THE WORDS OF A HUMBLE MAN – John 3:22-30

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An article in the Discipleship Journal in the mid-1990’s said that we live in an age of self-love.  There is even a popular magazine on the market entitled “Self”.  Words like “narcissism” (the love of self), and “hedonism” (the pursuit of pleasure) are being used more-and-more often to describe our society.  I had never heard of those words when I was growing up.  Focus on the Family magazine had a short article entitled, “Remember What’s Important to a Man”.  Here are a few of the things mentioned in the article:  1)  Men fear nothing more than failure.   2).  Men are motivated by feeling significant.  3)  Men want to manage their own problems and be “Mr. Fix-It”.  The apostle Paul warns us in II Timothy 3:2 that in the last days “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant . . . “.

A virtue that is fading among men and women in our society, and in our churches today, is humility.  Evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness.  Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves.”  A man by the name of John Seldon made this  observation:  “Humility is a virtue that all men preach, but very few practice.”  In the passage of Scripture we are now studying, John 3:22-30, a man is being described by the apostle John, who not only preached humility, but also demonstrated it by his life and by his attitude.  That man is John the Baptist.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 22-24)

Verse 22 says, “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.”  Actually, according to John 4:2, Jesus wasn’t doing the baptizing Himself, but His disciples were baptizing under His authority and direction.  In that sense Jesus was involved in the baptism proceedings.  It appears that they were baptizing in the wilderness areas rather than near the city, and may have been moving around the area where they had begun to baptize.

Verse 23 says, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.”  For a short time, until John the Baptist was put in prison (verse 24), the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlapped.  From the description given of their locations, they probably weren’t very far from each other.  Since they weren’t far from each other, and were doing identical ministries at the time, it’s a natural tendency to make comparisons and “keep score”, as if they were competing with one another.

John the Baptist had a great deal of popularity because of his preaching and his message.  Luke tells us that “multitudes went out to hear John.”  Matthew tells us that people came to him from Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and all the region beyond the Jordan River.  Some of these people were journeying for several days just to hear John the Baptist preach.

II.  THE PROBLEM (verses 25-26)

The problem was that the crowds around Jesus were growing, and John’s disciples were becoming worried about it.  They didn’t want to see their teacher and leader take second place to anyone else.  Verse 25 reads:  “There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.”  At first I wondered what this verse had to do with the verses that follow, but I think it’s beginning to make sense.  The Greek word, katharismou, refers to cleansing or removal of dirt.  To the Jew, baptism was considered a form of cleansing.  They may have been discussing with this Jew about which baptism made you cleaner.  Which baptism had the greater cleansing effect:  the baptism of John or the baptism of Jesus performed by His disciples?  The comparison about their baptisms would lead to comparisons about the two people, John the Baptist and Jesus.  You know how one thing leads to another when you start making comparisons!

Well, it’s time to pass the bad news on to John the Baptist and help him come up with a new marketing strategy.  Off they go.  It says in verse 26. “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have born witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him’.”  They don’t even mention Jesus by name.  I don’t think they are being derogatory.  I think they still don’t know who Jesus is.  To them He is “the new Preacher on the block” who is taking away their teacher’s business.  They have forgotten, or overlooked the fact that John the Baptist had already encouraged at least two of his disciples to follow Jesus, and they did so (John 1:35-39).

III.  JOHN’S RESPONSE (verses 27-30)

A.  A Perspective (verse 27)

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and seeking their help, John the Baptist rejoiced at the popularity of Jesus, and is going to give them reasons to rejoice along with him.  He begins by looking at earthly abilities and earthly success from a heavenly perspective.  “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”  John is saying that all success ultimately comes from the same Source.  If God is the Giver, then we should rejoice, not only over what He gives to us, but also over what He gives to others.  If Jesus and His disciples are being successful, that should bring us joy because God is being glorified through them.

B.  A Reminder (verse 28)

Now John the Baptist reminds them of something he said to them earlier.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’, but ‘I have been sent before Him’.”  Those words were recorded earlier in chapter 1, verses 20 and 23. 

