We must decrease so the He may increase.
Here’s the thing, when we left off, I did the front three teachings on John. I left off with the baptism of Jesus. It’s not in your handout. If you have your Bible app or your Bibles with you, follow along. But in this particular portion of scripture, I want to just reconnect to it, it records the baptism of Jesus. I want to have them also scroll it up on the screen. It’s from Mark 1:9-13. I want to read it through, again, just to reset and reconnect. In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and He was baptized by John in the Jordan, the Jordan River. When He came up out of the water, immediately, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending. He would be John the Baptist, saw the heavens open up and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
That’s why historically people have used the dove as a symbol of the spirit. It was a literal dove or something like that. It’s hard to know for sure but it was something John recognized in a visual way as the presence of the Lord, the spirit of God falling upon Jesus. If you recall, when John had started that interaction, he had said, “Why are you asking me to baptize you? I should be asking you to baptize me.” Jesus said, “You need to let this be.” John baptized Jesus. When he did, he saw these phenomena. Another thing that happens as we read here, is he hears a voice crackling, I guess over the water. It must have echoed out. “This is my beloved Son, my Son in whom I am pleased.” He gets a visual and verbal testimony. The Bible that makes a stark move, it then shifts and says from that moment on, Jesus then is immediately led to the spirit or driven is an interesting phrase. The idea is that God prompts Him with deep conviction to move into the wilderness of Judea, which wouldn’t have been that far from the Jordan.
Jesus is to go alone. You could see what is described as He’s alone in the wilderness with the wild animals and all the other threats that are there. There are other things happening. He goes to be tempted by the devil. The scripture says matter of factly, and also there were ministering angels there as well who were being given then as a picture of Jesus in the middle of intense, we would call spiritual warfare, where at the very outset of His ministry, the first thing that happens as He gets baptized. It’s a marking point. Then He moves to be tempted in the wilderness. There’s a spiritual confrontation that takes place in which Jesus is presented. If we were just sitting with the temptation of Jesus, it would be a fascinating study in and of itself, but essentially He’s offered a bypass of the cross.
In His humanity, Jesus must accept what God the Father is asking of Him. In this intense moment in which He is confirming His purpose. Meanwhile, John is still baptizing. You have to understand that moment. Again, we read it on the pages. Maybe we don’t appreciate it. Maybe we do it. I think sometimes we don’t appreciate in our mind’s eye what was happening there because evidently when John baptized Jesus, not a lot of people were there. At least not a lot of them recognized it. There wasn’t this interaction. This is what we’re told in the scripture. There wasn’t this big interaction that takes place with Jesus and John. Afterward, they had a conversation; Jesus and John started talking, “John, here’s what I want you to do next. Here’s where we’re going with this.” All the Bible implies is that after Jesus comes out of the water and this happens, that John is stunned because he didn’t expect it to happen that way. Then we’re also told that Jesus quietly, but evidently moves out resolutely and leads without having a lot of interaction with John.
I see John standing in the water as Jesus walks out and away, not saying almost anything. John is there processing through what he has just experienced with Jesus. For him, it’s not even just the moment itself and trying to reconcile what has just happened here. You have to remember, it’s not just that Jesus is walking away. What does this all mean and what just happened here? John’s stunned. There’s also a whole lot of other stuff that John is asked to process. His entire purpose for being has now been altered. His entire life is now going to be different. Remember, what did he say his entire purpose, where his existence was? He told the people, “I am here to prepare the way for Messiah. He’s coming. I don’t know Him. I know He’s on His way.” We need to baptize ourselves into repentance to a point of openness and righteousness before God so that we can recognize the thing that he is about to do. Prepare the way. That’s why I’m here. Then that moment happens.
As John is there, part of him has to also be processing as I think he will do in the next few days, the days that follow. Well, what does that mean for me? What’s next? My purpose is fulfilled. We’re going to see later on, he’s not sure what to do. It’s not clear actually. We’ve talked about how sometimes some of us can relate to this because there are these moments in life where we come to these places. Where what we’ve relied upon as our identity starts to shift or be brought to a close. I know some of us are younger here. Some of us are older, but in life, you will have transitions. This too I have seen. Some of us have experienced them at an early age. But when you have a loss, significant painful loss, or transitions, they reorder your world. Oftentimes we underestimate what John must’ve felt like when his entire purpose, as he understood it, was fulfilled. What was his “what’s next moment? Who am I now? What does this mean?”
