Summary: All witnessing points to Jesus and away from ourselves
It’s Not the Baptist’s Church
Rev. Mark A. Barber
Last Week, we saw how Nicodemus was witnessed to by Jesus who knows the hearts of all people. The whole gospel is a witness to the person and work of Christ. We saw in the earlier sermon “How to be a Good Baptist” how John the Baptist was specifically raised up to bear witness to Jesus. In the sermon “Whoa, Man of the Night” we see Jesus bearing witness to Himself. So whether others are bearing witness, or Jesus is bearing witness, the gospel is all about Jesus.
We have already discussed much about the humility of John the Baptist. The following he had was not for his own glory. Rather it was John the Baptist’s responsibility, like any good pastor, to bring the sheep he was entrusted to Christ. John had already lost two of his disciples to Jesus when he bore the witness “Behold the Lamb of God.” And from what we read today, he is quickly losing his influence over the people of Israel. One of his disciples had gotten into a dispute with another Jew who apparently had noticed that Jesus was gathering larger crowds than John. It seems that that disputant was trying to drive a wedge between John and Jesus.
This presented quite a temptation. Many others have from pride risen to the bait. There is something in all of us that drives us to be king of the hill. Here was a person that John had personally baptized. In human terms, he was younger than John. John’s career was going downhill and he was about to be replaced in the ministry by someone younger.
But as we have already noted, John knew why God had sent him, to intentionally obsolete himself. His one task was to announce the groom to his bride. After that he was to get out of the way. He reminded his disciples about the earlier testimony he had made about Jesus which they had all heard. The Apostle John wants to remind us too, as John, next to Jesus, is the example of how to bear witness to Christ in the world. John the Baptist will be mentioned once more in the gospel as a bright and shining lamp. But John was about to be thrown into prison for his witness to the truth and angering Herod Phillip and Herodias concerning their illicit marriage. John, like Jesus, many of the Old Testament prophets, and many countless Christians since have paid for their witness to the truth which comes from God, Jesus by bearing witness to Himself, and the others for bearing witness to Jesus. What a way to decrease so that Christ might increase. Our challenge then is to be faithful unto death, if that should be the way God has chosen that we might glorify God. Then we will have the opportunity to “enjoy Him forever”.
In verse 31, we encounter the testimony about Christ Himself. It is sometimes hard to determine where John’s characters leave off speaking and where the Apostle Johns commentary begins. For example, in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, some commentators see John 3:16 and following as John’s commentary about the person and work of Jesus, while others see it all coming from Jesus directly. In this passage, some see John the Baptist ending with the “He must increase, and I must decrease” and the Apostle John picking up in verse 32. Although we can’t be sure, I would suggest that this is interesting speculation, but that it does not materially make a difference. The red letters of the Bible are no more inspired than the black ones, considering that there were no distinction of colors in the original text. As Paul reminds Timothy, “all” or “the entirety” of Scripture is God breathed and profitable. What Paul, Peter, the Apostle John, or John the Baptist says about Jesus is as equally true and valid as if Jesus said it Himself.
What is important then, other than Jesus who is both messenger and message, it is not the witness that is important, it is the message. Previously, we remember that John when asked about who he was answered that he “was a voice”. The rest of the details did not matter. If one did not know John personally, it was of small consequence, so long as one heard and believed the testimony he bore. The Apostle John is the same way as he does not even identify himself in the gospel. What matters is the testimony he bore of Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing one might have eternal life through His name.
So let us look at the testimony about Jesus here, whether it is John the Baptist or John the Apostle saying this. There is a contrast made between human testimony and Divine testimony. A true witness can only give testimony based upon what one has experienced. Human beings at their best can only interpret what they have seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, or acquired through smell, taste, and touch. Human beings in and of themselves are incapable of interpreting reality which lies beyond the realm of experience. This does not mean that there is not reality beyond their experience, but that in order to testify about it, it needs to be brought into our experience and knowledge. The greatest of intellects from ancient Greece unto today have tried to speculate about what lies beyond experience and have not agreed at all. For example, the Greek philosopher, Parmenides, tried to describe the unity of reality by saying “All is static”. Another Greek philosopher responded with “All is in flux”. The only thing in common to their witness of reality is the word “all”. Otherwise, these two testimonies absolutely contradict each other. One or both must be wrong, but they both cannot be right. Nothing can be established in court where there is such a contradiction of witnesses.