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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2007-09-02

Text: John 3:22-36

In the commercial world it is not uncommon to hear interesting cases of a talented employee leaving an established firm to start his own firm which flourishes and does even better than the previous one. For those who are MacUsers it may interest you to know that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, started out as a technician working for Atari, which was the pioneer in the video game industry. 

Steve Jobs had a friend, Steve Wozniak, who invented a simple personal computer. Both of them first offered the design to Atari. But Atari turned down their offer, and so Steve Jobs left Atari and started his own home business to produce and market the new product. He chose the name Apple for the new business because it comes alphabetically before Atari in the phone book. It went on to become a roaring success, leaving Atari far behind! Interestingly, Atari started producing its own line of PCs later on, but was unable to achieve anything near the success that Apple enjoyed. 

In the eyes of the commercial world, success comes from the ability to outshine all the rivals who compete in the same industry. Thus any 'new kid on the block' is perceived unfavourably as a threat to one's business. A similar kind of perception was held by some of the disciples of John the Baptist about 2,000 years ago, when the Lord Jesus and His disciples began to baptize people. 

You may remember that in one of our earlier sermons from John's Gospel we had seen that John the Baptist had a very successful revival ministry and gained a rather large following from all over Israel. His bold, powerful and effective preaching brought thousands of people to hear him and to be baptized by him. According to Matthew 3:5-6 'Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.' 

People from all walks of life came to him - fishermen, soldiers, despised publicans, and even many of the Pharisees and the Saducees, who were the religious elite of Israel. And as their esteem for John the Baptist and his powerful preaching and baptising ministry increased, some of them willingly attached themselves to him and became his devoted disciples! 

To them, he was the prophetic voice of God who had finally broken a long silence of about 400 years. But some of them took their devotion to this prophet to an extreme. They blindly believed that the ministry of John the Baptist must increase by all means! But John himself was not of the same mind and spirit as them - His desire was surprisingly to decrease rather than increase! Let us turn to our passage of scripture in John 3:22-36 to see how this was revealed to them.

This passage can be divided into 3 parts which provide 3 useful lessons on successful Christian living. The first part, which begins at v.22 and ends at v.27 presents us with the resentment or envy of John's disciples. The lesson we will learn from this is to forsake such an attitude. The second part begins at v.28 and ends at v.30. Here we will observe how John the Baptist was content with the secondary role God gave to him. This is something that we ourselves ought to follow. The final part, from vv.31 to 36 is all about the endowments of Christ, and the lesson is to keep our hearts and minds focused on them. Let us begin with the first part:

I. Forsake the Divisive Resentment of John's Disciples (vv. 22-27)

This resentment started as a result of a new development - The Lord Jesus began to preach against sin and to baptize people, just like John the Baptist had been doing. Soon it became publicly known that there was a new ministry doing exactly the same thing that John had been doing. This news reached the ears of John's disciples through some Jews who had seen the ministry of Jesus in Judea and they used it against John's disciples as a point of argument against John's baptism. Verse 25 says, 'Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.' The word 'question' in this verse actually means 'debate' or 'dispute.' The Jews were questioning the validity of John's baptism by saying that it is no longer unique and effective, since someone else was also baptizing and was now drawing even bigger crowds than him. 

This news was so disturbing to John's disciples that they felt it necessary to bring it up to their master to see if he could do something about it. According to verse 26 'And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.' You will notice here that the disciples of John considered Jesus to be a rival to their master. While they reverently called their master 'Rabbi' they referred to Jesus disparagingly as 'he that was with thee beyond Jordan.'

To them, Jesus was someone for whom their master had done the great favour of bearing a good witness, and so He was greatly indebted to their master for His good reputation. In their thinking all this obligates Jesus to do nothing against their master or his ministry. And so they construed what Jesus was doing now in preaching and baptising as a rather unkind and inconsiderate act against John the Baptist!

Actually they would have done a lot better to see things in a different light: They should have rejoiced that God's Word was now being preached by two servants of God instead of one, and that it was now reaching more people than ever before. But they were unfortunately blinded by their own sinful perception of what Jesus and His disciples were doing.

If we are not careful, we too may fall into the same kind of error as the disciples of John the Baptist. It can easily become a besetting sin for us who live in a competitive environment. Perhaps there is someone whom you regard as your personal rival. And your feelings towards that person have been growing from bad to worse. If you are a student, this person may be your classmate. Every time a test or exam result comes out, are you eager to find out whether you did better than him? If you are a parent, you may tend to compare your child's performance in school with that of your nieces or nephews of the same age. Are you happy only when your child gets the better grades?