Jesus didn’t say anything. All I was born to do was to point to the moment when He arrived and now He’s here. Now, what? Where do I go? What should I do? It wasn’t clear. We find ourselves in these places of transition where our identity has been tied up into something, and then all of a sudden it’s changing. That can really affect us. It really can. I mean, a lot of times where we’ll find ourselves is moving into deep seasons of depression or discouragement. It’s intense because you’re not sure what to do. Don’t forget this. John was a prophet of the Lord, no question, an anointed man. He was also a very human man. He was a human being. He had real feelings and he was capable of sin. He was capable of getting things wrong, and he was capable of being hurt, just like you and me.
Even though John was trying to be obedient to God, he also had to reconcile the fact that his life was being altered forever. At the age of 30, he didn’t know that he had achieved his entire purpose. Now what? It’s important to keep that in the back of our minds. Now we know that after Jesus goes into the wilderness, something happens. John’s gospel, not John, John’s gospel, and I think many of us are aware that John is a different John than John the Baptist. John’s gospel records an incident that happens with John the Baptist and a contingent of powerful men who arrive, but in the region of the Jordan to talk with John. They had been sent by the most powerful authorities of their day. They were sent from the Jerusalem temple authorities to question John. Because of what was happening at this time, John was so popular and recognized as being from God. It’s not to say that there were large swaths of people from every level of society that were coming to be baptized. Everybody was talking about him.
He was the rage. He would be big on the list if you were talking about a social media standpoint. He’d way up there right now, all the rage. John was the man. Everybody wanted to know about him. They were all talking about him. Everybody was interested in him. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with him. they had to be baptized by John. You know what I’m trying to get at. The authorities recognize this. Who is this guy? He’s untrained. He’s unlettered. He didn’t come from us. Who is he and by what authority is he doing this? We have to find out. They sent a group of men to go question John. Now, remember, this is right after the baptism has occurred. John now is met with this delegation and it’s recorded in the gospel of John. That’s what I want us to look at, watch the interaction and try to understand it. Let’s read this through.
Verse 19, says this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask, “Who are you? What is your authority? How can you talk like the way you’re talking? Who gave you the authority to baptize, to exercise a religious jurisdiction? Where did that come from?” they’re very approachable, by the way, though, was that something level, a compliment and a more ambitious man with a lesser soul would have been tempted by the flattery of the inquiry. Do you understand what I’m saying? It’d be like a group of the most powerful people in the nation coming to talk to you, coming to you to talk with you and trying to understand who you are. It was an honor. They come to John, these leaders, temple assistance, and priests and they just say, “John, who are you? We’ve come to find out who you are. Who do you say you are?” Look at verse 20.
He came right out and you know what he does. He says, “Well, I’ll tell you what I’m not. I am not the Messiah. Just in case you are wondering if I was claiming to be that. No, I’m not. I am not the Messiah,” which was connected to the fact that there were some people who were saying and wondering if he was the promised one, John says, “I am not the Messiah. “Well, then they asked, look, “Who are you? Are you Elijah?” Now, the reason they asked that is that there had been some thought that Elijah would return to the earth because it said that the spirit of Elijah would be on the prophet that would welcome in the coming of the promised one. There was a debate as to what that was. They thought maybe, John looked like Elijah, that they had read. Elijah had been in the wilderness. John had come from the wilderness. Elijah dressed in camel skin. John dressed in camel skin. Elijah had wild eyes. John had wild eyes. Elijah ate locusts and honey. John ate locusts and honey. When you talked to him, you saw the little pieces in his teeth. I’m kidding. I don’t know actually about that part. But I know he had honey on his beard, for sure because if you eat a lot of honey, it gets stuck there every now and then. But they came up to him and they said, “Are you, Elijah?” Watch the interaction. “Are you the Messiah?” No, I’m not the Messiah.” “Who are you?” “I’m not the Messiah.” “Are you Elijah, the prophet?” “No.” “Oh, are you the prophet that we’ve all been waiting for, who is under Moses?” You read about it I think in Deuteronomy 18. It says there’ll be a prophet. God will raise up a prophet under Moses to be a deliverer. In their mind, they say, “Are you that prophet?” “No. First I’m not the Messiah.” “Are you Elijah?” “No.” “Are you the prophet?” “No.”
