************ Sermon on John 3:30 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 23, 2014
"He Must Become Greater"
I want you girls to imagine something. I want you to imagine yourselves 15 years from now.
Where do you think you will be living? Will you have a job; if so, what kind of job? Will you be in school; if so, what school and what degree – doctor, nursing, lawyer, teacher, engineer, computer whiz, architect, dental assistant, secretary, lab technician?
Fifteen years from now will you still be in the church? Will you be a professing member? Will you be a Sunday School teacher or a GEMS counselor? Will you be in the choir? Will you be living up to the GEMS theme for this year: "He [that is, Jesus] must become greater; I must become less"?
I The Friend of the Bridegroom
A What is this? HOLD UP WEDDING PICTURE. It is a wedding picture. I've been asking you girls to imagine your future. Did any of you imagine that fifteen years from now most of you girls will be married. I see every father cringing at the thought.
I want to spend some time tonight thinking about the wedding ceremony. However, your wedding ceremony is not going to be like wedding ceremonies today. Instead, we are going to imagine your wedding ceremony as it was done at the time of Jesus.
A harp is playing in the background. SHOW WHERE. The wedding party is in place up here just as practiced at the rehearsal. SHOW WHERE. Everyone is waiting. The door opens. The harp stops. The trumpet plays. The most important person steps to the door. The congregation stands. Who comes walking in at this point in one of our weddings? GET RESPONSE OF THE BRIDE. No, it is not the bride (remember, your wedding is the same as it was done at the time of Jesus). It is the groom. The groom is the center of attention. Everyone has been waiting for him to make his appearance. Instead of "Here Comes the Bride" it is "The bridegroom is coming" (cf Mt 25:8).
Wouldn't it be amazing – and even shocking – if one of our weddings was done this way? Who knows, maybe I might see this with one of you girls?
B Now, there is another very important person at the wedding. No, I still am not talking about the bride. I am talking about "the friend of the bridegroom." At the time of Jesus the friend of the bridegroom was a very important person. He was responsible for many of the details of the wedding. He is like Alice Petter, the special event coordinator at our church who makes sure everything runs smoothly for the wedding. But he does more. It is he, rather than the father of the bride, who presents the bride to the bridegroom.
Now, the friend of the bridegroom is a very important man. But he is not the most important man, is he? The most important man is the bridegroom. So, the friend of the bridegroom has to step aside when the bridegroom shows up. The friend of the bridegroom cannot take the bridegroom's place in the wedding ceremony or at the wedding supper. The bride belongs not to him but to the bridegroom.
C In our Scripture reading, John the Baptist is the friend of the bridegroom and Jesus is the bridegroom. Meaning what? Meaning John the Baptist is important but Jesus is more important. Meaning John the Baptist needs to step aside because Jesus has come. Meaning the focus needs to be on Jesus and not on John. Or, as John puts it, "He must become greater; I must become less."
If John the Baptist is the friend of the bridegroom and Jesus is the bridegroom, then who is the bride? HOLD UP PICTURE. The bride is the church. Meaning what? Meaning she belongs NOT to John but to Jesus. As far as the church is concerned, Jesus must become greater and John must become less.
II John Must Become Less
A If John the Baptist were alive today we would consider him as strange as some of the people who live on the street. His clothes were made of camel's hair. He had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey (Mt 3:4).
Yet, John the Baptist was one of the greatest servants of our Lord. He was the first prophet of God in four hundred years. He was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (Lk 1:15). It was his job, as the friend of the bridegroom, "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk 1:17). As the friend of the bridegroom, it was John who baptized Jesus and started Jesus in His ministry (Mt 3:13-17). It was John who testified to Jesus, and called Jesus the "Lamb of God," and said Jesus surpassed him (Jn 1:27, 29, 32).
People were impressed when John the Baptist started preaching and baptizing. They were impressed enough to tell their friends and neighbors about this new preacher. John's appearance created considerable excitement. 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. If he was a rock star today, his concerts would be sold out. He was a first century Billy Graham – he presented the Gospel and thousands responded to his message.
B This kind of response to John is amazing when we consider his message. If John had to preach in 20th century America his message certainly would not be universally accepted. "Repent," said John. "Break with your sins," said John. John warned the people that God was about to visit them, that His kingdom was coming, and they had better get ready. It will be a time of terror for those who are not prepared to meet their God. Said John,
(Mt 3:10) The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Yet the people responded to such a message as this. They responded because he spoke the Word of the Lord.
C 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 they got into an argument with a "certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing" (Jn 3:25). Now, you need to realize John and his disciples practiced a very strict lifestyle. They insisted on such things as fasting and ceremonial washing. But a certain Jew argued with them that this was not necessary at all. And when John's disciples asked the Jew where he got this idea from, he told them, "Jesus of Nazareth." And he told them something else as well: "This Jesus is preaching and baptizing, not too far from here, and you should see all the people who are coming 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 somehow stop the ministry of Jesus.
