They [John’s disciples] came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, the same baptizes, and everyone is coming to him.” John answered, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 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. This, my joy, therefore is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all.” (John 3:25-36
John the Baptist was the ideal messenger and forerunner of Jesus Christ as his words in this passage reveal. John was not all about John, but he was a man devoted to pointing to Jesus Christ. His faithfulness is nothing short of inspirational. His famous words, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” were descriptive of his single passion, the spirit in which he came. Do we really know what these words mean? Do we know it on the level that John did? This is John’s mission statement. It was his goal from the outset. It never entered his mind to establish and maintain a high-profile ministry or following. When asked by the religious Jews who he was he simply answered “[I am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord…” He found his identity in Christ, not in his calling and ministry. He didn’t even call himself, “Prophet John.” From the shores of the Jordan, where he first saw the One whose shoelaces he was not worthy to unloose, John never stopped heralding, he never stopped pointing; he never stopped directing the eyes and hearts of the hearers to Jesus. He never stopped saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
But the time came for John to decrease even further. His job was done and he saw the need to disappear. He had prepared the way for Jesus and now it was time for him to make way for the Bridegroom. He knew that if he stayed he would find himself in competition with Jesus. How many of us are willing to decrease? Isn’t it the carnal will of every man to leave a legacy?
John’s followers had not yet left him and gone after Jesus, and now they were tempting him. Their words were filled with jealousy against Christ. “He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” They wanted John to get with the program; to compete with the very one he was called to serve. Couldn’t John see that his ministry was failing? That people were no longer coming to him? Perhaps they were attempting to get John to hold more meetings, to do what had worked for him in the past. Get up! Do something! Can’t you see that all are coming to Him?
Today in the blogosphere we would say, “Post more blog articles and keep your name in front of the people and the search engines alerted to your presence!” Oh, how aware many of us are about how many followers we have. Many bloggers will go out and click “likes” on hundreds of other blog articles without even reading them in order to get others to come to their sites and boost their stats. If we are about pointing God’s people to Christ and not to ourselves, should our stats be a motivation for our actions and our writing? Shouldn’t we be waiting on the Lord and the voice of His Spirit to tell us what He wants written? I can tell you that if you do, you can count on being led down a path where you decrease and Christ increases.
John’s reply to his followers is teeming with significance. He reminded his disciples that “a man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” John did acknowledge that he had (past tense) been sent before Christ, but that time was over. John reminded his disciples what his ministry was all about when he said, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom.” In the context of the traditional Hebrew wedding ceremony, John saw himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who helped in any way he could to present the bride unmolested, as a chaste virgin, to the Groom.
The final act of the friend of the bridegroom was on that long awaited night when the groom came to steal the bride away. When she heard the cry, “The bridegroom comes, go out to meet him,” she was swept away to the house that the Groom had been long preparing.
According to the Jewish tradition, the friend of the bridegroom followed the wedding procession at a distance. When the groom took the bride into the bridal chamber, the friend of the bridegroom drew near. Standing just outside the bridal suite, he listened to the sound of lovemaking and at the first note of joy in the Bridegroom’s voice, the friend of the Bridegroom danced and shouted for joy. His job over, the groom’s friend turned and walked away for the marriage was consummated and his calling was fulfilled.
So we see in John a perfect messenger with a perfect heart. May God help us to be such friends and messengers of the Bridegroom today and walk away from any clamoring after our own gain under the guise of ministry!
(Note: I would like to give credit to my good brother in Christ, George Davis, for having much of the original inspiration for this article. To read all of the original essay we wrote together go to: http://www.awildernessvoice.com/ElijahCompany.html )