Leonard Bernstein, the great music composer, arranger, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play.  He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle.  I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem.  And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” 

Up until this time, John the Baptist was “first fiddle”.  Everyone was coming to listen to him.  But he is reminding his followers that he was called and gifted to be the “forerunner”, the one sent on ahead to get people ready for the “Master Violinist”.  John is saying that it is now his privilege to “change seats” and play alongside Him in harmony and with enthusiasm.  In so doing, the sounds of the Master will be all the more attractive and pleasing to the ears of their listeners as the two of them follow the direction of their Conductor, God the Father in heaven.

C.  An Illustration (verse 29)

John the Baptist now uses the context of marriage to give a very clear and beautiful illustration of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The following are his words in verse 29.  “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.  And so this joy of mine has been made full.”  John the Baptist calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”.  It is not his wedding.  His function was to serve the bridegroom.  The closest similarity in my culture would be the “best man”.  I’m going to compare the two roles so that you can see the differences and gain a better understanding of what John the Baptist has said.

Have you ever been the “best man” at a wedding?  If you are married, did you have a “best man” at your wedding?  Being a “best man” is quite an honor, isn’t it?   It is questionable these days just what the responsibilities of the “best man” are.  A classmate of mine was asked to be the “best man” at his friend’s wedding and he had no idea of what he was supposed to do.  So he borrowed a book on etiquette from the library.  He looked up the responsibilities of the “best man” and it said, “help seat the family and friends of the bride and groom, give the ring to the groom during the ceremony, protect the groom’s car”, and when he read the last responsibility he started laughing.  It read, “help the groom dress himself”.  Well, the glorious day of the wedding arrived, and as he and the groom were in the dressing room getting ready, he quickly found out why that responsibility was written in the book.  The groom was so nervous and his hands were shaking so much that my classmate had to button all the buttons on his friend’s tuxedo for him!

In the Jewish culture during the time of Christ, the “best man”  was called “the friend of the bridegroom” (the “shoshben“), and he was in charge of everything:  the preparations for the wedding ceremony, the ceremony itself, and the reception afterward.  With the exception of the bride and groom, everyone else in the wedding, as well as everyone making preparations for the wedding, answered to him and took orders from him.  The friend of the bridegroom was the most-trusted friend of the bride and groom, and had the responsibility of protecting them and acting as a liaison between them, delivering messages to them from each other.  He also sent out the wedding invitations or personally delivered them himself.  His objective, as he made preparations, was to make this wedding celebration a memorable time of great joy and rejoicing for the bride and groom, their families, and all who were invited.

The friend of the bridegroom’s last and most important responsibility was to protect the bridal chamber.  After the wedding the friend of the bridegroom would open the door to the bridal chamber for the bride to enter and make herself ready for her husband.  He would then station himself at the door to keep any false lovers from entering.  When it became night he would wait and listen for the sound of the bridegroom’s voice, and when he heard it and recognized it, he would let the bridegroom into the chamber and go on his way rejoicing.  The lovers were now together.  His responsibilities as the friend of the bridegroom were now finished.  He could now go to the wedding banquet and enjoy the feast,

D.  An Explanation (the Old Testament Prophets)

Now that we have a basic understanding of a first-century Jewish wedding, let’s see how it applies to John the Baptist.  If he is the friend of the bridegroom, then who are the bride and groom, and when is the wedding?  John the Baptist doesn’t give any details in answer to those two questions because there is no need to do so.  The prophets have already given those details, and because they are Messianic prophecies, his listeners know them very well.  Let’s take a look at them and you will see what I mean.

John the Baptist had already told his disciples that he was the forerunner, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy at the very end of his book.  Now He is telling them that the Messiah is no longer coming – He’s already here and He is the One they are complaining about!  I can just see their eyes widen in amazement as he gives them the news!  Now that marriage-illustration he just used is bringing many prophesies to their minds because the long-awaited Messiah is here.  In several places God refers to Israel, or alludes to Israel, as His bride.  For example, in Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts”.  Isaiah 62:4,5 says, “But you will be called ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘married’. . . And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”  In Hosea, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a harlot as a visual depiction of what Israel has done to Him.  In Hosea 2:19, God tells the people of Israel, “And I will betroth you to Me forever.  Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice.”

It’s obvious from the illustration that John the Baptist uses in verses 28-29 that the groom refers to Jesus Christ.  There is debate, however, about whether the bride he refers to is Israel or the Church.  I’m personally convinced that the bride, in this case, is Israel because he is speaking to Jews, his ministry is to the nation of Israel, he is using the Old Testament as his backdrop, his purpose is to introduce the nation of Israel to their Messiah, and the church-age doesn’t begin until Pentecost (Acts 2).

