By Hazen Stevens
“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.” John 3:26-30
In John 3:22-36, we find an interesting situation emerge amongst the disciples of John the Baptist. The crowds were now being attracted to Jesus, and John’s disciples came complaining to Him about how Jesus’ ministry was expanding while their own was contracting. How often do we accept loss, demotion, suffering, and difficulty as simply a part of life when it occurs in the lives of others, but we take offense with God and His dealings when it visits our lives in a personal way? So these disciples, who understood that John had testified of Jesus when they were together beyond the Jordan, now took offense that John’s testimony concerning Jesus’ ministry was actually coming to pass at the expense of their own.
We then see John remind them of a simple truth, one that we seldom like to consider in modern western Christianity: sometimes, for God to have his complete perfect will expressed in our lives, we will have to suffer natural setbacks, sufferings, declines, and failings; such occurrences are not only permissible in God’s will, but ordained and necessary.
John could not accomplish the will of God for his life unless he experienced a significant decline and ultimately the loss of his ministry, then his life. We don’t enter the Kingdom of God unless we are first poor in spirit, and we can’t continue into the fullness of the Kingdom by any other path. Paul could not discover what it meant to “gain Christ and be found in Him” without first suffering, “the loss of all things” (Phillippians 3:7-8).
While we love the stories of the Bible that involve deep suffering, but ultimately a triumphant redemption arc, like the story of Joseph, Peter, or Jesus, sometimes the redemption can’t be seen this side of heaven, like John’s. The hall of faith heroes described in Hebrews 11 contains many great victorious stories of those who by faith, “quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight armies..” but also catalogs those who by faith, “were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they may obtain a better resurrection. Still, others had trials of mocking and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonment” of which many, like John, simply didn’t escape (Hebrews 11:35-26).
Peter receives an angelic deliverance from prison in Acts 12:7-10, but in verse two we read concerning Herod that, “He killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Some are delivered by angels, others are simply put to death. The challenge is to believe that when we are James in the story and not Peter to still know “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). This is regardless of whether that purpose is to increase or decrease.
In John 15:5, Jesus tells his disciples in the upper room, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” A fulfilled life is one that accepts the painful humility associated with such radical dependence upon another, that truly, without Jesus, our lives amount to nothing. John understood this and called himself a friend of the bridegroom, whose greatest joy was complete in hearing the bridegroom come into his destiny in taking the hand of his bride.
Jesus, in essence, eulogizes John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11 saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” In Jesus’ estimation, John was the greatest man born of a woman up to that time, precisely because he accepted that his life must decrease to serve the God-ordained destiny of another.
Consider, how will you decrease today, that God’s purpose in you would increase!? ______________________________________________________________________________