John 3:22-30 (NIV): After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
John’s disciples were defensive for John, for his reputation and his fame. They had first come to him because he was somebody; he was unique. He was a genuine prophet of God, and one of those hadn’t been seen for a few centuries. They enjoyed being at the center of what was happening. As long as John was important, they were important. And that was important to them.
Of course these were the followers of John who had stayed with him even after he had identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV) and the “Son of God” (John 1:34 NIV). Andrew and John had heard John say this and had left John to become followers of Jesus. But many stayed with John. Part of that was out of familiarity – they knew who John was, and his fame was still on the upswing. But another part what that they weren’t at all sure what John meant when he called Jesus “the Lamb of God” and “the Son of God.” Those terms, those concepts didn’t fit into their theology or their worldview. So they stuck with what was safe and familiar.
As long as Jesus was working in other parts of the country, those followers of John were comfortable. Of course their business in baptisms was slower than it had been, but they chalked that up to just normal cycles. But when Jesus and His disciples came back to the area and started baptizing people as well, they noticed that people were flocking to the “competition,” while they sat idle. As they saw it, it wasn’t fair. John was the original baptizer; this Jesus was just an upstart. In fact, originally John had been the one who had baptized HIM!
When they brought this report to John, they expected him to do something about it – to stop Jesus somehow, or to denounce Him so that people would leave Jesus and come back to John, so that they could get back to the good old days when they were following the top dog.
They never expected John to respond the way that he did. John knew two key things: he wasn’t the Messiah, and Jesus was. And that worldview kept everything else in its proper perspective. John understood that his whole job was to prepare the way, to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming. And he had done that. Now that Jesus was there and His ministry was up and running, John’s job was complete. He was now simply following God’s last orders until he received new directions.
It didn’t bother John that Jesus was a success. In fact, Jesus’ success was actually a pat on John’s back. John had done his job well. The people were ready for Jesus, and were now flocking to Him. John didn’t need to be in the spotlight to validate his success; he actually needed Jesus to be the center of attention for him to be validated. Thus he, the friend of the bridegroom, was elated at the success of the groom.
John knew that, of necessity, as Jesus’ light increased, his own must dim. But that was okay, because John was never after the top spot in the first place. His goal had never been to be famous or admired. All he ever wanted was to please the Lord, to fulfill the purpose to which God had called Him, for which He had made him. Everything he did was purely to hear from the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)
Father, I can imagine the disappointment in the hearts of John’s followers when he said those things. They, like most people, are used to others being fiercely protective of their own turf, their own reputation, and being willing to do just about anything to protect it. John’s attitude, the attitude of the kingdom, where Your plan is all that matters, was completely foreign to them. But today, that is to be our attitude in all things as well. As members of Your kingdom, we are to divest ourselves of our self-interest. Instead, we are to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Jesus (cf. Luke 9:23). We are to seek first Your kingdom, not ours, and Your righteousness, not our reputation (Matthew 6:33). We are to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, so that we will find it (Matthew 10:39). John had all of that down cold. Help me to keep that same vision, those same priorities in my own heart every day. Amen.