Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 4. Greater than Giants . Cutting giants to size

. Cutting giants to size

CUTTING GIANTS TO SIZE

 

(John 3:22-30, ESV) "After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”"

 

Introduction

 

When we started this series on John the Baptist I reminded you that Jesus said that no man has ever been born of woman that is greater than John the Baptist. And then Jesus says that those in the Kingdom are greater than John. The reason for this was based on privilege. John had a privilege to say the King is here, when all the other Old Testament prophets could only say is that the King is coming. However John is the last of Old Testament prophets, and what makes us greater is that we are in the Kingdom, and able to say that the King has come and that He is coming again.

So John was a giant and we are even bigger giants, but in this sermon we will all be cut down to size.

Let me give you a bit of context for this sermon. What this section describes is a time of parallel ministry in the life of Jesus and the life of John the Baptist. Jesus was baptising and John was baptising. In fact it was the disciples of Jesus who were doing the baptisms. You see this in John 4:1-2.  But what was happening here is that the influence of Jesus was increasing and the influence of John the Baptist was decreasing. John the Baptist’s disciples are troubled by this and they begin to ask John the Baptist about it.

That’s exactly what this section is about namely the increasing influence of Jesus and the decreasing influence of John the Baptist and what John the Baptist thought about that and how he responded to that. There are some critical lessons here for us.

Now the question we need to ask is why the Holy Spirit allowed this section to be recorded for us by John. Remember that everything John writes for us is so that we may know Christ and have life in Him. John was an evangelist and an interpreter. He does not just purely narrate the events. So, why does John’s gospel tell us about this time of parallel ministry? There can be many reasons. I want to specifically share two with you as we wrap up this series.

1. The Giant is part of a transition.

Every sermon that I have heard on this section in the past was preached from the angle of simple humility. Normally the focus is just on verse 30 where John says that he must decrease and Christ must increase. John’s issue however is not just humility but a right understanding of things. So what is this text all about? What is this period of parallel ministry all about?

We are here dealing with the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. This is an exciting time because the New Covenant prophesied about in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is upon them. There is a brand new covenant coming and God in His grace allows this period of transition which symbolises the transition from the Old covenant to the new.

It is not just that John the Baptist came on the scene preaching and then he pointed to Jesus and disappeared and Jesus went on with His ministry. John the Baptist was on the scene before the identity of Jesus was made public and Jesus went on ministering after the ministry of John the Baptist was ended with His death, but there was now this in-between time when they were both ministering. It was a transitional period where Jesus’ influence was increasing and John’s was decreasing.

What is interesting is that this is not something that Jesus avoided. It was not like Jesus avoiding overshadowing John as if that was not His rightful place. We also learn here that John wasn’t troubled by it, and we will see later why he wasn’t troubled by it. Now, what brought about John’s response to his disciples? We see it in verse 25 (ESV) “Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.”

Now we cannot know for sure what the discussion was all about, but I have an idea that it had something to do with these baptisms. This guy had some issue about the purification rituals, and the only one in place here was the baptisms.

It could have been something like this: ‘Hey guys, you teacher is baptizing and Jesus is baptizing, but your teacher is pointing people to Jesus, so why should anybody go to your teacher anymore?’ Now it might not have gone along those lines, but I think I might be close, because look at their issue in verse 26 (ESV): And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.

Now, we see that there is really a question implied because John responds to it. To really understand how this would have impacted John’s disciples we need to remind ourselves of the kind of influence that John the Baptist had. When John commenced his ministry his influence was no small thing. We saw all of this in previous sermons so I will just touch on it.

Remember the popularity of his ministry. People came to him from all over. They came from Jerusalem, from Judea and all over the Jordan area.  John comes on the scene and he is dressed in a unique way, his diet is unique and his message is unique and powerful. The result is that his popularity was unparalleled.

Think about the power of his ministry. There are people in our world today who are very popular but they are not very powerful. Their ministries attract great numbers but their ministry is really empty. Even King Herod took note of him, even though he was later beheaded by him. John had a powerful influence but he also had a powerful ministry to the point that people asked him if he was the Christ. He denied that he was the Christ; they then concluded that he must be Elijah or a prophet. You see the response of the crowd to this in John 1:24-27 (ESV) 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John had no issues about importance but his ministry was powerful.

Now what John thought about it and what we know now as we have our Bibles 2000 years later is that he realised that this transition had to take place. Jesus had to increase and John had to decrease because that was God’s plan. John burst on to the scene and he was a light, but he was only a reflected light. He was there to bear witness to the true light, the one who has light in Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. John 1:6-9 (ESV) 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

So John was no regular guy, he was sent from God to prepare the way for the Messiah but he was still just a man. And it was as it should be. The true light would begin to ascend in terms of influence and the one who bore witness to the true light would descend in terms of influence.

