Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 28, 2016
Open your Bible to John 3:22-36. Today we are taking another look at the role of John the Baptist. Before we read our text, I want to spend some time refreshing your memory regarding the Baptist. If you recall, in chapter 1, there was a substantial amount discussion about John the Baptist not being the Christ.
Whispers in of the Garden
If you recall, in at the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3, Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem, the epicenter of all things Jewish. In two briefs stories we see Jesus cleanse the Temple and then put in place the presumable foremost teacher of Israel. We also were told that while Jesus was in Jerusalem his popularity was growing. The reason for the rise in interest in Jesus was because they saw the “signs that he was doing.”
As verse 22 in our text says, “After this Jesus and his disciples went in the Judean countryside.” Their location in the Judean countryside is noteworthy due to next week’s sermon regarding the Samaritan Women at the well, and how they ended up there. Also in the countryside, as we have already mentioned, was John the Baptist. This Judean countryside was the “wilderness” that John mentions in Chapter 1 verse 23. The specific location of John is mentioned, “Aenon near Salim.” Aenon is the Greek word for Springs, which makes sense because we are told that water is plentiful there. It is possible that Aenon was an Oasis of sorts. The reason I say this is that the comment that water was plentiful there seems to imply that the area around Aenon, water was not plentiful. The springs of water made it unique is the potentially dry terrain.
And it was in the midst of Aenon, these springs, this Oasis, a very interesting dispute arose. The dispute began between a Jew and of the disciples of John the Baptist. The dispute was over purification. Now if you recall, this was not the first time John’s group had been questioned about their baptizing. In chapter 1 we were told the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to question his authority to Baptize people. We cannot be sure about all the specifics about what the debate was over regarding baptism and purification, but we can perhaps read between the lines because it was the dispute that caused John’s disciple to approach John. The dispute was the catalyst to the question. And there statement, which is really a question, was centered on the new competition, Jesus. Verse 26, ““Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
These disciples had been caught up in the movement around John the Baptist. My guess is that it was a very exciting time for these disciples. Each day this movement grew and grew and it seemed like something amazing was going to happen, and then all of the sudden the movement peaked out, and slowly started to lose energy, lose momentum, lose people. As the disciples watched the people’s curiosity shift and be go to Jesus, it merely took one man to pose a question regarding what God had said about purification to gain a foothold in their heart. Perhaps the Jew simply compared the Jewish purification, to John's purification, and now Jesus Purification, and simply asked, “What, did you purification not work?”
The tone of John’s disciples question seems to be one of disappointment. It seems to be one of jealousy. Not wanting all the people to go to Jesus, they wanted all the people to stay with them. They desired the glory that they had tasted. They coveted what belonged to Jesus.
As I meditated on this text, I could not help but see the connection to the Garden of Eden, an Oasis of its own. If you recall the snake crept into the garden and whispered a subtle question into the ear of Eve about what God had commanded. And as Adam and Eve dwelt upon who God was, and the glory that was His, and they heard the whisper of Satan, “you will be like God,” they thought that sounded pretty good, and grabbed for it.
Instead of accepting the parameters of God’s will, Adam and Eve rejected Him and attempted to grab hold of something that was not theirs to possess. And what Adam and Eve thought would produce joy, in fact, produced the opposite: guilt, shame, separation, and death.
What is happening in John 3 is merely the echo of the Garden. These disciples were coveting the glory that belonged to Jesus, and the subtle question over purification started to spread. Starting with the Jew, then the John’s disciples, and now to John. The question is will John’s response be like the response of Adam’s and fall prey to Satan's attack?
Founded Upon the Sovereignty of God
Look at verse 27, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” In the face of the temptation of coveting and pride, ground zero for John the Baptist was the Sovereignty of God. He goes right to the bottom of the well and drinks deeply. And his statement leaves no wiggle room. “A person” means everyone. “Even one thing” means everything. “Given him from heaven” means God does it all.
The way in which John addresses the temptation of coveting and pride is to recognize who holds his destiny. He recognizes his assignment. He recognizes his role, and he restates his role again in verse 28, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” The assigned role of John was to come before Christ, not to be the Christ.
