Increasingly Decreasing

John 3:22-36

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.’ John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness. He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

As we walk through the book of John, it certainly appears that John wrote with the presupposition that people who read his account, were at least familiar with the gospel story. It’s almost as if John is filling in the gaps of the other gospel accounts. John has a slightly different perspective and aspiration to his audience. We see this again in today’s text where John wrote, “For John had not yet been thrown into prison,” assuming that the reader knew John the Baptist was jailed. We will keep this in mind as we continue in the context.

We must also remember the continuing context of which we have read in John’s gospel account thus far. John uses no parables but he immerses us in immense imagery and many metaphors which are difficult to digest if one is not familiar with the rest of the Bible. John stressed the deity of Jesus and refered to him as the Word, light, life, lamb and as we’ve seen today, the bridegroom. We must keep these images in mind. Not only because John builds, using similar themes, expanding on them, but because of the grammar; “After these things.” John’s gospel account should be read as a whole, after reading the Law and prophets and the other gospel accounts. We don’t have that luxury here due to time constraints, therefore we explore examples as we consider the context and aspirations of the author. We also let the genre steer the ship, in that, it is a historical narrative of the ministry of Jesus but also heavily influenced with imagery and metaphorical meanings, even sans-parables. John’s gospel account is extremely unique to say the least. Nevertheless the metaphors leap off the pages, therefore we look at the aspirations of the author in his methods of metaphorical writing in the historical narrative and how they coincide with our Old Testament tutor. We utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions.

“After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.”

As we should look for Jesus in the Old Testament and look for Jesus in the life of Jesus, we should also look for the Old Testament in Jesus. In the historical narrative of a gospel account, we should examine examples in our Old Testament tutor which look like the scene we see. Sometimes it is easy, such as, “I will open my mouth in a parable,” from Psalm 78. We see the fulfillment in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Other times, making the connection is more difficult. Today we see Jesus and his disciples baptizing, as John and his disciples baptize. But where do we see this in our Old Testament tutor? What is the symbolism? Remember that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Notice the little piece of context that seems out of place; “There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.” Also remember John the apostle probaly wrote with the presupposition that people knew the story. When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John rightly proclaimed that it was he who needed to be baptized by Jesus. Nevertheless Jesus said to him, “permit it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

John’s baptism was not for purification but for repentance–for a change. John’s baptism was preparatory as was the baptism of the sons of Israel in the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). Jesus did not need to be baptized by John and yet, he did. It was not because John, who was of priestly decent, needed to purify Jesus but because Jesus fulfilled all that Israel couldn’t.

I believe that this all goes to the aspiration of the author. If John’s baptism was for purification purposes, we would probably not read of the discussion concerning purification. John’s baptism and subsequently the early baptism of Jesus and his disciples, was neither for purification nor salvation but for symbolism of the times. We will come back to this.

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers teach that Israel fleeing slavery from Egypt is akin to modern day saints being born again. I’m not so sure. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim that the baptism of the sons of Israel into the Sea of Reeds, is symbolic of modern day baptism. I, of course, disagree slightly, based upon the imagery given. I believe, by utilizing the CAGED method, that Israel’s baptism, which killed Pharoah and his henchmen, was neither a purification process nor a willing washing. Rather it was preparatory, in preparation for wandering the wilderness. We have seen a similar scenario in the life of Jesus where he was baptized and then tempted in the wilderness. It should have been a reminder of the power and plan of the Lord. This baptism, properly placed, points to and prepares for Jesus. In turn, Jesus’ baptism and his disciples baptizing, points back to the Exodus from Egypt and the powerful hand and the powerful plan of God. Again, we will come back to this.

While the Exodus from Egypt certainly does scream of salvation, seemingly ceasing the slavery of the sons of Israel, they still remained slaves to their sin and themselves. Remember the continuing context of John, how we saw Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be born again and using Israel being bitten by the serpents as an allegory. Now we see both Jesus and John’s disciples preforming a preparatory, preemptive baptism, preparing the people present for the baptism to come. The prophets promised this and John himself testified that he “baptized with water” but the one coming after him would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire.” Isaiah and Malachi promised a preparatory frontrunner in John, that he would prepare the path of the Lord.

