Believe:879. How far will you go to find the truth? A journey through the gospel of John with Skip Heitzig.
Today, we're going to look at the life of John the Baptist. He comes back in this story in the third chapter for a couple of paragraphs. So let's have a word of prayer before we do that.
Our Lord, we recognize that worship is much more than singing the right tune or having a bed of music behind us, but worship includes our listening to You, not just our telling You things or singing words to You, but listening to what Your Spirit might say to us. So as we continue in our worship, we give You our attention, we give You this time, and as our attention is focused upon what You would say to us, we want to honor You, Lord, by giving You all of our ear to hear. In Jesus' name, amen.
When I was younger, I heard more than once people say to me, "Would you grow up?" Did you ever hear that growing up? "Would you grow up?" Now typically, what they meant by that is that I was acting obnoxious or playing a prank or that I should somehow act older than I was acting at the time. Sometimes I discovered that these words came from people who just took life way too seriously. In fact, I think people can grow up sometimes too fast. I loved childhood--I still do. Um, somebody gave me a little bit of a list of some of the benefits of childhood. Here are some of the highlights: "Decisions were made by saying, 'eeni-meeni-miney-mo.' [Life was good then, huh?] Mistakes were corrected by simply shouting, 'do-over!' Money issues were handled by whoever was the banker in Monopoly. It wasn't odd to have two or three best friends. [Remember that? "He's my best friend and he's my best friend too."] The net on the tennis court was the perfect height to play volleyball and the rules didn't matter. The worst thing you could catch from the opposite sex was cooties. It was magic when Dad would remove his thumb. Scrapes and bruises were kissed and made all better." Well that was then, but we do grow up. In fact, we should grow up. The most important area we should have growth in is spiritually. We should grow up spiritually. In Ephesians 4, Paul said, "That you may grow up in all things into Him who is the head even Christ." But I've discovered something and I think you'll see it illustrated here this morning. To grow up, you must first grow down. The mark of real growth is somebody who has grown down in humility, grown down in meekness. One who submits himself to the Lord. Humility is the opposite of what? Pride. Pride ruins everything. It got Lucifer out of heaven; it took Adam and Eve out of the Garden; it took Saul out of the kingdom. It ruins marriages, it ruins families, it ruins churches.
Now in John chapter three we have a paragraph where John the Baptist is tempted with pride. There's a temptation for him to fall into spiritual pride, but we discover, as we see him again, this guy has grown. He's grown by growing downward in humility, as we see his response. John is not climbing the ladder of importance. We find that he's climbing down that ladder. Verse 22 is where we begin this morning, to verse 30. Let's read it together before we consider it piece by piece. "After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified--behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!' John answered and said, 'A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, "I am not the Christ," but, "I have been sent before Him." He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.'"
Okay, here's what we have. We have here an honest struggle and a humble servant. Or we have a humble servant response to an honest struggle. Now, here's what's happening. Here's the background. The story begins with an apparent rivalry between two groups: Jesus' disciples and John the Baptist's disciples. John the Baptist is being eclipsed. Jesus is growing in notoriety and in controversy. People have heard about the marriage supper at Cana, they've heard about all the miracles He did in Jerusalem, they heard about His confrontation with the religious elite and that news is spreading, and more and more and more people are coming to where Jesus is. It says that John and Jesus are both at the Jordan River baptizing. Now, here's something you need to know. It was John's disciples who saw Jesus' disciples baptizing. Jesus Himself was doing none of the baptizing. You say, "Well, how do you know that?" I know that from the very next chapter. Notice John chapter 4 begins, "Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John [now watch this] (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed to Galilee." So there's Jesus' disciples, they're baptizing people, calling people to repentance like John. This leads to an argument between John the Baptist's followers and some Jews about purification. We have no idea what that argument was about--none of the details are given. This, in turn, leads to John's followers going to John himself and complaining that Jesus' group, Jesus' gig, is growing larger than their gig.
