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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 26, 1999
The Joy Of Humility
This is the last Sunday of this year, some are saying it is the last of the Millennium, but being a purist, that will not occur for another 53 weeks. The new Century and Millennium starts on January 1, 20001. Someone joked that the Y2K experts will discover this fact in January 2000 and begin to warn people about the danger of the new Millennium starting in 2001. They won’t want to be out of work!
With the end of the year comes the normal claim by different companies and groups that they were number one for the year. That will be clearly seen in the college football bowl games to be held on New Year’s Day. You will see various teams claiming to be the best in the nation. A coalition of Sports Journalists will make that determination, and it is not always an easy decision to make. You will also see awards given out for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the various games. I think this is an even more difficult decision, for who is the most valuable player on a team? The receiver that catches the winning touchdown pass or the quarterback that threw it? Or is it the guards that protected the quarterback so that he could throw? Is it the running back that took the ball all the way or the blockers that kept him from being tackled? There are also the various members of the defensive team that kept the opponents from scoring?
If there is pride and jealousy on a team, the pick of a MVP can increase the strife among the players, but if the team is working together, everyone rejoices regardless of who was picked as the MVP. The same is true among those working in the Kingdom of God. Where there are proud and jealous people, the honor given to one individual can cause strife among the rest. But if the people are working together for the common goal, then recognition given to one is shared in by all, and all rejoice.
In our text this morning, we find that some of the disciples of John the Baptist are jealous of Jesus. They come to him with their whining complaint, but John’s answer rebukes them and demonstrates the humility that should be in all Christians. Turn to John 3:22.
In the previous section of this chapter, Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This would have been March, 27 A.D. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. He had seen the signs that Jesus had been doing during the Feast and had recognized that Jesus was a teacher from God, and in light of the preaching of John the Baptist, he was probably wondering if Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, you must be born again. Nicodemus does not understand, so Jesus goes on to explain that to enter the kingdom of God a person had to be born both of water and the Spirit. The water referred to the baptism of repentance. Nicodemus would have understood this for it was similar to his practice as a Pharisee. He thought this was the entrance into the Kingdom of God. But how could a man be born again of the Spirit prior to entering the kingdom? Jesus explained this by using a story from the Old Testament that demonstrated the nature of saving faith.
Though the Israelites had seen God do so many miracles in Egypt and in the Wilderness, and their daily bread was a result of the miracle of manna, they still did not trust God and complained against Him. God sent fiery serpents against them and many died. When they finally asked God to forgiven and heal them, God had Moses set up a bronze serpent on a pole outside the camp. Those who had been bitten by a snake that would go and look at the bronze serpent would be healed. This required the person to perform an act of faith.
Jesus said that in the same way that the Son of Man would be lifted up, referring to the crucifixion to come, and that all who would believe on Him would have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." This salvation by God’s grace through faith was a surprise to Nicodemus, and it still is to those think they can earn their way into God’s kingdom. You can not earn your way into heaven because all of your good works are as filthy rags before Him (Isa 64:6). God must save you. He has already made all the provisions to do so through Jesus Christ. Your part is to born of water and then the spirit. You must repent, that is, recognize and turn away from your sins, and then in faith seek after God. Heb. 11:6 tells that He will reward you if you do. You can trust the Lord that as you do, He will give you faith to believe and follow.
We do not know how long Jesus stayed in Jerusalem after His talk with Nicodemus. Verse 22 tells us the next significant event in our Lord’s ministry. John 3:22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.
It is thought that Jesus and the disciples must have spent several months in this place, for Jesus does not return to Galilee until late Fall of that year. (After John the Baptist had been arrested – Mark 1:14). The place indicated, the land of Judea, referred to the lower Jordan valley. Jesus’ ministry here was very similar to that of John the Baptizer. He was calling for the people to repent from their sins in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 1:17; Mark 1:15). The baptism spoken of here is not Christian baptism, but was the same as John’s. It was a baptism of repentance, not a baptism of identification with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6).
John 3:23,24 – And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison.
The reference to John not yet being thrown into prison was made so that those familiar with Matthew & Mark would not be confused about Jesus and John having a similar ministry at the same time. Neither of those gospels mention Jesus’ early ministry but jump in time from Jesus’ baptism to His Galilean ministry.
John was at a place some miles north of where Jesus was at. The exact location is not known, but the place that seems to fit the description the best is in the central Jordan valley near the juncture of the districts of Samaria, Perea and Decapolis, a few miles south-west of Bethany beyond the Jordan where he had been before. There are seven springs at this place, which account for there being "much water there." This would have been accessible to the people in each of those districts as well as those from Judea and Galilee.
As is normal with people, a dispute arose about things they did not understand. Verse 25 – There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. We do not know exactly what the discussion was about except that verse 26 speaks about baptism and baptism is a rite of purification, so it probably had something to do with a perceived difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. Note that the discussion is not between a disciple of Jesus and a disciple of John, but between John’s disciples and a man simply identified as a Jew.