To close the book of Malachi, the Lord says, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

In Isaiah we read; “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.'”

Yet the prophecy pundits postulate that the rough ground will literally be made a plain, failing to see the symbolism of John’s preparation for the Messiah. They also miss this in the ministry of Jesus. We exercise a expository exegesis of examples. Look at Malachi and see the sublime string.

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.”

Part of the Messiah’s mission and ministry is to also be preparatory. The evidence is in not only the early baptism, which ceases, but in the teachings, signs and certainly the Sermon on the Mount, from Jesus. Jesus set a new standard in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet we have also seen many metaphorical meanings in Matthew and in John. Baptism, both the baptism of John and the baptism of the Spirit, is a metaphor. John’s was preparatory for repentance and confession, pointing forward to the cross while evoking the exodus. John’s baptism was metaphorical imagery.

Speaking of metaphorical meanings, my grandmother passed away early this morning, from a fallen world into paradise. I was informed of her passing with the metaphor that she “crossed the Jordan river.” Could it not also be said, metaphorically, that she was baptized from the mortal and into the immortal? Her life here was preparatory for eternal life with Jesus, but her life began here. Crossing the proverbial Jordan took her 90 years, that is, it was a process. Death, or sleep, as Paul wrote, is not simply a part of life but an important part of the process. Truthfully, if we are to believe Jesus and Paul, death is only a baptism, for the believers. The metaphor of John’s baptism is to prepare for a change, to confess sin and to look forward to the increasing ministry of Jesus which culminates in his death, burial and resurrection. This is signified by the “new baptism,” looking back and identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

In a similar way, Jesus and his kingdom don’t drop like sudden death. Judaism doesn’t become extinct at the birth or baptism of Jesus. Jesus’ coming was a process and John’s baptism was a preparatory part of this process. This is why John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Consider the context; “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.’ John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness. He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Another marvelous metaphor–Jesus as the bridegroom. The context is clear concerning John’s baptism, it is not only preparatory but temporary. John was passing the proverbial torch of baptism to Jesus but not in perpetuity. Jesus was the bridegroom, the Word made flesh, and he came eating and drinking with tax gatherers and sinners. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Jesus entered into a fallen world and a fallen family. Remember that John wrote, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Jesus came to a people unprepared hence the promise from prophets of a preparatory preaching and baptism from the frontrunner.

However we don’t want to be dogmatic about the text or read it in an overly wooden, literal fashion. We have to keep everything in the continuing context as we explore examples. The Jewish people did not reject Jesus as a whole but in general and primarily it was the rulers of Judaism– scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees. John came to the Jews but to the Pharisees he said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” The “righteous” rejected but the sinners served. The early church was established by the “brethren” of Jesus but not the ones whose heart had not been prepared. We must understand the metaphorical meanings.

One of my grandmother’s favorite songs was We’re Marching to Zion.

“Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.
We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

The sorrows of the mind
Be banished from the place;
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.

Let those refuse to sing,
Who never knew our God;
But children of the heav’nly King
May speak their joys abroad.

The men of grace have found
Glory begun below;
Celestial fruits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow.

The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Or walk the golden streets.Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.”

She would sing it to the toddlers, who now have toddlers of their own, at church as they would march around the room with tiny drums and small cymbals. They were not literally marching up to Zion but by way of metaphorical meanings, their hearts were being prepared. My grandmother was a servant.

If nothing else, I hope that this missive is preparing our minds for what we are about to see in John’s gospel account, Lord willing. Jesus is about to speak with a Samaritan woman about true worshipers in true worship. Nevertheless the main message of this missive is to see the sublime string. John’s baptism was preparatory, to beat the proverbial dead horse. It was to turn hearts back. Jesus came as light to the darkness, life to the believers and a new baptism was coming, unlike the baptism in the Sea of Reeds and John’s baptism. John was decreasing as was his baptism, while Jesus was increasing, progressively. But don’t take my words for it, John the Baptist was quite clear; “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Lastly, notice what Paul wrote concerning Israel’s baptism. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.”

Jesus brought a better baptism, more complete than John’s and exponentially better than Moses’.

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