Jesus Must Increase, I Must Decrease

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Sermon Notes & Audio

Scripture Focus- John 3:22-36

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Pride is the most deadly and evil of sins because it is at the root of all other sins. When we sin, we arrogantly act as though we know better than God knows what is best. As followers of Jesus, we have to battle pride, and grow in the depth of our humility. Once you think you have reached any measure of humility, you have to guard against being proud of your humility.

In the first half of John 3, Jesus has an encounter with Nicodemus. Jesus tells him he must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. When Jesus finished talking to Nicodemus about salvation, the scene shifted to the Judean countryside and a comparison/contrast between the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus.

If anyone could have been prideful, John the Baptist could have been. He was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). He was the forerunner of the Messiah Jesus (Luke 1:17). His ministry was successful as people from Jerusalem, Judea, and surrounding areas came to him in the wilderness to confess their sins and be baptized (Matthew 3:5-6). Jesus said of John the Baptist, that he was the greatest man in human history, the greatest born of women (Matthew 11:11). All of these things could have caused him to be prideful! His attitude was that Jesus must increase, but he must decrease.

Vv22-30

Jesus and His disciples went to the Judean countryside, where He must have spent a considerable amount of time with them.  John the Baptist is said to have been in Aenon near Salim, probably midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, on the west side of the Jordan. For a period of months, Jesus was doing the very same thing that John the Baptist was doing- preaching repentance, preaching the arrival of Messiah, preaching the Kingdom, and people were being baptized. This is one of many passages in the New Testament that point toward baptism by immersion, being the proper biblical mode. If baptism were by sprinkling or pouring, “plenty of water” would have been unnecessary. When the Scripture says Jesus baptized, He likely did so by means of His disciples (due to the fact that John 4:2 Indicates Jesus Himself didn’t baptize but His disciples did). So John the Baptist and Jesus had overlapping ministries.  Large crowds followed both of them. This was a transitional time between John the Baptist’s (the forerunner) ministry and Jesus (the Messiah).

A discussion, a dispute, arose between John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. The word purification used in John 3:25 is the same word John used to refer to Jewish purification rites in John 2:6. In light of that, we would have to conclude the dispute focused on Jewish purification rites. We are not told what is said in the dispute. For the purpose of illustration, let’s think about a possible scenario. John’s disciples maybe encountered a Jew and asked him if he wanted to be baptized. He responds that he is not interested, he is convinced the Jewish ceremonial cleansings are more effective.

Maybe it had to do with whether John’s baptism was superior to the Jewish rites of purification. The law laid down for the Jews how purification should be carried out. Not content with the directions God had given them, they observed many rules their ancestors had handed down to them. When they discovered that John the Baptist and Jesus were introducing what they saw as a new way of purification in baptism, they thought it was absurd. No outward ceremony can purify the heart. Purification comes through the new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The debate between John’s disciples and this Jew may have included the Jew’s comment that the Baptist’s ministry was being eclipsed by Jesus’ growing ministry.  John’s disciples came to him with their concern (v26). They were jealous on John’s behalf because of Jesus’ growing ministry. Their view was that John and Jesus were rivals. They overstated the case- all are going to him, basically- soon you will be without followers. Rabbi, teacher, your star is sinking, what are we going to do?

 This set the scene for John the Baptist’s reply in vv27-30.

Humility is developed when we clearly understand who God is, and who we are in Him.

Humility comes from understanding that everything we have comes from God.

V27 A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given from heaven.

 This is the only right perspective on life.

Salvation comes from God.

John 6:63-65 The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some among you who don’t believe. He said, This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.

Spiritual gifts come from God.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. V11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills.

 The philosophy of v27 should not only impact how we respond to the success of others, but also how we respond to our own success.

The Apostle Paul reminded the arrogant Corinthians-

1 Cor 4:7 What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

All our gifts, abilities, and opportunities come from God by grace alone.

Paul said of himself- I am the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9), I am the very least of all the saints (Ephesians 3:8), I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

Service assignments in the work of the kingdom come from God-

 John’s role as the forerunner of Jesus, was given to him by God, and he was to fulfill that role. We are given roles in life to fulfill, and all of these come together for one purpose- to proclaim the glory of God. John’s ministry is a ministry he received from God. His God-given ministry was not to be the Messiah, but to introduce the Messiah.

 We have an example from the life of Moses- Numbers 11:26-29

In the camp of Israel there were two men on whom the spirit of prophecy had come- Eldad and Medad- and they were prophesying in the camp, not at the Tent of Meeting. A young man ran and told Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp. Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses aide since youth, spoke up and said, Moses my lord, stop them!

Even Joshua, with his wisdom, was jealous. But Moses replied, are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! I wish everyone was talking about the Lord, how wonderful that would be. Moses had seen God’s glory and it gave him joy when others got a glimpse of it.

Numbers 12:3 Moses was a very humble man, more so that any man on the face of the earth.

The humility of Moses and the humility of John the Baptist were very similar. They were two of the greatest men who ever lived. The herald of Jesus communicated that God has assigned everyone a place in his eternal plan and he had no right to lay claim to something he had not been given to him in heaven. His task was being fulfilled. Everything we have has been given to us by God.

Humility comes from understanding that Jesus is the Lord and Christ.

