Summary: The nobility of John the Baptist submission to God’s plan for his life is contrasted with Lucifer’s ambitions for prominence. The value of a healthy appreciation for the sovereignty of God is considered.
A Glorious Decline
Fortifying the Foundations # 8
When we say the word “down”, what kind of thoughts go through your mind?—down and out, down under, down hearted, a downer. By and large “down” is considered negative. In contrast, “up” sounds real good.—up and coming, upper class, upwardly mobile. We associate the word “up” with increase in status and power. Advertisers promise to take you up with a product, not down. Employers promise to take you up the ladder, not down. This is the mindset of our society. It has always been the way the world thinks. It is in perfect accord with the human ego.
Before we get into our text, before we see the “Glorious Decline” of John the Baptist,
I want to paint a dark background of contrast from the word of God—
I. The Disastrous Ascent of Lucifer.
Isa 14:12-17 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground-mighty though you were against the nations of the world. 13For you said to yourself, "I will ascend to heaven and rule the angels. I will take the highest throne. I will preside on the Mount of Assembly far away in the north. 14I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High." 15But instead, you will be brought down to the pit of hell, down to its lowest depths. 16Everyone there will stare at you and ask, "Can this be the one who shook the earth and the kingdoms of the world? 17Can this be the one who destroyed the world and made it into a shambles, who demolished its greatest cities and had no mercy on his prisoners?" TLB
Long before God created man, this catastrophic event occurred. The archangel, Lucifer, rose up in rebellion against the Almighty God. The mystery of iniquity began. In verses 13 and 14 we find an attitude of self-promotion, ambition, self-aggrandizement—a rebellion and defiance of the sovereignty of God.
Throughout the history of mankind this spirit of self-promotion has worked havoc and produced horrific pain and suffering. The seductive promise of the serpent in the Garden of Eden was “...your eyes will open and you will be like God...” That was Satan’s promise to Eve. That same spirit drove Absalom to rebel against David. It caused Hitler to slaughter innocent Jews in the Holocaust—the lust for power and prestige. It is the spirit that motivated Saddam Hussein’s atrocities and attack upon neighbors.
How many marriages have been destroyed by a diabolical drive to get to “the top”? How many friendships have ended because of envy and jealousy? Prov 27:4 “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” NIV
Because of jealousy Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Because of envy religious rulers wanted Jesus killed.
There was Lucifer so near the throne of our majestic God—God so pure and so full of love and goodness. What caused the privileged archangel to rebel? "I will ascend ...(I will) rule... I will take the highest throne. I will preside ...I will climb to the highest heavens...(I will) be like the Most High." What was behind all that? —a discontentment with the plan of God, an insistence on having the prominence.
In our text this morning, we find some of that attitude in John’s disciples. Follow with me as we read John 3:22-35
“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They 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-well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." 27To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The 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. 30He must become greater; I must become less.31"The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” NIV