Summary: In John 3:22-30, John the Baptist testifies about the identity of Jesus.
The ultimate significance of John the Baptist is that he was the forerunner to Jesus. He comes in fulfillment of Old Testament passages which talk of one who could prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1.
John’s life was lived to point to Jesus as the promised savior of the world.
And that is important to know for this passage because John the Baptist knew who he was, and just as important, he knew who he wasn’t.
Setting the scene
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.
The section begins “after this” referring to the preceding section. It’s showing that we’re moving in time.
Jesus is with his disciples.
Here we learn that there was a period in the early ministry of Jesus where Jesus also had a ministry of baptism. This entire event is absent from the other three gospels.
In the first century, there was a cleansing ritual which was similar to baptism in which non-Jewish people sometimes partook when they converted to Judaism. But there were key differences between that ceremony and modern baptism. For starters, people would baptize themselves. Whereas when John the Baptist came along, he personally baptized people. John’s baptism was associated with repentance.
Jesus would give baptism its fuller meaning at the end of his ministry when he instituted triune baptism, calling upon his disciples to baptize in the name of the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19.
However, at this point in his ministry, there is no reason to think that Jesus was doing a triune baptism, because he had not yet died and rose, nor had he given the Great Commission to his followers. It’s more plausible that this baptism was similar to John’s.
Something else which should be noted. In our passage, verse 22 says that Jesus was with his disciples and he remained there with them baptizing. I take that to refer to the disciples of Jesus baptizing people not as Jesus personally baptizing people.
Why do I think that? Because the next chapter begins with:
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples (John 4:1-2.
I see no Biblical evidence that Jesus ever personally baptized anyone in water.
23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison.
Geographically, we don’t know the exact location of Aenon. The text does tell us that there was an abundance of water in this place where they were baptizing.
Verse 24 makes the interesting note that John had not yet been put in prison.
The author will make no further references to John the Baptist’s imprisonment. It’s mentioned in all four of the gospels. Matthew’s Gospel goes into the most detail when it talks of how John would be beheaded under Herrod.
In the event here, John has not yet been imprisoned and that is noteworthy when considering the timeline within Jesus’ ministry.
For instance, almost all of Mark’s Gospel is written after the time of John the Baptist’s arrest.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God
That’s the fourteenth verse of the whole book.
Yet at this point in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist has not yet been imprisoned, implying that this event happens prior to the ministry of Jesus beginning in the other gospels.
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.
We don’t know for sure what the discussion was. It’s ultimately secondary to the entire narrative. It’s possible that the discussion or debate came up regarding John’s baptism or contrasting the baptism of John and Jesus or looking at John’s baptism in the light of other Jewish cleansing ceremonies.
It does remind us to the fact that John had disciples of his own. We also saw that in chapter 1, and it was a couple of John’s disciples who would be Jesus’ first disciples.
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
So John has a following. Our passage this morning introduces us to the idea that some of John’s disciples are defensive of their teacher.
They approach John. The entire focus of the discussion shifts away from purification rituals.
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.”
In calling John rabbi, we see his disciples are giving him a title of honor. No one else is called rabbi in the gospel of John, aside from Jesus.
They refer to Jesus as the one who was with John across the Jordan and acknowledge that it is Jesus to whom John is bearing witness, yet there seems to be some bitterness in their response when they say “look, he is baptizing and all are going to him.”
Obviously there is some exaggeration in the report of John’s disciples. All are going to him. .
John gives his response in the next four verses.
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.
This is an important statement and insight into the sovereignty of God. Everything that we have comes from the Lord.
The life you have, the abilities you have, the things you have, the salvation you have. All of it is from the Lord.
God made everything and everyone. There is nothing we have created without the tools God has given us.
The oddity of John
John’s disciples see the followers that Jesus has amassed. They don’t realize exactly who Jesus is and why this fruitfulness is something to celebrate. Their focus is clearly misplaced and on how it impacts John and their ministry rather than Jesus coming into the world to fulfill the divine plan through his sinless life, death, and resurrection. All they see are dwindling numbers. They look at Jesus like he’s their competition.
On the one hand, you have a first century prophet who is the forerunner to Christ and we’re seeing how their ministries interact with each other. I understand that this is not a specific situation we face.
But in the attitude of his disciples, I think it’s actually very relatable to human nature.
John’s response is noteworthy because there’s always the temptation to put ourselves on a pedestal, to make much of ourselves, to want others to glorify us. It’s a constant temptation.
It’s tempting to ignore where God is leading us, and what he wants of us.
It’s easy to be arrogant. We’re arrogant with God all the time. Our world judges his laws and what God decrees as moral. But even as Christians, in our heart of hearts, there are times where we don’t like what God says about something.
Numerous Bible commands that we can find reasons to ignore.
Or maybe it’s not a moral issue. But there are other ways in which we judge God. We judge why God allows certain things to happen or not to happen.
We judge what he’s given us or not given us.
Illustration – Mozart
One of my favorite films is the movie Amadeus, about the life of Mozart.
