22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 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.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 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. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
One of the issues raised here was that essentially John was losing his followers, as they were all going to Jesus. You can imagine that John’s disciples that were still with him were a bit concerned as to what was going on. Seems like they were much like Jesus’ disciples, who though Jesus told them things directly, they did not seem to get it.
Verse 27 begins John’s response to this perceived problem. He begins by recognizing the giver of all things; in a sense saying, “they are not mine to lose. They do not belong to me.” “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” Saying, “from heaven” is a way of saying “from God.” So when John is “losing followers,” he recognizes the giver of all and is content. He’s fine with it. What was a problem for his disciples and this Jew, was not a problem for John the Baptist.
This is a great point of consideration for us in our own lives, as what John says here is transcendent: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” What good things do you have in your life? It was given to you by God. What knowledge and understanding of the truth do you have? It was given to you by God. So like John “losing” his followers, when you begin to “lose” things in your life – people, things – can you say with John, “He must increase, but I must decrease”? When you recognize that everything you have is given by God and can be gone in a moment, you can be okay, you can be content, when they are taken away. Much like Job, He gives and He takes away. Theology is very practical. A lot of this has to do with understanding who God is and understanding our place in the world. God is God who has every right to give and take according to His will, and we are but sinful creatures who deserve nothing but wrath for sin, yet we have received so much mercy and grace from God. So whatever we have or don’t have in this life, is okay, because He is God and we have Christ. When things are taken from us, and it just destroys us, more than it should, where it goes into sin, it is often because that person or thing had become a god to us. But when God is our God and Jesus is our Savior, whatever the pain or difficulty of loss, we have not lost our God, and we have not lost our Savior.
After grounding his response in the God-ness of God and the humanness of humans, John, then, in verse 28, reminds them of the testimony of what he had been preaching, and to which, they were witnesses to: that he was not the Christ, but he was sent before the Christ, to prepare the way, and point to the Christ. So in one sense he’s saying, “this should be no surprise that the crowds are going to Jesus, I testified to Him.” In another sense this is also a great validation of John’s preaching. They were witnesses to John’s testimony to Jesus Christ, pointing to Him and preparing the way. And now the crowds are beginning to shift from John to Jesus. This is the very thing that he preached and wanted to take place. John was not a liar. He was telling the truth.
So we saw in verse 27 that John grounded his response first in God. Then secondly, in verse 28, he continues his response based upon the hard cold objective facts of his testimony, to which there were more than enough of a biblical amount of witnesses to, to establish and confirm his testimony.
Now, here in verse 29, John gives a mini parable that describes this situation.He is giving a parabolic explanation of his joy that he has in this situation.
Beyond being a classic statement of humility, there are a couple ways that we can understand verse 30.
Jesus began preaching the kingdom of heaven while the Old Covenant was still in force, and there will still sacrifices being made after the resurrection of Christ, until AD 70. The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus was just a little snapshot of that larger theme of transition. It was now time for the Baptist to decrease, and the Messiah to increase.
Isaiah 9:6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Of the INCREASE…there will be NO END… I wonder if John the Baptist had this Scripture in mind when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” So the Old Testament prophets told us that the government, or the kingdom of Christ would be one that increases, but also Jesus Himself taught this in the New Testament. I will point you to Matthew 13:31-33 to see for yourself. The nature of the Kingdom of God is that it increases. So as Jesus comes preaching the Kingdom, it must now increase, and John must decrease.
Application: His increasing, our decreasing, completes joy and glorifies God.
Think about your own life, and how this principle applies to the Christian life. A Christian cannot be happy in sin, not with the true joy of the Lord. When we are full of ourselves, or full of our sin, our joy will be greatly diminished, because Jesus is diminished in our lives, in terms of communion and walk with Him. But when we decrease, and Jesus increases, our joy is made complete. In that situation we are essentially having our joy made complete because Christ is glorified in us, and then in turn, God is glorified when our joy is complete because Christ is glorified and exalted.
Jesus increased by “decreasing” (his humiliation, life, cross, etc.)
Think about this principle in the life of Jesus. In one sense he increased by “decreasing.”
This is how Jesus continues to increase in the world, by our decreasing (the martyrs, for example). When we are mocked, belittled, shot at, persecuted, imprisoned, and killed, we’re actually winning. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. And the thing is, we need to think that way, so that when those times come, we are not discouraged, and filled with despair, but we are hopeful, and confident in the promises of God. The problem is that most Christians don’t think that way. They don’t think that we are winning when Christians are being beaten in communist prison cells. But we are.
I think of the way that Doug Wilson tells the story of Christian martyrs Latimer and Ridley in 16th century England, as they are about to be burned at the steak for their faith, as the flames were kindled, Latimer said, ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as shall never be put out.” So they are about to be burned at the stake and their mindset was, “We’ve got them now.” They’re surrounded by an angry crowd and their mindset is, “We’ve got them right where we want them.” They knew and believed that their decreasing was the increasing of the church, the gospel, and the kingdom of Christ in the world. We increase by decreasing.
I think of the story of Gideon here (Judges 7). Gideon has his army together, and God tells him, “the people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me ,saying, ‘my own hand has saved me.’” So God has Gideon send about 22,000 of them home. Nope, the 10,000 left are still too many. God gives Gideon the water drinking test, and whittles Gideon’s army down to 300 men. That was the right amount not to be beat. They needed to decrease, and God increased.
Application of v. 30 principle: If we want to increase in joy, contentedness, etc. then we need to decrease, and Christ must increase.
You know the crazy thing about the gospel is that often times our sin doesn’t seem to be decreasing. There are times where it just increases more and more. And yet, in the gospel, where our sin abounds, God’s mercy abounds all the more. Our sins they are many, His mercy is more. Because Christ “decreased” at the cross, His mercy, grace, and forgiveness, increases all the more over our massive amount of sin. His grace, is more massive.
Because of that, He works in our lives, and by His grace and power, the presence of our sin, really can decrease. The glory of God’s saving grace in Christ is increased when His great mercy and grace overcomes a wildly profuse sinner, and the glory of God’s grace in Christ is also increased when His great mercy and grace, increases in a sinner’s life and decreased their sin.
Would you have the increase of Christ’s mercy and grace in your life?