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.

JESUS DEFENDS HIS AUTHORITY – John 2:18-22

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Are guarantees important to you?  When you shop for an item to purchase, do you read the fine print in the contract and the guarantee forms?  Maybe you can recall a time when you didn’t read all the fine print and wish you had.  We all desire proof, not only that things live up to their claims, but also that people live up to the claims they make.  The most fantastic claim that any person could possibly make would be the claim to be God.  Jesus Christ wasn’t the first Person to make that claim, and there have been many others who have claimed it since then.

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple.  While doing so He declared:  “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house  of merchandise.”  By His actions and His words, the Lord Jesus was fulfilling an Old Testament prophesy and declaring Himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now we see their response.

I.  THE REACTION OF THE JEWISH LEADERS (verses 18)

In verse 18 the leaders of the Jews said to Jesus, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things.”  They used that same expression at the end of Jesus’ ministry, in Matthew 21:23.  They were angry, and probably shouted those words at Him.  It may have sounded something like this:  “Who do You think You are!  Who gave You the right to do the things You just did.”  They ask Him for a sign.  I guess they felt they had the right to put Jesus to the test.  After all, they considered themselves to be the guardians of the Jewish faith.  I wonder whether or not they were trying to (incorrectly) apply God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-3.  “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes true concerning which he spoke to you saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the prophet or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  But Jesus was not a prophet or a dreamer, He was God Himself!

The problem was that the Jewish people were always looking for signs and miracles.  What Jesus says to them in reply is the greatest of all signs or miracles.

II.  THE PREDICTION BY JESUS (verse 19)

Jesus’ answer to the Jews who were questioning Him was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  It was a statement they misunderstood, but they would never forget it.  Three years later they quoted it at Jesus’ trial, and even used it to mock Him while He was on the cross.  The word translated “destroy” is a permissive imperative in the Greek.  His listeners didn’t realize it, but Jesus was giving them permission to kill Him in order that He might pay the price for the sins of the world.  This was a new insight for me.

There are two Greek words that were used when referring to the temple.  The Lord Jesus chose to use the word “naos”, a word that could also be used to refer to the human body.  Speaking of the temple, Jesus said “I will raise it up”.  The Greek word used here, “egeiro”, literally means “to rouse from sleep” It occurs 141 times in the New Testament, and 70 of those usages refer to the resurrection.  Obviously, Jesus didn’t point to Himself or make any other kind of gesture to indicate clearly to them that He was referring to His body.  I don’t think that Jesus wanted them to understand what He was saying.  Even His own disciples didn’t understand the meaning of His statement until after His death and resurrection.  Can you ever remember receiving the following response when you asked someone a question:  “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it!”?  I think those words also apply to this situation.

Often during Jesus’ public ministry, the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to give them a sign.  But He refused to do so, except for the sign of Jonah, which depicts death, burial, and resurrection.  In Matthew 12:40 Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, or the Lord.  Watchman Nee also expresses this argument clearly in his book, Normal Christian Faith:
“A person who claims to be God must belong to one of three categories:  First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.  Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie. Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.  You can only choose one of these
possibilities.”

III.  THEIR MISUNDERSTANDING (verses 20-21) 

Judging from their response to Jesus’ remark, the Jewish leaders must have thought that Jesus was a lunatic. Their answer to Jesus is:  “It took forty years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  They thought He was talking about the temple in Jerusalem.  Josephus, the Roman historian, said that about 18,000 workmen were employed in that task, and that the temple wasn’t finished until 64 A.D.  They are saying to Jesus, “You’ve got to be crazy if you think you can rebuild that massive, ornate structure in just three days!”  Little did they realize that Jesus was going to do something even more astounding.  He was going to bring His own dead body back to life after three days in a tomb!