Verse 26: "And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan [that's Jesus], to whom you have testified [gave testimony]--behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!" Do you see that word all? It's called an exaggeration. An emotional exaggeration. Everyone isn't coming to Jesus but it sure seems like they are from John--the disciples' perspective. So here's the principle; it's illustrated well here. God's own children can sometimes disagree. Here's two groups. They're sensing rivalry between each other and they illustrate that sometimes God's own children can disagree. I remember Walter Martin, when he was alive, would say to me from time to time, I knew him because he came and spoke here, he said, "If you find two people that agree on everything, one of them is not thinking." That's true, isn't it? Two human beings, they may share many things in common, but they're not going to agree on every point of life. And it's the same with God's children as well. The church is not a society of perfect people. Now we know that but you'd be surprised how many younger people get so disillusioned, younger Christians I mean, doesn't matter the age. But they expect to find among the church perfection and they're disillusioned. They go from one church to another church to another church in hopeless search for the perfect church. But the church is not a society of perfect people. It's a society of redeemed people who express their spirituality through their own imperfect personality. That's the way it is.
Dr. Bob Cook was the president of Youth for Christ and he cleverly said, "God reserves the right to use people who disagree with you." John's disciples, Jesus' disciples--they're not seeing eye-to-eye right now. God's using them both. Now I can hear some people thinking, "Yeah, but we're supposed to get along perfectly. I mean, after all, we're the family of God." That's my point exactly. Ever been on a family vacation? Hey, I grew up going from California to Minnesota in the summer in a Rambler station wagon without air conditioning. Four boys in the back, Mom and Dad driving. It was a mess. We loved each other but boy, did we fight. Now, we find that even in the Bible. In Genesis 13, you have the herdsmen of Abraham and the herdsmen of Lot and there's a disagreement. That's family--disagreement. We come to Genesis 31; we have Jacob and Laban, nephew and uncle, having a confrontation. That's family. We have Genesis 37, Joseph and his own brothers--a confrontation. That's family. When we get to the New Testament and we see the spiritual family, we come to these twelve disciples and they argued more than once who would be the greatest in the kingdom. We come to the book of Acts and we find that Peter the apostle and Paul the apostle had a disagreement about the Law. It surfaces in the book of Galatians. In Acts chapter 15, we have the Jerusalem Council at odds with each other as to the merits and meaning of salvation. We have in the very same chapter Paul and Barnabas having such a disagreement, the contention was so sharp between them, that they split company. Now that is reality. That's reality. Don't get the idea that when Christians hang around each other that it's always--that they speak in soft sanctuary tones and music plays in the background, going, "Awww." We who have walked with Christ and each other for some time know that to be true.
Now, sometimes such disagreements are carnal. And frankly, stupid. Would you not agree that the controversy in the Corinthian church¬--remember what Paul wrote about. One says, "I'm of Paul." One says, "I'm of Apollos." Another says, "I'm of Cephas." Then there was this super-spiritual group who thought they were better than anybody, "Oh no, we're just of Christ." And Paul writes to them and says, "You're all carnal!" So there's, there's a possibility of such disagreements being just carnal and wrong and downright stupid. I read a newspaper article. Get this: A group of firefighters in Ft. Worth, Texas were arrested because the firefighters deliberately set over 40 fires. The firemen set 40 fires. When they were caught and they were asked why they did it, here was their response: "We had nothing to do. And we just like seeing the red lights flash and the bells clang." Now there's some people that are like that. They just like--they don't have anything to do and they want to hear controversy and see things stirred up. And they stir it up, and it's wrong. Then there are occasions when it's not carnal, it's corrective. And when it's corrective, it is caring, it is loving. There is a time for Christians to put their foot down and to fight. Sometimes we need to vehemently disagree when there is false teaching that would undermine the very fabric of the Christian truth. We come against that. And the Bible even says we should. In Jude verse 3, "Put up a good fight," or "Fight hard for the faith that was given to the holy people of God." But that's the truth and we see it displayed here. God's kids can sometimes disagree.