If you are a working adult, you may have some feeling of rivalry concerning your colleagues at work. Is there someone in particular whom you do not wish to see doing so well, but he is the one who gets all the best deals and rewards because of his extraordinary skills and talents? Are you constantly bothered by what your colleagues wear to work, or the kind of car they drive to and from work? Generally speaking, are you unable to rejoice at the apparent success of others?

If any of these are true of you, then you may have a besetting sin in your life which you need to deal with. It is called envy. Envy is a terrible sin. It is utterly destructive. It ruins close relationships. It even caused Cain to kill his own brother. Envy also caused the elder brother of the prodigal son to become hostile and bitter when his long-lost brother's homecoming was being celebrated. Envy causes you to treat your close friend as your rival. 

King Saul loved David greatly and even made him his armourbearer (1 Samuel 16:21). But when his subjects began to praise David's victories he became so envious that he eventually sought to hunt him down and kill him. 

Let us repent of our sins of envy and resentment, and learn to rejoice instead at the success of others. Don't ever consider anyone to be your rival, but learn to love the people around you and appreciate the blessings God has given to them. Learn from the excellent answer that John the Baptist gave to his disciples in v. 27 'A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.' This means that all ability and success ultimately comes from God. Therefore, if you are displeased at the abilities that God has bestowed on others, or at the success that He allows them to enjoy, then you are claiming that God is unfair, unjust and unwise. Let us accept whatever God does to us and to others the same way that Job did 'The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' (Job 1:21)

Now, besides forsaking the divisive resentment of John's disciples, another lesson on Christian living from our scripture text is to: 

II. Follow the Delightful Contentment of John the Baptist (vv. 28-30)

What John the Baptist said in verses 28 to 30 reveals his true greatness. Despite the power and popularity he had enjoyed in effective preaching that brought thousands to repentance and revival to Israel, he selflessly claimed nothing for himself than what God had assigned to him. This is seen by the 3 points of his answer:

Firstly, John reminded them that he is not the Christ. Verse 28 'Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.' (cf. John 1:20) He also reminded them that he was merely a fore-runner, the one who is sent before the Messiah. In fact he had already pointed Jesus out to them as the Messiah of Israel and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

The 2nd point in John's answer to the disciples showed that he rejoiced in the secondary role he was given. Verse 29 'He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.' We observe that he likens his joy to that of a best man at a wedding. Some of you here may have served in such a role before. Your role required you to assist the bridegroom, to relieve him of worrying about any details that will invariably crop up at a wedding. 

At one time, the bestman was responsible for the safe-keeping of the wedding rings (today the page-boy brings them in). He also provides moral support to the groom and ensures that he does not chicken out at the last moment!

In all this, the important thing to note is that the role of the bestman is secondary. Under no circumstances is he to usurp the bridegroom's position (cf. Judges 14:30 - The bestman took over the bridegroom's role!). John the Baptist found his greatest joy in the secondary role that he played. He was content that he had accomplished his role. He had baptized Christ to fulfill all righteousness. He had publicly introduced Christ to the public as the Lamb of God. Two of his disciples, John and Andrew were thus directed to become disciples of Christ. His work was finished, and shortly after this he would be cast into prison (v.24).

The third point in John's answer to his disciples indicates that he regarded the exaltation of Christ as his goal. Now, the words of v.30 were not spoken as something that he was resigned to accept, 'Well, He must increase, but I must decrease.' But they were spoken by John the Baptist with satisfaction and contentment 'How happy am I that Christ in increasing. Yes, it is only right and fitting that He must increase, but I must decrease!' 

This is something we should all be willing to do. Nothing should bring us greater joy than to see Christ exalted through our lives. These words of John the Baptist capture the whole essence of Christian living 'He must increase, but I must decrease!' This is what the Christian life is all about. Success is measured by the extent to which Christ is increased by our life. We must therefore follow John the Baptist in making this the foundational principle and goal of our life. It is actually akin to the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 'For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.'

In order for us to fully espouse this as our personal goal in life we need to know the reasons why Jesus must increase and we must decrease. This brings us to the final section of our text where we learn to:

III. Focus on the Divine Endowments of Jesus Christ (vv. 31-36)

Here we find at least 2 important reasons why Jesus must increase. Firstly,

A. He Is Above All (vv. 31-33)

Verse 31 says, 'He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.' The word 'all' here refers to all human messengers, teachers, prophets and apostles who communicate truths from God. This includes John the Baptist. They are all nothing but imperfect earthly messengers, and hence they are only 'earthen vessels' that convey whatever they had received. There are obvious limitations to what we can learn through 'earthen vessels.'

