One of the casualties of our fast paced technological advancements is the disappearance of board games. Now that we’ve got children old enough to enjoy them we find ourselves playing them more often…and one of the ones I enjoy playing is Monopoly. I played the game growing up but was never really that good at it and didn’t understand how to play, but I get it now. Land should be bought, buildings should be built, rent should be rising and getting harder and harder for the others players to pay. Until one by one, you buy out the other players. The game pushes you to ‘increase’ as much you can, wherever you can. Increase is the name of the game. Perhaps this is why we enjoy this game so much, because we live in a culture where the name of the game is increase. Increase that, upgrade those, look like you can afford it even if you can’t. The subtle promise of the American dream is that once we have that next item, we will have finally arrived. But we all know this is a lie, and that no one ever ‘arrives.’ So we’re caught in an escalating circle ever pressing us to increase…until we die.

Our passage this morning challenges such notions. It shows us that decrease not increase, is character of the kingdom as well as the pathway to true joy in Jesus. So without further ado, I’ll read our text, I’ll pray, and then by God’s grace and God’s Spirit, we’ll hear a sermon that will move us to become Christ-like and less bent to chase the American Dream.

3 points to see today.

a) The Text in Context

I want to remind you of John 21:25 again, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” We need to pay attention to this verse because Jesus did a lot of things, and John chose not to fit them all into his gospel. This means note that John is being really selective about what gets in and what doesn’t. So, why did John include our passage in his gospel, and more so, why did John put this scene directly after the conversation with Nicodemus?

The beginning of the answer is to recall John the Baptist’s role in redemptive history. It was to point to Christ. Think about this: in Old Testament we find prophets leading the people of God by giving them His Word, only to have silence from God for 400 years after Malachi because the people didn’t want to hear from God. Hundreds of years passed – and then enters John. This is no doubt, a monumental role he has been given by God. His words were the first fresh words from God in four centuries. And the reason God gives John these words was to prepare the way for the Lord. I think this is why our passage directly follows the evening meeting with Nicodemus. The apostle John wants to show us that the way we respond to Jesus Christ is the way John the Baptist responds, not the way Nicodemus responds. Nicodemus hears Jesus say that you must be born again by the free will of the Sovereign Spirit of God and is confused. John the Baptist knows that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease, and he is thrilled.

b) The Envy of Competition (3:22-26)

In 3:22-24 the scene changes to the Judean countryside where Jesus and His disciples are baptizing. v23 reveals that John the Baptist and his disciples were also baptizing in the same general area. Two men with their disciples baptizing very close to one another. Apparently a certain Jew came to over to the disciples of the Baptist and stirred up some controversy about purification. The text doesn’t give us much info about what caused this controversy, what the content of it was, or who this Jew was. Perhaps the discussion was about John’s baptism? Perhaps it was about the baptism being done by Jesus’ disciples? Perhaps they were discussing which one was better, and therefore who one should be baptized by? Perhaps the Baptist’s disciples didn’t know what Jesus was doing until this Jew made them aware of it.[1] I think this unnamed Jew came strolling into a crowd of the Baptist’s disciples saying, “Is John’s baptism not enough? Does John’s baptism not work? Why is Jesus now doing it too? A ton of people are leaving John to go to Jesus to be baptized, why are you still staying with the Baptist?” Whatever this stirring was about it’s clear that it prompted the disciples of the Baptist to tell their teacher about it. So they go up to John the Baptist in 3:26, probably feeling a bit threatened[2], and asked 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.”

Before we get to John the Baptist’s famous answer, let’s examine their question. I hear anger or some kind of disillusionment in their statement. ‘John! ALL the people are leaving us to go to Jesus, what’s up with that? Why is He taking all of your people away from you? He shouldn’t be doing that! He’s stealing our people!’ The Baptist’s disciples obviously think it is highly inconsiderate for Jesus to take away so many people from John’s ministry to His own after John had so faithfully been the witness to Him he was supposed to be. I think the word ‘all’ is an exaggeration and shows the true feelings of the Baptist’s disciples.[3] ‘John! ALL your people are leaving you!’ Clearly they’re unhappy, envious, displeased at their present lack of numbers, and viewing the ministry of the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus in competition.[4] I think it goes deeper though. What we see in the Baptist’s disciples is a very human reaction when we feel a threat. But their reaction reveals that they seem to be more attached to the Baptist than the Baptist’s teaching. And because of their lofty position of John the Baptist, they are unwilling to rejoice when others go to Jesus, which as we’ve seen, is the precise reason John came to bear witness in the first place.