There's something else on the heels of that that we also find. Not only can sometimes God's kids disagree, they can compete with one another. A group of servants for Christ competing with each other instead of seeing a complement to one another. That's what's going on with John the Baptist's disciples. They have a very human reaction. They see Jesus' thing, gig, growing larger than theirs and they love John. They're loyal to John. And they're making it about Jesus versus John. A very human reaction. And why is that? Well, John the Baptist spent so many years in preparation, in isolation, and then he came down to the Jordan River and started preaching and baptizing, and crowds of people gathered around him, people from every strata of society, from Jerusalem, from Judea, even Herod liked to listen to him. People were saying such things like, "This guy is so wonderful, he must be like Elijah the prophet reincarnated." All of that and now another star is rising higher than that. That's Jesus. More publicity, more notoriety, along with more controversy. That's the competition. And John's disciples feel very personal about it. Now it's unfortunate but it is true. Do you know that as far back as Paul the apostle, do you know that people around Paul saw Paul as competition? Doesn't that sound weird? Why would anybody want to compete or get mad at Paul? But Paul writes from the Roman prison to the Philippian church in chapter one, verses 15-16. I'll paraphrase it; remember it as best I can. He said: "Some preach Christ out of envy and strife, and others preach Christ out of goodwill. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds." In other words: "They want to make my stay in prison worse than it is. They just want to stir things up." Boy, that's contemporary stuff. We are a competitive society, and everyone in ministry ought to study John chapter 3 and Philippians 1 because that is so real.
I read something this week that sort of shocked me. Um, there's a seminary back in the east, a professor of homiletics, that's preaching at the seminary, said that he gives to his students, he has at least in the past, given them a test every year. And it's a scientifically designed word association test. You know, "I'll say a word and first word, you write it down or say it." It was designed to see what kind of thoughts these seminarians were thinking. He discovered, boy, there's a lot of bitterness and resentment in these kids. For instance, he would give them the word truck driver and they would associate immediately with that: lazy. And they listed several different groups of people, and he was shocked at their response. And so he said and I quote, "Very often those who go into the ministry are negative and highly competitive people." Well, we see that illustrated even with John's own disciples who are saying what they're saying and feeling what they're feeling with Jesus. Now we get, I think, to the best part. We go from the honest struggle to the humble servant. In other words, now is John the Baptist's response to all this. And you're going to discover something. John the Baptist has four things in proper order. Number one, he has the proper theology. Look at verse 27: "John answered and said, 'A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.'" Now that's a high view of God, is it not? Here's John the Baptist hearing what his disciples are telling him, "Jesus' church is growing bigger than yours, John." And John says, "You know what? God is sovereign. No man can receive anything unless God gave it to him." How many of you believe that? How many of you believe that God is powerful enough to run the whole universe? Okay. How many of you believe God is powerful enough to run your own life? Okay good. Because you know what that means? This is what it means. If somebody else is displaying superior gifts or is more successful, another brother and sister, you know why? God gave it to them. That's why. If you believe that, that's what it means. God gave it to them. Isn't that great? I mean, isn't that what we pray for? "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Okay, if we pray that and we believe that, then why are we so surprised when it happens or mad when it happens? And here's why. Because it didn't happen to us quite the way we wanted it to happen. They got more.
I love John's response. The best way to evaluate any other Christian's success, whether they have a nicer home or a bigger business or they have a more significant status or a bigger family or a prettier cat or whatever it might be, this is the way to see it, this is the lens to view that through. God gave it to them. And I'll tell you why this is so important. Because it means if you're on the end of being the blessed person, you can't brag. It was a gift. "Well you know, it happened because I was so faithful." No! It has nothing to do with you. God just is so good, He gave it to you. Listen to what Paul said. 1 Corinthians 4, verse seven: "What makes you better than anyone else? What do you have that God hasn't given to you? And if all that you have is from God then why do you boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?" That's a great view. That's John's view--a high view of God. He is sovereign and nothing escapes His notice. Do you believe that nothing escapes God's notice in your life? Do you believe that nothing escapes God's notice in your brother or sister's life? Can you rest in that? Can you let stuff go? Can you be content with that? Do you know how revolutionary it is to believe this? God gave it to them. It means I don't have to worry about all of God's other kids. I don't have to worry about all the other ministries. It's between God and them. So number one, he had a proper theology.
Number two, he has a proper understanding. Here's John saying, "I know my calling, I know my role, I know my limitations." Verse 28: "You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'" Now I would just say that John the Baptist has a really good self-image. He knows who he is; he knows who he's not. He's not the Christ. He's looking at Jesus and he goes, "That, that guy right there? That's my cousin. But I know something about my cousin. He's God and I'm not. He's Christ and I'm not. And I'm okay with that. I know what I'm called to; I know what my role is; I know what my limitations are." And, and in knowing, I tell you, there's, again, a tremendous freedom in knowing and being content with who you are. You don't have to be anybody else. You don't have to be uber-servant. You can just be who you are. You don't have to be faster than a speeding bullet. You don't have to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But here's the problem. Our society loves that kind of stuff--applauds the overachiever. You know what God loves? God loves people who know their limits, know their callings, know their gifts, but also know what their gifts aren't and can say, "You know what? I'm not God. I can't fix that. God can but I know my limits."
