John 3:22 – After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.
Jesus had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was during this period that he had the night time meeting with Nicodemus. Once that was done, Jesus must have sensed that he had accomplished all that was needed in Jerusalem at that time; Holy Spirit was calling him to the more rural areas surrounding the capital.
Although John does not provide all of the details, we can assume that Jesus continued to teach/preach the gospel at various places in the countryside. His ministry had begun and would continue to grow and increase until his crucifixion. Also, later in this chapter John tells us that large numbers of people were being influenced by him and his message (verse 26).
Baptism was also occurring at this time. In this particular verse the wording suggests that Jesus was actually baptizing people, but later on John makes it clear that Jesus preached the word and sanctioned baptism, but the actual physical work of baptizing was done by the disciples (John 4:2).
John 3:23-24 – 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).
We can’t help but notice that John the Baptist did not retire from ministry. He could have convinced himself that once the Messiah was actively ministering, he was free to close up shop, move to a sunny climate and live out his days on the beach. But he didn’t. God had called him to be the forerunner and he was going to continue in that role until his dying day. This is consistent with what we find in scripture:
Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and calling of God are unchangeable.
In other words, when God calls you to do something (like baptize) or he gives you a gift (like evangelism, or encouragement), it is a lifetime calling. Like John the Baptist, you will have that gift until your dying day. And like John, you need to continue working with that calling as long as you can.
This does not mean that you can’t retire and move to Phoenix. But if you do, look for opportunities there to continue using your gift/calling.
Let me tell you a story about a former pastor of mine. God called him into ministry during WWII. He was faithful to answer the call, and he served as a pastor for over 40 years. Eventually, he stepped down from the pulpit. He and his wife ended up in a local nursing home. I visited them there occasionally, and I can tell you, it wasn’t their favorite place!
But they continued to share the gospel with people they came into contact with. One night an employee of the home woke him up requesting his help. She said there was a resident in another wing of the facility who was dying. He was utterly terrified, and the staff couldn’t do anything to calm him. She asked this minister if he would get in his wheelchair and come to talk to the man.
The retired pastor led the man to Christ that night, just before he died. And within a week, he himself was called home to heaven.
This illustrates the point I am trying to make – your ministry/gift/calling is an integral part of who you are. It doesn’t leave you, no matter how old you get, or where you move to. So plan to stay active in ministry as long as you can (just like this pastor or John the Baptist)!
Another thing we notice about John is that he didn’t change his ministry to mimic someone else (Jesus). He did not become jealous when another ministry grew larger than his own. He steadfastly and humbly continued to do what God had called him to do.
It is important for each one of us to do the same. We need to be confident in what Holy Spirit has called us to do, even if others with the same gift have larger ministries. If Holy Spirit speaks to you about making changes in your ministry, that’s fine. But don’t change what you are doing for the sole purpose of having more followers.
If we are consistently doing what Holy Spirit has instructed us to do, we know we will one day hear Jesus say to us, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’!
John 3:25 – Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.
A religious dispute – imagine that [picture eye rolling and sarcasm here]!
Religious disputes have existed since Cain and Abel. Throughout history, countless lives have been lost or ruined in the name of religious disputes. These differences have resulted in wars, destruction, divisions and deep seated hatred. Now remind me again – who loves death and destruction? Whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy?
That’s right – Satan. And he is still at work today, often pitting one Christian denomination against another in an effort to divide the family of God.
How can we stop him? One way is to agree on the basics and let the rest go. If we can agree that Jesus died and rose again and that faith in his blood is the only thing that redeems us from sin, we should be able to respect and love each other. We may pray in different ways, or baptize in different ways, or have different opinions on communion, but we can’t let that divide us. We need to unite together against the sin and evil that are taking over our nation.
Did you notice that the exact dispute between the Baptist’s disciples and the Jews is not given in the scripture? Why is that? I think there are two reasons.
First, because it serves as a general warning to us that we should avoid petty differences that divide us. Second, because the cause of the dispute was not John’s focus. His focus was the speech that John the Baptist is about to give. That is the place we need to focus our attention.
John 3:26 – 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.”
