Wednesday, June 10, 2015
"He Must Increase" Sermon: John 3:22-36
“He Must Increase”
June 7, 2015 Second Reformed Church
John sets the scene for us: Jesus had celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem. Then, Jesus had spoken with Nicodemus – THE teacher of Israel, a high-ranking Pharisee who held political office.
Sometime later, Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and headed northwest over thirty miles to Aenon near Salim, along the Jordan River. There, Jesus’ disciples baptized people in His Name. (We are told in John 4:2 that Jesus, Himself, did not baptize anyone). John and his disciples were also baptizing in the same area.
“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).”
We have this note of chronology: this event happened between the time that John the Baptist baptized Jesus and when Herod put John in prison. During this time, both Jesus’ disciples and John and his disciples were baptizing. It was a time when the “already” and the “not-yet” were visible – the time that the baptism of John was passing away and the baptism of Jesus was being fulfilled through the historical events of the Gospel.
And then we have this wonderful understatement:
“Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.”
What we have here is a Jew who was baptized by Jesus’ disciples having a “discussion” with John’s disciples over whose baptism was superior: John’s or Jesus’. The discussion may have gone something like this:
“Why are you disciples of John still baptizing? I was just baptized by the disciples of Jesus – and Jesus’ baptism is the superior baptism.”
“How can you say that? John the Baptist is the first prophet in four hundred years. John the Baptist is the forerunner of the Christ – the Messiah – the Savior.”
“But that’s the point – John the Baptist came to announce Jesus – to prepare the way for Him – so Jesus is greater and His baptism is greater.”
“Na-uh. John’s is greater, because he is the one chosen by God to revealthe Savior and call people to repentance.”
And John’s disciples went to tell John about their “discussion” so he could weigh in on it.
And we see first, this morning, everything we have comes from God.
“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.’”
John answered his disciples: “If people are going to Jesus – if people are leaving me for Him and His baptism – then that is what God has given Jesus – that is what God wants to have happen.”
“[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV).
Everything that happens occurs via God’s Sovereign Hand and Will.
Now, we must be careful: God does not do evil and God does not cause us to sin.
If we remember the beginning of the book of Job, Satan went to God and asked permission to inflict Job, and God told Satan exactly how much he could do. In other words, God uses evil and sin to accomplish His Will, but He does not do or cause evil or sin.
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter began his sermon saying, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst – this Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23, ESV).
Peter began by telling the crowd of Jews that Jesus’ crucifixion and death happened by the authority and plan of God – it was a good thing. And, Jesus’ crucifixion and death happened by the sin of the Jews and the Romans – it was an evil thing. God used the evil and sinful motivations of the Jews and the Romans to accomplish His good plan of the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
The same event can be accomplished – at the same time – by one person with good motives and another with evil or sinful motives.
God never sins and God does not commit evil, but God uses sin and evil to accomplish His good plan. So, everything that is and occurs is according to the plan of God, yet God does not sin or commit evil.
So, if you have good health, and a fit body, and lots of friends, and a good job, and plenty of money, and a happy family – all these things have been given to you by God. And, if you are sick, and you repel people, and you are impoverished, and your family is in turmoil – all these things have been given to you by God.
One of the speakers at the conference I just went to said, “If suffering comes, it is because we really need it.”
Now, that can sound pretty harsh, but what he was saying is that we believe in a Sovereign God Who loves us, and if His plan includes suffering for us, it must be because we need it for some reason – and there are many possible reasons we could need to suffer.
Paul tells us that he was given some sort of suffering to keep him from becoming prideful (II Corinthians 12).
I have sarcoidosis because my loving Father knows I need it. Illness is the result of sin in the Garden by our first parents, and my own sin may be the reason for my illness, or it could be for some other reason. Whatever the reason, the point of this illness is that I would turn to God and trust Him and rely on Him and look to Him for all that I need and all He has called me to be – using this broken body to glorify Him.
And so, John the Baptist was not concerned about being less popular or less powerful – he was concerned that God and His Gospel would be known and that He would be glorified in the unfolding of His plan.
And you – everything you have comes from God – everything you see as good, bad, and indifferent comes to you from the Hand of the Almighty God Who is perfectly carrying out His plan. Are you drawn to God – to acknowledged Him and glorify Him for everything that comes to you and everything you are?
We see second, this morning, Jesus must increase, by our decreasing.
“’You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’
John continued by telling his disciples that they were absolutely right – kind-of: “You spoke the truth – I am the first prophet in four hundred years, God chose me to be the forerunner of the Messiah and announce His coming, and you heard me proclaim to the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!” (cf. John 1:29).
“Look at it this way: it’s like at a wedding – it is the bride and the bridegroom who become one in spirit and body in the bonds of matrimony. The bride does not become one with the best man. The ordinance of marriage and the sanctity of the marriage bed are for the bride and the bridegroom. It would profane the ordinance and the sanctity of the marriage bed if the bride united with anyone other than the bridegroom.
“The best man is at the wedding – not to become one with the bride – but to rejoice in the union of the bride and the bridegroom. The joy of the best man is found in seeing the bride and the bridegroom take their vows and commit to each other until death.
“In the same way, I am the best man. I stand as the forerunner and the witness to the coming of the bridegroom to receive his bride. I announced Who Jesus is so the Bride would know Him and become one with Him. Jesus is not for me alone, but for the Church as a body – throughout time and space – one Bride, prepared for Jesus, her Bridegroom, to be perfectly united at the end of the age.
