3:22-24 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.  John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized  (for John had not yet been put in prison).
- Here we see that the narrative has moved away from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and onto another event/situation in the ministry of Christ.
- Part of what we see here is that there are dual baptisms going on here. The ministry of John and the ministry of Christ are overlapping to a degree.
- One thing we should also note is that Christ Himself wasn’t baptizing anyone, but that it was His disciples that were baptizing (John 4:2). John Piper says that he suspects this is for the same reason that Paul didn’t baptize too many people because of potential errors in the thinking of the new Christians. He didn’t want people to think that if they didn’t get baptized by Christ it wasn’t the “real thing” etc.
3:25-26 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.  And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
- What a fascinating thing to interject here. All of a sudden the disciples of John were arguing about purification and then in verse 26 they seem to move on and start talking about the ministry of Christ and how people seem to be leaving John’s ministry and going to Jesus’ ministry. So it leaves you scratching your head because you might wonder, “what in the world does purification have to do with anything? And why didn’t they finish talking about the discussion over purification?” It just seems like an odd piece of information to stick in there all by itself.
- John Piper has some good ideas on why this is so. He thought that perhaps there was a confusion over whether or not John’s baptism was “working” since all these people were getting baptized and then going over to Jesus’ ministry. You have a purification issue John! Or so they seemed to be saying…
- Piper says that there are parallels between this and what John writes in Rev. 21:9 which says in the latter part of the verse (an angel speaking to John), “‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’” The church will experience the purification work of the perfect Lamb. Piper also cites Eph 5:25-27 which says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
- So John doesn’t answer the purification issue directly but indirectly by saying that the bride of Christ will be purified by the bridegroom who is the perfect and spotless sacrificial lamb. The marriage picture is the same – we die for our wives, we love them, we sanctify them in the Word.
3:27-29 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.
- Verse 27 is almost a rebuke – he’s basically saying, “nothing that is happening now wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t in God’s will and if He hadn’t ordained it to be happening.”
- Note “who stands and hears him” is significant. This is the voice of the Lord. This is the life-giving power of God in audible form. This is the voice that called out “Lazarus!” from the tomb. This is the voice that John had been waiting for!
- “No body would be going to Jesus if heaven weren’t giving them to Jesus” Piper says.
- Look at how incredibly happy John is that Christ is the one who is getting the glory, and this is causing him to “rejoice greatly.” Let’s not miss this. He is so happy because his ministry is coming to a close, and he’s so happy because that means that Christ’s ministry is about to bloom. Not only is he rejoicing, but his joy is “complete.” John finds his ultimate purpose in his exaltation of Christ. This is what makes him ultimately happy, ultimately joyful.
3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
- What an amazing statement. Can you say and can I say truly, “He must increase, while I, PJ, must decrease.” It is this decreasing that is giving him joy. Jesus commands that we treasure Him over everything else in our lives. Certainly His work on the cross and His perfect life demands this from us.
- Piper paraphrases it this way, “When Jesus becomes more in the world and I become less in the world, my joy goes up.” Piper continues by saying that John’s response is “a joyful response to God’s sovereign self-exaltation.”
- You see, for John the Baptist, his joy increased as Jesus’ ministry increased. His joy increased as his own worldly value and ministry decreased. The more it was more about Jesus the more joy he was going to have because that means that the bridegroom was coming, and what could be better for the bride!
- We celebrate Easter today, I am reminded of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.’ There is a line in that hymn which mirrors the excitement that John expressed here, which calls Jesus the “Dear Desire of every nation” and the “Joy of every longing heart.”
- You see, we need all of us, for Christ to increase in our lives and for us to decrease. Paul recognized the same thing when he said “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9) and again when he says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).
- And Christ Himself understood this joy – that is why He was able to endure the cross and the shame. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…”
- So how do we find real joy – and I mean real happy, thrilled, hair-raising joy – in Christ the way that John is describing here? I would argue that in order for us to find real joy, life transforming joy in Christ we must learn to value Christ above all other things. John understood the real value of Christ, and so he eagerly looked for Him and was thrilled that he could “decrease.”
- The thinking goes something like this according to Christ, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).
- For John, everything he had, his entire life was wrapped up in this ministry and now it was leaving him, and what was his response? He was thrilled! Why? Because he had already sold everything, he didn’t want or need followers, he wanted and needed Christ. Christ was the object of supreme worth to him. He had found his treasure. So when his disciples came to him with these issues of purification and of baptism and how some were leaving to go join Jesus, John’s reaction was one of joy.
- Here’s how it applies to your life. You have found Jesus. But you may not be recognizing the fact that He is the only thing that truly valuable to you. Oh sure, intellectually you understand that because its in the Bible that Jesus is good, and because He saved you and you’re a Christian and so on. But is your life designed and structured around the fact that Jesus is THE most valuable thing in your life. Have you sold off everything that gets between you and Christ? Have do done everything to grasp that pearl of great price? Or are you still reaching for the world’s brass ring? When we internalize this truth and apply His supreme value to every aspect of our lives, we realize very quickly that we are idolatrous people. We have lost our first love (Rev. 2:4).
- Christ’s value in our lives is brought home to us this weekend by the remembrance of His suffering and of His victory over the grave. I hope that we let these truths change us so that when we encounter people fleeing us, and life’s pleasantries falling away, we can still say with John, “this joy of mine is now complete!”
In summary: We must learn to make Christ the highest priority in our lives, because He is worth it. He is infinitely worth it. We must understand that He is a treasure that is far more valuable than any other idol demanding our attention. He is more worthy than our friends. He is more worthy than our spouse. He is more worthy than our career. He is more worth than our children and the taxicab service we’ve setup to drive them from activity to activity. Furthermore, when we make Him our first and most coveted object of desire and affection, we are promised that He will automatically take care of every other need we have (Matt. 7:7-10). We need to start living our lives as if He was really the most important thing.