Summary: John the Baptist pays tribute to Jesus; and in recording his words, John the Apostle pays tribute to him.
This portion of John’s gospel, when seen in context with surrounding narrative, at first may appear out of place. John has documented Jesus’ discourse with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, and early in the next chapter he records His conversation with the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well near Sychar.
The natural connection with these two interviews is the need of Jesus to pass through Samaria enroute to Galilee from Judea.
Almost as though a parenthetical thought, John reintroduces John the Baptist into his gospel account, and in so doing sheds bright light on the godly humility of this man of God, but also on the eternal authority of Jesus in keeping with the theme and focus of his gospel.
Let’s look closely at the facets of this jewel, and make practical application to our own relationship with the One to whom the Spirit was given without measure.
First let’s take note of verse 22, which places Jesus in Judea with His disciples. The wording is that He was baptizing, although chapter 4 verse 2 clarifies for us that it was actually Jesus’ disciples who were doing the baptizing, though under His authority (as has any minister of the gospel ever since). But more important to us, I believe, is the phrase “spending time with them (His disciples).”
That word “Spending”, translated “tarried” in the King James version, is the Greek word “Diatribo”. A rough, literal translation would be, “to stay by the way”. In modern vernacular we might say, “He spent quality time with them”. So before passing on to the primary focus of this sermon, let’s take note that in our course of Kingdom work (which can and will only be done as we follow His leading and guidance), there is always time to tarry and learn from Him; and the one who stays by the way with Jesus will find Jesus more than willing to stay by the way with him. Our Lord and His new followers were busy going about the Father’s business, and they would soon be on their way again, to a different place, to continue that work in both triumphs and trials. In the meantime though, (are you listening, preachers and teachers?) the continuance of the present work and preparation for future work would be fortified by “quality time” spent at the feet of the Master.
John was also continuing his ministry of baptizing for repentance. Filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, he continues to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and goes where he is sent; as the prophets before him (Isaiah 6:6-8) and the apostles after him (Acts 16:6-10).
I point out this subtle indication of his faithfulness to his Lord and his task, as a precursor to further testimony of these qualities as recorded for us by the gospel author.
Johnston ‘Cheney, in his book, “The Greatest Story”, calls this passage a “Tribute to Jesus”; and so it is; but we may also call it John the Apostle’s Tribute to John the Baptist. Let’s set the stage for the Baptist’s comments.
The ministry of John the Baptist was unique in all of history, for several reasons:
1. His ministry came ‘between the testaments’, so to speak. There had not been a prophet in Israel for 400 years. The voice of God had been silent to His people, and they longed for a Word from Him, as they also longed for the promised Deliverer (They got both in Christ; the Prophet of whom Moses spoke). So in a sense, John was an Old Testament Dispensation prophet, born at the proper time to usher in the New Testament Dispensation. In his left hand he held (and upheld) the Law and the Prophets, echoing their voice, and in the right hand he held the good news of impending fulfillment; not only of all the prophets spoke, but of God’s great plan for the ages.
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!”
To put this in a simpler and more worldly tone, his early ministry showed them the final reruns of last season, to refresh their minds and prepare them for the Fall Preview; which would usher in the new season. (OK, now all you TV guide readers are caught up)
2. The nature and purpose of his baptism were unlike any before or to come. The Jews (of all sects) had their ceremonial washings which for the most part were done on a daily basis, and for symbolic preparation for other forms of worship. John’s was a one-time baptism of repentance, to symbolize and testify of the heart’s preparation for the coming of the Holy One of Israel. Luke records for us in Chapter 7 of his gospel that the people “acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John”.