AN APPLICATION:

Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible:  John 3:30.  After I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and was reading the whole New Testament once a week, this verse, John 3:30 was the first verse that I wrote down on the inside cover of my Bible.  To me, it described the essence of living the Christian life, and I wanted Christ to become more and more evident in my life.  John the Baptist gave that response in Aramaic, and we don’t know what Aramaic words he used.  But I believe that he said those words with a smile on his lips and his face beaming with joy!

In verse 30, John uses a particular word twice.  It’s the English word “must”.  We often think of that word as being negative and unbending.  As you were growing up, do you remember times when your parents used that term when speaking to you?  Was it used when telling you to do something you didn’t like to do or didn’t want to do?  Was the conversation something like this:  “Do I have to? . . . Yes you must!”  Was it one of those “end of conversation” conversations?  In order to keep from getting a wrong understanding of the apostle John’s reasons for using that word, we need to take a close look at the Greek word that has been translated “must”.

The Greek word that is used in verse 30 is dei.  Remember that John is writing these words to a Greek-speaking audience who are influenced by the Greek culture.  In the classical Greek writings the word dei was often associated with fate – an inner compulsion or calling that spurs a person on and brings personal fulfillment.  The word is sometimes used to describe the fulfillment of one’s destiny.  These descriptions may be closer to the meaning of John’s words.  In that case, it would not only be motivated by joy but produce greater personal joy as a result.

There is no clear Hebrew equivalent to this Greek word – no word or phrase that matches it exactly.  So what is the Christian equivalent of the Greek word dei, and the Greek concept of fate?  How do you translate it into Christian terms that we might understand?  Because the God of the Hebrews is an infinite, personal God who is sovereign over all, there was no need for such a thing as fate.  The word “dei” meant the divine plan of God in a person’s life –  “That’s my calling from God”; “That’s the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life”.  God’s plan for John the Baptist was very clear and specific.  It was written in the Old Testament scriptures and it was described to his parents before his birth.  So it was very clear to him that he had now fulfilled his God-given privileges and responsibilities, and that brought him great joy.

We don’t get much of a look at John the Baptist.  There aren’t many words written about Him, but what is written gives us a clear picture of his role in God’s plan of salvation, and his enthusiasm in fulfilling that role.  As the result of studying the person of John the Baptist, I believe that a truly humble person is not a person who tries hard to be humble.  He is not a person who makes it a point to be humble by wearing humble facial expressions, saying humble words and doing humble deeds.   A truly humble person is definitely not a person who considers himself to be humble!

I sincerely believe that a truly humble person doesn’t even think about humility.  The focus of his thoughts and attention is on God and others.  John the Baptist would never admit it, but by his words and his actions he has demonstrated that he is a remarkably humble man.  No wonder the Lord Jesus praised him so highly!

May we find rest for our souls from the One who is “meek and humble in heart” – the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we also learn from the example of the man whom the Lord Jesus praised above every other man:  John the Baptist.

Please visit other sermons on this site if this message has been of instruction and encouragement to you.  The next construction site, John 3:31-36 will be underway soon.  I hope to see you there.

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF HIMSELF – John 1:19-28

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If each of us were to make a list of some of the most prominent people in the New Testament, several people might come to our minds immediately.  Of course there is the Lord Jesus Christ, and you might think of Paul, and Peter, and John.  One person who may not make it near the top of our lists is John the Baptist.  Jesus, however, puts John the Baptist at the top of His list, and pays Him the highest tribute.

In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist“.  In the next three verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to him as the second Elijah, sent by God in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy, and He quotes the following words from Malachi 3:1 and 4:5:  ” Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.”

The first eighteen verses of John’s gospel are called his “prologue”.  If you open a book, you will often find an introduction, preface, or forward.  It normally establishes the setting and gives some background information to prepare the readers for the rest of the story.  John ends his prologue at verse 18 and now he begins to share a biography of Jesus Christ from his perspective.  He is very detail-oriented, especially when it comes to times and places.

