Summary: 3 Relationships, 3 Lessons to Learn
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now 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.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They 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." 27 To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ’I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The 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. 30 He 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. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him." John 3:22-36
Well having just spoken with Nicodemus in Jerusalem, Jesus now goes to the countryside and spends some time with His disciples. And what I want us to notice here is three relationships that are shown to us. There’s John’s disciples and the Jews (verses 22-26), there’s John and Jesus (verses 27-30), and finally there’s the Bride and Bridegroom (verse 29). Let’s notice what the Bible says about each relationship as we look at this passage together:
The first relationship is John’s disciples and the Jews, and this relationship is characterized by arguments and jealousy. Note what it says: 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They 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." Arguments and jealousy.
You see there is legalism in this relationship. They are arguing over the law and ceremonial tradition and religious washing. You can imagine the Jews, who have not submitted to baptism saying, “the law requires the washing of hands, and all utensils, and the cleansing of everything both before and after each meal,” and John’s disciples are like, “you know what really needs cleansing is your heart. You need to be washed from your sins.” And the Jews say, “we hold to the Law of Moses, and the law says…” And they are arguing and disputing, because wherever you have legalism you have arguing. Listen to what Paul writes to Titus:
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Titus 3:9
Now, what is legalism? Well it is focusing on the externals. These Jews were all about external cleansing, ceremonial washing. Jesus said this about them in Matthew 23:25:
25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence. Matthew 23:25
Legalism is externalism, wanting to clean someone up to look good on the outside. Christianity has been given to legalism down through the centuries. This past century had a huge focus on clothes, that men had to wear suits and women had to wear dresses, there was no card playing allowed, certainly no dancing. But do you know what you find in churches that are focused on the externals? Quarreling and jealousy. Legalism comes from people who have small hearts and young faith, whereas Christian love comes from those with large hearts and mature faith.
You know one thing I absolutely love about Jesus Christ? He cared for people’s hearts. If Jesus were sitting here with us today, He wouldn’t care what we wore or where we worked, or anything external. He would want to know how our hearts are. And whether we had quarreling and jealousy or love and unity. Whether we judged each other or loved each other. Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.