Have you ever had someone take credit for work you’ve done?
Have you ever been in school or work on a group project and some yahoo—usually the laziest one of the bunch—takes credit for it or speaks as if they had some huge contribution when you really were the one doing it?
How did you feel when that classmate, coworker, or supervisor took credit that wasn’t theirs to take? It bothered you, right?
Now imagine that happens to someone you love. Now you’re upset over the injustice AND you hurt for the person you care about.
If you can identify with that at all, you might get some idea how the disciples of John the Baptizer felt in our passage today: John 3:22-30.
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.”John 3:22-30
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.”
New International Version
They were getting hot under the collar because Jesus was baptizing and taking crowds away from their beloved mentor and rabbi. They thought Jesus was taking credit that belonged to their master, John. After all, John had been out there baptizing for a long time and proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. Now here is this guy—the same John testified about—copying John and stealing his crowds.
The disciples of John the Baptizer were concerned that John’s ministry would not survive Jesus’ newfound faith. They considered Jesus a threat to John’s ministry.
The Baptizer took this opportunity to teach them a profound truth ringing down through two millennia of time. It’s in verse 27:To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.
All this energy of John’s disciples has been wasted on issues of insignificance.
John is the witness but Jesus is the Light. John is the voice, but Jesus is the Word. John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Spirit. “Of course, people are going to Jesus,” John is saying, “I can only do what I have been called by Heaven to do. No more and no less.” What a great lesson. What a great teacher.
17th century Englishman John Selden wrote, “Humility is a virtue all men preach, none practice, and yet everybody is content to hear.” John the Baptizer is a glaring exception to this, isn’t he?
John concludes his correction of his disciples reminding them that he is the “best man” at the wedding of Jesus’ ministry, not the groom. His greatest joy was not being noticed, but watching everything going off without a hitch. A wedding with no hiccups makes the “best man” very happy.
Likewise, John’s greatest joy would the smooth transition from himself to Jesus the Messiah. “That joy”, the forerunner to our Lord Jesus Christ states, “is mine, and it is now complete.”
It is “complete” is a translation of a Greek word telling us the joy in John’s heart is up to the rim of his cup. He is ultimately satisfied with how things have unfolded. Although these disciples are upset, John is filled with great satisfaction and surpassing joy because this is what he worked for.
Is that how we respond when people give us credit for what is actually Jesus’ credit? Any talent, ability, giftedness, position, promotion, or accolade we received isn’t really ours. It belongs to Jesus. As disciples of Jesus, we should remember that.
What do we have that He did not graciously give us?
Are you taking credit for His work? Is it time to repeat the words of John the Baptizer as an act of worship to the Lord, “He must become greater; I must become less” (verse 30)?