Beginning with verse 19 of John chapter 1, we will be looking into the events of the first week of Jesus’ public ministry.  From out of the wilderness came a man whose clothing, diet, lifestyle, and message made his hearers think of Elijah, and his message was stirring up the nation of Israel.  The apostle John tells us very little about the message of John the Baptist, and nothing about how he dressed and lived.  He takes it for granted that these facts, which were written down in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, are now general knowledge.  Matthew 3:1-2 says, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judah, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’.”  In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist is described as wearing a “garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  Thousands of people came to hear him, and many were being baptized as a sign of their repentance.

I.  QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED (verses 19-22)

In John chapter 1, verses 19-22, John the Baptist fields questions concerning his identity.  He knew his calling very clearly, was pursuing it wholeheartedly, and was ready and willing to answer any questions.  A delegation of priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem in order to get some information from him.  There are two important reasons why this delegation consisted of priests and Levites.  Bible commentator William Barclay explains it very clearly, and these are his words:  “. . . John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest.  In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. . . . If he was a descendent of Aaron nothing could stop him from being a priest.  Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way.”

This delegation was to ask him the question, “Who are you?”  That’s an interesting question.  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?  It may not have become clear to him until just before he began his public ministry.  We don’t know.  But his parents knew his calling before he was even conceived (Luke 1:13-17).  The angel Gabriel told them, quoting the prophet Malachi’s prophesy.  I can imagine that Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were watching and waiting for those words to be fulfilled.

The word translated “ask”, in John 1:19, is a word that was used to make a request of someone who was in a higher position than yourself, such as a person asking for something from God, a child from a parent, or a subject from a king.  It is a word that implies humility and courtesy.  The reason for the use of this word is found in the questions that they ask of him.  When they asked, “Who are you?”, John the Baptist answered the question behind their question by saying, “I am not the Christ”.  Verse 20 says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny” (his answer).  He is saying “I promise you, I assure you of the truth of that statement, and I will not back down from it”.  In our society we might say something like “I swear to God”, or “you have my word for it”.  He doesn’t want there to be any question about the truth of his answer.  In so doing, he passed up the opportunity to impress this delegation by boasting about himself.

But that answer didn’t satisfy the delegation.  They said to him, “What then?” (“ti oun” in Greek).  By using those two words, the delegation was expressing their impatience.  Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and then found yourself in a traffic jam?  As you’re waiting for the traffic to start moving again, have you ever said or thought these words to yourself:  “Come on, let’s get going!  I haven’t got all day!”  I think that’s what this delegation meant when they used the words “what then”.  So they fired some more questions at him.  “Are you Elijah?” 

The Malachi 4:5-6 the Old Testament prophet Malachi said, “Behold I am going to send Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”  The Jewish leaders were looking forward to the return of Elijah.  They remembered that he did not die physically, but left this earth in a fiery chariot.  So they concluded that the identical person would reappear.  John the Baptist must have looked like Elijah because of the clothes he was wearing.  He must also have sounded like Elijah in his preaching on repentance.  But John the Baptist gives a simple answer:  “No, I am not.”  His answer to them was true.  John was not the Elijah who went up into heaven in a chariot of fire.

Their next question was:  “Are you the prophet”?  The prophet they were referring to was the one foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  His answer to that question is “no”.  Have you noticed that his answers have been getting shorter with each question?

Finally, in verse 22, the delegation stopped guessing and asked John the Baptist to give his own description of himself.   They needed to have some information to bring back in their report, so they decided to give up their interview-format and preconceived ideas, and allow John the Baptist to control the conversation.  They are no longer demanding information from him; they are pleading for it!

II.  JOHN THE BAPTIST’S DESCRIPTION OF HIMSELF (verses 23-28)

A,  A “VOICE” (verse 23)

What he gives as an answer may have created even more confusion in their minds, but I’m sure that his brief answer was written down word-for-word.  His answer should have been easy for them to remember because John the Baptist quoted Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 40:3 as his answer to them.  This quote made by John the Baptist can be found in all four of the gospels.  Here in verse 23 John says, “I AM A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’.”

We need to read Isaiah chapter 40 and see John’s quote in the context of this amazing chapter on the greatness, the sovereignty, the power and the love of God.  We need to see these words of John in the context of God’s mercy, His faithfulness, and His wonderful plans for His people.  The Babylonian captivity is about to occur and Isaiah has been describing God’s condemnation of them for their sins, and the things they are going to experience in captivity.  The Jews at the time of John’s Gospel were under the “captivity” of Rome.  Without that context, we won’t see what John the Baptist wants the nation of Israel to see about their God and about the preparations that need to be made in anticipation of His coming.  The time has come.