How often do we find ourselves in a discussion with someone that is basically just an antagonist. They may not hold to the position they are challenging us with, they are simply using it to antagonize us. That appears to me to be what is happening here. This is my own speculation, but it seems to fit the text. A man, who is not a disciple of Jesus, is having a discussion with John’s disciples about how a person can be pure before God. As often is the case when a person’s arguments are weak, they bring up something peripheral to antagonize. We have all heard this commonly done in politics, and I have heard it a lot by "scientist" when dealing with creation and evolution. They call you a name, accuse you of something (often something they themselves have done) or in some way belittle you. I think that in the course of the discussion mentioned here, this man mocks the disciples of John by pointing out that there are more people going to Jesus than to John. In other words, if John’s way is the right way to God, then why are so many people going to Jesus?
The strategy works, for John’s disciples are now upset. Verse 26 – And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him." Their feelings are hurt and they are jealous for their teacher and so they come whining to him. Sadly, as is often the case, the disciples of someone often do not really understand the position of their teacher and end up arguing about things their teacher never would have said.
They come to John and address him with the respectful term, Rabbi, for he was their teacher. Then they go on to describe Jesus, but they will not even use His name. They refer to Jesus in terms of John’s interaction with Him. They call Jesus the one "beyond the Jordan, to whom you have born witness." If they had bothered to reflect on what that witness was concerning Jesus, they would not have been so upset, but instead they complain about what Jesus was doing as if it was something bad. In their complaint they exaggerate. Jesus was not baptizing anyone Himself. John 4:2 tells us that it was His disciples doing it. In addition, not everyone was going to Jesus, otherwise they would not have been baptizing anyone as is indicated in verse 23. They are simply jealous that there were more going to Jesus than to John. We should give them the benefit of the doubt that they were indeed jealous for John, especially in view of John’s ascetic manner of life, but the truth is that some of their jealousy was probably due to their not being part of the more popular ministry. You can almost hear them whining in their complaint – "its not fair." The implication from their complaint is that they wanted John to do something to correct the matter.
John’s answer to them in verses 27-30 is both quite a rebuke for their jealousy driven complaint and a wonderful example of the heart for true ministry that should be in every Christian.
27 John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 "You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 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. 30 "He must increase, but I must decrease.
John corrects his disciples in four areas – The source of true ministry; who Jesus is; his own position; and what the future holds.
In verse 27 John tells them that the source of true ministry is from heaven. If each of us would keep that firmly in mind we would remove all cause of jealousy among Christians. Who are you to complain that someone else has the spiritual gifts that you want? Who are you to complain that someone else is more effective in a ministry similar to your own or that such ministry is larger than your own? Paul makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that the particular gift or gifts given, the ministry they are used in and the power of that ministry is all according to the Holy Spirit who gives the gift(s), the ministry and the power as He chooses.
Paul goes on in 1 Cor. 12 to explain that everyone in the body is important, and, in fact, the gifts that receive the least amount of attention and honor are actually the most needed. It is not the preacher and those up front that are most needed in the church. It is those using their gifts behind the scenes and in the community that are most important. I am only here to equip you to do the ministry. You do the important work. We have spoken about this here before. What part of your body do you give the most attention to? The outward parts! We make sure we put on the clothes we want, many of you take a lot of time to fix your hair just right, you put on make-up to enhance the positive and cover up the negative. You put a lot of time, energy and money into making yourself look good. But I am sure that no one here has given any thought in a long time to the mitochondria in each of your living cells. Yet, without them you would be dead. They are not jealous of the other organelles in the cell and each of your cells is not jealous of the other cells in your body. Your liver is not jealous of the heart. The heart is not jealous of the brain. The brain is not jealous of the eyes, ears or feet. Everything works together for the common good of all. If one part is honored, the whole body is honored.
The same is true in the church. God gives you gifts and ministries and power for that ministry and He desires, and each of those things differs from those of other Christians. There is no room for jealously. Every gift and ministry is needed for the kingdom of God. John’s disciples were wrong to be jealous. They were still under the delusion that the effectiveness and honor of their ministry was dependent on them alone. Yes, God does reward faithfulness in ministry, but that reward is Himself and being part of bringing Him glory, not gaining a larger ministry and additional glory for yourself.
At one time I pastored a church about 6 miles from Grace Community Church. We had about 120 people. They had over 8,000. They had Sunday School classes three times as large as our church. But there was no reason for jealousy. God have given us a ministry that was different from what was at the other church. I was very glad to have that church so close. They were a great resource for us and helped us in our ministry. No jealousy in either direction.