Vv28-29 You yourselves bear witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. 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 knew that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. Then John uses a rich illustration from a Jewish wedding. He said he was like the best man, like the friend who attends the bridegroom.

Jesus was the promised bridegroom. The role of the best man, was to take the bride to the bridegroom and then get out of the way. The focus of the wedding was not on the best man, but on the bridegroom and bride.

William Barclay- The friend of the bridegroom, had a unique place at a Jewish wedding. He acted as the liason between the bride and the bridegroom; he arranged the wedding, he took out the invitations, he presided at the wedding feast. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together. And he had one special duty. It was his duty to guard the bridal chamber and to let no false lover in. He would only open the door when in the dark he heard the bridegroom’s voice he was glad and he let him in, and he went away rejoicing, for his task was completed. John the Baptist found his joy in serving Christ.

In the Old Testament, God is often pictured as the bridegroom or husband and Israel as His bride. In Isaiah 54:5 the Lord tells Israel, For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 62:5 And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you. Hosea 2:16 the Lord tells Israel in the future they would call him their “husband”. He promises in Hosea 2:19 I will betroth you to Me forever.

Jesus used the analogy of Himself when He explained to some of John’s disciples why Jesus’ disciples did not fast. Matthew 9:15 The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

In the New Testament Jesus is presented as the bridegroom and the church is His bride. (2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-27). If God is Israel’s bridegroom in the OT and Jesus is presented at Israel’s bridegroom here, then it is a proclamation that Jesus is God. The bride belongs to the bridegroom. Christ is the bridegroom, and His people are the Bride. The Bride must be brought to the Bridegroom. This is exactly what John was doing, pointing people to the Lamb of God! The joy of the church is double because we are the Bride of Christ. The more we understand the majesty, greatness, power, and glory of Jesus, the more we will be humbled in His presence.

People wondered if John the Baptist was the Christ. He made clear He was not- v20 I am not the Christ. Then again in v28, You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of Him.

A foundational lesson of the Christian life is this- God is God, and I am not.

Understand that Jesus is the Lord and Christ.

Humility comes from understanding what real success is.

John the Baptist’s disciples were concerned because the numbers in his following were going down, while those following Jesus were increasing. When they came to him about their concerns, he explained their cause for concern was his cause for great joy. John the Baptist was not trying to build a following for himself, he was building a following for Jesus. Real success in life is found in exalting Jesus.

Robert Murray McCheyne- I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake- until he gives up striving to attract people to himself and seeks only to attract them to Christ.

We have a role to play, a ministry to fulfill, but our time is temporary. John was fading from view. V24 For John had not yet been thrown into prison. Being a faithful servant does not guarantee a trouble free life. John the Baptist was faithful, the God appointed forerunner of the Messiah, but he got thrown into prison and had his head cut off when he was only in his early thirties. We are not guaranteed long lives or successful ministries.

Andrew Murray- Humility: The Beauty of Holiness- Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.

V30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

There is no other way to live for Christ! When William Carey, the father of modern missions lay dying, he turned to a friend and said, “When I am gone, don’t talk about William Carey, talk about William Carey’s Savior. I desire that Christ alone might be magnified.

James 4:6 God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Isaac Newton discovered and introduced the laws of gravity in the 1600s, which revolutionized astronomical studies. But few know that if it weren’t for Edmund Halley, the world might never have learned from Newton. It was Halley who challenged Newton to think through his original ideas. Halley corrected Newton’s mathematical errors and prepared geometrical figures to support his discoveries. Halley coaxed the hesitant Newton to write his great work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Halley edited and supervised the publication, and actually financed its printing even though Newton was wealthier and easily could have afforded the printing costs. Historians call it one of the most selfless examples in the history of science. Newton began almost immediately to reap the rewards of prominence; Halley received little credit.

He did use the principles to predict the orbit and return of the comet that would later bear his name, but only AFTER his death did he receive any acclaim. And because the comet only returns every seventy-six years, the notice is rather infrequent. Halley remained a devoted scientist who didn’t care who received the credit as long as the cause was being advanced. C. S. Kirkendall, Jr., Source unknown

Humility comes from understanding that our eternal hope is in Jesus.

The contrast between John the Baptist and Jesus continues in vv31-35. 

Jesus is superior because of where He came from. He came from above, from heaven. John the Baptist was from the earth.

Jesus is superior because of what He speaks about. He speaks of heavenly things He has seen and heard in heaven. John spoke of earthly things.

Jesus is superior because He has the fullest measure of the Spirit of God.

Jesus speaks for God with full authority. Jesus speaks as God. He alone has the Spirit without limit.

Jesus is superior because He is uniquely loved by His Father in Heaven and has been given the Father’s full authority. You cannot go any higher than this.

Jesus came from above and is higher than all. The herald John the Baptist had an earthly origin and character. The testimony of Christ is pure and should be believed. The one who accepts His testimony has affirmed God is true.

1 John 5:10-11 The one who believes in the Son of God has this testimony within him. The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

Everyone should believe the testimony of Christ not only because of His testimony but because His testimony perfectly agrees with the Father’s testimony regarding him. God sent Jesus- He speaks God’s words- He gives the Spirit without measure.

The conclusion- v36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life, instead, the wrath of God remains on Him.