He Must Increase, I Must Decrease
November 22, 2009
On May 26th, Henry Blackaby spoke about “Whoever is Least” and referred to Matthew 11:22. “I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he
John the Baptist's role was to decrease in prominence while Jesus' ministry increased (John 3:30). John allowed his disciples to leave him in order to follow Jesus. His ministry lasted only about six months before he was wrongfully imprisoned and executed on the whim of a cruel monarch. Yet Jesus said that no one who had come before John was any greater in the kingdom of heaven. Moses had parted the Red Sea; Elijah had raised the dead and brought down fire from heaven; Isaiah had written a revered book of Scripture; yet in the brief time of service granted to John, he had matched them all for greatness in the kingdom of heaven!
Incredibly, Jesus said that we have the opportunity to be even greater in the kingdom of heaven than John the Baptist. He announced the coming of Christ, but we, as Christians, have Christ living within us. We must remember that service to God is the greatest privilege we can receive in life. To serve God in even the most menial way is an honor far greater than we deserve. John was given less than a year to complete his assignment, and he did so with all that he had. We have the opportunity to allow Jesus to carry out His work through our lives, so that greater things are done through us than were ever accomplished through John the Baptist. Our mandate is the same as John's: to lift up Jesus while denying ourselves. Oh, that we would do so with the same fervor as John the Baptist!
Today. We’re going to look at a passage of Scripture that transitions us from the end of the ministry of John the Baptist to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. It’s a powerful message on increasing and decreasing.
Please open your Bible to John chapter three and we’ll read verses 22 through 30.
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). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 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. 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.”
The scene is the Judean countryside where Jesus and his disciples are baptizing and John was not far away also baptizing. Jesus was gathering a following and the followers signified their repentance and faith by baptism. So Jesus was baptizing and John was Baptizing
Then in verse 23 John the Baptist gets us ready for the main point of this section through a conversation between himself and his followers. Verses 23-24 say: “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” So the situation is set: Jesus’ band of brothers is baptizing, and John’s band of brothers is baptizing.
There are hundreds and hundreds of things that could be told about Jesus by the gospel writer, John. Remember John 21:25: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
So why, right here after the Nicodemus conversation the night before, does John bring in John the Baptist again to say, “I’m not the Christ,” and, “I am not the bridegroom but only a friend of the bridegroom,” and , “He must increase, but I must decrease”?
John’s Joy Over Jesus Increasing
We have heard this theme before. John 1:8: John the Baptist says he is not the light. In John 1:20: He says is not the Christ. John 1:21: He says he is not Elijah and not the prophet. John 1:23: He says he is just a voice crying in the wilderness. In John 1:27: He says he is not worthy to unstrap Jesus’ sandals. John has continually humbled himself and exalted Christ. Why does the writer bring in John again? Is there something here we shouldn’t miss? You bet there is!
John doesn’t repeat himself. There are new things that he says and new emotions expressed. I think there must have been confusion; if John the Baptist’s disciples were confused as to who to follow, you can bet others were too. John the Baptist had to clearly point to the Messiah and to do this he had to decrease so Christ could increase. The attention had to be on the Christ, the Messiah, the Annointed One. John knew his job was over. John was backing out of the picture gracefull and with joy.
Listen to the joy in John the Baptist/s voice:: “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.” Those are strong words: “rejoices greatly” and “this joy of mine is not complete.” Great joy. Complete joy. All owing to what?
The Bridegroom is getting all the attention. The cameras are flashing in that direction. The rice is all flying in that direction. The honeymoon is in that direction. The voice of the Bridegroom, the voice of the Shepherd, has replaced the voice of one crying in the wilderness. And in a few months, the sword of Herod will absolutely silence John’s voice (cf. verse 24). And John’s response to this—to this diminishing, this decreasing? This great joy of mine is now complete (verse 29).
There are many today who find this response puzzling. Who of us can honestly show such humility? But, in the face of Jesus, we must decrease! He must increase! No one, nothing should come between the Bridegroom and our love for Him. Jesus said, “ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Strong words, aren’t they? Do you believe them? I am to love Jesus more than Marcy, or any of my kids! Yes, more than anyone or anything else!
Jesus is clearly demanding that we treasure him over everyone and everything else. To many people today, that is sheer egomania. Jesus demands that we love him more than anyone—that we follow him, trust him, enjoy him, be satisfied in him, delight in him, obey him more than anyone or anything else. That’s true. He does. Is that your response to Jesus? Or is your response the exact opposite? Nicodemus was flabbergasted and appalled. How are these things possible; he says in John 3:9. John the Baptist knew this was possible. He knew when Jesus increases, joy increases. John the Baptist says, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John is saying, “When Jesus becomes greater in the world and I become lesser in the world, my joy increases.” This is the purpose and plan of Jesus himself It is not egomania. It’s love.
