Summary: This sermon examines the life of John the Baptist as a model of servanthood and challenges the listener to look for those qualities in himself.
Introduction: One of the features of the Bible that I love is how people basically haven’t changed much in the past 6,000 years. Jn 3 shows that well. First, open to Mk 9:33ff, a scene 2 years later. Just kind follow along with me there.
The disciples are on the road to Capernaum, having an argument over who’s the greatest. Once they arrive, Jesus asks them what they’d been discussing, and they’re too embarrassed to admit it. But Jesus knows. He tells them that to be first meant they have to be willing to be last. He takes a child - someone who didn’t seem overly important to the disciples - and stands him next to Himself. He says whoever receives this child in His name receives Him as well; that to be the greatest, they have to be the servant of all.
It’s not Jesus’ first lesson to His disciples about being servants. John is there. He’s taking this in. He’d been a part of the argument about greatness. Remember, it was John and his brother who requested first class seats in the Kingdom of heaven. So, John’s response to this pretty well spells out the lack of servant attitude he was wrestling with: (v38) "Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." He’s not one of us...
Can you hear what he’s saying? “He doesn’t fit in. He’s not in the group. It’s a pride issue. John couldn’t imagine how anyone could do good and not be a part of their group! Sound familiar?
We could get pretty far with that - spend the morning on it -- We tend to get into groups, whatever groups that might be - congregations, SS classes, cliques that we form, ministry teams, things we belong to -- good groups that do good things. Then, we begin to wonder how anyone outside of “our group” could be right with God or could be on “our level” or could be pleasing God with what they do!
That’s where John was. He was taking Jesus’ statement about real greatness and saying, “Yes, Lord, but there’s someone trying to steal some of our thunder! He’s trying to upstage You ... and us!” OK, that was John 2 years after this text in John 3 we’re looking at here today.
Some 2 years earlier, there was another group of proud disciples. They were followers of JB. And that takes us to Jn 3…
Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 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."
JB’s ministry has been going on with constant success for over 6 months now. The impact of it will be felt for years. His practice of immersing people as they turn from their sinful lives in some ways resembles some of the ceremonial washings that the Jewish rabbis prescribed for people. You can almost hear an indignant Jew approaching some of JB’s followers and saying, “You guys think you’ve cornered the market on repentance with this baptism thing -- what about that new guy Jesus? His disciples are baptizing people too -- and they’re drawing some pretty big crowds.” When they hear this, John’s disciples come running to their leader.
It’s an ugly game we play. We place people on pedestals - rabbis, JB’s, preachers, SS teachers, you name it. We take pride in being a part of a group, to a point where we even encourage rivalry between congregations and within congregations. I want you to look with me in Jn 3 and learn how that kind of rivalry comes from 2 things: pride, and an enemy who’s trying to bring you down.
But we’re also looking at a great servant here. These last-recorded words of JB betray the sterling quality of His character -- that same character that caused Jesus to say, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than JB.” JB was great because he was a great servant to Jesus.
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