Jesus Must Become Greater, We Must Become Less
John 3:22-30 NIV
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised. Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptised. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – look, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
Some of John the Baptist’s disciples developed an argument with a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. When they returned they reported to John that Jesus was also baptising (though it was Jesus’ disciples who were baptising as mentioned later in John 4) and everyone was going to him.
John’s disciples didn’t seem pleased that everyone was going to Jesus despite hearing from John’s testimony that Jesus is the Messiah. As they were still calling Jesus “that man” instead of “the Messiah”, it is apparent that they had yet to believe Jesus is the Messiah, although John had already previously told them that. In fact, they seemed jealous for the sake of John. Thus, John explained to them again that he was not the Messiah, and that he was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.
John did not appear too worried that they had not acknowledged Jesus as the Christ yet. After all, Jesus was still around and had only started his ministry. We took time to know Jesus and accept Him as our Lord too. Many of our friends may come to church and desire to make some changes to their life, but they don’t really know or fully believe in Christ yet. Just as John had to reiterate what he had previously taught his disciples and allow them time to grow their convictions about that Jesus is the Messiah, we need to do likewise with the friends we’re helping.
John (the gospel writer) highlighted John the Baptist’s response to his disciples. He sensed the competitiveness of his disciples towards Jesus. The baptism that Jesus and his disciples did was similar to John’s; it was for people who decided to repent of their sins.
It was different from the ceremonial washing that they had argued with a certain Jew about, a symbolic purification ceremony (for example, for people who have recovered from skin-disease).
It was also different from the baptism that is done AFTER Jesus’ death (which we do now too), which is to participate in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4).
It is so easy for people to fall prey to their pride, or get embittered when someone is doing better than them. This can happen in the Kingdom of God too. John’s response to his disciples, “He must become greater; I must become less”, showed the strength of his character. How do we perceive ourselves as we serve our Lord? Are we actually serving ourselves in the name of the Lord? Our hearts are frail and deceptive. Perhaps that was an added reason why John reiterated over and over again that he was not the Messiah – to keep himself grounded.
In the prologue of this gospel (John 1:23), John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” John’s mission started alone in the wilderness. He gained followers after that, but they gradually flocked over to Jesus (as he intended). Are we willing to be that lone voice “in the wilderness”? How do we feel about pouring out our heart and soul to build something for someone else? Would we start doubting our spiritual purpose if we achieve nothing physical?
John told his disciples that “a person can receive only what is given them from heaven”. This demonstrated the depth of his understanding of who he was and what he can do with the capacity that God had given him. He was clear to his hearers that he was not the Messiah. He was here to do God’s will and happy to serve his purpose.
Let’s be happy to be just God’s servant. It should all be about Jesus. He must become greater, we must become less.
Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit. Andy joined the Central Christian Church in 1990.