“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him’ . . .” (John 3:22-36)
Life in Community
We are part of the Moscow community which covers the spectrum of people from the Renaissance Fair to our Reformation Fest. Within this cultural hodgepodge there forms tighter communities––church community, school community, work community, family community. But what happens when one community appears to compete with another community? An unassuming statement like “I love our church community” can reveal competition, rivalries, envy.
A similar situation prompts our story in John 3 when some of John’s disciples vent their frustration about the upstart Jesus and his rival baptism ministry, “Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” But instead of adding his own grumbles, John directs his disciples to truth that completes his joy––Jesus must increase, but I must decrease. John gives the guiding principle for a godly and joyful life and community. When you live with this mentality––Jesus must increase, but I must decrease, you enter into the life of the Trinity and discover complete joy.
Rival Baptizers? (vs. 22-24)
Jesus and his disciples depart from Jerusalem and begin baptizing. And we could rightly assume that John the Baptist would now retire from his job as the Baptist. Jesus has arrived and He can take it from here. But the passage says that John and his disciples continue to baptize in Aenon near Salim. There’s still water, there’s still people, there’s still time before he’s imprisoned and beheaded. How about this to reshape our thinking on retirement.
Ministry Monopoly (vs. 25-26)
A discussion arises between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. The discussion group comes to John to sort things out. But instead of presenting a question, they vent their frustration, “Rabbi, he who was with you across from the Jordan, to whom you bore witness––look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” They are wounded for John and concerned for his ministry. They thought they had set up a monopoly on the baptism market, and now they feel competition.
He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease (vs. 27-30)
John holds an open hand to his ministry knowing that it all has come from God in Heaven. And remember what he’s said all along––I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. John has not set himself up as a rival to Jesus and doesn’t let his disciples hoist him up on the pedestal either. In fact, his disciples are thinking about it all wrong. They shouldn’t regret Christ’s advancement but rejoices in it. That’s what John is doing. He’s like the friend of the groom on the wedding day beaming as he watches the groom laugh and hug and kiss his bride. The friend has done lots of work preparing this moment (setting up chairs, last minute ice-run, escorting Great Aunt Marge), and it all out of joy.
“Therefore this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” This seems like a backwards way to achieve joy, at least by the world’s reckoning but not in God’s world. The principle is that when Jesus increases, joy increases.
From Heaven and Not From Earth (vs. 31-33)
In the last verses of the chapter, John explains why we should rejoice in the exaltation of Jesus Christ. To begin with, Jesus is not from around here. Jesus has breathed the air at the summit of Heaven and has come down to earth and so has greater authority over man. But Jesus is not only different in superiority but also in substance than any other man. Man belongs to the earth, and as Paul says, “We have borne the image of the man of dust” (1 Cor. 15: 47-49). What do we look like when we share a family resemblance to Adam? We are selfish, envious, quarrelsome, murdering, drunkards and that just gets us a few chapters into Genesis. But 1 Corinthians 15 gives hope of a new image––of the man from heaven who is infinitely different from Adam or any of his earthy descendants.
Life with the Triune God (vs. 34-36)
In verses 34-35, we glimpse the life in the Trinity. Two present tense verbs reveal what the Father does 1)The Father is always giving to the Son the Spirit without measure and 2) the Father is always loving the Son. Giving and loving are central to the community of the Trinity.
Remember we are answering the question, “Why should we rejoice that Jesus increases?” Look at how the Father thinks of Jesus.The Father has sent Jesus from heaven to speak for God. The Father has given Jesus the Spirit in abundance. The Father loves Jesus. The Father has given all things into his hand. What’s the Father’s thinking? “My son must increase!” The Father then turns to the world and asks, “Do you agree?”