“That is my joy – that is my hope – that is the fulfillment of what God has given me to be and do. So, whereas I was the center of attention as the first prophet in four hundred years – he who was called to be the forerunner to the Savior of all those who will believe – His bride – now my work is done. Jesus is here. He is preparing for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb – the day when He and His Church will be united together in eternity. So, it is time for me, as the best man, to step aside. He must increase, and I must decrease.”
So, the question is, how does Jesus increase and we decrease?
There are two possible ways:
First, we could make Jesus greater than He is right now – which is ridiculous.
Make Jesus greater than He is? The Holy, Holy, Holy, Almighty God, Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords, the First and the Last, the One and Perfect Savior of all those who will believe.
Second, we could prostrate ourselves before Jesus in all humility – bowing ourselves below His feet – in faith and obedience – in recognition of who we are in comparison with Who He is. We can cry out with the Psalmist, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give glory. For the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1, ESV).
So, Jesus “increases” when we show a right humility before Him – we step down to where we belong so Jesus can better be seen at the heights where He is. When we understand ourselves as sinners saved by grace alone, who daily receive mercy and forgiveness, as our loving Father provides for all of our needs, and we trust Him and believe that what occurs is necessary for His plan and that all things are working together for the good of all we who love Him, and that Jesus, the Son of God Incarnate, is the One and Only Hope of Salvation, we tend to act in humility and point others to Jesus and His Gospel, rather than ourselves.
Another speaker at the conference told the story of a man who went to his pastor to tell him that he had decided to leave the church. The man said, “Pastor, after much thought, I have decided to leave the church: I don’t like your sermons, I don’t like you as a person, I don’t like the choir or the organist, I don’t like the hymns you choose, I don’t like the pews, and I don’t like the other people in the church, so I have decided to leave.” The pastor turned to him and said, “It’s not about you, stupid!” and walked away.
It is a lesson in right-thinking: surely, we seek to worship God as He would have Himself be worshipped, and we accommodate the needs of our people within the bounds of what we believe God has said to do – but the worship service is not about you, it’s not about me, it’s not about our preferences and our dislikes, it is about the worship of the One Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for all He is and all He has done. Worship is all about Him.
Third, Jesus has all power, authority, ownership, and is the Only Way to be right with God.
“’He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal on this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’”
John the Baptist continued to explain to his disciples why Jesus is greater than he is, and that people ought to be dropping away from John and following Jesus:
John tells them that he is just a man – a man born of the earth, as every other mere human being. But Jesus came from Heaven – He is God come to earth in the flesh – in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. John is merely a man; Jesus is the God-Man.
Although Jesus is God in the flesh, most people don’t believe what He says – that He is the Promised Savior – the Only Way to be saved from the Wrath of God. Jesus speaks the Truth; He is the Truth.
And Jesus puts His Seal on all those who believe in Him savingly – that is, Jesus gives the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and the assurance of salvation through Him to all those who will believe.
God the Father, Who loved the world so much that He sent God the Son to incarnate and be the Savior of His people, has sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us – “in full measure” – God has not given part of the Holy Spirit to each Christian, but He indwells each one who believes.
John, the author of the Gospel, puts it this way: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13, ESV).
And this Savior, Jesus, the Son of God and the Son Man, is the One Sovereign God over all things – with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is in complete control of all things, since the Father has put all things into His Hands. From the tiniest, microscopic creature, to the dinosaurs, to the vastness of space and time, Jesus reigns sovereign over all, and every molecule is following the plan that God conceived in Holy Trinity before the creation of all things.
Most important for we humans is the question, “how does a person become right with God?” As sinners, we have disobeyed God and God has promised us His Wrath and suffering that never ends. However, if we believe savingly in Jesus, we have eternal life.
But whoever does not obey the Son is everlastingly under the Wrath of God and shall never see the life bought for believers in Jesus Christ.
And so we see this morning:
Everything we have comes from God.
Nothing has been left to chance – as if that were even possible! Our Father Who loves His children bring everything to us and for us. Even when we have need to suffer – for whatever reason – our Father has set the limits of our suffering. And He has promised to give us everything we need. Are we willing to receive whatever our loving Father knows is best for us and trust Him in it?
Jesus must increase, by our decreasing.
Jesus is the center of our worship and life. Will we humble ourselves and seek His Glory, His Worship, telling others how great He is – not worrying about what we think we deserve or what other people think of us?
Jesus has all power, authority, ownership, and is the Only Way to be right with God.
Will we pray to the Father, in Jesus’ Name, through the Holy Spirit, acknowledging that He has all power, all authority, and all rights of ownership to everything in all of Creation?
Step down. Get out of the way. Stop complaining. Stop thinking everyone owes you. Stop sinning. Everything that is is not about us – it’s not about you – it’s not about me. When we humble ourselves, we will find peace and joy in Jesus.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, cause our eyes to be fixed on You – seeking Your Kingdom and Your Will, glorifying You, proclaiming Your Gospel – help us to forget ourselves and seek to have Jesus increase in the eyes of the whole world – and may the Holy Spirit use our proclamation of the Gospel to bring many to salvation. For Yours in the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory, forever and ever. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.