************ Chapel Talk on John 3:30 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This chapel talk was given on February 25, 1998
"He must become greater; I must become less"
There was a new guy in my last year of highschool whom I did not really appreciate. His name was Uldus Bite. I was hoping to graduate at the top of the class. For 3 years I had been working hard. And now this new kid came to school who was brilliant. No matter how hard I studied and worked, his grades were always 1 or 2 points higher than mine. I graduated as an Ontario Scholar and got a $100 scholarship and this certificate (HOLD UP CERTIFICATE). He graduated as the valedictorian and got a $2500 scholarship.
I was a member of the high school's track team. There was a guy called Eric Kesteloot also on the team. You guessed it. No matter how hard I trained and practiced and ran, his time was always a tad better than mine. Every year in the 880, the mile, and the two mile he came in first and I took second in the school's intermural track meet. We went to the regional finals; he took first and I took second. We went to the all-Ontario finals; he took first and I took second. This happened 3 years in a row (HOLD UP MY BLUE RIBBONS). The year I took first he was home, in bed, with the flue (HOLD UP MY RED RIBBONS).
Maybe you feel the way I felt. You want to be the star of the basketball team but someone else always out-shoots you or gets more rebounds than you. Or, you want the lead in the play, but someone else was chosen. Or, you wanted to be the quarterback or star receiver on the football team, but someone else beat you to that position. Or, you wanted to be the best spiker or server on the volleyball team, but someone else out-performed you. Or, you have your eye on a certain guy or girl but someone else is dating him or her. Or, you wanted to be chosen as class president but someone else got the honor.
An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. He replied without hesitation: "Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, now that's a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony."
Maybe you are tired of playing 2nd fiddle!
The followers of John the Baptist felt that way. Let me set it up for you.
One day John the Baptist suddenly appeared in the desert of Judea preaching and baptizing. People were impressed by what they saw and heard — impressed enough to tell their friends and neighbors about this new preacher. In fact, John's appearance created considerable excitement. Apparently news of John the Baptist spread like wildfire throughout Judea and moved throngs of people to flock to the Jordan River where he was preaching. They listened to his message, they confessed their sins, and they were baptized by him in the river (Mt 3:5,6).
John the Baptist was a success. He was a first century Billy Graham — he presented the Gospel and thousands responded to his message.
John's success and popularity, however, did not last very long. People still came to hear him but it became evident the crowds were steadily becoming smaller and smaller.
John's disciples noticed this. Perhaps they talked about this among themselves: "What could be the reason? Why are the crowds getting smaller? What has happened to all those people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region of the Jordan who used to come and listen to John?" (Mt 3:5). John's disciples got their answer one day when a person they were arguing with told them that Jesus was preaching and baptizing not too far away and lots of people were going to hear Him.
This explains why John was not as popular as he used to be. This explains why his crowds have dwindled in size. The people were leaving John for Jesus.
John's disciples do not like this. They thought John should not tolerate this. So they came to John and said to him,
(Jn 3:26) "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."
John's disciples want John to do something about this. They want John to retaliate, to put Jesus out of business, or to make Jesus go elsewhere so at least they aren't competing for the same audience.
This reaction is so understandable, isn't it? John had said such nice things about Jesus. Why, John even baptized Jesus and started Him off in His career. Now, in an act of betrayal, Jesus has suddenly turned into a competitor for the crowds' attention. John's disciples see this as a ratings war in which Jesus has taken an unfair advantage of John.
How do you think John himself felt about this? Did he feel like his disciples did, betrayed and hurt? Did he think, deep in his heart, Is this all I am called to do? Did he wonder about the shortness of his ministry? He had been chosen to prepare the way for the Lord. And he has done this very faithfully. But is his task now finished? Should he stop his preaching and baptizing? Should he stop calling the crowds to repentance? God did not tell John to stop so John keeps on going even though fewer and fewer people come to hear him.
None of us wants to be forgotten and ignored. We all love feelings of importance and the admiration of the crowd. We all like recognition for what we are and what we have done. Sure, humility is a wonderful thing, a true Christian virtue. But still, who of us wants to be forgotten or ignored?
This reminds me of the time a minister was asked to speak at the annual meeting of a charitable organization. After the meeting the program chairman handed him a check. "Oh no," said the pastor, "I can't take this. I appreciate the honor of being asked to speak. You have better uses for this money. You apply it to one of those uses." The program chairman asked, "Do you mind if we put this into our Special Fund?" The pastor replied, "Of course not. What is the special fund for?" The chairman replied, "It's so we can get a better speaker next year."
What a let-down for that minister!
I want to ask you about you. Are you willing to be second fiddle? Are you a humble person? Or is it difficult for you to step back and let someone else have the limelight and the glory? Are you willing to give someone else credit and praise, or does it all have to go to you?
Why do I ask this? I ask this because your theme this year is "Called to Serve." But, as all of you should know, you cannot serve unless you have a servant nature. I think of what Jesus said:
(Matt 20:25-28) "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (26) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, (27) and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- (28) just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Now look at John the Baptist and his dwindling audience or market share. Such things are not very good for a preacher's ego. Of course he likes the big crowds; what minister doesn't? And of course he likes to see results on his labors: sinners repenting and being baptized. And his disciples do not make it any easier: "John," they say, "you used to be number one. You have to regain your audience. Jesus has no business taking away your crowds."
We do not know what went on in John's mind. We do not know if John had a big struggle to overcome the desires of his own ego. We do not know if he struggled with feelings of resentment. But we do know the words he spoke on that occasion. He looked at his friends, his most faithful disciples and followers, and said this about Jesus: "He must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30).
"He must become greater; I must become less." What beautiful words. What difficult words to live up to. What necessary words to live up to if I am going to be one of His servants.
"He must become greater; I must become less." It is Jesus Who is supposed to get the praise, the honor, and the glory. Not me. Not you. Not your parents. Not your teachers. But Jesus. Whatever you do, wherever you go, Jesus must become greater and you must become less.
"He must become greater; I must become less." When I think about this I am glad that Uldus Bite was a better student than me and that Eric Kesteloot always outran me. For if it wasn't for those two guys, I would have been puffed up with pride. And my motto would have been "I must become greater; He must become less." The Lord was using them, 26 years ago, so that I could be His servant today.
Maybe you aren't a star or a scholar or the most popular guy or girl. That's okay. What counts is whether you are the Lord's servant. What counts is whether He becomes greater and you become less.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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