At 45 years old, it is astounding that NFL superstar and living legend, Tom Brady is still playing professional football at the highest level. Just last year (2021), also in his 40s, he was a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the 7th time. As I write this in fall of 2022, though, Brady seems to be falling from a long flight in the rarefied air of his sure-to-be Hall of Fame-level career. His team is losing. He was caught on camera screaming blame at his teammates. He looks gaunt. Worse, he and his wife just divorced, seemingly because Brady couldn’t say no to football.
There is a real dignity and respectability about knowing when to quit. It can be so difficult to know, though, can’t it? Especially when things are going great. We love that feeling of success, and all the perks that come with it. The attention, the acclaim, sometimes financial benefits. John the Baptist almost certainly had all that in his role as forerunner. He was the star. Huge crowds, likely numbering in the thousands, would come out to see this prophet as he baptized them by the Jordan River. He was the talk of the nation.
But as we learned in the previous post, John’s disciples report to John some potentially disturbing news. Jesus’ competing baptism ministry just might be growing faster than John’s What should John do? John’s response to his disciples is classy, classic and shows he knows his place. Look at John 3, verses 27-30.
John basically says, “Guys, when God gives you a role, it’s best you go with God. God gave me the role of the forerunner, the one who would prepare the way for the Christ. I am not the Christ. You need to face that fact. I was only ever here to prepare the way for the Christ. I did that. Now he’s here. He is the focus.”
John was well aware of where his ministry began and where it ended. His job was to call people to prepare their hearts and minds for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. He wasn’t the Christ, and therefore, when the Christ showed up, John’s job was, for all intents and purposes, done. He was the forerunner to the Messiah, and when the Messiah showed up, John would step aside. The Messiah, Jesus, had arrived.
Because of that, what we read in verse 23, about people constantly coming to be baptized by John has me wondering if John was hanging on longer than he should’ve. Jesus was on the scene. John knew it. John was aware. He was a perceptive, godly man. He also probably heard the rumors about the miracles, about Jesus cleansing the temple. I suppose, given his asceticism, it is possible that John secluded himself and didn’t hear any that news. But at the very least John knew that Jesus, the Messiah, had arrived, and some of John’s disciples began following Jesus, as they should.
Maybe…just maybe, did John drag his feet, trying to keep his ministry going? Did he hang on too long? Was there even a small bit of longing for more? If there was, the Gospels don’t say so. I’m just speculating. It could be that John was just a charismatic guy, a super bold prophet, and people were constantly fascinated by him. So when they kept showing up, he kept calling people to repent and be baptized and follow God’s ways.
But now, John makes it clear what has to happen. He says in verse 29 that he has the distinct pleasure of fulfilling the role of the forerunner. He says he is like the best man at a wedding. The best man has an important role, but there is another who has a more important role. Once the best man hands over the rings, and makes the toast, he’s done. The groom is now center stage, along with the bride. It’s their day. A best man and maid of honor who have their hearts in the right place will feel so much joy because their friends, the bride and groom, are the main attraction.
John says it like this: “Jesus must become greater; I must become less.” That’s a powerful comment, and one that you and I can dwell on for a long time, repeatedly, daily even, evaluating its applicability to our lives. We should be like John the Baptist. We’re not the star of the show. Jesus is. We want people to know Jesus, to be in relationship with him.
This is why it rubs me the wrong way when Christians and even churches seem to be trying to make a name for themselves. Some churches have tons of merch that you can buy with their logo on it. There are worship leaders or pastors who seem to want the limelight. Some Christians give money and want their name on a plaque or on a building. John was saying, “It’s not about me. My ministry was always all about Jesus.”
Get this: some scholars estimate that John’s ministry was maybe only about three months long before Jesus hit the scene. In that short time, John had made a name for himself. But making a name for himself wasn’t his mission. His mission was to prepare the way for Jesus. So when the time came, when Jesus arrived, John actually wants his name to decrease, so that Jesus’ name can increase.
What can it look like for Jesus to increase in your life? In your church’s life? This passage is a clear call for all of us to evaluate Jesus in our lives. Are we intentionally seeking to increase Jesus in our lives, with our lives, with how we spend our money, our time, and with how we use our talents?