Don’t be too quick to pass judgment on them though, we do this too don’t we? We live in an age where there are many celebrity pastors and we get attached to these pastoral personalities very quickly. When this happens we eagerly accept and adopt everything these teachers without examining it to see if it’s biblical, and when this happens, we too are following the person more than their teaching. Kent Hughes has a good word for us here. “No matter who we are, no matter how much success we are having, sooner or later our lives or our ministries will be eclipsed. The most successful, competent, or famous will one day be asked to take a lesser role, and we need to know how to react at such a time.”[5] Church, if the Lord tarries, and doesn’t return during the time I’m your pastor here at SonRise, you know what my job is? To prepare you for the next guy.[6] Even though I as pastor hold a prominent position in this congregation, you must not have too high an opinion of me. Seek to attach yourself to the message, not the person. A true minister labors so that the congregation would follow, not the minister, but Jesus. And I mean that. If God is at work at SonRise we’ll see disciples of Jesus Christ, not disciples of Adam, or Chad, or Dave. Garrett Kell on The Gospel Coalition blog said it great this week, “You can’t want to be used for God’s glory while wanting other people to know it.” [7]For those of you who desire to do vocational ministry one day, take heed, do not to give the monopoly-like tide of increase room in your heart to grow. If you do you’ll view other churches primarily as competition, not as allies to win the city.

These are good things to think about because we ought to be more attached to Jesus than a particular personality, pastor, or ministry. If the disciples of John the Baptist had been attached to and truly following the teaching of their leader, do you see that they wouldn’t be with their leader anymore – they would be leaving to go to Jesus along with everyone else! See here a ministry that shrinks by doing what God intends for it to do. We have much to learn from this Church. Ministry is not measured by numbers, ministry is not measured by the personality in the pulpit, ministry is not measured by fruitfulness or breadth it has in the city. No, ministry is measured by faithfulness. So you see, John the Baptist’s job (a pastor’s job, an elder’s job) is to preach, and teach, and live in such a manner that his congregation glorifies God and not him for doing so![8] This is exactly what John the Baptist’s ministry was about – he was not trying to draw a huge numbers for the sake of being famous, he was faithfully proclaiming the One greater than He and pleading with his own followers to leave his side and go to Jesus.

John the Baptist here gives us a model to follow as Christians. He wasn’t out to spread his own brand, or build his own platform. No, he was a nobody seeking to tell everybody about Somebody.[9] And by doing so he found one of the secrets of true joy.

c) The Joy of Decrease (3:27-30)

Now, to John’s famous response. His disciples had brought him a bad report, a complaint, and John rising above his own ego answers them with a good report by pointing them to Jesus.

The first thing John the Baptist responds with is a shocking statement in v27 saying that a person has a thing at his disposal only if and God wants them to have it. This is both about Jesus and about himself. It’s about Jesus in that Jesus’ ministry is increasing because God wants it to, and it’s about the Baptist in that his ministry is decreasing because God wants it to. John the Baptist is saying that Jesus is receiving people and he is losing people according to God’s plan. In other words, nobody would be going to Jesus if God weren’t giving them to Jesus. John was to be the voice crying of Someone greater than himself and when that One came who was greater than himself, John was to fade away into the background – and that’s what happens. We don’t hear from John the Baptist again in this gospel. In fact, we know from Matthew that in a short time John’s head would be on a platter because of the wish of a dancing girl. So just as the luster of the evening star is lost in the glow of the morning sun, so too Jesus is outshining John, and this is how God wants it to be.

In v28 John continues by saying that this has been the content of his teaching the whole time. ‘Haven’t you been paying attention guys? I’m not it, I’m not the focal point of history, I’m only the forerunner. God wanted my ministry to exist at the same time of Jesus’ ministry so that I could be the pointer I was created to be! If you’d paid attention to my teaching, you wouldn’t be with me anymore! Jesus and I don’t have rival ministries. I exist to make much of Him, Jesus does not exist to make much of me! You yourselves are witnesses of this.”

To illustrate this truth for his followers John begins talking about a wedding in v29. John likens Jesus to the bridegroom, himself as the friend of the bridegroom, and those whom they’re ministering to as the bride.[10] John is saying that he is not the groom, he’s the best man. The best man isn’t supposed to get the bride on the wedding day (or at least, he’s not supposed to!) Think of the role of the best man. It’s was a bit different in their day than ours. I’ve been a best man a few times so far and I honestly didn’t do that much except stand up there and hold the ring. In their day, the best man didn’t just stand up there with the groom, he planned the wedding, and more importantly he gave the bride to the groom by putting her hand into the hand of the groom.[11] Once that happened, the best man was to fade away. John is saying that he is Jesus’ best man, and that it is now time for him to fade away.

