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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 21, 2013
Pointing to Jesus
In order for an organization to function there must be unity within that organization. Anyone that has ever run a business with multiple employees, played on a team sport or even coordinated a large social event knows the importance of everyone working together in unity. Everyone is also aware of how quickly pride and jealousy can destroy that unity. One immature person can cause havoc to everyone else when they start demanding what they want instead of what is good for everyone and fulfilling the purpose of the organization. Even worse is when such an immature person is jealous and starts undermining others on the team because they want that position.
While such selfish pride and jealousy are sinful and should not occur among those who are followers of God and have dedicated themselves to serving the Lord, the sad fact is that such sinful pride and jealousy along with many other sins do occur among God’s people. Spiritual maturity does not come in a day. Maturity comes with the hard work of learning and obeying God’s word and the Holy Spirit changing you internally. Spiritual maturity should continue to develop over the course of your life. The Lord desires for us to learn and become wise. Included in that process is learning from the example of others, both good and bad, so that we might emulate the good and avoid the bad.
This morning we have two examples set before us. The first example shows the problems caused when pride and jealousy rear their ugly heads and become detrimental to the purposes of God. The disciples of John the Baptist are jealous of Jesus and come to John with their whining complaint. The second example shows the blessings that flow from humility that result in God being magnified. John rebukes them and then demonstrates his own humility in pointing to the superiority of Jesus. Please turn in your Bibles to John 3:22.
To set the context of this passage, this takes place in Spring A.D. 27 and Jesus has only recently begun His public ministry. He has been baptized by John (See: The Baptism of Jesus), tempted in the wilderness by the devi (See: The Temptation of Jesus)l, chosen His first disciples (See: Jesus’ First Disciples), performed the miracle of turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (See: The Wedding at Cana), and then been in Jerusalem for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During that time, Jesus cleansed the Temple (See: Zeal for the Lord) and had been performing signs and teaching. That is what had prompted Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, to come to Jesus one night. He recognized that Jesus was a teacher from God, and in light of the preaching of John the Baptist, Nicodemus was probably wondering if Jesus was the promised Messiah (See: Born Again & The Love of God) .
Jesus anticipates Nicodemus’ question and tells him that in order to see the kingdom of God, “you must be born again.” This confused Nicodemus so Jesus further explained that to enter the kingdom of God a person had to be born both of water and the Spirit. I believe the water referred to the baptism of repentance. This was similar to a practice of the Pharisees, so Nicodemus would have understood this, but he did not understand the idea that a man had to be born again of the Spirit prior to entering the kingdom? Jesus further explained 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 forgive and heal them and remove the serpents, God instead told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole outside the camp. In order to be healed, a person bitten by a snake would have to go and look at the bronze serpent. This required the person to demonstrate their faith by obeying God’s command.
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 that think they can earn their way into God’s kingdom. Even man’s best efforts to do good works fall short for they are as filthy rags before our Holy Creator (Isaiah 64:6). God must save you and He has already made all the provisions to do so through Jesus Christ for He has paid the price of your sin when He died on the cross and proved that He can give eternal life when He rose from the dead. Your part is to repent, that is, recognize and turn away from your sins, and then in faith seek after God. Hebrews 11:6 states that God will reward you if you do. You can trust the Lord that as you do, He will give you faith to believe and follow. There is no fence sitting with God. Either you believe and are granted eternal life, or you remain condemned in your sin because you have not believed (John 3:18-21).
Parallel Ministry – John 3:22-24
We do not know how long Jesus stayed in Jerusalem after His talk with Nicodemus. John 3:22 tells us the next significant event in our Lord’s ministry, “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 His 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 text states that Jesus is in the land of Judea which refers to the lower Jordan valley. From Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15 we know that 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 and those that did were baptized. The baptism spoken of here is not Christian baptism which is a personal identification with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6). (See: Baptism) This is was a baptism of repentance in anticipation of the kingdom the same as John was still doing as is mentioned in the next verse. John 3:23-24 – And John also was baptizing in A
enon 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. Those gospel accounts jump quickly to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee which occurred after Herod had imprisoned John.
At this time, John was at a place some miles north of where Jesus was ministering. 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.
Contention – John 3:25-26
As is normal with people, a dispute arose about things they did not understand. John 3:25, “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. Verse 26 also brings into focus the topic of the baptisms being done by Jesus. For those reasons, it appears that the discussion had something to do with a perceived difference between the baptisms of John and Jesus.
Please notice that the debate (æÞôçóéò / Zetesus) in verse 25 is not between a disciple of Jesus and a disciple of John. It is 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 even hold to the position they are using to challenging us. 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 “scientists” 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 strive to belittle you. My speculation is that in the course of the discussion about purity 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 become pure and ready for the kingdom of heaven, then why are so many people going to Jesus?
The strategy works, for verse 26 reveals that John’s disciples are now upset, 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 would not have said or done.