Early in the movie, you have another composer: Antonio Salieri, and more than anything, he wants to be a great composer. And as a child, he prays to God:
“Make me a great composer. Let me celebrate Your glory through music and be celebrated myself. Make me famous through the world, dear God. Make me immortal. After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote. In return, I will give You my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.”
But then you meet Mozart and he’s a musical prodigy. Seemingly inexhaustible and effortless talent flows through him. But his character is also vain, crass, condescending, and childish.
In a later scene, when Salieri sees he has been totally transcended by the greatness of Mozart, you see the bitterness of Salieri. He burns a crucifix and tells God that they are now enemies.
In contrast that example with John the Baptist because it’s so easy to read John’s words here and think we would all be just as humble and submissive to the will of God as John.
But we’re so often not.
We’re more like the apostles.
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
They’re jockeying for positions of honor. There’s no humility in that.
We see it again. Luke 9:46, a debate begins among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest. And that’s not the last time we see this in the gospels. Luke 22:24, almost the same wording:
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
They’re arguing over which disciple is the best one. Luke 22. This event happens right after the Last Supper. They’ve just partook of the most significant meal in human history. Jesus has broken the bread as a symbol of his body which would be broken. He’s taken the cup and poured out the wine as the blood of the new covenant. Jesus would be arrested, crucified, and die in less than 24 hours.
And here the disciples are caught up “But which one of is the best? Is it me? It’s probably me.”
So it’s easy to just assume we’d be humble and totally submissive to the will of God. But envy is tempting. Status and recognition are powerful idols.
John continues speaking.
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’
John is continuing to speak about his purpose in the world. In the first chapter of this gospel, people are trying to figure out who John the Baptist is.
He tells them that he is not the Christ (John 1:20). He quickly confirms that he himself is not the long-awaited Messiah.
When they finally ask John for an answer as to who he is, John says “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness ‘make straight the way of the Lord,” quoting from the Book of Isaiah (John 1:23.
As we’ve already said, he is the one who is to come before the ministry of the Lord. And in Jesus beginning his ministry, John is beginning to see his own ministry coming to its fulfillment.
John the Baptist lived in this world with the purpose of pointing people to Christ.
And in that sense, John the Baptist is no different from anyone who is a believer in Jesus because everyone who knows Jesus and believes in his gospel exists to point to Jesus and to decrease so that he may increase
The purpose of your life is to humbly serve the Lord with the gifts he has given you an to point others to Christ by loving God, loving people, living out your faith, and sharing the gospel.
John is continuing to comment on his role. He makes an analogy to a wedding celebration.
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 compares himself to a friend of the bridegroom. In other words, a friend of the groom.
That’s close to the idea of a best man, but in the first century, in this culture, the best man had a lot of responsibilities. He was somewhat of a coordinator for the wedding. He was an official witness to the wedding. He was often a contributor to the wedding. It was an honored position.
I’ve been in several weddings, officiated several weddings, been married. So I feel like I can say this on pretty good authority: the bridal party is pretty pointless in a modern American wedding. It’s pretty much a bunch of people who prove that the bride and groom really do have friends besides each other. Definitely it’s a way to honor siblings and close friends, obviously they’re there for the bride and groom on the big day.
But functionally, they don’t do much. In the first centry, the friend of the bridegroom was a really important role.
John’s metaphor is also significant because wedding imagery is used throughout the Bible to describe the relationship of God and people.
The true bridegroom
In the Old Testament, God is often described as the groom and Israel is the bride. God is faithful to Israel in spite of her unfaithfulness to God.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the groom and the church is the bride. This is not the first time we’ve seen wedding imagery in the Gospel of John. In chapter 2, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding feast when he turns water into wine. The story is meant to point to his own wedding feast, the finalization of his kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth, as is foretold in Revelation 19. The church is the bride of Chrsit at that wedding.
While Israel was the unfaithful bride in the Old Testament, in the final inauguration of the wedding supper of the lamb in Revelation, it is a perfect wedding between Christ and his bride, the church.
I’m not saying that John the Baptist fully understood all of that when he made this statement.
But there is a metaphor we see throughout the gospels in looking at the ministry of Jesus in the world.
In the other gospels, there’s a later scene where John’s disciples are actually compared to Jesus and his. Others point to the zealousness of John’s disciples and say in Mark 2:18-19:
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.
Jesus is pointing to the time of celebration and joy that his ministry ushered into the world.
Again, there’s no better metaphor to make for a joyous occasion than a wedding.
And so in our passage, John again reminds us that Jesus is the groom and John is the best man.
At a wedding, the best man is not the main focus. He’s not the star. He’s not why you’re there.
It’s the bride and groom.
In that, we again see humility for John. For the best man, he’s not in competition with the groom. The best man has one goal and that is to see the wedding of the bride and groom.
Verse 30, John tells his disciples:
He must increase, but I must decrease.”
It’s not that it’s a good idea that Jesus increase and John decrease. But that Jesus must increase and John must decrease.
John is embracing the will of God. He’s not concerned with who’s greater or with his standing. His concern is for the ministry of Christ.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, please share and subscribe.