Summary: John the Baptist isn’t threatened by Jesus’s ministry because everything is for His glory!
We’re studying through the book of John and we’ve come now to the latter part of chapter three. This is the place where John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It’s a wonderful statement, and it does address the subject of humility, but I want to keep it in its proper context as we study it today. The primary purpose of John 3:30 isn’t so much to promote humility as it is to promote the glory of Christ. The reason John must decrease is because he is not the One the world has been anxiously awaiting. It is, therefore, perfectly natural that he should slide out of view or dim in popularity; the One they had been looking for was coming right behind him!
So, in order to build up to this point let’s start with the setting. Jesus called His disciples, turned the water into wine, drove the money-changers out of the temple, and spoke with Nicodemus at night:
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24For John was not yet cast into prison.
This verse is a little confusing because it sound like Jesus and His disciples went to be baptized by John, but they were in Judea and John was in Aenon. He had gone there because there was plenty of water and he had so many people wanting to be baptized. But now he has some competition, doesn’t he? Jesus has his disciples baptizing (John 4:2) just a short distance from John. Well, naturally this might be a point of conflict and the devil always has some folks he can incite to get things moving:
25Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.
We don’t know too many of the details but this was probably a question of the Law. The Jews washed everything with water and it was a big part of their religious ceremony, but then John comes saying something else: The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; 4As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. 7Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 15And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 16John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 18And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people (Lk. 3:2-18).
“Purification” is more than washing. And apparently the Jews don’t agree with this and they’re frustrated so they hatch a plan to bring John down:
26And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.