John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.(John 3:27-30)
The Gospel of John chapter three is constructed in such a way as to make a specific theological point. There is a continuity of thought, from Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus , to the testimony of John the Baptist. It is written, that “By the mouth of two or three witnesses everything shall be confirmed”.
This additional vignette of John the Baptist’s words to his disciples serves to reinforce the main points of Jesus and Nicodemus’ discussion. The background is the concern John’s disciples had, when they perceived that Jesus’ ministry was eclipsing John’s in scope and influence.
And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.(John 3:26)
The attitude John displays in response to this concern of his disciples, about his ‘ministry’, is not only a correct and God centered personal response, but it serves as a model, to the broader spiritual posture we all must assume, in order to enter into the new birth.
John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “1Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist…”, is going to show us the way to look at ourselves and most importantly, how to look at Jesus. He models to us te very attitudes that one must have to be born again. Let us receive his words of wisdom;
* A man can have nothing unless it is given him of Heaven. In the immediate context, John is responding to the fear of his disciples that Jesus ministry of preaching repentance is overshadowing their own.
John’s answer goes far beyond that however. All that really matters to any of us, is what God has given to us. Grace is what matters, not works, the gift of God shall last, not human accomplishment. Spiritually speaking, whatever it is that any of us has accumulated through our own efforts, amounts to nothing. Only what God gives is of consequence.
Back to the original context, John is assuring his disciples,” God is giving those crowds to Jesus, just as for a brief moment, God gave us those crowds who thronged to my preaching”. Even so in the bigger picture, the only real issue of eternal consequence is,,”Have you been given to Jesus?”.
Jesus would soon tell a crowd of followers on the verge of abandoning Him the same thing, saying,
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.(John 6:37-39)
Confidence in the sovereignty of God, is what is being expressed here. God is the determining factor in the new birth, yea in all things. A man has nothing except what God gives him.Jesus would say something similar in his trial before Pilate, who was astonished that Jesus didn’t beg for his own life before him,
And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.(John 19:9-11)
* I am the friend of the Bridegroom- What is the point of the best man at a wedding? Is the best man the one everyone is waiting for? Is he the man of the hour? Of course not, the best man is the friend of the Bridegroom, the one designated to make the preparations for the wedding, to gather the people together, make sure the Bride has everything she needs to be prepared for the wedding.
Once the groom enters the room, the best man recedes into the background. He knows he has done his part, and that it’s not about Him, it is about the groom! He is happy for the attention that the groom receives. So it is with those of us who witness for Jesus. It isn’t about us, everything is about Jesus. The church isn’t an end in itself, it is a means to a greater end, for the Bridegroom comes!
* He must increase, and I must decrease -
The Bible begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding. At the first wedding ever, a man with a scar in his side is presented a bride, (the scar was because part of his side had been taken out) , and utters a prophecy, “for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they two shall be one flesh“.
At the last wedding, which is the ultimate one, the “marriage supper of the Lamb”, Jesus , the groom, also has a scar in his side, as well as in his hands, for he has been pierced and was crucified to purchase his bride. His bride, the church is being prepared even now.
Marriage is not for the selfish. The bride cannot be a “feminist”, in the sense of modern feminism, unwilling to let go of SELF, nor to take on the new name, holding on to her own “personhood”, identity and career. She must let go of her own life, and be willing to take on the life of the groom.
The new birth teaches us that Self must no longer be all important, self-righteousness, self ambition, self-esteem, self-identity, self discovery, self-expression, self-realization etc. . All of the things that our toxic culture is telling us is so important, the new birth flies in the face of. One cannot have it unless they are to the point of self-renunciation.
John the Baptist is talking about far more than a ministerial comparison, he is giving us the mindset required of on in order to receive the new birth. Jesus must increase. His thinking, His words, his works his outlook, is what counts, not my own. His righteousness alone pleases the Father, He alone is worthy of all of my affection, praise, pursuit. Jesus must increase indeed!
These are the attitudes, and the outlook of those who would receive the heavenly gift of the birth from above.