The originator of a new religion came to the great French diplomat, Talleyrand and complained that he could not make any converts.  “What would you suggest I do?” he asked.  “I should recommend”, said Talleyrand, “that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day.”  I don’t think he took that advice!  Talleyrand must have recognized that it is the resurrected, living Christ that holds Christianity together and draws people to it.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:14 and 17, “And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” 

IV.  THE DISCIPLES’ RESPONSE (verse 22)

In verse 21, the apostle John affirms that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.  But John did not know that at the time.  He says in verse 22, “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this (over three years earlier); and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  They didn’t understand until they saw Him in His resurrected body three years later.

What is the “Scripture” that they believed?   It must have been Psalm 16:10 because the apostle Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31), and the apostle Paul quoted it at Antioch;  (Acts 13:35).  Psalm 16:10 says, “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”  That “mysterious” verse had been solved and fulfilled.

A little boy once taught his Sunday School class a lesson about the resurrection of Christ that they understood immediately and would never forget.  Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several other eight-year-old boys and girls.  Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in Leadership magazine.  But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.

The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs.  Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container.  Back in the classroom they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion.  After running through the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one.  After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh.

Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside.  The children exclaimed, “That’s stupid!”   “That’s not fair!”  “Somebody didn’t do their assignment!”

Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”

“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted.  “There’s nothing there!”

“I did so do it,” Philip insisted.  “I did do it.  It’s empty, the tomb is empty!”

Silence followed.  From then on Philip became a full member of the class.  He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off.  At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar, not with flowers but with their Sunday School teacher, each to lay on his casket an empty pantyhose egg.

Like the empty pantyhose egg, the Lord Jesus used the picture of the temple (His body) to describe His violent death that would be followed by His glorious resurrection from the dead (the empty tomb).  This is the second picture that John records in his Gospel.  The first picture was that of the Lamb of God, the unblemished substitute who would be sacrificed to pay the price for our sins.  There is also a third picture which John gives in chapter 3 of his Gospel.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

The Lord Jesus’ description of Himself as a “temple” brings to mind several images from the Old Testament.  The tabernacle in the wilderness was just a tent until it was consecrated and the Spirit of God came and filled it.  Then it became the Tabernacle of the Lord, and the Shekinah glory shone out from within.  The people saw it and worshipped God who now dwelt there.  The temple of Solomon was just a beautiful building until it was consecrated, and the Spirit of God filled it.  Then it became a temple where people were drawn together to worship the Lord.

Just as Jesus described His body as a temple, our bodies are temples also.  Who, or what. is being worshipped in your “temple” (your body, your life)?  Who is being glorified in your body?  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins.  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, God incarnate.  Those things are important to believe, but believing those things to be true is not the formula for becoming a child of God.  There is also the need for consecration:  repenting of our sins and devoting our lives to Him.  Is your body (your life) an outward testimony of forgiveness and joy because of the death of Christ for you?  Is your body (life) an outward evidence of victory because of the risen Christ who reigns in you, and the Spirit of God who fills and controls you?  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 6:19-20. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  Becoming a Christian is not a rental agreement or a lease.  It is a permanent transfer of ownership of our lives to God our Creator.  You couldn’t be in better hands, and the enjoyment never ends!  I hope this is your experience.  If not, I hope that you will make that choice and experience the wonderful, life-changing results very soon.  You will be eternally glad if you do, or eternally sorry if you don’t.  God wants you to be His, and the Lord Jesus paid the price to make that possible.  If it is still unclear in your mind, please go to my “About page” where the Scriptures are given, or leave me a comment so that we can talk about this decision, and so that any questions might be answered.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to this finished work-in-progress, John 2:18-22.  Please come back soon.  I am temporarily leaving my study in John’s Gospel to study and prepare a message for Christmas.  I have in mind an unusual message, but one which is very appropriate for this time of celebration.  After I gather the Scriptures pertaining to these events and develop an outline, I’ll start putting this sermon online a bit at a time as the work progresses.  Thank you for visiting.  Please also visit other completed sermons on this blog-site if you are interested.  May we be receptive and eager as Christ reveals Himself more fully to us.