It’s Not the Baptist’s Church
Rev. Mark A. Barber
Last Week, we saw how Nicodemus was witnessed to by Jesus who knows the hearts of all people. The whole gospel is a witness to the person and work of Christ. We saw in the earlier sermon “How to be a Good Baptist” how John the Baptist was specifically raised up to bear witness to Jesus. In the sermon “Whoa, Man of the Night” we see Jesus bearing witness to Himself. So whether others are bearing witness, or Jesus is bearing witness, the gospel is all about Jesus.
We have already discussed much about the humility of John the Baptist. The following he had was not for his own glory. Rather it was John the Baptist’s responsibility, like any good pastor, to bring the sheep he was entrusted to Christ. John had already lost two of his disciples to Jesus when he bore the witness “Behold the Lamb of God.” And from what we read today, he is quickly losing his influence over the people of Israel. One of his disciples had gotten into a dispute with another Jew who apparently had noticed that Jesus was gathering larger crowds than John. It seems that that disputant was trying to drive a wedge between John and Jesus.
This presented quite a temptation. Many others have from pride risen to the bait. There is something in all of us that drives us to be king of the hill. Here was a person that John had personally baptized. In human terms, he was younger than John. John’s career was going downhill and he was about to be replaced in the ministry by someone younger.
But as we have already noted, John knew why God had sent him, to intentionally obsolete himself. His one task was to announce the groom to his bride. After that he was to get out of the way. He reminded his disciples about the earlier testimony he had made about Jesus which they had all heard. The Apostle John wants to remind us too, as John, next to Jesus, is the example of how to bear witness to Christ in the world. John the Baptist will be mentioned once more in the gospel as a bright and shining lamp. But John was about to be thrown into prison for his witness to the truth and angering Herod Phillip and Herodias concerning their illicit marriage. John, like Jesus, many of the Old Testament prophets, and many countless Christians since have paid for their witness to the truth which comes from God, Jesus by bearing witness to Himself, and the others for bearing witness to Jesus. What a way to decrease so that Christ might increase. Our challenge then is to be faithful unto death, if that should be the way God has chosen that we might glorify God. Then we will have the opportunity to “enjoy Him forever”.
In verse 31, we encounter the testimony about Christ Himself. It is sometimes hard to determine where John’s characters leave off speaking and where the Apostle Johns commentary begins. For example, in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, some commentators see John 3:16 and following as John’s commentary about the person and work of Jesus, while others see it all coming from Jesus directly. In this passage, some see John the Baptist ending with the “He must increase, and I must decrease” and the Apostle John picking up in verse 32. Although we can’t be sure, I would suggest that this is interesting speculation, but that it does not materially make a difference. The red letters of the Bible are no more inspired than the black ones, considering that there were no distinction of colors in the original text. As Paul reminds Timothy, “all” or “the entirety” of Scripture is God breathed and profitable. What Paul, Peter, the Apostle John, or John the Baptist says about Jesus is as equally true and valid as if Jesus said it Himself.
What is important then, other than Jesus who is both messenger and message, it is not the witness that is important, it is the message. Previously, we remember that John when asked about who he was answered that he “was a voice”. The rest of the details did not matter. If one did not know John personally, it was of small consequence, so long as one heard and believed the testimony he bore. The Apostle John is the same way as he does not even identify himself in the gospel. What matters is the testimony he bore of Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing one might have eternal life through His name.
So let us look at the testimony about Jesus here, whether it is John the Baptist or John the Apostle saying this. There is a contrast made between human testimony and Divine testimony. A true witness can only give testimony based upon what one has experienced. Human beings at their best can only interpret what they have seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, or acquired through smell, taste, and touch. Human beings in and of themselves are incapable of interpreting reality which lies beyond the realm of experience. This does not mean that there is not reality beyond their experience, but that in order to testify about it, it needs to be brought into our experience and knowledge. The greatest of intellects from ancient Greece unto today have tried to speculate about what lies beyond experience and have not agreed at all. For example, the Greek philosopher, Parmenides, tried to describe the unity of reality by saying “All is static”. Another Greek philosopher responded with “All is in flux”. The only thing in common to their witness of reality is the word “all”. Otherwise, these two testimonies absolutely contradict each other. One or both must be wrong, but they both cannot be right. Nothing can be established in court where there is such a contradiction of witnesses.
If we are to know anything about heavenly realities, then someone who has experience of these realities must come down from above to tell us of them. In the Old Testament times, this revelation came to us at scattered times, places, and methods through the agency of the prophets who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, or through the appearance of God or Christ. This revelation was true but incomplete. This revelation was to set the stage for God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus Christ. We learn here that the Holy Spirit was not given in a measured way. The prophets of old could only testify to the part of the heavenly reality that the Spirit had told them. But Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity is the totality of reality itself. He knows all things in Himself and needs no revelation to enlighten Him. So everything which Christ says and does is true, complete, and valid testimony. Whatever Jesus chooses to reveal to us is sufficient for our coming to faith and eternal life. All of the books written could not contain the totality of God’s acts. But what Jesus bears witness of in Scripture is everything we need.
Yet, even though God has provided all the testimony we need to believe in God, whether through the revelation of God in nature or through Scripture, many refuse to believe and suppress this revelation. Paul talks about this in the first chapter of Romans, and John mentions it here. Sometimes the jury refuses to convict or exonerate someone despite overwhelming evidence. This is because all human beings feel the wrath of God because God has written it in their conscience. Not only should they know, they do know and choose to suppress the truth to their own destruction. This is why the new birth is such a miracle. It turns us from darkness to light, and from death to life.
A person who suddenly keels over dead is incapable of saving his own life. You can exhort him or her all day long, but will that change the reality at all. That person’s only hope is that someone who sees what has happened and knows CPR comes and brings that person to life. We all were dead in trespasses and sins just like the current unbeliever. It is only because spiritual CPR was performed on us that we are alive. In this sense, we who have been born again are those who need to perform spiritual CPR on the dead. This does not mean that we will always succeed, but what other hope does the dead man have? The success of CPR is ultimately dependent on God who gives life. But it behooves me that if I am to act like one who is an emergency medical technician to learn to do CPR as well as I can. The more I know and put into practice, the more effective my CPR will be.
God’s form of CPR is to breathe life into the dead and make them a living soul. And God has called us alongside Himself as His witnesses to do just that. So it behooves us to learn as much as we can of the Triune God, and what God has revealed to us in Scripture. God does not need lazy and ignorant witnesses. He needs witnesses who can be believed. This is God has sent preachers, so that the world might hear and come to life-saving faith. But all Christians are to be faith sharers. However, sometimes it is better not to perform CPR until one has learned to do it effectively. If you can’t perform CPR well, call on someone who can. In this, you are doing the very best you can. This is why your pastor is here. But it is also my intention to equip you to effectively share the faith. I want you all to be students and learn the Scriptures. This is your first great task. Too often when someone comes to Christ, we throw them out into the mission field or at least give them some responsibility in the church. If your faith is not developed yet like it should be, make learning your first priority.
This is the first thing we can learn from this passage this morning. The other thing we need to learn is who is boss. The church does not belong to the Baptist. It does not belong to any particular church organization like the Methodists or Presbyterians. The church is not about you or your needs, or about anyone else’s either. It does not belong to you. Rather it belongs to God. Jesus is the head of that church. Rather you belong to His church. It is not the ways and wisdom of humankind that you are to bear witness to. IT is not about sports, entertainment, fashion, or politics. You will never win anyone to heavenly realities by carnal means. Do it God’s way. Proclaim the truth.