In verse 28 John reminds them about what he had said concerning Jesus. As the verse states, they had heard John bear this witness about Jesus before. John was not the Christ. He was the one who was sent before the Messiah. This testimony should have removed all jealousy from his disciples, but the nature of pride is that it tends to only hear what it wants. The mind set that says, "My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts." John’s witness concerning himself and Jesus should have caused them to be joyful instead of jealous. John further elaborates on this in verse 29.
John uses a common event to illustrate his own feelings about the ministry of Jesus. Even in our society the best man performs the function of making sure that everything is just right for the groom. A good best man is a true friend of the groom for he will be in a secondary, servant position to the groom. The wedding is about the joy of the Bride and groom. They are to be the center of attention. The bridesmaids and groomsmen are only there to enhance that joy and share in it. The bride belongs to the groom, not the best man. Jesus is the bridegroom and John is the best man, so he rejoices for the groom at the coming of the bride. John’s joy had been made full at the coming of Christ to receive His own. It is John’s joy to hear of the ministry of Jesus and that the people are responding to Him.
John’s ministry is not over, but it is being eclipsed by that of Jesus. John is glad about the increasing ministry of Jesus. He still has ministry to accomplish, but the fact is that John’s ministry was all about pointing people to Jesus’ ministry. John’s response is one of joy, not resignation. His comment in verse 30, "He must increase, but I must decrease," is made in that manner.
John’s statement was made in direct reference to his own ministry as compared to that of Jesus, but it applies to all of us. It is a hard statement to live by, yet it is one that should express the heart of every Christian. It is a statement that goes against the pride that exists in all of us. It strikes against our quest for success in the eyes of the world. It demands a humility within us that can only be there if we are in complete, willing submission to God and our focus in on His kingdom and not our own.
The jealousy that so often occurs among God’s people, both within a church and between churches, is based on a view of success and importance that mimics the world. Such jealousy arises out of selfish pride. People invariably compare themselves with one another, and when it comes to ministry for God’s kingdom, we compare that too. Who has more people in their Bible Class? Who is more astute in theology and has the better knowledge of Greek? Who had more professions of faith as a result of their ministry? How many people came to the special event you were in charge of? Who got the most compliments on what they brought to the church dinner? Who looks the nicest? Who has the most friends?
Every single one of us is different with different gifts, ministries and abilities. We are not to compare ourselves with each other. When you compare yourself with someone not doing as well as you, you feel good. When you compare yourself with someone doing better, you feel bad. And there always will be people doing worse and doing better. There will always be people more mature than you and less mature than you. The standard for comparison is Christ Himself – and that forces you to thank Him for His compassion, grace and mercy because you don’t compare. The rule of success in ministry is whether people see Jesus in it or not.
There is a story of a Scottish preacher that ascended to his pulpit one Sunday and found a note which said, "Sir, we would see Jesus." This caused him to weep. This is the point of all ministry. It is about God’s glory, not your own. It is about God using you for His purposes, not you trying to manipulate God for your own. It is about faithfulness to whatever and wherever God calls you, not about your own prestige and influence. As a Christian matures, they will say with John – Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. The soul of the person who walks with Christ will cry out, "Lord, let them see you in me." Do people see more of Jesus in you day by day? Or is it you that you want them to see and compliment?
I have always been surprised by the attitude of some pastors who do not train their people to think and do for themselves. They place themselves in a position where the congregation is dependent upon them. They shun having an associate pastor or they keep such a tight reign on him that he can not do much. Perhaps that is job security, perhaps it is fear that someone else may show themselves to be better than their teacher.
O that God would grant those I have had the privilege to teach and train to go far beyond anything I have ever done. That is my prayer for my sons too. We should long for our children and those we teach to stand on our shoulders and by used even more mightily by God than we have. What joy there should be in our hearts if one of our disciples would replace us in ministry. If that happened, could you rejoice in their increase for the glory of God even if it means your ministry will decrease or not be as powerful by comparison?
Don’t be jealous of other Christians. Rejoice in what God is doing through them for His own glory.
In verses 31-36 John gives further testimony to who Jesus is and why He came. This testimony in agreement with what Jesus said of Himself earlier in the chapter. John the Baptist is a prophet, and the inclusion of his testimony here gives greater evidence to the validity of Jesus’ testimony of Himself, for it is in the mouth of two or three witnesses that the truth is to be established.
John 3:31 "He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 "What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness. 33 "He who has received His witness has set his seal to [this,] that God is true.
34 "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 "The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. 36 "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
There is some question as to whether John the Baptist said verses 31-36 or whether the Apostle John is adding in his own commentary as he writes this book 60 something years later. I hold that the Baptist said these things because it fits the text, and those who advocate the other position do so claiming that the Baptist could not have had such developed theology at this point. I find that quite an arrogant thing to say about a man that was a prophet of God. Such a claim speaks more of their philosophy than their Bible knowledge.