We need to stop for a second and ask ourselves a question. Do we all realise that we have a time and purpose on this earth that is temporary? Do we realise that things change in our service to the Lord? God’s plan for us may involve times of transition. John the Baptist had a time when God meant for him to have the influence he had. But when God’s plan was for His purpose with John had to come to a close God phased him out and John was happy with that.

This morning we need to realise that all of our service for the Lord on this earth, on this side of heaven is all temporary. God may transition us along the road. We may serve the Lord in one way at a time and then serve the Lord in another way at another time. Are we okay with that and are we prepared for that? You see this in the New Testament record and you see it in Church history. There are some people that God used in a powerful way but He used them in a very short period of time.

Think about Stephen for example. Stephen was a great and powerful in your face preacher. The Bible records only part of one sermon that he preached. He bore witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and then He was stoned to death. And then there are others that God has left in a place for a lifetime.

There are some people who had great ministries who were mistreated by their own congregations like Jonathan Edwards. I guess he was the greatest American Theologian ever, and he got voted out by his own church, and ended up in his last years of ministry preaching to the Indians. Then there are men like Dr John MacArthur who has been with one church way over 30 years.

What’s the difference? The difference was not explained by the servants, it is just that God’s plan for them was different. Some God meant to use for a short time, some God meant to use for a long time, some God meant to use in one place, some God would send to other places, some would face their persecution from inside, some would face their persecution from outside, and what we are reminded of is that we don’t dictate the terms of our service.

We just serve, and however God means to use us is okay, but are we okay with that? Some men for example might be elder qualified right now, but God could raise up a generation of more qualified elders in time and we might have to step aside. When that happens, we have to be humble enough to recognise that and say, ‘you know what, I was fit to serve the Lord in this role for this time, but now we need somebody else to serve the Lord in this role for the next time.’ Being able to accept it in humility at least shows our spirituality.

John the Baptist evidenced a great understanding of this because his time was passing yet he understood that it was passing. So one reason I believe the Holy Spirit records this for us is so that we can understand that there are times of transition in our service to the Lord and John handled that transition in a way that honoured God. So how did John handle it?

2. How does a giant respond to transition?

How did John respond to the attitude of His disciples? Here is an opportunity for the flesh if there ever was one. John could have felt wounded by this, he could have felt jealous, he could have felt unimportant, he could have encouraged disunity between him and Christ, but John does not do any of that. John is loyal to the Lord Jesus and John passes this test. I want you to see three keys that are evident in his life which are seen in the way that he passes this test.

2.1 With a right understanding of God.

John 3:27 (ESV) “John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” John understood God’s sovereignty in ministry and in all things and he applies it to all.

John takes a general understanding of the sovereignty of God and he applies it to this situation. Everything a person is given whether they are right or wrong as far as we are concerned is an expression from heaven regarding God’s ultimate decrees. You even see this in the life of Christ when Jesus said to Pilate in John 19:11 (ESV) “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.

So John sees this as the working out of God’s plan. John’s disciples had an earthly view of it. John had a heavenly view of it. He sees it as the will of God.

Let’s apply this to ourselves this morning.

Are we not to be like John when we deal with changes that we face? There might be difficulties that arise in your life; you might face changes in your work or in your health situation, whatever it is? Do you see that as an expression of God’s plan for you? Do you understand that God is involved in all of this? If you do not see God in it, you will not glorify God in the situation. There is not one thing that anyone of us face in any realm of our life where God is not sovereign right there.

There is not one place in this universe where God doesn’t rule, and there is not one place in your life where God doesn’t rule. John understood that. ‘John, what’s happening over there? Heaven’s will is happening over there.”

Now let me just say before there is a misunderstanding of what I am saying. I am not talking about fatalism here. I’m not talking about an attitude where we say, well this is the will of God, so I don’t have any decision to make, and I don’t have any effort to put forth and whatever happens, that’s God’s will and I have no responsibility in it. That’s not what we are talking about.

If you have difficulties that you face at your job, there are solutions to be worked out; there are decisions to be made, there are choices to be made. But you understand that the reason you have to take decisions and make choices is because God has allowed you to be presented with this test. We are not talking about fatalistic passivism. We are active in everything, but we see the will of God in everything.

Not only did John have the right understanding of the sovereignty of God, but he responded to the situation:

2.2 With a right understanding of self.

John 3:28 (ESV) “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’

So no matter of what others thought about John the Baptist, He knew exactly who he was and what his place was in God’s economy. He knew from the beginning that he would direct others to the one to whom all would go.

So even though John had to take a step down in the view of others, John never had to take a step down in his own mind. He never had to take a back-seat in his own mind, because he was already there in his own mind. Does this apply to us? Certainly it does. Even though John was cut down to size in real life, he was cut down to size in his own mind long before.