The Baptist’s disciples now come to him with their chief complaint: Jesus now has more followers than their master does. His popularity is waxing/increasing, while John’s is waning. The disciples of John are envious and jealous at the success of Jesus. They are concerned that the influence John had over the Jewish population is coming to an end, now that Jesus is on the scene.
They are so highly offended because in their mind, Jesus was inferior to John. In their mind, Jesus was the one who sought out John, not the other way around. Jesus was the one who was baptized by John, not the other way around. Jesus was the one who was in need of a public testimony – not John. They were shocked and angry that the ministry of Jesus was eclipsing that of their beloved master.
John 3:27 – John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”
The minute his disciples came to him with this complaint, John the Baptist had a choice to make. He could have joined in the griping session with his followers. He could have focused on all the work he had done and all the sacrifices he had made. He could have fought to keep his ‘organization’ in the limelight of the day.
But he doesn’t. He does not agree with his followers, or entertain any of their envious thoughts. John’s goal is to honor and serve Christ, not build up a sect or organization. John rejoiced at the success of Jesus and (as we will see in the rest of this chapter), he teaches his disciples to do the same.
The first point John makes to his followers is that a person (himself specifically, but all of us generally), cannot rise to a station greater than the one God intended for us to have.
In other words, John was acknowledging that God had created him in a specific way for a specific purpose. He was to be the forerunner of Christ. God never intended him to rise above the Messiah. Despite the grand ideas his followers had, God never intended him to be the head of a nation-wide ministry that would last for a hundred years. John understood this; he was teaching his followers to be confident and satisfied with the role that God had designed for them.
Now let’s consider how this applies to us. The prophets are saying that God is moving in America. He is planning to root evil out of our nation and to begin the greatest worldwide harvest of souls that has ever been seen. God is not going to simply wave his hand and make this happen. He is partnering with his followers to bring about these changes.
Remember, God’s original plan for man was to rule over the earth:
Genesis 1:28 – And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
God is now calling the believers of this generation back to that mandate. He is calling some believers to be active in their local school board. He is calling some to run for mayor, some for congress and some for other government offices. He is calling some to be judges and some to be business leaders. He is calling some of you to exhibit radical leadership in the sports, music or entertainment industry.
Some of these callings will influence tens of thousands of people, while others will influence only a few. The number doesn’t matter. What matters is that you complete the race that God has set before YOU.
God is calling each one of us to fulfill the specific role he prepared for us before we were born.
What is your role? If you aren’t sure, you need to be on your face before God seeking the guidance of Holy Spirit. He is the one who can reveal your calling to you. He is the one who can lead you into the position where you can steward/influence part of this nation for His kingdom. If you follow Holy Spirit’s leading, you will receive what heaven has set aside for you!
John 3:28 – “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him’”.
John has never been deceitful with his disciples. He plainly told them from the beginning that he was not the Messiah, but that he came to prepare the hearts of people to receive what God had for them.
You can’t help but wonder how they missed this important fact. Perhaps they were hearing what they wanted to hear, not necessarily what their teacher was saying to them.
John 3:29 – “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.”
The illustration of marriage is one frequently used in scripture to describe the relationship between Jesus and his church (Isaiah 62:5, Revelation 21:2, 22:17, II Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5, Matthew 22).
Ephesians 5:23 – For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
The bride belongs to her husband. In the same way, the church belongs to the Messiah. We would naturally expect the Jews of that day to seek/flock to the man they believed to be the Messiah. Therefore it was foolish and ridiculous for John’s followers to think that John would have more disciples than Jesus.
Using the same illustration, John acknowledges that he is the friend of the bridegroom, or what we would call the best man. It is his job to celebrate with the groom and do whatever he can to make things go smoothly until the wedding is over.
John has fulfilled that role by paving the way for Jesus to rise to prominence through his preaching and baptism ministry. John rejoices at the success of Jesus because he greatly desires people to find the Messiah and because it means he was successful in his role as well. When people turned to Jesus it fulfilled John’s joy; it did not take away from it.
You and I have a different role than John did – we are privileged to be a part of the bride of Christ. Our position is to be faithful to the Lord (our husband), to keep his commands, to rule with him under his direction and to bring others into the family of God.