Ju- let me just speak to a moment about gifts, spiritual gifts. In the New Testament there's three places, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, that has a list of spiritual gifts, right? And it's not a gift--it's several different gifts. And the idea that we get from that little list, one of the things, is that God must love variety. There's not a, a single way. There's many different expressions. There's many different assortments of people and gifts and the combination thereof that makes it beautiful. And, by the way, even if two people have the same spiritual gift, it comes out different. Because the Bible says not only are there different gifts, but there's different administrations of the same gift. So, eh, here's what it means. If you were to take two people, let's say you give a text of scripture to Chuck Swindoll and you give the same text of scripture to somebody like Raul Ries, and you have 'em preach on it. Two different sermons, man. Two completely different ways of seeing things, both powerful, both good, both called, both anointed, both different. Same way with evangelism. Billy Graham can stand before thousands of people and not bat an eye and just powerfully say, "And you come to Christ now," and people will do it. You put another person in that podium facing a stadium filled with people and they won't be able to say a word. They'll just--heuuhhhhh--melt. Take that same person, one-on-one with another human being, like knocking on the door. There's some people who couldn't stand in front of an audience of people, but they can knock on a door and the door opens and they can share with that person Christ. Not everybody can do that. A lot of us knock on the door and say, "God, please don't let anybody be home. I hate this." But you take that person and he can, over a period of time, build a relationship with somebody, a colleague, and over time share powerfully. Same gift, different expression.
I'm gonna read something to you out of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 12. Don't bother turning to it. It's a different translation, it's, uh, it's um, uh, the New Testament as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in his translation called The Message. But listen to this as I read it to you. Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 12, "You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts--limbs, organs, cells. But no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body. That's exactly the same with Christ. I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant and not less. A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different, but smaller, parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot says, 'I'm not elegant like Hand embellished with rings. I guess I don't belong to this body,' would that make it so? If Ear said, 'I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive, I don't deserve a place on the head,' would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all Eye, how could it hear? If it was all Ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where He wanted it." Mark that. Let that sink in. "Right where He wanted it." So the spiritual gifts, in a spiritual body, the church, are like physical parts in our physical body. Every now and then, somebody gets the idea, "Well, um, if I, uh, am really good at exercising this spiritual gift, maybe somebody in leadership should recognize that and place me in a higher gift. So here I am, I'm really faithful. I'm gonna, I'm gonna get involved and, and, and exercise the gift of helps. I hope somebody notices that so I can have, like, the gift of prophecy next month." Do you know what that's like? That's like a kneecap saying, "Hey, if I'm a really good kneecap could I work my way up to becoming an elbow? I just want to work a little bit higher up the scale." Or, or a lung saying, "If I'm really faithful at being a lung, could I have more exposure eventually?" Yeah, if you wanna die I suppose you could. But it's best to just function in the unction, in what gift God has given for you, for us, to enjoy. So that's, that's the second.
Here's the third: proper attitude. John the Baptist has the proper attitude. And here's the attitude of, of not being bitter, not being angry, being joyful that he's participating in the process. Verse 29, look what he says: "He who has the bride is the bridegroom [that's Jesus]; but the friend of the bridegroom [that's John], who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled." It's a wedding illustration. Now let me give you a little bit of a background. The friend of the bridegroom is like the ancient equivalent of the best man. Ever been a best man, anybody here been a best man at a wedding? Okay. In those days, the best man, the friend of the bridegroom, he arranged the whole wedding. That was his job. He arranged it all and he was the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom. Now according to William Barclay, the friend of the bridegroom had one special duty and that was to guard the bridal chamber and to let no false lover in. He would only open the door when in the dark he heard the bridegroom's voice and recognized it. When he did, he was glad and he went his way rejoicing for his task is complete. What John the Baptist is saying is, "I'm the best man at the wedding and I'm so happy that my friend, my cousin, who is also my Lord, is getting the bride."