What was John's response? John says to his disciples and followers that he is the friend of the bridegroom. That he needs to step aside for the bridegroom. That the bride belongs to the bridegroom. That he must become greater. That I must become less.
D "I must become less." GEMS, congregation, can you say this? "I must become less." I must step aside for the bridegroom.
Every once in a while Ruth and I go to hear the Tulare County Symphony. Before the music starts all the musicians are on the stage warming up their instruments.Do you get the picture? John the Baptist was being asked to play second violin.
The audience applauds when the person playing the first violin comes on stage. He or she takes a bow and plays the reference pitch for tuning the orchestra and welcomes the conductor to the stage by shaking his hand on behalf of the orchestra. That's the first violin.
Did you know there is also a second violin. They get no applause, no recognition, no notice. Yet, without them the music cannot go on.
What about you, my brothers and sisters? Are you willing to be second fiddle to Jesus? In other words, does He come first in your life? Are you, like John, willing to become less? Are you willing to be like the friend of the bridegroom?
"I must become less." You need to do something before this can happen. You need to take yourself off the throne. You need to stop thinking you are the center of the universe. You need to stop thinking "Me, Me, Me." You need to think humility and self-denial.
HOLD UP PICTURE. Don't think of yourself as a bride. Instead, think of yourself as the friend of the bridegroom. Think of yourself as John the Baptist. Think, "I must become less."
III Jesus Must Become Greater
(Jn 3:27) To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven."
What does this mean? It means that in the kingdom of God no person can decide what role he or she will play and no person can pick what position he or she will hold. It is God Who determines in what way and for how long we may serve Him. Jesus got His task, His position, from above. But so did John; and, it was John's task to prepare the way for Jesus. It was God's will, in other words, that people leave John for Jesus. John here recognizes the freedom of God to call whomever He wills. And, it is precisely because he recognizes this that John cannot start some movement to stop Jesus. For if he did that he would be interfering with God's plan. He would be putting his own ego first. No, John cannot do that. "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30). And John is happy with this. He rejoices, like the friend of the bridegroom, that the bridegroom has finally come and taken his bride (Jn 3:29).
B "He must become greater." You need to do something before this can happen. Instead of thinking about yourself you need to think about God. His will. His commands. His glory. His name. His praise. His attributes. God needs to come first in your life. He needs to come first in your thoughts. Your first question in any and every situation should be, "What about God? What does God want?"
IV A Divine Must
A "He must become greater; I must become less." Notice John's use of the word "must." It must happen. We know this in the Gospels as a divine imperative. It is something that must happen. Just like the cross must happen. Just like the grace must happen. Just like Jesus must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. It is part of the plan. It is God's will. Fighting this is like fighting gravity. Fighting this is like fighting a hurricane. It just is not going to happen. According to God's eternal plan, Jesus must become greater and John must become less.
So, how does this come to expression? Let me ask a series of questions:
-Is the Gospel about John? No, it is about Jesus.
-Do we tell the lost the story of John? No, we tell them the story of Jesus who died and arose.
-Is our doctrine and faith centered on John? No, it is centered on Jesus.
-Do we sing about John? No, we sing about Jesus.
-Do we pray to John? No, we pray to Jesus.
-Do we offer gifts to John? No, we offer our gifts to Jesus.
It is all about Jesus and His death and His resurrection and not about John. It is all about Jesus and not about you and me. "He must become greater; I must become less."
B So, when does it end? Where does end? Until God, in Christ, is all in all. Until God, in Christ, is everything. Until God, in Christ, is the absolute greatest.
"He must become greater; I must become less." This started at the Jordan with John and continues until the creation of the new heaven and new earth. At that time the Jesus Who died and arose has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. At that time Jesus hands over the kingdom to God the Father. At that time God is all in all (1 Cor 15:24-28). At that time there no longer is any thought of ME and our entire focus is Jesus.
"He must become greater; I must become less." Like John, my brothers and sisters, our duty is to be like the friend of the bridegroom. It is our calling and task to point away from ourselves and to Jesus in our words and actions, to be the kind of people in whom Christ lives and in whom His light shines.
So, how does this come to expression in your life and my life? Let me again ask a series of questions:
-Is worship about you and what you like and what you get out of it, or is worship about Jesus?
-Is GEMS or youth group or Bible Study about you and what you like and what you get out of it, or is about Jesus?
-Does the attention need to be on you or does it need to be on Jesus?
-Is it your glory and your praise that is important, or is it the glory and praise of Jesus that is important?
"He must become greater; I must become less." This sermon was mostly about John. But we should not stay with him. Like the crowds we too must leave him for Jesus. We too must fix our eyes on Jesus. We too must listen to His Words of life. And when you do, you will find out what John discovered so long ago – that He becomes greater and I become less.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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