So my answer to the question of why John the Baptist is brought back is right here is that he is to illustrate a joyful response to the radical things Jesus had been saying to Nicodemus about himself and about the sovereign work of God in salvation. You could call it a joyful response to God. Greater is He who is in us! (1 John 4:4)
Let’s take a closer look to see the connection more closely. Jesus had said in John 3:21 that unlike the man who loves darkness and hates light, the man who loves the truth “comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” One of the main marks of the born-again person is that he loves. For it is clearly seen that his new birth, his new deeds, new attitude, new affections are “carried out in God.” Only God can make these radical changes in a person! That is, in the power of God. He loves to make it clear, to all who will listen, that his newness is a work of sovereign grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 says God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. And we says, “what a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms.”
Now notice how this joy divine of John the Baptist is interpreted by John’s disciples. They say at the end of verse 26 that John is losing followers: “All are going to him.” What will John’s response be?
Verse 27 gives us John’s answer to his disciples: “John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” His answer is that the reason people are leaving him and going to Jesus is that God is giving them to Jesus. “A person cannot receive one thing”—one follower, let alone a throng—unless they are given from heaven (that is, from God).” That’s the point of verse 21—the people who come to Jesus love to make it clear that God gave them to Jesus. This is exactly what we see in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” God calls; we come!
These words of John the Baptist confirm the sovereign work of God in people coming to Christ “You wonder why they are turning away from me and going to Christ,” John says. “God is doing this. He is giving them to his Son. And it will be clearly seen that their coming has been carried out in the power of God.” Turn with me to John 6. I want you to look at three verses which affirm this truth – no one comes to the Father unless he is called. I’m going to read verses 37, 44, and 65. Listen to them: However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For people can't come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them from the dead. Then he said, "That is what I meant when I said that people can't come to me unless the Father brings them to me."
John tells his disciples that this is no surprise because God sent him for this very thing—that people would turn away from him and go to Christ. “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” God sent John for this. This was God’s plan. Gather a people and then give them up. Rise like a star in the wilderness, and then burn out like a meteorite. That’s the plan. John knows it. And he watches it happening, his joy increases. As we see God increasing in ourselves does not our joy increase? Of course! As we see our friends and family members draw closer to Jesus, doesn’t our joy increase? Of course it does. And as I watch you draw closer and closer to Jesus, if I could sing, you would hear “what a fellowship, what a joy divine”
Let’s return to the end of our key Scripture passage for this morning. Look at verse 29. John totally surprises us with a new image in verse 29. “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.”
Why the mention of the bridegroom’s voice? Why does the friend of the bridegroom—John the Baptist—rejoice greatly over the bridegroom’s voice? Perhaps only because his voice means he is here. And the friend is glad he’s here. But I suspect it’s more than that. John the Baptist described himself in John 1:23 as “the voice” crying in the wilderness. His own voice has gathered a people. But now they are all leaving and going to Jesus. Why? Because another voice is being heard. A greater voice. A stronger voice. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . The sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
John rejoices in the voice of the bridegroom, not just because the bridegroom is here, but because the voice gathers the bride—and it gathers her away from John. John has prepared the bride for her bridegroom – Jesus! Which is why the next words out of his mouth are, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It must be so. And in this I rejoice.
The Divine Must
The “must” of verse 30 is very important. This is God’s must. It’s the must of a divine plan. We must come; we must follow! We must decrease; He must increase! God gives people to Jesus, and they must leave John the Baptist and go to Jesus. This is God’s doing. And God is still doing this. We come to Jesus – we must leave the world. We must become dead to self and alive in Christ. The Christian life is all about Jesus, not us. We serve Him, we worship Him! He doesn’t serve us; he doesn’t give us all that we want. He gives us want He wants us to have! His concern is our holiness, not our happiness!
God sends John not to be the Christ but to go before and point to him. So it’s God’s plan that John gather a people and then send them away to Jesus. This is part of the divine “must”. And God is still gathering a people unto Himself; and we must point the way to Jesus.
In verse 29, John focuses on the bridegroom’s voice. This is a voice superior to his own voice. This voice raises the dead (5:25; 11:43). This voice is known by all the sheep, and they follow (10:3-4). This voice woos and wins the bride. She knows her husband and goes to him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. We know that; she would not go to another. This is God’s doing. It is part of the “must” of verse 30. The voice of Jesus wooed us and won us. We know to whom we belong. We know His voice; we are His sheep.
