After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:22-30
This passage seems to be describing an interesting “day in the life” of Jesus and John. They were both baptizing people on the Judean countryside. Presumably, John was baptizing with water and Jesus with the Spirit. It sounds like John and Jesus are in different locations along the Jordan River. It is not stated where Jesus is except that He is apparently not in the same location as John.
The passage implies that Jesus is in a place of more scarce water and John was in a place of “plenty of water”. I am not sure what this means. My first reaction is that these statements are backward. Jesus should be in the place with plenty of water and John in the “desert”. Perhaps there is a deeper spiritual truth here. John, in baptizing with water, is much closer to abundant secular sources of water like the Jordan River, while Jesus is closer to and in fact providing Living Water that is much harder to see and experience.
The story then focuses on John and a dispute that came up about ceremonial washing between John’s followers and a “certain jew”. It is interesting that the topic of discussion is ceremonial washing. My post from December 9 was all about Jesus turning water into fine wine that was stored in ceremonial washing vessels. The content of the debate is not provided but I can imagine it went something like this:
Jew: “What right do you have to say that the washing in this dirty river is making these people ceremonially clean?”
Disciples: “Go wash yourself and see how clean that makes you in the eyes of God, we have seen the Son of God and you are not Him”.
John’s disciples then begin to question their understanding of the “man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan”. They are allowing the earthly actions of John preparing the way for the Messiah to mix with their admiration and pride at following John. They are mixing up the messenger and the Master.
John sets them straight and refocuses their pride and praise on the One for which it was intended all along, the Bridegroom, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’”. John is modelling the proper posture and perspective for his followers.
John explains that upon Jesus arriving “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” This statement is not just for a camel-hair-wearing, honey- and locust-eating, ascetic from the desert and his followers. It is for us. When we “discover” Jesus on the other side of the Jordan we are to be joyful about this. Finding Jesus should make us feel complete in a way that no other earthly endeavor, item, or action does. It is to be like finding, and placing, the last piece in a hundred-thousand piece puzzle that we thought we would never solve.
The passage ends with a profound statement “He must become greater; I must become less.” The simple sentence sums up our journey here on earth as we work out what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ. Jesus must become greater in our lives and we must become less. In practice this is hard. Our selfish inner selves are constantly asserting the same sort of doubts that John’s followers were voicing, “everyone is going to him”. We are reluctant to give up all of ourselves so that Jesus can become greater, especially those things that compete for our affection and attention.
Prayer: God help us to be joyful in Your presence and allow You to become greater as we become lesser.