Friday 29 November 2013

Competition (John 3:22-30)

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They 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—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

     John’s disciples were concerned about competition.
     “Rabbi, that man who was with you,” they said to John, “the one you testified about”  - they were talking about Jesus - “look,” they said, “he is baptising! And everyone is going to him.”
     Now obviously not everyone was leaving John’s team to join Jesus because verse 23 tells us: People were still coming to John to be baptised. Meaning: John’s ministry was growing in popularity. More and more people were coming to him...
     But still John’s disciples were concerned.

     After all, it’s one thing for Jesus to recruit followers up north in his hometown in Galilee. Why does he have to come down here to Judea? (... and steal our sheep?)
     Notice how they don’t even call Jesus by his name. Jesus is “that man” (verse 26) - “that guy” John was talking to the other day.
     Meaning: They saw Jesus as a copycat. Baptism was John’s signature move. Now, all of a sudden, Jesus is baptising people in the same river as John.
     Also, in verse 26, the disciples address John as Rabbi John (or Pastor John or Reverend Doctor John). This might have something to do with the incident back in Chapter 1 when two of John’s disciples leave him; they follow Jesus; and what do they call him? Rabbi.
     So it is obvious that John’s disciples were feeling defensive. In verse 25, they engage in a theological debate over the issue of ceremonial washing, no doubt, defending John’s actions in baptising Jews for the repentance of sins. (Baptism of Jews was controversial because it meant that even religious people needed to confess they were sinful before a holy God)

     And now, the same disciples are compelled to say something about Jesus. “Look,” they say to John. “Look at all the people going to him!”
     “Are you going to let him get away with this?” seems to be the implied question.

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’

     John responds by clarifying his relationship with God and with Jesus.
     His ministry comes from God. Verse 27: “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.”
     His mission is to point to Jesus. Verse 28: “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.”
     Back in Chapter 1 (verse 31), John says, “The reason I came baptising is with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
     God did not give John his ministry to make himself popular but to reveal who Jesus is.

29 The 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.

     In church weddings today, the guests arrive and once everyone is seated the bride enters the hall. That’s the tradition. Everyone waits for the bride. The music starts playing (typically, “Here comes the bride”), the congregation stands up, and everyone looks to the back of the hall to admire the bride’s dress, the bride’s hair. Everyone waits for the bride.
     But at Jewish weddings, everyone waits for the groom. It’s the other way around. The guests are in the girl’s house. The guy turns up and then the wedding begins.
     In the meantime, while waiting for the groom to arrive, the best man’s job is not to try and steal the bride. It’s not to try and re-enact a scene from Runaway Bride. No, John says in verse 29, the bride belongs to the bridegroom.

     And when John says, “That joy is mine and it is now complete,” it’s an expression of relief. “Here comes the groom.”
     Being a best man can be stressful. It’s a big responsibility - holding on to the ring, giving the best man’s speech at dinner. Which is why the best man is often the best friend. He is someone you trust. If you ask grooms today how they chose their best man, some might even say, “He introduced us to one another.”

     Back in verse 26, the disciples were saying to John, “Look! Look at what Jesus is doing!” and here John says, “I’ve been looking forward to this day all of my life.”
     And he goes on to say...

30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

     That’s humbling. Here at the height of his career and at the peak of his ministry, John says, “There needs to be more of Jesus and less of me.”

     There will come a time when all glory, all praise and all honour will go to Jesus because he is the true king, the true Christ and the true saviour.
     And there is nothing sadder than a minister of the gospel who forgets this. Beware a servant of Christ who despises being treated as a servant.

     In the movie “The Return of the King,” we meet a man called Denethor, the Ruling Steward of Gondor. Denethor looks like a powerful king. He sits on a throne in a great white hall on top of a huge fortified city. But if you look closely at where Denethor is sitting, you soon realise that his throne is not a throne but a chair placed in front of a series of steps leading to a great white throne. And that is the throne of the king.
     Denethor is a Steward; a servant of the King. His job is to manage the kingdom on behalf of the King.
     But after many years, Denethor has grown tired waiting for the King. In a scene from the movie, Gandalf the White Wizard confronts Denethor, and says to him, “Authority is not given you to deny the return of the King... Steward!” to which Denethor replies, “Rule of Gondor is mine and no other!”
     It’s a parable: Beware the servant who despises being just a servant.

     John the Baptist says, “I must decrease.” What does faithful ministry in the gospel look like? Less of me, more of Jesus.
     In verse 24, there is a little note reminding us: This was before John was put in prison. Right now, if you looked at John, his ministry was growing. People were coming to him. But eventually, John would be put in prison and executed because of his ministry.
     The point is: John did not wait until then to say to his followers, “It’s all about Jesus.”

     How does this apply to us? John says in verse 29, “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears his voice.”
     By the way, Jesus uses the same picture when talking about what it means to wait for his return in Matthew 25, in the parable of the bridesmaids waiting for the groom (as well as the parables of the talents, and the sheep and goats).
     That is: It’s not just for pastors who need to be humble when a new church opens down the road. John is teaching all of us what it means to wait for Jesus.

     One day the King will return. Will we rejoice when he hear his voice?

     And in the meantime, as we wait, are we pointing people to Christ?

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