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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:It's All About Jesus!
Text:John 3:22-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29

Psalm 93:4 (after the law)

Psalm 25:1,2

Hymn 84

Psalm 150

Scripture reading: 1 Samuel 18:1-16

Text: John 3:22-30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

To begin this morning, I want you to reflect with me on one of the most intense rivalries in the Bible.  It’s in the Old Testament.  It was between Saul and David.  The rivalry was one-sided.  It didn’t come from David, but from Saul.  Saul knew that his days as king were numbered and David had been anointed to replace him.  Saul hated David for that and on more than one occasion even tried to kill him.  In 1 Samuel 18, we read of how Saul tried to put a spear through David.  To Saul, David was a threat to his power and influence.  Saul became obsessed with hunting David down and ending his life.

However, there is something remarkable in that situation.  The rivalry didn’t extend to Saul’s son Jonathan.  That’s surprising because from a worldly perspective, Jonathan was on the losing end.  David’s path to the throne sidelined Jonathan.  As the son of the reigning king of Israel, Jonathan should have been the one to succeed Saul.  But Jonathan doesn’t care.  He loves David very much and is quite happy to see him take the throne.  Jonathan doesn’t care about the power and influence.  Later he even defends David from his father.  In 1 Samuel 20:30-31, that provokes the anger of Saul and he lashes out at his son, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?  For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.”  But Jonathan doesn’t care. Because he loved David, he’s okay with David’s kingdom being established.  He’s okay with David increasing and him decreasing. 

That Old Testament episode points ahead in some ways to what we find in our text from John this morning.  Just as Jonathan was good with David’s rise in power and influence, so also John the Baptist was good with Jesus’ growing prominence.  In both instances, both with Jonathan and John, we see a believer who accepts God’s plan for his anointed.  Both with David and the great Son of David, God had a plan for the good of his people.  Jonathan could see it in his day, and John the Baptist had the grace to see it in his day.  Through God’s grace, both put to death their pride and desire for prominence and realized that God’s anointed had to take center stage.

Of course, there’s a message for us in this too.  We’re all sinful human beings and many of us often wrestle with that desire to be important.  We want to be listened to.  We want to be influential.  But this passage shows us that these desires are not right.  This passage shows us a better desire, the desire to always have Jesus Christ in the center and let us fade away into the background.

I preach to you God’s Word from John’s gospel:

It’s All About Jesus!

We’ll consider the:

  1. Perceived competition between Jesus and John
  2. Perfect reply of John the Baptist

We’re in the early days of Jesus’ ministry.  Sometime after his encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside.  So they moved from the city into the rural areas.  They stayed there for a while.  Undoubtedly Jesus was teaching them and showing them how to be his disciples in practical ways as well.  But there was also something else going on:  baptizing. 

Now it says in verse 22 that Jesus was baptizing.  There are a couple of things that need to clarified about that.  One comes from the next chapter, 4:2.  If you skip ahead there with me for a moment, you’ll see that it says, “although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples.”  From this we learn that Jesus never baptized anyone personally.  Instead, he baptized through his disciples.

The other thing that needs to be cleared up is the nature of this baptism.  Was this the sacrament of Christian baptism as we know it today?  No, that baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wasn’t instituted by Christ until after his resurrection.  We read about that in Matthew 28:19.  This is earlier.  This baptism is closer to John’s baptism of repentance.  John baptized people to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.  In the time between the Old and New Testament, the only people who were baptized were Gentiles.  To join the Jewish religion, a Gentile had to be baptized.  Gentiles were sinful and dirty and they needed a ceremonial washing.  Now John came along and said, “No, you Jewish people are also sinful and unclean.  You need to be humble and get washed.”  Being baptized was a sign that they recognized their own sinfulness and their need for the Saviour who was coming.  The disciples of Jesus were doing baptism in the same way.  It was calling Jewish people to humble themselves.  They were called to recognize that, because of their sins, they were not clean and they needed to be washed, they needed to be washed with the blood of Jesus Christ.  So this was not a sacrament of the covenant of grace, but a ritual ceremony custom-made for that particular moment in history.  At that moment, that was Jesus’ pointed way of calling God’s people to see their real need for him.  It wasn’t enough that they had been circumcised.  It wasn’t enough that they were part of the covenant people.  They needed Christ.  Loved ones, they were just like us.  Just like us, they needed to see that they were unclean sinners who needed their sins washed away with the blood of the Lamb, with the blood of Christ.   