John the Baptist was a prophet of God to whom the Spirit had revealed the Christ. What John says here is appropriate for his jealous disciples. It not only continues contrast between John and Christ, but it calls on them to follow Jesus also as did Andrew and John.
John was from earth and could only speak from the earth. Jesus, by contrast, was from God above and would speak to what He had seen and heard Himself. Jesus is, by nature of being from Heaven, above John and all men. John could speak what God revealed to him when the Spirit moved upon him, but Jesus gave testimony to what He had first hand knowledge, and He was sent by God to speak the Word of God only. Jesus claimed this very fact in John 8:28; 12:49,50; 14:10. He did not speak on His own initiative, but what the Father had taught Him and commanded Him. There could be no better testimony to what was true than that of Jesus.
Again, Jesus is superior to John and all men. Yet, men do not receive Jesus’ testimony. Verse 32 is not meant as an absolute statement as seen in verse 33. There are some that do receive and believe Jesus’ testimony, and John claims to be one of them. He is trying to persuade his disciples to this truth about Jesus. John had received the witness about Jesus being the Son of God and attests that this is truth from God. For God had sent John as His prophet and the Holy Spirit had revealed the identity of Jesus to John when he baptized Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (1:33,34). John was heard with his own ears the Father’s pronouncement of love and pleasure in the Son at His baptism (Matt. 3:16,17).
John is persuading his disciples to the truth of Jesus Christ. He concludes by calling them to also believe while warning them of the consequences of not believing. Whether John received this directly from the Holy Spirit or it had heard it as a consequence of Jesus’ revealing it to Nicodemus, repeats it as being true.
John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
This is a summary statement of what Jesus had told Nicodemus. Eternal life is received through faith in Jesus Christ. The consequence of such faith will be obedience to Him. At the same time, the evidence of a lack of such believe will be disobedience to the Son. Those who disbelieve and disobey will not receive eternal life, but will instead suffer under the abiding wrath of God.
Many reject Christ because they reject the idea of God being both loving and wrathful, that God would offer such forgiveness and still punish sinners. That only demonstrates the blindness of sin and the pride of man.
Man is born dead in trespasses and sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1,2). God is holy and His justice demands that their sin, both that inherited and their own practice, be punished according to His eternal law. Man’s natural state is to be under God’s wrath. God made provision for man to escape His wrath through Jesus Christ. God’s justice was satisfied when Jesus bore the penalty of our sin for us. He offers forgiveness to whosoever will believe in the Son of God. Those that refuse to believe simply remain in the state they have always been – condemned by their sin and under God’s wrath. If they do not believe and come to Christ, they can only blame themselves.
John the Baptist demonstrated great humility and great spiritual understanding in confronting his jealous disciples with the truth that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. That should be the striving of every Christian here – that others will see Jesus Christ living in us more and more with each passing day. But John did not stop there, he sought to persuade them to also believe in Jesus. What do you believe? Do you have eternal life? Or is God’s wrath still upon you? If the latter, heed the testimony of John the Baptist and believe.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) John was a great example of humility. Discuss this with your parents – what does it take to be humble? How can you demonstrate humility?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why do people what to be #1? What happens when the individuals on a team all want to be MVP? What is the context of John 3:22-36? Where did Jesus and the disciples go in verse 22? How long were they there? What were they doing? Where was John the Baptist and his disciples? Why were they there? Who is involved in the discussion in verse 25? Have you ever had anyone try to antagonize you in a discussion instead of keeping to the subject? How did John’s disciples respond? What in verse 26 indicates the emotion and response of John’s disciples? What was their complaint? Why were they complaining? Have you ever felt that way? How does John’s statement in verse 27 correct his disciples complaint? How does this statement affect your view of ministry – yours and that of others? How does your spiritual gift(s) fit in with the rest of the Body of Christ? Is there any room in the Church for jealousy? Should churches be jealous of each other? Why didn’t John’s witness about Jesus (vs. 28) affect these disciples before this time? What did John mean by "He must increase and I must decrease"? How would that same thought apply to your life? Did John the Baptist say verses 31-36? How would these verses affect John’s disciples? It is not enough to follow a godly man, you must follow God Himself- who do you follow?
Sermon Notes – 12/26/1999 a.m.
The Joy of Humility
The Love of God – John 3:22-36
Context (John 3:1-21)
A Complaint Arises (22-26)
Jesus’ Activities (22)
John’s Activities (23,24)
A Discussion with a Jew (24)
The Complaint of John’s Disciples (26)
John’s Answer (27-30)
The Source of All Ministry (27)
John’s Witness About Jesus (28)
John’s Joy (29)
John’s View of the Future (30)
John’s Appeal (31-36)
The Difference Between John & Jesus (31-32)
John’s Witness of Jesus (33-35)
John’s Challenge to his Disciples (36)
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