One of the things the Bible warns us against is thinking too highly of ourselves. Romans 12:3 (ESV) “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

The word for ‘think’ here is phroneo {fron-eh'-o}  which literally means to think of yourself with sanity or to be of the right mind. If you think too highly of yourself you are thinking insanely. Now, God is not calling you here to think you are nothing, but to think accordingly. It is not that you need the attitude of a doormat, just think of yourself with sober judgement. Don’t even compare yourself with others; just think of yourself sanely in accordance where God has placed you by His grace. We are privileged to serve the Lord our God in any way that He would allow us, that’s who we are.

Remember, John is also a sinner saved by the grace of God, so think about the test he is facing. Just think if you had people coming to you with questions like ‘are you the Saviour, are you Elijah, are you the prophet?’ You might be inclined to call your ministry ‘John the Baptist Ministries’. John knew all the time what God had called him to do; ‘I’m the voice of one crying in the wilderness, I’m the one preparing the way for the true light’.

John was poor in spirit and you and I must be poor in spirit, and if we are, we will never be disappointed and we will never be surprised when we are decreased in order for the Lord Jesus to be increased. That’s not only going to be OK with us, but that is going to be our joy. So John understood God’s sovereignty, and John understood himself, but there is a third thing. Lastly John also responded:

2.3 With a right understanding of service.

John 3:29 (ESV) “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” This goes back to the customs of marriage in those days. Right before the bridegroom would go and get his bride, the friend of the bridegroom or the best man was involved in making preparations for the wedding. And then on the night there was a procession to go and get the bride at her house and the best man would go with the bridegroom, and the bridegroom would announce his arrival and she would come to him.

John continues to say: ‘That joy of mine is now complete.’ John is basically saying that he is the best man of the bridegroom and that he has got the preparations ready for Him to receive His bride and now when he hears the voice of the bridegroom and the bride comes to Him, what kind of friend would he be if he was disappointed with the popularity of the bridegroom? It’s not his wedding, he cannot steal the thunder, because he is simply the friend of the bridegroom. The sheep goes to the Shepherd, the bride to the bridegroom. John is neither. So when John sees the people going to Christ, his joy is complete, because He must increase as He is the bridegroom and not John. For John this is not the point of failure, but the height of His success. Everything he worked for, everything he preached for, everything he baptised for was now coming to pass. He had done his job.

Do you and I realise that that is our job? What is our service, what is our ministry? It is not to direct people to us; it is to direct people to Jesus. And as they follow the Son of God, our joy is complete, because that is what we have been working for all along. This does not only refer to us as ministers, but it refers to all of us. So it is not about me and my ministry, me and my growth group, me and my Bible study group, me and my Sunday School class, me and my youth group, me and my microphone, keyboard or drums.  We are here to give Him all the glory and to point people to Jesus. Something I have often seen in ministry is that people will only be faithful and fully committed to ministry in word and in deed if they were in charge and it is all about them, otherwise they approach their ministry with a lack of commitment and discipline. Then the message is clear, you need to decrease buddy and Christ must increase, it is not about you. Do you understand as soon as they are loyal to you, they are disloyal to Jesus. John could have received the loyalty of his disciples. He could have said, ‘man guys, you are right, support me and let’s work on my popularity rating a bit’.

But he didn’t, his response is basically: ‘you are looking at it all wrong. This is the will of God, this is what I was sent for, this is the fulfilment of my joy, and it should be the fulfilment of your joy.’

Let me finish with some questions and applications.

First of all, do you believe that God is sovereign in all things? Let me promise you. We are all going to face tests to see whether we believe that. Are you able to say with John the Baptist, ‘no one is given anything except if it is given to them from above?’ What are you facing right now in your life out there? It may be in your job, it may be in your health, it may be in your relationships. Do you understand that God is sovereign, and it is not an accident that you are facing what you are facing.

Second, do you understand that you are a servant, and that you don’t dictate the terms of your service? You just serve Him any way that He wants to be served. You do not own the ministry; it is His, His sheep, His bride and His ministry for His glory.

Thirdly do you rejoice that Jesus will be glorified in your service? Jesus was being glorified when John was at the height of his popularity, and Jesus is now being glorified with John now being decreased, and John was able to rejoice in that. Is that us? Can you say with John, ‘it is not my bride, it is the bridegroom’s bride and I gladly surrender her to Him, even though I played such an important role in the preparations for the wedding? Will I still give Him glory if He transitions me to work in a different way in a lesser role and ministry so that He can reign supreme in what I do? Can you say, whatever it is, if it glorifies my Lord and Saviour, that’s where I want to be?

Finally, can you rest in all of it, can you trust in all of it? God is sovereign and our purpose on the earth is to glorify Him and however He chooses to use us, to God be the Glory. I trust that we will all echo the words of William Carey the father of modern missions who said: “when I am gone, don’t talk about William Carey, talk about William Carey’s Saviour. I desire that Christ alone might be magnified.”

 

Amen!

Logos Community Church:- 4 November 2012