So then that region had two baptisms going on.  There were Jesus’ disciples baptizing somewhere in the Judean countryside, probably along the Jordan River north of Jericho.  But at exactly the same time, John the Baptist was still baptizing too.  In verse 23, the Holy Spirit tells us that John was baptizing at Aenon near Salim.  This exact location isn’t known, but most scholars put it at about halfway between the Sea of Galilee in the north and the Dead Sea in the south.  Aenon means “springs,” and verse 23 does say that there was a lot of water there.  It would have been a good spot for baptizing.  Numbers of people were still getting drawn to John to be baptized. 

Verse 24 adds a little note about John the Baptist.  We find out from the other gospels that eventually John was arrested by King Herod.  He was arrested because he dared to speak up and point out that King Herod was wrong for marrying his brother’s wife.  Because John exposed Herod’s adultery and immorality, he was put in prison and then eventually beheaded.  Well, the gospel writer assumes that his readers know about this and so he clarifies that what he’s describing took place before that.

The important thing to note so far is two baptisms going on at the same time.  There are two rabbis with two groups of disciples.  Both of these rabbis or teachers are prominent men, gaining attention in Jewish circles.  You could be thinking that there’s a competition going on between them.

The possibility of such a competition seems to be the background of verse 25.  By itself, the verse is a bit mysterious.  We have John’s disciples.  We have an anonymous Jew.  We don’t know anything about him.  Is he a Pharisee?  A Sadducee?  Just a regular Jewish person with no party affiliation?  The Bible doesn’t say anything.  We’re told what they were discussing and that was purification.  But again, there too it’s hard to say exactly what that involved.  We do know that John’s baptism of repentance certainly involved the idea of purification.  And the baptism that Jesus’ disciples were administering was probably along those same lines.  Given what follows it could be that this discussion was about the relationship of John’s baptism to Jesus’ baptism.  But it is difficult to say with certainty. 

Regardless, in verse 26, the disciples of John approach him with a concern they have.  They go to their rabbi and point out what’s happening with that other fellow.  Look at verse 26 for yourself.  Notice that they don’t even mention the name of Jesus.  It’s like in 1 Samuel 20 when Saul can’t even bring himself to say the name of David.  Instead, he just calls him the “son of Jesse.”  Here too, the disciples of John regard Jesus as the other, the competition, the problem.  They have their rabbi and they’re committed to him and now Jesus comes along and it looks like he’s taking away the attention from their rabbi.  They acknowledge that John and Jesus have had dealings.  Jesus was him at the Jordan at one point.  John said some things about Jesus, bore witness to him.  But now things have gone too far.  Because Jesus is baptizing and everyone is beginning to flock towards him.  Jesus is rising in prominence and John is fading away.  These disciples have hitched their wagons to John and now it seems that they’re hitched to a losing cause.  You see, in their minds, they perceive a competition between John the Baptist and Jesus.

But how does John himself see it?  That becomes clear in verses 27 to 30 as he gives the perfect reply to his disciples.  His disciples have missed the point of his ministry.  John is going to remind them once again of what he’s really all about.  Actually, it’s about who he’s really all about. 

The first thing John does in verse 27 is bring God into the picture.  You need to see that this is something that his disciples had failed to do.  This is something we often fail to do.  We often fail to consider our situation not only in terms of what we see happening, but also in terms of what God is doing, how he is working.  We ignore him and just look at life on the horizontal.  John’s disciples had done that too.  They hadn’t reckoned with God’s hand in the ministries of John and Jesus.  John corrected them.  He told them they needed a bigger perpective, one that included the vertical, that included God.  He said, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”  When he says, “from heaven,” of course, he means from God.  God is the one who gives things from heaven.  But then the next question is:  what is the thing that he’s talking about?  It’s his calling, his ministry, what his life is about, his purpose.  God gave John the Baptist a calling.  God gave John a ministry.  Even before he was born, God revealed to his parents that John would have a life with a definite purpose.  There was no mystery about these things.  It was all crystal clear, at least to John.