Do you notice how John also says here that he rejoices when he hears the bridegroom’s voice? Think about this phrase. What has John the Baptist identified himself as in all four gospels? The voice who prepares the way for the King. John the Baptist was the voice for the groom, calling all to flock to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. When he finally hears the voice of the groom, everything in the core of his being screams out, ‘He is here! The true Voice has come!’ He leapt in the womb and he is still leaping now! Jesus even speaks about His voice later in John 10:27 when He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” We see the power of His voice in John 11:43 when he, standing before the stinking cave of the dead Lazarus, shouts, “Lazarus, come forth!” So you see the true Voice has come. Far be it from any minister or ministry of the gospel to use his own voice to draw people away from the true voice to themselves.

There’s one more thing in v29 to notice. At the end of the verse the Baptist soars in exultation saying, “This joy of mine has been made full!” John, by fading into the background of history, watching Jesus get the glory for the work he’s done makes his joy full? He labors for a lifetime, and Jesus gets all the glory – YES! To John, there is nothing better than watching the groom receive His bride, this completes his joy. This is a strange way to be happy. This strange joy of the Baptist flows perfectly into 3:30 where he says some of the most famous words that ever came off his lips. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What does this mean? When Jesus increases and becomes greater in the world, and John decreases and becomes less in the world, John’s joy increases because the glory of Jesus increases! John is infinitely happy that his own glory is fading while the glory of Jesus is rising!

This is exactly what we’re meant to see here in this text today: the joy of decrease. I long to have a heart like John here in v30, and I long for you to have it too! To have this joyful decrease we must fight for it because we live in a world that abounds with an abundance of avenues for personal increase through which most people say something like this, ‘Look at me! Look at who I am! Aren’t I so interesting! Don’t you want to follow what I do, know who I am, and read what I write?’ This text moves us to ask – why do you use these avenues for personal increase? Is it to make much of ourselves? I hope not, because if we have them to make much of ourselves, or have them to create a community that will praise us, we are killing our joy that God offers us in loving His glory more than our own!

Now, what does this kind of joyful decrease look like? I think it looks like doing all we can to show this world that we treasure Jesus more than what we’ve got and who we are. v27 said that we have what we have because God wants us to have it and v30 is John’s famous call to a humble decreasing joy. When you pair v27 and v30 ask these questions: Why did God give me a wife or husband? Why did God give me a gpa? Why did God give me clothes, a car, a dog, kids, a house, money, flip flops, a ministry, a job, etc.? The answer from v27 is clear – we have these things because God wants us to have them. But there’s more. The answer from v30 fills out the picture – we have all these things to make much of God and not ourselves. See your family, money, singleness, marriage, talents, and time were given to you by God to show the world that there is something better than family, money, singleness, marriage, talents, time! What’s better? JESUS is better! This is what was driving John, and this must drive us!

You know, I used to think the American Dream was just that, American. I have since changed my view and now believe it to be a worldwide epidemic. One my friends used to be a missionary in China and I’ll never forget one the emails he sent me. “Pray for the people here, they are generally uninterested with our good news. Ask that Father draw them, and make them hungry for Him. They are miserable without Him as can be seen in their constant pursuit of money, yet lack of happiness. We are asking that they would be taken from darkness into light, as we were, and shown the real reason they were created, filling the whole earth with His glory!”

Amen?

Church, don’t believe the lie of increase, may you hear and heed the biblical call of decrease and find new levels of growing joy in the gospel of Christ-crucified for sinners for years to come.

 

 

Citations:

[1] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel Of John, page 94.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 93.

[3] Ibid, page 94.

[4] See study note on John 3:25-26, John MacArthur Study Bible, page 1582.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 94.

[6] I heard Mark Dever say this at a conference, though at the moment I can’t remember which one it was.

[7] Garrett Kell, Stop Photobombing Jesus, TGC blog – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/stop-photobombing-jesus, accessed on 4.29.17

[8] I’ve heard John Piper say this numerous times in his preaching, usually after quoting 1 Peter 4:11.

[9] This is Mark Driscoll’s tagline, it used to be all over his material and social media accounts, I’m not sure if he still uses it.

[10] Due to the many Old Testament references to Israel being the bride of Yahweh, John the Baptist may be hinting at a very true fact, Jesus is true King of Israel.

[11] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 97.

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