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John 3:22-36

 John Testifies Again About Jesus

     22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 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—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

    27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.          28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 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. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

     31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

This passage isn’t nearly as well-known as the ones before and after it, but there are still some important ideas in it. In fact, there’s one very important idea for followers of Jesus to think about regularly.

Just to review the context, you might remember that we had several readings covering the way John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to John’s own disciples, and the way that some of those disciples started to follow Jesus. Then we had two readings that told the story of the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee leader Nicodemus. Now we go back to John the Baptist and his disciples, and a further conversation about the relationship between John and Jesus.

The passage starts out with John the Baptist and his disciples performing baptisms near a place called Aenon, which is said to have meant ‘place of springs.’ As they are ministering in that place, we’re told that John’s disciples get into an argument with “a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.”

That’s a little puzzling at first reading, but some scholars suggest that in the earliest days of his ministry, either Jesus or some of his disciples would actually perform baptisms. They suggest that what this passage is telling us is that a Jew who had been baptized by Jesus or his disciples happened to pass by, and as he did he got into an argument with John’s disciples about which baptism was better. Then John’s disciples reported to him about the argument, and about the fact that Jesus and his group were also doing baptism.

It seems from the context that John’s disciples expected him to be unhappy about what they perceived as ‘unwelcome competition’ in the baptism business. But John responds by reminding the disciples that he has consistently said that he was not the Messiah – that his ministry was intended to prepare the way for another.

And John uses an interesting metaphor for the relationship between himself and Jesus. He likens Jesus to a bridegroom, and himself to “the friend who attends the bridegroom” – in other words, ‘the best man.’ The church has traditionally understood itself to be “the bride of Christ,” and John’s words reinforce that understanding. What’s more, John says that he’s joyful at the coming of the Messiah – not resentful or competitive.

Then John goes on to say that Jesus speaks with an authority he could never have, because Jesus has come from the kingdom of heaven. So when Jesus speaks, he is speaking for God and with God’s authority.

What’s more, John says, anyone who hears and accepts the teaching of Jesus is accepting the word of God and affirming its truthfulness. And John also affirms an idea we said yesterday was a central one in the Gospel of John – that believing in Jesus, accepting him as the Messiah and the Lord of your life – is the key to eternal life.

These are all important thoughts, but the one verse of this passage that seems especially important for us to keep in mind is what John the Baptist says in verse 30: “He must become greater; I must become less.”

This strikes me as a mantra all of us who follow Jesus should chant regularly. (Yes, I know, mantras are from the other religion, but work with me here.) The point is that true discipleship means allowing our identity apart from Jesus to fade away, while our identity as his followers takes over. With the passage of time and the process of sanctification going on in our hearts and minds, we become less and less concerned about our own opinions, and more and more concerned about the teachings of Jesus. We become less and less obsessed with advancing our own agendas, and more and more interested in advancing the work of the kingdom of God and the body of Christ in the world.

This seems like a terrific passage for us to be thinking about during the season of Lent. I say that because the goal of this whole season is to be intentional about allowing this process to take place – the process of Jesus becoming greater and greater, while we become less and less. And for most of us, it requires some ‘intentionality,’ because our default tendency is toward self-promotion. So the challenge is to open ourselves more and more to the working of the Spirit, who can transform us in ways we could never transform ourselves.

Let’s pray. Lord, let your Spirit fall on us every day. And help us to open our hearts more and more to receive that Spirit, so that it can be at work within us, shaping and transforming us so that in our lives, Jesus becomes greater, and we become less. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 105 and 148; Deuteronomy 10:12-22; and Hebrews 4:11-16.)