In our study of John’s gospel on Sunday mornings we’ll jump over some interesting stories in order to hit the highlights. We simply don’t have the time to go verse by verse.
One of those stories we’ll skip is found in verses 22-36 of chapter 3. In these verses, “John the Baptist exalts Christ.” Interestingly, Jesus and John the Baptist were in the wilderness baptizing men and women within eyesight of one another. John’s baptism was one of repentance and preparation for Jesus’s coming into the world. Jesus’s baptism was one of repentance and faith in himself. John pointed to Jesus in his words and baptism. Jesus drew people to himself. They both were of God but had radically different purposes. You may remember that John “was sent from God” and “as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through His testimony” (John 1:6-7).
While the two men were baptizing people John’s crowd got smaller and Jesus’s grew larger. The townspeople were no longer going to see John to be baptized; they went to see Jesus. Why wouldn’t they? Why would they remain with a prophet when the Lord was present? They wouldn’t because it doesn’t make sense. When John’s disciples asked Jesus later in his ministry why his disciples didn’t fast like they and the Pharisees did, he answered “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” It’s time to celebrate when the bridegroom is present for his wedding.
There were some men, though, who remained loyal to John. He was their ride or die. Their problem, however, is that they failed to see that John wasn’t interested in keeping disciples for himself. He wanted everyone to follow Jesus because he knew that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29) and the one who “came from heaven” and is “above all” (3:31-32). In fact, John had no problem admitting that he was not the Christ. He reminded his disciples of their experiences with him when he said, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him'” (3:28). John was simply doing his job and wasn’t bothered by his decreasing ministry and Jesus’s growing one. That’s the way it was supposed to work.
One of my friends, Bob Elliott, told me once that his favorite verse in John’s Gospel related to his own life is John 3:30 — “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John the Baptist made this statement in reference to his own life and ministry. it was his desire and pleasure (3:29) to decrease so that Jesus could be exalted. John wasn’t “in the game” for himself. He wanted Jesus and his fame to grow. He wanted those who came to hear him preach and be baptized, including his disciples, to place their faith in Jesus, “the true light which enlightens everyone” (1:9).
I think Bob’s perspective on John 3:30 is both healthy and inspiring. Like John, all of us have been called to be witnesses to Jesus and his glory. We are to point others to him in our words, actions, and commitments. We should always be pointing to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And, we must always pursue a life of humility that enables us to decrease while he increases. May God be pleased to work in and through us to elevate Jesus.