John 3:30 – “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Not only is Jesus gaining more disciples than John, but this is just the beginning. Jesus will eventually be known throughout the world. His gospel message will be preached to the ends of the earth. His glory will one day cover the earth.
Habakkuk 2:14 – For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
It only makes sense that once Christ has come, there is no more need for a herald to proclaim his coming. John understands this.
He is satisfied that he has run the race set before him, and he has done it well. He is ready to finish the course and enter into the reward prepared for him in eternity. What more can you ask to have in this life?
John 3:31 – “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.”
John now explains to his followers that instead of trying to defend his honor, they themselves should turn to Christ, as others were doing. The reason they should do this is because Jesus is superior to John in every way.
Although John was the greatest prophet to ever live (Luke 7:28), he was still a mortal man. He had the same fallen nature that all men possess. His body was formed from the dust of the earth and it returned to dust after his death. He was familiar with earthly things and his understanding of the spiritual realm was limited.
By contrast, Jesus was descended from heaven; he had a divine nature. Because he was divine, he had sovereign authority over (he is above) all things. Because he is from heaven, he knows and understands spiritual principles and truths. He alone is qualified to reveal the will of God and show us the way into the kingdom of heaven.
John 3:32 – “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.”
John now shows his disciples another good reason why they should follow Christ and not be jealous for his ministry. His own testimony and knowledge of heavenly things was by revelation only. It was the same partial understanding that all prophets have; he could only reveal the small portions of truth that God had given him.
By contrast, the teaching of Christ was rooted in first hand divine knowledge. He revealed (testified or gave witness as one would do in a court of law) what he had seen and heard in heaven. He discussed truths and doctrines that he thoroughly and completely understood. The things he revealed about the invisible world were things he had actually seen. When Jesus reveals the mind and will of God, these are revelations he received from speaking directly with God; they were not like partial revelations spoken by the prophets.
Truly, John did preach a message of repentance. But he did not understand the full complexities involved. He did not understand the staggering debt of sin that clings to every man. He did not fully grasp what it would take to remove that sin from us. John did not see that the redemption Jesus was bringing was for Gentiles as well as Jews. He did not have clear knowledge of spiritual regeneration by Holy Spirit. So while he had a limited revelation from God about repentance, Jesus had full knowledge and understanding of the entire plan of salvation. His followers should therefore turn to Jesus the Son of God, who has all revelation and truth from God.
The phrase ‘no one receives his testimony’ seems to be spoken by the Baptist in direct opposition to the claims of his followers that ‘all’ people were now following Christ.
John no doubt wished this statement to be true, but recognized it was not so. Many (most?) of the Jews of that day would reject the doctrines of Christ, just as many today refuse to acknowledge Christ as savior.
John 3:33 – “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.”
In this verse, the meaning of the word ‘seal’ is key to our understanding of the verse. In this case, to seal means to confirm, to ratify; that which authenticates, that which assures truth.
We have probably all seen sealed documents in the movies or read about them in books. A small bit of melted wax was affixed to the flap of an envelope, then a ring or other instrument was pushed into the wax creating an impression unique to an individual. Since seals were one-of-a-kind, there was no doubt about the authenticity of the document.
A sealed document was a historical way of showing the authority, source and importance of information. If a document was sealed by you, you were affirming the truth and authenticity of the contents/information contained in that paper.
Essentially John is saying that a person who believes in the testimony of Jesus, places a seal upon their lives which affirms/authenticates that God is true:
- They are bearing witness that God is true/faithful to all the promises he spoke concerning the Messiah.
- They are bearing witness that God was true/faithful to all the promises spoken to the Jews about being his chosen people.
- They are bearing witness that God is also true/faithful to all the promises made to us that have not yet been fulfilled.
- When we believe in Jesus as Messiah, we affirm/testify that we place our eternal souls into his hands, confident that he will do has he has promised.
To be sure, God is true whether we accept (seal) or reject (refuse to seal) the testimony and work of Jesus in our lives. But we save ourselves, bear witness to others and honor God with our faith in him.