It doesn’t seem like John’s interested in having a discussion here, is he? “Could you elaborate a little bit?” “No.” Nothing. Nothing. Well, look at what it says, “Then who are you?” We can’t just come back and say, “No. We didn’t answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself? Who are you?” John replied in the words of Prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice shouting in the wilderness. Clear the way for the Lord’s coming, the forerunner.” The Pharisees who had been sent, asked him and said, “Well, if you’re not the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet, then really we have to ask you, what right do you have to baptize anyone because no one’s given you the formal authority to do so? If you aren’t any of these things, then what right do you have to baptize?” You know what? From their perspective, it was a legitimate question. It’s like, by which authority are you exercising this kind of religious jurisdiction when you’ve never even checked in with us?
They basically said, “Look, if you’re not any of these, then what are you baptizing people for. It’s not your right or responsibility. You have no authority to do that.” Watch what happens. John won’t even engage. Look where he goes. He says, “Look, the question is irrelevant at this point. I baptize with water, it’s true. But what you don’t understand, see all the people out here.” He probably pointed. There were probably a lot of people, crowds, and heads of mass. They were coming all the time. John says this, “Hut right here in the crowd, I don’t know where He is exactly but I’ve met Him, somewhere out there moving about the people. I’m not sure if He’s here at this moment, but out there in the crowd, somewhere amongst those people, I’m telling you right now, there is someone you do not recognize. He is among us. I can tell you He is among us. Though His ministry follows mine, how can I put it? I am not even worthy to be His slave. In fact, I’m not even worthy to untie the straps on His sandals. It would be a privilege to untie His shoe. I say this to you…”
This encounter we’re told in verse 28 takes place in Bethany and East of the Jordan river, where John was baptizing. Watch what happens. That’s the conversation John has with them. This is what it says in verse 29. The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him. Watch what John’s reaction is. Now, he hasn’t seen Him since the baptism. He says, “Behold, there He is.” It’s what he would say. “Look at that. There He is.” There probably were a lot of people at that point around Him. There He is, the Lamb of God, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s a curious designation. I mean, of all the things that John could have said to identify Messiah, we would have probably had a top 10 list, the Lamb of God would not have been on that list. His initial opening is, “There He is, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John is immersed in the scriptures. He’s grown up in the home of a priest.
He’s been around sacrifices all his life. He understands. He’s been immersed in the book of Isaiah. He understands the Messiah’s purposes, connected to giving himself away for us. When he says the designation of the lamb of God, you know what he’s saying initially? The first movement of John publicly about Jesus connects us to the cross. The Lamb of God who will take away, not just the sin of our people but the sin of the world. He already understands it. He already sees it. He gets it. He’s been born to give His life away that we might have a life with God. He who knew no sin will become sin that we might be made the righteousness of God. By his stripes, we will be healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. But the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us. All of these words are on John’s mind.
He sees in Jesus. The first thing that comes out is not the King. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Powerful moment. Everybody’s looking at it. Then look what it says here. Look at what John says. He says this in front of everyone. “This is He of whom I said after me comes a man who ranks before me because He was before me. I, myself, did not know Him. But for this purpose, I’ve come to baptize with water so that He might be revealed to Israel. I’m telling you, that’s why I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing. John bore witness. “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove. It remained on Him and myself. I didn’t know Him. I didn’t know who He was up until that point. But He who sent me to baptize with water, said to me, “He on whom you see the spirit to send and remain that is He. This is He who will baptize you with the very spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.”
Then John makes a statement. The first time it will ever be said this way about Jesus in the history of the world and since then, it has been said in different ways, and I’m not exaggerating, by billions of people. “There He is. This is the Son of God, right there. Jesus, God’s only son.” John sees Jesus coming. His first sighting is still clearly on his mind, what he saw, what he heard is on his mind. He declares for the first time, “This is the son of God.” What’s more, as his eyes lock upon him, he sees Him as the sin-bearer. Look what it says, verse 35, and then the next day, evidently, Jesus didn’t have a conversation with him. It was just John pointing Him out. “There He is.” The next day, John was standing with two of his disciples, and we know one of them was Andrew, for sure.