You know, when I was the best man at my friend's wedding, I didn't stand there seething. I didn't go, I'm so jealous. I'm so hateful right now. My friend--I wish I had that woman. That'd be like sickness to think that. He's happy for him. And John the Baptist is also filled with joy. That's the proper attitude toward anybody else who's blessed, anyone else who is used by God, anyone else who is successful. To rejoice in their accomplishments just like a best man would rejoice at a wedding. By the way, also in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the human body. This is what he says: "If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part of the body is honored, the whole body, all of the other members, are also honored with it." In the Old Testament, there's a great story of Moses going up to Mount Sinai and back and on one occasion he goes up with seventy of the elders and they come back down. When they're coming back down, there's two guys that start prophesying. Their names are given. Eldad and Medad start prophesying in the camp. Well, Joshua doesn't like that. He thinks, "You know what? Moses is the guy that's supposed to be the spokesman around here, not you two jokers." So he goes to Moses and he goes, "Uhh Moses, these two guys are prophesying in the camp. Stop them!" That's what he said. Even Joshua got caught up into this nonsense. Hey, I want you to listen to Moses' response. He said, "Joshua, are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all of God's people were prophets and that the Spirit of God was on all of them." Isn't that a beautiful response? That's the response of John the Baptist. "I'm just the friend of the bridegroom. I'm so happy that this is happening." I'm sure his disciples were going, "Huh?"
An here's the fourth proper thing: there was a proper relationship. Look at verse 30. It really is the best, one of the greatest, verses in Scripture and the best one of what John said. Verse 30: "He must increase [or go on growing, literally], but I must decrease." More of Him, less of me. Say that with me: more of Him, less of me. Now say it like you mean it: more of Him, less of me. That's good stuff. You know, that is the cure. That is the antidote for self-focused living. There's so much of that today. "What about me? What about my needs?" And see, John's disciples were trying to make it all about John. "John, Jesus and His gang--they're getting more people!" And John is saying, "Would you quit making this about me? This is not about me. This is about Him. More of Him, less of me." It's a beautiful, beautiful solution. When William Carey, that great missionary to India was dying, he turned to his friend, he said, "When I'm gone, don't speak about William Carey. Speak about William Carey's Savior." That's the attitude of John the Baptist. Now, John's statement is also a statement of, of divine necessity. He must increase. This has to happen, boys, because I'm here simply as the herald. My job, my role, was the forerunner of the Messiah. I, I pointed the way but guess what? He's here. And so now that the King has come, the herald doesn't need to be around. There's no sense that people hang around the herald when the King is here. He must increase, I must decrease. It's sort of like the sun and the moon. The moon is great, but when the sun comes up in the morning, the moon doesn't need to hang around and compete. It needs to go away and let the sun take over. And John is happy. "He must increase, His sun must rise, and I must diminish."
So here's my question: could it be that you're dealing with something similar? That you're being eclipsed by somebody else in your, uh, family, uh, in your peer group, at the office, other brothers and sisters, they're eclipsing you, they're more successful than you are? How do you handle that? We realize there's a sovereign God who gives everybody whatever He thinks they should have. I can handle that. Number two, to recognize the limitations of my own gifts and be content to function therein. Number three, to be joyful that you're just part of the process, that God uses any of us at all. And finally, to say, it's not about me. More of Him. More of Him and much, much, much less of me.
I want to conclude this morning by reading something. I don't know who wrote it, the author is anonymous, I think that even makes it better, um, because it's called "Dying to Self" and you've heard that illustration before, that we should die to ourselves. Here's a question: What does that mean? Here's what it means. "When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught and you sting and you hurt with insult or oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, that's dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, when your advice is disregarded, when your opinions are ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger in your heart or even defend yourself, but you take it in patient, loving silence, that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any annoyance, when you can stand face-to-face with waste extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it, that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in a conversation or record your own good works or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper, and you have, and to have his needs met and you can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy or question God while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances, that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart, that is dying to self."
And that just proves how far we have to grow. And you know what? God will let us grow and God is committed and patient that we would grow and come to that wonderful freeing position: it's all about Him. It's really not about any of us.
Heavenly Father, John's example is so pure and so stellar. And perhaps this is why Jesus said he was the greatest man ever born. So humble, knew his place, knew that he was simply a servant and he had a role--it was a significant role, but it had a beginning and it had an end. And he was so happy to see Jesus glorified, and people coming to Him. Lord, I pray that we would also be of the same mindset, that He would increase while we, more and more, as we grow, decrease, that we would grow down, to show that we have grown up. In Jesus' name, amen.