John 3:34-35 – “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”
John reveals to his followers yet another significant difference between himself and Christ. Jesus has Holy Spirit without measure or limit. He possesses and operates in the fullness of ALL spiritual gifts. He is infinitely greater than every teacher, prophet, priest or divine messenger that has ever appeared. In fact, God has put all things into his hands. In other words, Jesus has been entrusted with all things necessary to our salvation and he is head over the church.
Ephesians 1:22-23 – And [God] has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.
This is the opposite of ordinary men. Paul tells us that each ordinary man/woman is given a measure of grace (Ephesians 4:7). This is demonstrated multiple places in scripture. Remember Elijah and Elisha? When Elijah was taken up into heaven, what request did Elisha make?
2 Kings 2:9 – And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you, before I be taken away from you. And Elisha said, I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.
Elisha asked to have a double portion or twice as much of the Spirit that Elijah had. Since this is the case, Elijah obviously had only a measure of the Spirit; he did not have the Spirit without limit.
No New Testament saint has the Spirit without limit either. Paul declares that Holy Spirit divides his gifts among various members of the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:11 – But in all these works that one and same Spirit, dividing to every man individually as he will.
By doing so, Holy Spirit makes each one of us dependent upon the others, just like individuals members of a body (the eye, the hand, the knee, the ear, the foot, etc) need each other in order to function as a complete unit (I Corinthians 12:4-12, Ephesians 4:1-16).
This concept is more important today than ever before. When COVID hit, and the country was shut down for a while, many if not most churches began to use social media to share their services. This was a good and proper thing to do and many people have benefited by it. It continues to be a good option for shut-ins, those with serious health issues, and those who want to hear additional teaching.
But there is a downside as well. There are people who could and should be present in the house of God, but they are choosing to remain at home, separated from the body. By doing so, they are depriving the body of their gifts. Are you one of these Christians?
Have you stopped to consider that on any given Sunday morning, there will be people in your congregation that need YOU to be present in order to share the specific gifts that Holy Spirit has given you? They may be in need of your specific prayers, your words of wisdom/knowledge, your encouragement or your discernment for their situation.
Maybe there is a suffering saint in that service that needs a financial gift and God is calling upon YOU to meet that need. What if you aren’t there? Rest assured, God will still meet the needs of his people, but you will miss out on one of the good works God has called you to do; you have missed a reward that could have been yours in heaven.
Have you stopped to consider that you are missing out on corporate worship and any move of the Spirit which falls upon those who are attending? By separating yourself from the rest of the body, you hurt not only yourself, but the corporate body of Christ. Why are you doing that? Unless you have a true reason to remain apart from the body, you need to get back in church immediately!
John 3:36 – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
There is no way to enter the kingdom of God but through Christ Jesus (Acts 4:12). Thus, whoever believes in him, does not come into condemnation; his sins forgiven and he has passed from death to life (John 5:24).
However, for those who reject Christ, their sin stays with them, and the wrath of God remains on them, resulting in eternal death.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
When God gives you a gift or a calling, he never takes it back (Romans 11:29). It is yours for your lifetime, to use (or neglect) as you will. I encourage you to never stop practicing your gifts! As you transition into different seasons of life, find new ways to continue to use and expand your gifts. The body of Christ needs you!
Let me offer you some relief:
In today’s post we saw John the Baptist acknowledge that God had created him in a specific way, for a specific purpose. In his case, he was to be the forerunner of Christ.
Likewise, God has a specific purpose for your life and ministry. So give yourself a break – stop comparing yourself to others! You don’t need to worry about being like ‘everyone else’. You need to focus on doing what God called you to do, whether you are ministering to one person or to thousands!
Let me offer you some strength:
In John chapter 3, we find a dispute between the followers of the Baptist and a Jewish person(s). We noted that there have been religious arguments and disputes since the beginning of time.
But as a mature Christian, we have an opportunity to overlook petty differences between believers. Other people in your community may pray differently, or have different views on communion, but if they trust/believe in Jesus as their savior, then they are a part of the family of God, just like you are. Sure, it will take some strength and patience to pursue unity, but there are plenty of benefits for the kingdom of heaven, if we are willing to do so!