Jesus is an entirely different kind of messenger from them. He came from heaven above, and thus He speaks on His own authority, and as a firsthand witness of heavenly things. Who can be better qualified to communicate all the wondrous truths about God, heaven and eternal life than He who comes from above? What we can learn from this Heavenly Vessel would therefore be superior to all others.

Some of us here who are old enough may remember the time when communicating with people who are overseas was a slow, tedious process. You wrote a letter and sent it by airmail and hoped that it will reach the recipient without getting lost. The reply would come only a few weeks later. Today, you can send an SMS or email to someone on the other side of the world and expect a reply within seconds! If you had to choose between these two modes of communication I think your choice would be obvious. The same thing applies then to our Lord Jesus. 

He should always be our choice of communication for all things relating to God. Through His Word we receive the most authoritative and accurate communication from God (Hebrews 1:1,2). And by Him we confidently offer up all our prayers and praises to God (Hebrews 13:15). None can ever compare with Christ. He is above all! And that's not all, He also see that:

B. He Is Given All (vv.34-36)

This is mentioned in v.35 'The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.' This verse has some interesting similarities to another verse that we have studied before - John 3:16. John 3:16 tells us that God the Father so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, Jesus. Here 19 verses later, we learn that God the Father so loved His only begotten Son that He gave Him all things. When we put both verses together we discover a very wonderful truth: When God gave us His Son to be our Saviour, He also gave us all things! 

Romans 8:32 confirms this 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?' Dearly beloved, all spiritual blessings as well as all things that pertain unto life and godliness are to be found in Christ, and only in Christ! (Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3)

For instance, verse 34 of our text tells us that Jesus Christ has the full endowment of the Holy Spirit without limit. Because of this we who have Christ can now experience the fullness of the Spirit and bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives! Verse 36 tells us that those who believe in Christ have eternal life. This is possible only because that eternal life is found in Christ. 1 John 5:11-12 tells us that 'God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life.'

The Holy Spirit and eternal life are only a small sampling of all the things that God has given us in Christ. And so if you have Christ, you have all things! And conversely, if you do NOT have Christ, what do you have? I trust that you can now understand why you need Christ and why He alone must increase, and you must decrease. Now that you know these things you must give a proper response to them.

There are only two possible responses: Believe in the Son, or reject the Son. According to v.38, the consequences of rejecting the Son are not only to forfeit the opportunity to have eternal life, but also to receive the wrath of God. I say this now with all earnestness to anyone here who has not yet trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation: As long as you persist in your present state of unbelief, God's awful but righteous wrath remains upon you. You may ask, 'What have I done against God to deserve such wrath from Him?' You have doubted His truthfulness. God has already spoken to you through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. You have heard that He is the only way of salvation from sin and eternal death. You heave heard that He is above all, and that He is given all things. By refusing to accept His testimony you doubt God's truthfulness. This is a most serious matter. It is tantamount to making God a liar! 

I therefore urge you not to remain in your unbelief. Come right now to Jesus Christ, God's beloved Son, and ask Him to be your Saviour and Lord. Let this be the day of your salvation, the day when eternal life becomes yours through receiving the Son of God, When you do this you affirm that what God has revealed through Christ is 100 % true. Verse 33 of our text describes the person who does this: 'He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.'

For the rest of us here who have already trusted in Christ and have set to our seal that God is true, the main application of this sermon is that Christ must increase, and you must decrease. Let this become the goal and foundational principle of your whole life, as it was for the life of John the Baptist. Jesus Christ must have the pre-eminence in your life. 

If you are seeking great things for yourself, seek them no more. Speak more about Christ and less of yourself. Let His honour become the goal of everything that you do. Use whatever respect or esteem you receive from others to point them to Him. Turn every personal success in your life into an opportunity to exalt Him. Whenever someone compliments or praises you for any achievement, always be quick to give all credit to Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. Matthew Henry put it very well, 'If our diminution or abasement may but in the least contribute to the advancement of Christ's name, we must cheerfully submit to it, and be content to be anything, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.'

I remember that when I was a teenager, one of the things that my friends and I loved to do was to visit and explore buildings, including church buildings. In one particular old church building I visited, I noticed that every pew in the sanctuary had a little sign that read, 'Donated in memory of so-and-so.' The names of hundreds of church members who had departed from this world and who had given much to build and furnish the church were eminently remembered and honoured in that old church. This was probably done with good intentions. However by doing this, whoever steps into that sanctuary to pray or worship the Lord will be distracted away from the Lord Jesus Christ by all these epitaphs. They only diminish the honour and attention that Christ alone should receive!

The only name that should always be pre-eminent is the name of Christ our Saviour. All other names, including your own name must be totally eclipsed by His name, so that Christ alone will receive all glory.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11