And it should have been for his disciples too.  In verse 28, he reminds them that they had heard his witness.  They’d heard him say very clearly who he was about and why he’d been sent.  John distinctly said that he was not the Christ, not the Messiah sent for salvation.  He was not the anointed one of God sent to redeem God’s people.  He was not going to die for anyone’s sins.  John had made it plain to his disciples that he was the one going before the Messiah, he was the forerunner.  John was the voice crying in the wilderness telling people to make themselves ready for the Christ.

John says, “Do you disciples get it yet?  If not, let me use an illustration.”  He tells them to think of a wedding.  At a wedding you have the bridegroom and the bride.  But then you also have the “friend of the bridegroom.”  This friend was much like a best man at weddings today.  He had responsibilities.  One of them was to bring the bride to the bridegroom.  Another was to make sure that everything at the wedding went according to plan.  What gave the friend of the groom the greatest joy was hearing the voice of the bridegroom announcing that everything related to the wedding was finished.  In our terms, it would be sort of like the end of a wedding reception when the groom and bride end the evening with some thank-yous.  Hearing the voice of the bridegroom that it’s all over, and thank you very much for participating, that would give great joy to the friend of the groom.

John is like that friend of the groom.  Jesus is the bridegroom.  John has the supporting role.  He has pointed the bride to the groom.  He has pointed God’s people to the Messiah.  In a sense, he has brought the bride to the groom.  He’s now watching as the wedding ceremony continues and he rejoices to see the groom occupy center stage.  He rejoices at the joy of his friend.  He doesn’t need to be in the spotlight.  Jesus can take that spot with his bride.  At the end of verse 29, he says his joy is complete or filled up at seeing Christ take up his work.  It’s all about Jesus, not about John.  John’s supporting role was totally to see Jesus in the center.

That’s underlined by verse 30 and some of the most famous words in John’s gospel:  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  What John meant was that Christ had to go on and grow in prominence, but John had to fade away.  Jesus had to upstage John.  The word “must” there in verse 30 is important.  That refers to God’s plan.  In his decree, God decided that this is the way it should be and John recognizes that.  Again, he acknowledges that it’s not about him, but about what God wants to do with Jesus Christ.  God decreed a supportive role for John the Baptist, but he cast Jesus in the leading role.  At this point in time, the one in the supporting role is about to leave the stage and the only one left will be the one in the leading role:  Jesus.  John’s ministry has been leading up to this point, leading up to this moment where the attention completely falls on Jesus. 

This is the way it has to be in God’s plan, because Jesus is the only Saviour.  Listen carefully, listen like you’ve never heard this before, like you’re hearing it for the first time:  Jesus is the one who lives a perfect life in the place of all who believe in him.  Jesus is the one who suffers the wrath of God and dies on the cross to forgive the sins of all who transfer their trust to him.  John never did these things.  Only Jesus did.  Only Jesus rose from the dead victorious over sin, assuring us that his sacrifice for sin was accepted by God.  John didn’t ascend to heaven to intercede for believers.  But Jesus did.  And John isn’t coming back to judge the living and the dead.  Only Jesus will do that and at the appointed day.  Because Jesus is the only Saviour, he’s the only one we’re called to trust.  John’s disciples were being pointed to Jesus.  And while John doesn’t say it directly, the implication is that they should look to Christ as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises for salvation.  They should look away from John and look to Jesus, fixing their eyes on him in faith.  And so for us too, we don’t place our trust in John or anyone else.  We can only be saved if we’re throwing ourselves completely on the Saviour God has given.  We can only be saved from the coming wrath if we rest and trust in Jesus alone.  So the question is:  do you?  Do you believe in the one to whom John witnessed?  Loved ones, this morning again the call of the gospel comes to you.  Believe or continue to believe in Christ alone.

