More isn't Less: August 12, 2014

the text: John 3:22-36

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

the ideas
Baptized - How cool would it be to be baptized by Jesus? Oh the grace and blessing. Two things of note about this. Though this passage makes it seem like Jesus was baptizing people, the first two verses of chapter 4 tell us that it wasn't actually Jesus who baptized but his disciples. I imagine if Jesus did baptize someone, we humans would mess that up. 1 Cor. 1 Paul talks a little about all that. The good news, Jesus does baptize with something more than water - he baptizes with the Spirit, which he pours out generously.

Judea and Aenon near Salim - the greek for "Judean countryside" is actually the "Land of Judea." The towns where John the Baptist (JtB) are translated "Springs" and "Peace." There may be something here. The author may be showing that Jesus has come to Judea - Judea meaning Jewish or "of the Jews." Jesus, a Jewish man, has come to the Jewish nation, but he has something else in mind than being a tribal religious leader. JtB on the other hand baptizes with Springs of Peace, but I see this contrasted with chapter 4 where Jesus offers living water of eternal life. This makes sense when we see JtB bend over backwards affirming the importance of Jesus and not himself.

JtB; the best man - JtB realizes this is not his wedding, but he is thrilled to play second fiddle to the groom, Jesus. He is from the Earth (below) and recognizes that Jesus is from above ("above" being the same word as the earlier passage about being "born from above"). Again, JtB spends a lot of time falling all over himself about he being lesser than Jesus. This climaxes in the famous, "He must increase, I must decrease."

Where is Jesus from? - Again, John's Gospel wants us to be very clear that Jesus comes from heaven. This remains in open tension that he is a Jewish man in the land of Judea. What I find most interesting about JtB's imagery "from the earth," "from above," and "from heaven" is that traditionally Christians have affirmed that Jesus comes from all these places. He comes from below and above, from earth and from heaven. Though he is above all, he serves as if he were the slave of all. Again, this is going to have the religious and governmental leaders all messed up.

the stuff
There is an contemporary atmosphere of wanting to be greater. We think, "if only I had more, did more, lived more, earned more, achieved more, I could do so much more - I could do so much more for Jesus." More than that we fight for power and authority and position in our families, jobs, and national politics. We think more power will mean more influence for God. Rarely does this pan out. We are to become less so that Christ can become more.

The greatest thing we can do is, according to this passage, trust in Christ. And that gives us eternal life and the Spirit. There is no promise of influence or blessing or political power. John the Baptist is going to jail for political crimes and he will not make it out alive. No, our influence resides in the Kingdom of God, our boldness comes from our eternal horizon, and our power comes in being able to pour out self-denying, self-giving love. This isn't to spiritualize the blessings of Christ. No, they are real and tangible, but they do not play by the rules of this earth. They fly in the face of these powers and riches and comforts. But they bring hope, and joy, and love, and encouragment. And these are the tools to live an beautiful, eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God.

One of the surest signs that we breathe of the atmosphere of "more is better" is if we are concerned with making everything else "Christian" besides our selves. If we think the answer involves having Christian children or Christian schools or a Christian nation, and, yet, neglect our own spiritual well-being we will surely miss out. Our desire to have more impedes our ability to see Christ as more than us. Our hope to have more influence deters our ability to feel Christ's transforming influence in us. Our striving for more power over others, even for good, makes us grow cold to the godly power Christ offers us to conquer our selves. 

Consider your life's goal and ambition today. What is your definition of success? What are you willing to do to get it? Does your life, as a Christian, lead to the fulfillment of the American dream? Or, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in seeking to be less, do you hope to be more like Christ? Your patterns and work and hopes will lead you where you want to go. You just need to make sure you want be where you end up. 

Instead, consider the life that leads to truth, and beauty, and love - consider the life of Christ. Believing or trusting in Christ does not mean that we believe Christ existed. Trusting in Christ means that we believe the life Christ lives - self-denying, self-giving, Spirit-filled, Joyously bold, Cross destined  - is the good and beautiful life that God offers us, Jesus came to model for us, and the Spirit has come to empower us towards.


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