Increase Not Decrease: God Grants the Role

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

Of course John’s comment is in light of his ministry. For he says that he was to announce the Christ because he is not the Christ: his role was to prepare the way. John sees that his own life isn’t purposeless but is actually tied up in the work of God by the presentation of the Lamb of God.

He was sent to preach repentance and when he saw the Lamb of God he pointed him out, openly acknowledging that this is the provision that God had made. (John 1:19-34)

To John’s mind, this probably meant something else. He probably thought as Jesus as the Lamb ruler who would forcefully take away the sins of the World. After all, it was only a short time later that he would be imprisoned, still waiting for the Christ to reboot this entire world, and wondering why it hadn’t happened yet.

In Matthew 11, John, seeing that Herod is still in power (and he’s still in jail) sends a message to Jesus via disciples: “Are you the Christ that we’re waiting for?” He spent his life pointing out this person, he could’ve sworn that this was the very thing he was called to do, but things had turned out so differently and dire: could he have been wrong?

Christ responds neither yes nor no but pointing out the work of God. The Lame walk. The blind see. The Gospel is being preached.

The next historical note we have about John is that he’s beheaded at a party for a cruel mother and her daughter. (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9).

You see, Christ explains, John wasn’t merely some spectacle in soft clothes out in the wild—some oddity to ogle. This John was God’s prophet: the very Elijah who was supposed to come (if they would have had him) before the end of the age: the one who prepared the way of the coming of the Lord Himself. This John, in prison who eventually died of beheading, was the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:11a).

Without a miracle. Without a sign. With a backwater ministry in the Jewish outback. John functioned where he was supposed to function doing what all the prophets before him did, but better. Point to Christ.

Every single prophet in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes fuzzily. Sometimes explicitly. But always predicated upon God’s revelation and looking forward to God’s distant promises. John alone, out of all the prophets, announced Him within days, inaugurated him via baptism, and witnessed the descending Holy Spirit upon Him. None of the prophets were given that position (Heb 11:39).

But John didn’t see everything. He was still an Old Testament prophet. He didn’t see  the crowds cheering around the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11:9; John 12). To him wasn’t given the horror of seeing the Messiah rejected and pinned to a tree (John 19). He would never witness the wonder of the risen Messiah (John 20). To him wasn’t given the chance of listening to the risen Lord for several days before he was taken up into heaven (Acts 1). To him wasn’t given the chance of participating in the prophesying in tongues which was a witness of the Holy Spirit being poured out in the last days (Acts 2).

None of those things were given to him; God didn’t grant John that role.

And he knew that at this point.

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Increase Not Decrease: Man Receives From God

“A person can receive nothing unless it is given to him from heaven.” (John 3:27)

John repeats a point that Christ actually makes in the discussion with Nicodemus recorded in the same chapter (John 3). The story is well known. Jesus has been doing (and saying) some pretty impressive things. He comes to Jesus by night, because he was a Pharisee of the Sanhedrin after all, and wonders how it is possible that Jesus is doing this work.

It is the similar question that John’s disciples asked him: how is it possible that Jesus is allowed to do this work?

Jesus responds that entrance into the Kingdom of God is by miraculous means: one must be born again (John 3:3). One isn’t born of their own power but they are born by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). God functions how he functions and he decides how things are to be.

Nicodemus, confused and wondering then how anyone can therefore enter the Kingdom of God asks “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

Christ’s answer is that we speak what we know and what he knows is outright heavenly things. No one has gone up to heaven to be able to explain these things but only the one who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. The Son of Man came with God’s purpose: to be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16).

He points to himself.

Christ’s response to Nicodemus is that God’s initiative is evidenced in the provision of Christ. To hammer this point home, he uses a metaphor from Numbers 21:4-9 to illustrate the point.

The Children of Israel were dying in the wilderness. They had sinned. God punished: they were to be bit by poisonous snakes. Moses interceded and God didn’t have to respond. The people had already covenanted with him that they would be a holy nation, a royal priesthood and they had repeatedly broken their pact with God. God had every right to be done with them.

But God in his mercy and sovereignty provided a solution. He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to lift the thing up. If anyone who was bit and dying, poison coursing through their veins, turned away from their situation to look at what God had provided they would live. They wouldn’t diminish. They would be lifted up. They would be able to walk. They would be able to grab hold of the promises of God. They would live.

In that same way, says Christ, the Son of Man is lifted up as God’s provision which God points to wanting people to look. The fact that they don’t look speaks of their own sinfulness and condemnation already because this gift is actually God given.

So John, understanding Mankind’s contingency, says anything man has is actually given, not taken: it is God Given.  Breath. Life. Ministry. All God given.

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Increase Not Decrease: Examining John 3:30

Some years ago, I was at a house blessing with several Christians, an atheistic Buddhist, some agnostics, and some Hindus. The focus, said the Hindu priest was to realize that we were all part of the same faith. We were blessing the house by emptying ourselves and embracing what unifies us all, that which welcomes us all: God.

This upset me. I didn’t know what to say. I wish I had responded better than angry tears.

I couldn’t articulate what was wrong with what was going on (on multiple levels). The Holy Man was being exceedingly spiritual, saying a whole mess of spiritual things to embolden our human selves to yearn for the spiritual; it was all tremendously dehumanizing—making one less than human.

Dehumanizing how?

Unfortunately in a way that Christians today have no problem with.

We look at a passage like John 3:30 and see a perfect quote that is often used to depict that we are to become less as Christ becomes more. The Physical, is taught, doesn’t matter: the Spiritual is what continues. But how does this differ from the Holy Man who called this “God” the “Spirit of Christ”? The only difference is that one has been Christianized.

Note John’s words occur when he is baptizing in Aenon, near Salim (John 3:22). This event, John the Evangelist reminds us, happened before John was arrested. Now of course we know that John wouldn’t have been arrested if he was out baptizing but it is likely because he knew about the accounts of the other Gospels which remind us very early in their text that John was arrested. (Mark 1:14; Matt 4:12-21; mentioned in Luke 3:19).

This John, after the heyday of his ministry, but before being arrested, is faithfully continuing his work. He’s already baptized Jesus (John 1). He’s already pointed him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But John is waiting while he is working.

A discussion gets kicked up about purification and there’s some spill-over. Apparently it had something to do with baptism since the disciple points out that Jesus’ group is baptizing people and all are coming to Jesus rather than to John. Indeed, in the next chapter, the evangelist records that Jesus was baptizing more than John even though Jesus wasn’t personally baptizing anyone (John 4:1).

John’s response is in three parts:

  1. Man Receives From God
  2. God grants the role
  3. Joy is Found in God-Given Vocation

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