Summary: As ministers together in the gospel of Christ, if we fall into arguing amongst ourselves, we have lost focus and we are fighting the wrong enemy. We are all on the same team. Sometimes small things need to be let go in favor of confronting larger issues.
As we have followed the new disciples of Jesus, we have seen a number of important lessons taught and demonstrated. These early lessons are from the book of John:
â€¢ Jesus changes your perspective
â€¢ Jesus gains your faith as a friend
â€¢ Jesus spends time with family
â€¢ Jesus introduces us to His whole character, even that which is hard to understand
I think this episode belongs in the next level of discipleship because these disciples were possibly some who were still in the process of choosing to follow Jesus instead of John. Jesus leaves it to John to address this dispute.
What is this dispute about?
On the surface it is over baptism and who should be allowed to do it. But I think this perspective reveals something more important about ministry disputes in general.
â€¢ Ministry disputes are more often about personality than about theology
â€¢ Ministry disputes usually ignore who ministry is really about
â€¢ Ministry disputes can be fueled or calmed by wise leadership
After Jesus spoke privately with Nicodemus, Jesus left the Galilee area and moved south along the river. He was working on the eastern side of the river.
22After 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 Johnâ€™s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, â€œRabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordanâ€”the one you testified aboutâ€”well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.â€
27To this John replied, â€œA man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, â€˜I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.â€™ 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 bridegroomâ€™s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.
31â€œThe 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. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for Godâ€™s wrath remains on him.â€
John 3:22-36 (NIV)
The placement of this ministry is important. Jesus was working in hostile territory. The region He was working in was populated by Gentiles and Samaritans. John was working in Samaria, and Jesus was on the other side of the River in the southern end of Decapolis - a hot bed of Gentile paganism. He was involved in serious cutting edge ministry. People went out there to find the prophet John who was working in Elijah’s old stomping grounds. Now Jesus is there too, but He has moved out of Jewish land and into Roman land.
This marks the beginning of Jesus’ actual work. He has been doing some localized teaching and calling the disciples. He has begun his miracle ministry, but it has not taken its fullest shape yet.
Many people are traveling to this area to find John. Apparently people think much as they do today. People tend to think that real spirituality is somewhere else. There is a spiritual experience to be found in a different place that cannot be found where I am now.
â€¢ In Biblical times people traveled to the Temple
â€¢ In the Dark Ages this gave rise to the tradition of pilgrimage to the Holy Land
â€¢ In modern times it is more likely to be associated with what people are doing in a particular place, so they go there to participate
People go to places like the American Southwest, The Christian monastery at Taize, France, Tibetan monasteries hoping to find what the people there have found. People in Jesus’ day were no different. People went out to the wilderness to find John and see what he was doing. What John told them was to go back to their lives and to do things differently.
But in the Jordan wilderness, the first ministry rivalry was taking place. The disciples of John were finding themselves embroiled in a controversy over baptism.