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 are not respectful toward Him, for they do 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 John had said in witness concerning Jesus, they would not have been so upset and they would have been more respectful. Instead, they complain about what Jesus was doing as if it was something bad.
We can tell that the disciples of John are upset because they are not accurate and they exaggerate in their complaint to him. Jesus was not baptizing anyone Himself. John 4:2 states that “Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were.” In addition, not everyone was going to Jesus, otherwise they would not have been anyone coming to John to be baptized 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 of their complaint is that they wanted John to do something to correct this matter.
John’s answer to them in verses 27-30 is both a rebuke for their jealousy driven complaint and a wonderful example of the heart for true ministry that should be in every Christian.
Humility – John 3:27-30
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 The future.
In verse 27, John tells them that the source of true ministry is from heaven. That is a truth that is as relevant today in churches as it was then. 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 are all according to God. He is the One that gives the gift(s), the ministry and the power as He chooses as a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 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 here to equip you to do the ministry. You do the important work. We have spoken about this here before.
The analogy of the church to a physical body is instructive. 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, and some of 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. Your mitochondria 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 pow
er for that ministry as 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 a internationally known mega-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 same is true about the maid or matron of honor for the bride. The wedding is about the joy of the groom and his bride. 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? Which church had more professions of faith? 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 both 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 measure 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, but that 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 cannot 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 has been my prayer for my sons too. We should long for our children and those we teach to stand on our shoulders and be 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.
Pointing to Jesus – John 3:31-36
John gives further testimony about Jesus and why He came in verses 31-36. This testimony is 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.
“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 John the Baptist said these things because it fits the text, and those who advocate the other position do so claiming that he 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 p
rophet of God to whom the Spirit had revealed the Christ. What John says here is appropriate for his jealous disciples. It not only continues the contrast between John and Jesus, but it calls on them to also follow Jesus 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 the fact that verse 33 states 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 heard with his own ears the Father’s pronouncement of love and pleasure in the Son at His baptism (Matthew 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 had heard it as a consequence of Jesus’ revealing it to Nicodemus, he 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 belief 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.
Mankind is born dead in trespasses and sin and is therefore by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-2). God is holy and His justice demands that their sin, both that inherited from Adam and their own practice of sin, 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 – pointing other to Christ and that others will Jesus living in you more and more with each passing day. But John did not stop there, he sought to persuade his disciples 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.
Parents, you are responsible to apply the Word of God to lives of your children. 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 debated 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? Explain. 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? How well are you doing at pointing people to Jesus?
Sermon Notes – 7/21/2013
Pointing to Jesus– John 3:22-36
_______________ is necessary for success in any business, sports team, large social function
Pride and jealousy _______________ unity
Jesus has started His public ministry, been baptized, tempted, chosen disciples, performed ____________
Jesus speaks to ______________ during Passover period telling Him “You must be born again.”
Looking upon the bronze serpent Moses made was a demonstration of ___________ (Numbers 21)
People must __________in the person and work of Jesus in order to be saved & have eternal life (John 3:16)
Your part is to ___________ and seek, God’s part is to grant eternal life His grace and mercy through faith
Parallel Ministry – John 3:22-24
Jesus is in the ________ Jordan valley with His disciples who are baptizing those who repent
John is in the _________Jordan valley with his disciples who are baptizing those who repent
Jesus goes to Galilee ____________ John is imprisoned by Herod
Contention – John 3:25-26
A ___________ arises between John’s disciples and an unidentified Jew about purification – (baptism?)
It appears the man
_______________ John’s disciples by pointing out Jesus’ superior ministry
They ______________to John while not showing Jesus respect, being inaccurate & exaggerating
Humility – John 3:27-30
The source of true ministry is from _____________- 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
_______________ part of the body is important – 1 Corinthians 12:11-31
There is no room or legitimate reason for sinful ___________ in the body of Christ
They had heard John’s testimony about Jesus and so should have been __________ , not jealous of Jesus
Groomsmen and bridesmaids are their to help and _____________ the joy of the bride and groom
John’s ministry is not over, but it is being ______________ by Jesus (vs. 30)
Jealousy arises out of selfish pride, but we are to be ___________and rejoice at God working through others
We exist for ____________ glory, not our own
We should desire to help train others so that they do even ____________ / more than we
Pointing to Jesus – John 3:31-36
This passage fits the text as John saying what is appropriate for a _____________of God to reveal / declare
John was from earth and so was limited, but Jesus was from _____________ and was not so limited.
Jesus claimed to be from God and speak what the _________commanded Him (John 8:28; 12:49-50; 14:10)
Jesus is ______________ to all men, but only a few will receive His testimony
John pointed to _______________and sought to persuade other to follow Him – we should do the same
Believers will ________& have eternal life; Non-believers will not obey & abide under God’s wrath (vs. 36)
The blindness of sin causes people to ______________ the fact that God is both loving and wrathful
Man’s sin causes him to naturally be under God’s wrath, but God’s love provides a means of ____________
The striving of every Christian is to point others to Jesus and have them see Him living in you each day
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