So John sums up God’s work in verse 30: “He must increase and I must decrease.” He must. This is the plan of God. The Son of God, the bridegroom, will be exalted. He will be glorified. He will increase in the eyes of man. Every knee will bow; every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10) Or as verse 21 says, it will be “clearly seen” “God has shown us a way to be made right with Him …”
And contrary to all ordinary human nature, this is why John the Baptist rejoices with great joy and calls his joy finally full. “[He] rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Can you say the same? Can you say “I must rejoice greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. He must increase; I must decrease.” More than saying it, are you living it? Are you more and more becoming dead to self and alive in Christ?
Nicodemus was baffled by the Christ-exalting sovereignty of God in the new birth. John saw it and loved it: “Nobody leaves me and goes to Jesus unless it is given him from heaven (verse 27). And there they go—away from me to Jesus—so this is the work of heaven. This is the glorification of the Son, the Shepherd, the Bridegroom, the sovereign voice. He increases, and I decrease. And this is the fullness of my joy.”
That is what John, the Gospel writer, wants us to see. And be.
What About Purification?
One last observation. All of this got started in verse 25 because of a discussion over purification. Look at verse 25: “Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.” Did John have nothing to say about this? Did he just leave it behind?
You judge. If John had referred to Jesus the way he did earlier “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” we would say: There it is! There’s the connection with purification from sin. The Lamb is sacrificed for sinners and purifies them from their sin.
But instead John speaks of Christ as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. But is there a connection between these two Listen to Revelation 21:9: “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The bride is the wife of the Lamb. So the Bridegroom is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
So maybe it’s not surprising to hear Paul in Ephesians 5:25-27, speak of Christ as the bridegroom of the church, and explicitly say that he sanctifies her and purifies her.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ [the bridegroom] loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So when John tells us that Jesus is the bridegroom he is indeed answering the question about purification. The Bridegroom is the Lamb. The Bridegroom does give himself for his bride and purify her from all her sins.
Turning to the Savior
And so in the end, it’s not so strange, is it, that John the Baptist would see this bridegroom increase and see himself decrease—and say, in this my joy is complete?
They are not turning to an egomaniac. They are turning to a Savior. A Lamb. A Protector. A Provider. A Leader. Like none they’ve ever known. How could they not love him more than anyone else?
Is Jesus your Savior, Protector, Provider, Leader? Is your life pointing the way to Him?
Now, before we finish, how many of you watch the Miracle Channel or other Christian television station? I would like to suggest that you stop watching it for a month. That’s right! Turn it off, and spend that time studying God’s Word for yourselves. I want to do as Judy did. Judy would take her morning coffee to her living room, flip on the Miracle Channel, and stay there for her morning devotional time. The one day God spoke to her heart. He said to her, “Judy, spend time with me! TV isn’t me! In am on your bookshelf waiting to be opened. TV is for entertainment. Your Bible is for your nourishment and growth.” I’ve said several time before, all you need to have airtime on Christian television is enough money to pay for it. They don’t check your theology; they don’t care if you preach the truth. For many, Christian television is simply another opportunity to make money. For others, it’s a license to share a theology that, in some cases, is downright heresy. So, check it out for yourselves; Scripture says we are to “test all things and hold onto what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21); don’t believe what others tell you without verifying it for yourself in the Word. Did you know that Jesus did not come so that we could live self-indulgent lives characterized by health, wealth, prosperity, and the right to have and do whatever we want? If you believe this lie, you’ve been deceived. Jesus came that we would have life and have it abundantly (that is, our lives would be abundant, not our bank accounts). He warned us against self-indulgence, complacency and materialism. He said, “where your treasure is there you heart will be also” (Matt 6:21) He shared with us the story of the rich young ruler, the account of Lazarus and the rich man, and about the widow and her two mites. If we’re doing well financially it could be because God is testing it to see how generous we are with our wealth. We may think that we’re being generous if we give Him a tithe (10%), but what about the other 90% - He’s concerned with how we use that too. On the other hand, our prosperity may have come from the enemy as part of his plan to keep us away from living godly generous lives which are wholly dependent on our God and Creator.
So, try life without Christian television for a month and see just how much you grow spending this time in the Word and if I might suggest a good place to start, read and meditate on the words and teachings of Jesus – the red print! Start in Matthew 5 and follow the red trail and don’t stop until you get to chapter 28, verse 18. Christian television is a substitute for secular television, not a substitute for the Bible.
Let’s pray: Father God, Your Son Jesus even now is calling us into a closer, fuller relationship with You. Your Word says we are to grow in grace and knowledge of Your son (2 Peter 3:18), but how can we do this if we are not feeding on Your Word – for it is alive and powerful. It is “sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.” (Heb 4:12)
Continue to draw us closer and closer to You into the deep and abiding love relationship that You desire to have with each of us. We give you thanks for your limitless and everlasting love and grace.
In Jesus name. Amen