. He’s not before him. John says, look, “it’s like being at a wedding.” He says, “there’s someone who’s getting married, the bridegroom and his bride” and he says, “I am like the best man.” He’s watching what’s going on. It’s not like he’s going, “Oh, I don’t want this to happen.” You got to say, “you’re happy for him.”
Do you see that? Look, he stands and he’s Listening. He hears him and rejoices greatly over it. He rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Do you understand what I’m saying? Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete. Ah, how can I be anything other than happy for what God is doing? What an expanse. It’s almost like John says, “if you think that the news from across the Jordan about Jesus’s success does anything but bring me joy then you are mistaken.” Then he says words that stir the soul. He makes the statement. He says it. He declares it. He hammers it home deep inside of whatever struggle he was having around it. He says, “make no mistake about this.” Look at verse 30th, ah that’s a great verse. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Wow. My light is diminishing, his is growing and it is as it should be. He says “he who comes from above is above all. He was of the earth, belongs to the earth, and speaks in an earthly way. That’s me. He who comes from heaven is above all, that’s Him.” He bears witness to what he has seen and heard yet no one receives his testimony. Not yet, but whoever receives his testimony, says his seal to this, that God is true. God has spoken, for He, whom God has sent utters, the words of God for he gives the Spirit without measure. The father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Remember he called him the Son of God. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” Think about that statement. “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Death reigns, unless life is coming.
It’s not about are we lost? Apart from Christ, we’re all adrift at sea. If you think about the verse that follows, John 3:16, less quoted, remember “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have life everlasting life.” What follows after that? He’s having this conversation with a spiritual teacher named Nicodemus and he says, and don’t ever forget, “God did not send His Son into this world to condemn it.” It already has death on it, but to give life. It’s about the life-giver. It’s like we’re all drowning at sea and God throws out a life opportunity, a ring of life. It’s just a question of who wants to accept what God is offering. It’s a powerful thing what John says. Take what we’ve been now and let’s pull this into all-in. Let me suggest something. This will mean more to some than others, but when we’re all-in, when it comes to all-in, let us guard our heart, hear me out, let’s put this up.
We’ll put this up there especially for those that are taking notes. Let us guard our hearts against offense, competition, and division. This is an especially powerful truth for all of us in the church community. It’s a principle that applies across the board anywhere even when we work. Certainly in relationships, we will always, listen, always have occasions to be offended and we will always have reasons to compete. I’m not saying there isn’t a difference between healthy competition and an unhealthy one. In this particular case, John was being asked by his loyal disciples to compete with Jesus for turf. He wouldn’t do it. “He must increase. I must decrease.” Not said by a beaten man or a broken man, by a man at his peak, susceptible like everyone else to pride and vainglory, used to being on top, his own guy.
We have to guard our hearts against division. It was an attempt to divide. I think we understand this. One of my favorite psalms of all the psalms, Psalm 133, “Behold how pleasant and how good it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.” That’s a comprehensive phrase, using the language, the poetic language of the older testament, “is it not like the dude that falls on Mount Herman or the oil, the anointing oil that flowed down Aaron’s beard? There the Lord has commanded his blessing.” Powerful truth that in unity, think about it. I won’t go too far into this, but on the night of Jesus’s betrayal, one of the primary things He contends for right before the cross with His own group was to not allow the spirit of pride and disunity to infect them. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples by the love that you demonstrate.”
Listen, one to the other, the badge of the disciple of a follower of Jesus always begins with the ‘love one to the other,’ powerful truth. He could have said it’s by what you give away. He said “the people will truly see the reality of my work in you on the basis of your love, one to another. So do not allow the sacredness of your unity to be violated through pride, self-seeking, and petty positioning.” Don’t do it, such as in the kingdom of this world, he says, “that’s what they do. They fight for the first position. The best seats, don’t do that. Don’t do that with one another.” He kept hitting that thing so hard. While they were arguing about who is the greatest, Jesus gets down on His knees and starts washing their feet. He says, “See what I’ve shown you. Do you understand? Don’t ever forget this.” Now he has a cross coming the next day. Think about where he’s going. And yet he pauses to teach that lesson.
It meant something to him. We need to guard against offense in our hearts. John was being appealed to by people who loved him to be offended and to define himself at some level. In other words, they were saying, “you need to think territorially, he’s kind of coming into our turf” and they wanted him to see Jesus. I don’t think they meant it because they loved him, but they wanted him to see Jesus as a rival and he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. Again I’ve always loved his statement in verse 27. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “look, the Lord decides who He prospers and exalts, not men”, not people. “If it’s His choice then so be it.” That’s God’s call, not mine and not yours. There are times where I say, “You know what? It’s the Lord that decides, the Lord decides.” Our job is not to tell God how He decides, but to work with the kingdom.