There’s more for us here in terms of application.  We’ve seen that John’s disciples thought in terms of competition.  They were driven by a failure to reckon with God’s purposes as well as a measure of pride.  Jesus was taking the place of their rabbi and they didn’t appreciate that.  They had made the choice to follow John, to be his disciples, and now their choice seems to be drawn into question.  They didn’t see that John was all about Jesus and because he was about Jesus, they were to be as well.  Their pride stood in the way of recognizing that. 

There are some lines we can draw here to us.  John the Baptist was a prophet.  He’s often regarded, and I think rightly so, as the last prophet of the Old Testament.  As Christians, we share in the anointing of Christ.  We have been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be not only priests and kings, but also prophets.  Our calling as Spirit-filled prophets is to confess the name of Christ.  We’re to point to him, just like John did. 

Just like John, our motto as prophets for Christ should always be, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Our lives must more and more be about Jesus and less and less about ourselves and our power, prominence, or influence.  We’re called to point to him, to exalt him, and not to exalt ourselves and our abilities, our opportunities, our achievements.  This is a hard thing to do.  It’s hard because we have all these voices telling us to go in the other direction.  The world around us doesn’t see the need to exalt Christ.  The world tells us to exalt ourselves.  The world says, “Make it all about you.  Put yourself on the throne.”  And, to our shame, sometimes we cave in and follow that worldly way of thinking.  But we also have our own sinful hearts.  We don’t need the world to lead us astray; we have a traitor within.  Our hearts also lie to us and tell us that we deserve more and we deserve better.  Our hearts say that we should have the center stage -- a fading, supporting role isn’t good enough.  But God’s Word has a different plan for you, loved ones.  “He must increase, but you must decrease.”  It’s all about Jesus, not about you.  Your prayer should be for him to be exalted through you.  Your prayer should be that people would give more attention to Jesus the only Saviour, than you a mere sinner redeemed by grace.  It has to be all about him.  Trust me when I say that pastors need to learn this lesson just as well as everyone else.  I have to always strive to make sure that Jesus isn’t being elbowed off center stage.  For preachers too, it has to be about him and him alone.     

Now there’s a funny thing about this.  There’s something that flies in the face of human wisdom.  The truth of the matter is that when you see it like John did, that is actually the path to glory.  When in this life you see that it’s all about Jesus, and he must increase while you decrease, when you see that, believe that, live that way, then in the age to come, you will increase with Christ.  You will share his glory.  When in this life you step away and say, “Jesus, you’re center stage, I see it and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” then in the life to come, he says, “Join me on center stage and share the limelight with me, share my glory forever.”  We will be glorified together with him.  God’s Word promises us that in Romans 8:17.

So, loved ones, our lives as Christians are indeed to be all about Jesus.  Let’s never see it as a competition or rivalry -- as if we need to be central instead of our Lord Jesus.  Like John, we’re here on this earth with a purpose.  Our purpose is to point the world to Christ as the only Saviour of sinners.  God has given us that purpose.  May he also give us the grace to live to that end, for his glory and for the glory of our blessed Saviour.  AMEN. 


Merciful Father in heaven,

We have such a deep gratitude to you for the gospel.  We thank you for the only Saviour Jesus and all he’s done for us.  We praise you for everything he did in our place.  And we acknowledge that the purpose of our lives is to confess his Name.  We are just sinners, we’ve been redeemed by your grace, and we’re glad for that.  But we’re not the be-all and end-all.  Jesus is.  John saw it and we’ve seen it this morning too.  Please drive the understanding of that not only into our minds, but also deep into our hearts.  We ask you to work with your Spirit so that we have a passion to always have Jesus center-stage.  Father, help us to die to ourselves and live to Christ.  Please give us more grace with your Spirit so that we always decrease, and he always increases.  And we pray that you would continue to do that until that great day when we finally share in his glory in the age to come.  We pray for that time to come quickly.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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