Before Andrew was ever a disciple of Jesus, he was a disciple of John and a loyal one. It says that the next day John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and he said, “There He is. Behold, look, there He is, the Lamb of God.” Pointing to Jesus, which is fascinating because look what it says happens. There’s a sadness. I mean, it’s both good and sad all at once because it says the two disciples heard him say this and they decided to follow Jesus and leave John. John points them to Jesus and then watches them walk away. He’s 30 years old in his prime. The people love him. He’s pointing his guys to Jesus. It’s time to leave me and follow Him. No, follow Him. It’s powerful. That human level is hard.
I try to imagine him standing there going, “I know it’s the right thing, but this really is hard for me.” I think He’s the one. I believe He’s the one I’ve declared. I don’t know what it means but follow Him. Follow Him.” Stay with me on this. I’m going to try to interact with this all in. What does it require from us? One of the things it requires is a committed humility, especially for those of us who are taking our notes and interacting with it further, that refuses to be seduced by the appeals of our ego and watches for pride and disunity. That contingent came to John while he was in the spotlight and they laid a snare of pride before him. “Are you the man? Are you the man?” It’s interesting because I know I’m not the first one to say this.
I think it was AT Robinson who wrote this, but he said, “You could almost think of it like there are two temptations going on simultaneously.” Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted to avoid the cross and get the power. The enemy is saying, “You don’t need the cross. You could just have the power. Just do what I say and worship me.” John has been given an appeal that he’s the man that is to be honored. The pride and the glory, we want to give to you. Who are you?” Both of them in a way are being tempted simultaneously in different ways, obviously. But it would have been so easy for John. I think there are times when John’s beauty shows up. It is that he would not take what was not his. He was resolute in his identity. I’m the preparer of the way. I am not the one. It doesn’t matter what anyone says. I am the preparer of the way, not the one.
I think there are times we’re going to be presented with situations where we have to say, “We have to choose a path.” The path of humility that the Lord may have for us or a path of pride. We’re coming to these places where we know in one sense, we can walk the path of pride, but there’s a path of humility. We know inside where the Lord is calling us. There are some times where we’re brought to these places or it’s going to be a path of selfishness and meeting my needs or a path of obedience to Christ and living for others. I’m not saying it’s always the case, but there are these moments where we’re called into play with humility or pride. We have to do what John had to do here and really just think through, what does it mean to be all in for God? As followers of the Lord, we have to guard our hearts. We have to guard our unity. Think about it. There was an attempt being made to drive a wedge between Jesus and John.
“Surely, you are this. Who are you? By what authority do you have?” He wouldn’t do it. What he does is he shifts the discussion to Jesus. It’s not about me, my friends. It’s about the one who I’m getting ready for. I’m telling you he’s here. He keeps pointing it back to Jesus. It would have been so easy at a human level for John to be competitive, to hold on to something. He was charismatic. He was a leader. He was a Bard. People were flattering him all the time. They followed him. They praised him. They obeyed him. They said he was from God. The authorities had come. They honored him with their presence. People were asking real questions. That’s a real temptation there. It really is. I mean, he was, I can say it, a superstar. John the Baptist superstar, JB. He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t go that way. He felt the call to humility and the call to surrender, to give away, to step aside, and to let go.
That leads to the second thought that I want to lay out there. When we’re all in, they’re going to be times when the Lord invites us to let go. We need to be willing to go, let go when God makes it clear that that’s the right thing for us to do. There are going to be times where our commitment is going to be tested. John inspires me. He really does. No wonder Jesus would later speak of him in glowing terms because John did not love the gift more than the giver, which sometimes we do. I’ve done it. I can love my gift more than the one who gave it to me. Nothing is mine. It’s all borrowed. Make no one. It’s the Lord. See this difference. John did not forget who he was serving, where his supreme loyalty was to lie. He was willing and we will speak more of this later to let go.