Then John does something to combat the very real hurt he feels. That very real temptation he’s feeling, being presented with. There is a great, great principle for us here. I’m telling you if we go away with this is power in this, there’s power to live out of in this because what does John do? Okay, I know what he literally does. What he literally says is, “Look, I’m the bride. I’m the friend of the bridegroom. I’m not the bridegroom.” That’s what he says, but what is he really, really getting at? Because then he pushes it further, and says, “And why wouldn’t I be anything but filled with joy over what is happening?” Just like that friend of the bridegroom is happy for his friend.
Here’s the principle when we’re all-in, it’s very important. It’s almost essential that we articulate and activate joy. We’ll put it up there, joy as a way of life. Why? Because the joy of the Lord, the scripture teaches us is our strength. There is power in it. It’s so easy to yield to our sadness or disappointment, start letting that define us because we live in a broken world and we’re not exempt from trouble. We may suffer from a breaking body that’s not working right. We might have a broken body or a broken relationship. It’s not working well, a broken dream, a broken heart. Each is hard in its own way. In John’s case, do you know what his challenge was? It was a vocational rearrangement. In his humanity, he had to be okay with being less admired. Yes, even passed by.
He had to learn how to be graceful and genuinely happy for the ascendancy of Jesus even though part of it meant his own demise. It’s one thing to say, “I want the best for you.” It’s another thing to live that way. You can feel it there. Remember John was still a man in his prime. How would he combat this temptation of envy or yield to depression? Do you know what he chose to do? He chose to anchor himself in joy. I am like a friend of the bridegroom and I am happy for that. It brings me joy to see it. He might say, “well, did he really mean that?” I do believe a part of John genuinely meant that. He wasn’t lying. But I also think that just like a lot of times, it doesn’t mean we’re not struggling with other stuff. We may take the position and articulate what we know what God wants. There is power in that. I heard people say, and I’ve even said it a couple of times. “Well, if I don’t feel it, I’m not going to say it.”
That’s a fine line to walk. Because sometimes what goes first, the saying or the feeling? Which follows which? What’s the horse that really pulls the carriage? When we articulate something by faith there’s a part of me or a part of you that really does want that, want what God wants, then we speak into that. Do you hear what I’m saying? Speak into that. It’s not being inauthentic. Speaking like John says, “no, no, no. It brings me joy.” He comes against that temptation to be defined by the offense in his heart with a spirit of joy. He comes against that thing that would say, “you’re losing, you’re losing.” His best people were telling him, “you can’t let this happen. You’ve got to fight for yourself.” John won’t do it. He won’t do it.
It’s almost like Lord, there are going to be times when we’re going to need you to help us push past our sadness with a big heart, with a big heart, open my heart up God. Give me a big heart. Lastly, you know what it is. Here’s a principle of all-in. May He increase as I decrease, more of you, less of me, I love this little, you see that little symbol there. He is greater than I. That’s a great t-shirt, by the way, the “greater than I” t-shirts. I’m not a salesman, but I’ll tell you, I really like those t-shirts a lot. Go online and get one if you’re out in Hawaii.
He is greater than I. He must increase. I must decrease, less of my will, more of His, His way, less of my selfishness, more of His graciousness, more of my smallness, listen, more of His largeness, less of me, more of you, less of us, more of Him. That’s what we want. That it shows up in our character, our conversation, the decisions we make, the way we live, the dailiness of our lives. It’s one of the reasons why we decided to just go for the rise and shine. Just do it on a daily basis. It was to assist everyone to just stay in a good place, heading into Easter. That was our heart’s desire. It was to do this.
Keep ourselves alive in God. We’re always going to have reasons to be discouraged. Envious, resentful, small can’t stay big in our hearts. “My yoke is easy.” Jesus said, “a burden is light.” All right, we’re going to pray and we’re going to have a time of giving. I know a lot of us are giving online these days, which is fine. But we still have a little traditional time as well. I’m going to pray. Then we’ll have our offering time. We’ll close with the final song that is directly connected to what we’re about, what we’ve just been sharing. All right, let me pray. God, I do ask that your words would just be magnified in our hearts. So let’s be open, I don’t know where we’re supposed to really ultimately hang on to. I know this, I know that you want the best part of our story to be your story. I know that. May your story be greater than our story at work in our lives. I do. I ask that. Intertwine it, but make it the key thing. Let’s pray for your blessing over our time. Let these words settle in just to learn and live them out. I ask for your blessing. Bless us as we close this time, bless the time of giving, all these things I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen God.