As John the Baptist has already said, he is not the Messiah (the Word), but he has the God-given privilege and responsibility of being the “voice”, proclaiming the Word loud and clear.  He spoke in a loud, strong voice, filled with emotion and conviction, so that all would hear him (whether they wanted to or not)!  I was listening to one of Billy Graham’s first crusades at Madison Square Garden.  He was preaching his message at the top of his lungs!  Microphones and sound systems weren’t as powerful and as sophisticated in the mid-1950’s as they are today, and he wanted to make sure everybody heard every word he had to say to them!  His preaching at that crusade gave me a better impression of what John the Baptist must have sounded like.  And he didn’t have any microphones or speakers in his day!  God must have given him a powerful set of lungs and vocal chords!

The words “make straight the way” were a familiar expression in that day.  Before a king would visit a town in his realm, a messenger called a “forerunner” would be sent ahead of him to announce his coming.  This gave the townspeople some time to fix the road, removing any obstacles, and to make themselves presentable to him before his arrival.  John was saying, in effect, “The King of heaven and earth is coming.  Get your hearts cleaned up and your lives prepared to welcome His arrival!”

B.  A LOWLY SERVANT (verses 24-28)

Verse 24 may not seem significant, but John’s wording tells us otherwise.  He says, “Now they had been sent by the Pharisees.”  Would it come across more clearly if it were translated:  “Oh, by the way, those priests and Levites were sent by the Pharisees.”  Who gave the Pharisees the right to tell the priests and Levites what to do and what to say?  The Pharisees had no authority from God.  The word “Pharisee” means “separated” or “separatist”.  The movement started about 150 B.C., and by the time of Christ, this sect had become a very powerful and corrupt part of the Jewish religious hierarchy, even though they were neither priests nor Levites.

In verse 25 the delegation said to John the Baptist, “Why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  They are saying, “Who gave you the authority to baptize?”  The Lord Jesus addressed that question of authority in Matthew 21:23-27.  The chief priests and elders asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.”   In reply Jesus asks them a question about John the Baptist.  They were speechless.  Here is a portion of that conversation:  “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” . . . “We do not know”. . . . “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do things.”

When the delegation asked John the Baptist why he was baptizing, they really meant “why are you baptizing Jews?”  In their minds baptism was meant only for Gentiles who wanted to adopt the Jewish faith.  They were angered at the suggestion that they needed repentance and baptism.  In answer to their question, John gives another description of himself.  He describes himself as a lowly servant, not even worthy of such a humble service as untying his Master’s sandals.  That was considered to be one of the most demeaning jobs that a servant could be called upon to do for his master.  Once again John the Baptist turns the focus of the conversation away from himself and onto the Messiah.  He also tells them that the Messiah is already in their midst but they don’t know Him.

CONCLUSION:

If someone asked you the question, “Who are you?” or “Who do you think you are?”, how would you respond?  John’s focus was on the Messiah, and he was a “voice”, preparing the way for the Lord.  His words were “repent and be baptized”.  Jesus’ words in Mark 1:13 were:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Any day now, any moment now, the Lord Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (I Thes. 4:16-17).  God has called Christians to be a “voice”, pointing people to Him.  The message is still the same:  “Repent” – turn from your sins and your control over your life, “believe” in Christ as your Lord and Savior, turning your life over to Him, and “be baptized”, make a public declaration of your faith to your family, friends, and community.  If you haven’t made that decision, there’s no better time than now.  Please, don’t put it off any longer.

Christians, whenever you are tempted to think that you are indispensable to the work of the Lord, remember John the Baptist.  The fact that God uses us is no excuse for pride.  Instead, it is a reminder of Christ’s worth and His glory, and the privilege of being a voice for Him and a light that reflects His glory.  The King is coming!  Let’s let the whole world know before He arrives!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

The blueprint of John 1:29-34 is on the drafting table, the Spirit of God is the Architect overseeing the project, and construction will begin soon.  Hope you will come back again.  God’s Word is a never-ending, construction project, and our lives are “concrete examples” of the effects of working hard on the project.  May we, as His workmen, grow wiser, stronger, and better equipped to serve Him with each working day.