The Last Testimony of John the Baptist
Please read John 3:22-36 as a preface to this article
The major religion of our world today is the religion of personal happiness. Our supposed aim in life is to make ourselves as happy as possible as quickly as possible. Financial security, prestige, relationships, and treasures all exists as possible avenues to total satisfaction. Even morality has been subjected to decisions of personal happiness. If you have what you want, you are told you will be happy.
The problem is that our pursuit of that happiness isn't going very well. We don’t seem to be good at it. Despite all the available forms of wealth and entertainment, people are treated for depression and anxiety at an incredibly high rate. If you're not happy, take a pill or talk to a professional. We're not a joyful society. One needs only a quick look at Twitter or Facebook to find a culture that is discontent, disappointed, and often enraged.
For Christians stuck in a “me first” culture, John the Baptist provides a powerful example of one who has found satisfaction.
Find Joy in Purpose, Not Popularity
For those who want to find happiness in importance, John the Baptist is an ancient example of celebrity. Mentioned in all four gospels, John is a prominent man, and particularly because of his role as the forerunner of the Messiah. John stands out; he's not in the cities or the prominent buildings. He's out in the wilderness preaching and people are going out to hear him. He has a thriving ministry and people from all over the region are coming great lengths to hear him.
Within the greater context of the Gospel of John, the text I asked you to read is John the Baptist’s last testimony. In fact, the gospel of John doesn't even mention the account of John the Baptist’s beheading at the hands of Herod, we simply don't hear from him again in this book. Yet, in this passage we find modern instructions for joy for those who think ease and popularity are the pathway to happiness.
In Matthew 3, even the Pharisees and the Sadducees wanted to come witness this great man. The priests and the Levites wanted to come see this phenomenon. Herod, himself, who was not a godly man, enjoyed listening to John's preaching. This is a man of influence. This is a man of popularity.
There came a turning point in John the Baptist’s ministry in verse 25, amid John and his followers’ baptizing, they were told reports of another man performing baptisms— Jesus.
They were very, very popular, but the disciples to question and worry about this Jesus who was more popular than them. The disciples came to John with concern and anxiety because there were more people coming to Jesus than to John.
Jesus' ministry was growing in popularity, faster than John’s, giving John’s disciples the well-known fear of occupational obsolescence. With Jesus’ ministry growing, the disciples of John worried they were going the same pathway as the blacksmith, the milkman, and of Blockbuster video.
How would you respond? Ho do you respond when your plans fail, and your importance is diminished? Often our response is to get frustrated, defensive, critical, or bitter. But this isn’t the model we saw in John 3. In short, John's response was this: It isn't about me.
He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease
What John begins to do is declare that Christ is greater than he is. That his own popularity is of little consequence to him.
In verse 27, John begins by taking no credit for his success. He says a man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. He says to disciples, ‘Friends, we weren’t prominent because we were creative, or smart, or good looking. We were given the position that we were given because God gave it to us.’
Our intellect and skills that put us in a role of influence or respect are from heaven.
No talents, no blessing, no financial gain, no intellect, no athletic ability, no ministry opportunity is from our own worthiness or doings.
Showing deep understanding of his role, his purpose, John says in verse 28, "You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of him.'" Saying, "This wasn't about me, this was about making Him look good. I didn't get into this for my own gain or for my own influence."
John sees his ministry as a gift, and he sees his role as a setup man, satisfied and joyful when the spotlight is not on him, but focused on Christ.
He gives his summary statement in verse 30, saying "He must increase, but I must decrease." I've been doing this all for Him. The main point of this section is to show that John's ministry is going to disappear, and Christ’sministry is going to increase, but it also displays John's burning passion for the greater ministry of Christ as the Messiah, not his ministry as the messenger.
This is the reason why he gets up in the morning, this is what drives him in all that he does: Christ would be Supreme, magnified, glorified, and worshiped at the expense of John's labors.