The word Christ, is not the last name of Jesus. It is a title. The Hebrew word for Christ is Messiah, which means anointed one. The word Christ is used over 500 times in the New Testament, and each time it in referring to Jesus of Nazareth. This man, Jesus, is declared to be the Anointed One. But what does it mean to be the anointed one?
In the Old Testament, the Kings and the Priests would be anointed with oil. This was to symbolize their designated and chosen status. The oil, symbolizing the anointing, was just that, a symbol. When Christ came, God did not use, oil, he used something far greater to display his chosen. Look at verse 34, “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” The oil of God, is the Spirit of God.
Do you recall what I read earlier in John 1:32-34, what does John the Baptist say is the reason he knew that his half cousin, Jesus was the Christ, “And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
Some of you, who are thinking critically, may now say, but wait, there are many Old Testament people whom the Spirit of God came upon. And in fact, John the Baptist, himself was filled with the Spirit while he was in his mothers womb. And this is true, but what is different about the anointing of the Spirit on Christ? It is without measure. What does this mean? It means that there is no holding back, it is all the Spirit that has come upon, and remained upon Jesus. All that God is, the fullness of Him is in this man, Jesus.
However we must understand that the full and perfect anointing of the Spirit is not the only privilege of being the Christ. Look at verse 35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” Another reality of being the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One is that God has given everything into his hands. God the Father, has given everything to His Son Jesus as a gift.
Perhaps the most explicit picture of this fundamental truth is found in Daniel 7:13-14. Turn with me there so that you can see it for yourself. This passage is a vision that Daniel was given by God, 600 years before Jesus was born.
So as John the Baptist sees this start to unfold right before his eyes, and people begin to leave him and go to Jesus, he gets it. He understands that this World, this Universe, is not created for him. The world does not revolve around man, it revolves around the Son.
The Increase of Christ is the Increase of Joy
Now what I want us to understand is the way in which John saw the unfolding of God giving people to His son. It was not robotic, it was romantic. Verse 29, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.” John viewed this relationship as an intimate one, as one that was bound by love. To John it was a beautiful union, and as he saw the Bride walk down the aisle to meet they groom his heart swelled. Verse 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” The source of John's joy was the fulfillment of Daniel 7. As he watched Jesus given dominion, glory, a kingdom, people his soul was satisfied. It was the ultimate love story. In fact, it is this engrained and eternal love story of the Anointed and His Bride that all other love story's flow. This is why movies like the Cinderella and Notebook resonate with us. The destiny of this love is in our spiritual DNA.
And this type of joyful reaction by John is not unique to him. It exists for everyone who is born of the Spirit. One of the reasons, I believe, this text follows the discussion on the new birth is because God wants us to understand the radical difference between religious people and someone who is born again. God desired to show the difference between a Nicodemus who didn't get and a John who does.
Are You Religious or Romantic
So the question is whose camp are you in, Nicodemus or John the Baptist? Do you spend your days focusing on sacraments, or is your heart for For Christ? Do you pridefully love yourself or do you humbly love Christ? Do you seek joy in religion or does your joy come from watching Christ increase in your life, in your family, in your community, in Eastern Iowa, in the World?
For some of you, whether you realize it or not, you are here for the wrong reason. You are pursuing something other than Christ. He is not central, preeminent, in your heart. You have exchanged the Anointed One for something else. This decision to create your own dominion, your own Kingdom, your own glory will not produce joy. John tells us this very clearly in in verse 36, “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
For the rest of you, and I hope this is a majority, you are here for the right reason. You want more of Jesus Christ. And John's battle cry is your battle cry. God has given each of you a destiny, an assignment, a role to do all that you can to make much of Christ. This is the purpose of the Universe, and this is the purpose of you. This is why God created you. You are to be a Bride who gushes over her Groom. Everything you do should be oriented towards the increase of Christ, and the wonderful reality is that as you do this, you will find your joy. For this is your destiny. This is your purpose. This is why you breath. To make much of Christ. The more you surrender to this reality, the more your joy will overflow.