Even when his life turned in the direction that was so hard for him to understand, I mean, he is going to find himself in such a difficult place. We’re going to see it. We’re going to walk through it together. But John’s going to get arrested by a very powerful superstitious king named Herod. He’s going to lock him up. The man of the wilderness, who’s never known confinement, only open sky, is going to feel for the first time in his life the loss of all his freedom. He’s going to have to sit there and process through, how could someone who’s loved God and been faithful be stuck like this right now? Then he has to have people telling him about what Jesus is doing and it doesn’t make sense to him. We’re going to see it. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not how he would have done things. He begins to question, “Is Jesus really the one that I thought He was?”
You’re going to watch him walk through that. There’s so much there for us. I see that and think, “Oh Lord, I mean…” Later on, John’s going to say, “He must increase and I must decrease.” He’s got to hammer it down into the ground because he’s wrestling with it. Here’s the question I have for us. Are there some things the Lord is asking us to let go of? Maybe it could be expectations that we impose on ourselves. It could be reputations that we’ve held, like John had, places where we’ve found our security, our identity. That’s what was happening to him. He was being asked to lay aside his identity. My job’s done. What now? They don’t need me anymore. It’s hard to be forgotten, disregarded, and passed by. It is really hard when you’ve been used to something other than that. I think maybe sometimes some of us have things we’re holding onto that God’s saying, “You need to let go. Just hear me out.”
It might be a resentment that we’re holding onto or a fear that we’re holding onto or an offense that we’ve been walking with far too long, and it’s time to let it go. It might be a good thing that we have that we’re supposed to offer back to God and say, “Lord, if this is my Isaac, then I give it back to you. You may give it back to me and say, “No, I don’t need it. I just want to see if you are open.” But that path of obedience is before us. We get to trust God right there. Those are the defining moments in our lives with the Lord. The last thing, leave it here. When we’re all in, it requires us to consistently point others to Jesus. I hope we see it. We are to be witnesses of the Lamb. What did John say? “There He is. Look at Him. Look at Him. Don’t look at me. Look at Him. Look at Him. That’s the one you need to follow right there. That’s the Lamb of God.”
I love that because part of it is because it connects right back to our mission statement as a church. I’m not saying we’re the only ones, but I will say this. It’s good to do it. What did we say we want to do as a group of people? Live out our faith in Jesus and invite others into life with Him. We’re basically Sams. We’re committed to pointing people to Jesus. Not like a cop-out. It’s only Him and doesn’t look at my life. No, obviously the words mean nothing if they’re not backed up with something, our actions, our words, let your light shine. Sometimes it’s our words. I was talking to somebody and I said, sometimes it’s the things we say. But I think increasingly in this culture, it might be the things we don’t say. The absence of something becomes noticeable. I think when people start to recognize, yeah, we’re not perfect but there’s something of substance going on in our lives because of Jesus.
We can humbly and authentically point people towards Him and invite others into life with Him. It might be a rise and shine. It might be an Easter service. It might be, “Just come to church with me. Hey, what do you have to lose?” Are we doing it? Are we pointing out to others? “Look at Him. Look at Him. Look at Him. There He is. He could change everything.” “Let your light shine,” Jesus said before people. They may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. By the goodness and the quality of our lives, we’re not perfect. Not at all. Sometimes the goodness of God shines forth most majestically and beautifully in the pain. It does. The scars tell a story of grace and of a God who doesn’t abandon us.
How faithful. Let’s pray together. Then of course afterward, if you need prayer, there’s always a little prayer team there to pray with you about anything you might need. Lord, I thank you for the time we’ve just shared here together. I know we’re about to close the service out with our quick time of giving and our final song. But I want to ask that the words that we’ve just shared would have deep meaning and value. Lord, I want us to walk a path. I would like us to walk a path. I would like to walk that path of following You and being open to shifts and changes, not being afraid of them and not being definedπ by them, but just being open to Your purpose and plan. Not letting our heart seize up and start getting our grip even tighter when You’re calling us to let go and to trust. Help us to do this in our own lives and then be able to point others towards you, just like John did.
I thank you for His example. I pray that we’d be inspired by and that we too would be part of Your story, Your unfolding story. Let’s stay close to You, Lord. We love You. We want to magnify You. We do want to honor You with our life. Be blessed then as we close out this time again. In Jesus’s name, Amen.