The heartbeat of every Christian should cry out that we want everything to be about Christ and less about ourselves. Our life, our decisions, our passions would be more about Him and less about us.
Dear Christian, life is not about you; it's about Him. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must first deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me, for who wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
That is John's measure of success. The measure of success for your life this day until your last is that Christ increases and that you decrease. That's what we're aiming for. That's the target.
John’s attitude in verse 29, “So this joy of mine has been made full," shows he lived his life not only out of obedience or deep resolve, but a servant’s joyful heart. Disciples of Christ find their joy not when we are made great, but when Christ has been made great. That is our source of delight and true satisfaction, not the finite things of this world.
Do you want to be successful? Desire to be joyful? Make your life about Christ.
The Greatest Treasure
What we need to see is that Christ is the greater treasure. It's not easy in this world to say, “I want to measure my success by living for Christ”, or “I want to find my joy only in Christ.” The world is enticing. I think too often, our way of dealing with the enticement of the world is to just block it out. It’s all evil, no thank you.
There are things to be blocked out, let's not be foolish, but do you know how we really live with true success and true joy? You see Christ as beautiful. You see him as greater. You recognize Jesus is a greater treasure. He is more beautiful than all the things that the world has to offer.
Although it isn’t perfectly clear whether John the disciple wrote what comes next or if John the Baptist directly said it, verses 31-35 describe and examine the ultimate supremacy of Christ:
- He is Supreme in His origin: Verse 31 says that “He who comes from above is above all.” Christianity is unique because at the center is an eternal person who doesn't come from our corrupt world. He doesn't have our corrupt tendencies; He comes from above. He is eternal. Christ has existed forever, outside the world, as a higher authority. There is never a time when He wasn’t, and there will never be a time He doesn’t exist. We can hope for everlasting joy in Him because He is the everlasting One.
- He is Supreme in His testimony: The truth claims of Jesus are better than the truth claims of this world. His is a truth you can trust. There are so many claims of truth and so many empty philosophies of this world, false religions, and pursuits to distract you from Christ. Jesus makes better claims because He speaks the truth from God, and He speaks words from God.
- He is Supreme in His power: The second half of verse 34 says, “for he gives the Spirit without measure.” In the New Testament, the Spirit of God was on Jesus Christ and He ministered in the power of the Spirit. When the Pharisees started questioning Him and saying He does what He does by the power of evil, Jesus tells them that they're doubting not just Him, but the Holy Spirit. Jesus walked in the full power of the Spirit, and we read that Jesus now sends the Spirit to dwell in believers.
- He is Supreme in His authority: Verse 35, “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hands.” In the gospels we see His authority to hush a storm, to tell a demon to come out of a man, to heal disease. We read about His authority to raise people from the dead. We see His authority to forgive sin, the authority reserved specifically for God and the Messiah. Jesus came at the Father’s instruction and with His authority as fulfillment of the Law and to die as the perfect substitute for our sins, again something only Christ could do.
This is a God you can trust because this God won't fail you. The things of this world are finite. They fail to satisfy, but this is a God that you can trust in. There is no one like this: He is from above, He is eternal. You see His testimony that He is God's greatest prophet of truth. You see His power and His authority, all leading us to see that He is Supreme in His salvation.
Jesus Christ forgave sins, came for sinners, performed miracles, and yet at the end of his life, He willingly goes and dies on a cross for sinners. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 3:36 says, “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.” There is good news. If we trust in Jesus, if we submit to this beautiful savior, we have forgiveness of sin. If you don't know Jesus Christ, your biggest issue is that you have sinned and you are therefore under the wrath of God, but there's a compassionate Savior who calls you to repentance and offers forgiveness.
If we want to live for Christ, if we want to delight Him, which we know we must do as believers and disciples, we need to meditate on Him. We need to see the beauty of who He is compared to the worldly temptation to live for ourselves. We will say “My life is not about me. He must increase, and I must decrease.”