John Lesson 10 - A Fading Star
The qualities which make up a leader in our culture today include self-love, greed, and doing unto others before they do unto you! But in John chapter 3 we see a much different picture. John the Baptist teaches us by example that humility is foundational to leadership. So while the badge on your shirt or title on your certificate might garner the world's attention... humility is the only thing that will garners God's.
A Fading Star
If it were possible to travel back in time, I would love to visit among other places and events, the palace of Bloody Mary, the Queen who committed some of the most violent acts toward Christians in the history of Scotland. I would like to visit her courtroom, not to see her but to hear a preacher by the name of John Knox, who thundered the truth even though it might cost him his life.
On one occasion as Knox was headed to the queens chapel to preach, he was warned to postpone the visit since she was in one of her dangerous moods. Knox continued on his way replying, "Why should I be afraid of a queen when I have just spent time on my knees with God?"
I would like to travel on to Germany in 1521 and sit in the packed courtroom as Martin Luther, the reformer stands on trial as a heretic. I would love to have heard, first hand his words as he said to the highest and most powerful religous and political leaders of his day, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God; I cannot and will not recant; here I stand, it is all that I can do."
I would love to travel back in time and hear Hugh Latimer preach, a reformer who advanced the protestant reformation in England until he was martyred. One time a sermon he preached offended Henry VIII who demanded he preach again and make a public apology. Latimer refused. It was Hugh Latimer who uttered the famous line that fueled the fires of the young protestant church; he was about to be burned at the stake for his involvment in the protestant reformation . . . he turned to Samuel Ridley who was also about to die in the flames and said, "Take heart, we shall this day light such a candle in England that I hope will never be put out."
Some sermons . . .
I would also like to travel back in time to a period that could easily be called a reformation. A fiery preacher suddenly, and without much warning appeared with a message that shocked the highest spiritual and political leaders. It was offensive to their religous senses . . . the thundering preacher even offended the King as well with a seromn on moral purity.
The king of his day was not named Henry but Herod.
Now what I would like to visit, is not the day John appeared from the wilderness, but the day something very unusual took place.
What I would have loved to have seen first hand is that moment when John's disciples came to him with the news that Jesus's ministry was beginning to attract more people than his.
While we can't be there, we can at least read the account of that conversation, a conversation that certainly revealed the true greatness of John the Baptist.
It's recorded in the gospel by John, chapter 3, verse 22.
After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.
Look over and 4:2 Although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were - this baptism was identiacl to John the Baptist's - it was a baptism of repentance that identified the people with the truth of the prophet's teaching. It was not believer's baptism as we know it today - although there are several parallels. We covered that in an earlier discussion.
23. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.
24. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. (He got there by the way becuase he offended Herod's mistress with his sermon on infidelity).
25. There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purification.
Now we're not sure how this discussion related, but somewhere in the discussion, this cantakerous unamed Jew brought up the point that not only was John baptizing, but the disciples of Jesus were baptizing.
Wait a second - what did you say?! Jesus is baptizing in Judea?! This is John's territory and this is John's baptism!
26. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"
This is the moment that I'd love to see, for this moment determines John's greatness - how will he respond? Well, I'll tell you ahead of time that he responded with humility.
In fact, I want to take the spade to John's words and uncover some wonderful characteristics of humility that should challenge us all as messengers for God.
Humility refuses to promote personal achievments
Here's John's initial, immediate response to his disciples!
27. John answered and said, "A man can recieve nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven."
"What's the fuss...my ministry is from God...I'm nothing more than what God has made me!
We have a well known phenomenon in the animal kingdom - sheep in the flock have a butting order...the hardest heads win; in the hen house it's a pecking order. In the Christian community, we don't determine importance and stature by who has the hardest skull or who has the sharpest beak...we have our own ranking order. It's order by comparison!
We compare bankbooks, talents, degrees, looks, clothing, cars, houses, business titles, etc to come up with our ranking
And in the ministry, we compare budgets and attendance records. In fact, the problem with John's disciples is not that people still aren't coming to hear John preach, but that more are going to hear Jesus!
Note verse 23b. "...and they were coming and were being baptized (by John.") There's still a crowd...there's still wonderful results -but notice the last part of v. 26b. "all are coming to Him." evidently they had sent a spy or two over to Jesus camp to count heads - the crowd was so overwhelming that they exaggerated the report, "John, everybody's going over to Him!
John's answer - look again at verse 27. John answered and said, "A
man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.
The effictiveness of anyone's life and ministry is determined ahead of time by God and given as a gift to that willing servant.
This does not mean that you are free to be lazy in your Christian life and then blame your lack of achievment on God...but believing in the sovereignty of God does not mean that we can be lazy, but it does mean that whatever the results of our efforts we will see God's hand in them and will not be jealous of another person, whom God may have chosen to be more effective!
As Elizabeth Browning wrote, "All service ranks the same with God."
There are two differing attitudes among believers,
"I am entitled"
"I have been entrusted"
What a difference in the body of Christ this attitude would make. We are what we are because of God's design...we are talented and gifted by God's design. And God has placed us together for the benefit of each other.
Turn over to I Cor. chapter 4 where Paul picks up the same theme - it seems that he's even quoting John the Baptist in I Cor. 4:7 - For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it why do you boast..."
And if you've ever wondered why God equipped you the way He did, Paul expands further in chapter 12:12. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body...skip to verse 15 where Paul illustrates. If the foot should say, "Becuase I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body", it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16. And if the ear should say, "Becuase I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body...17. If the whole body were an eye, where would
the hearing be? If the whole were hearing where would the sense of smell be.
just picture that - a body with one huge hear - no sense of smell, no sight, no taste. It would probably hear great? But without the other parts of the body, it couldn't walk, and if it could it would constantly bump into things. . .it couldn't eat...
18. (Here's the point) But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. So stop trying to be a hand, if you're a foot; stop trying to be a mouth if you're an ear!
The church needs to catch on to this truth.
One of the things that made John truly great was that he was committed to being a star, and not the sun. He was the voice and not the truth - he was committed to being himself under the direction of God's leading and design.
Now I want you to imagine being deep in the forest when you stumble upon a group of small animals. They're all seated in straight rows and up from is a loud, boisterious rabbit holding a clipboard and giving a speech. He's obviously in charge - or at least, no one can interrupt him to object. You decide to listen in and soon discover that the rabbit is giving the animals a list of qualities that make an animal truly outstanding. You hear him say, "Now if you want to be a truly great animal, you must run fast and learn to hop." There's a duck in the crowd who loudly objects, "Hey, what about swimming, or flying?" "Swim, the rabbit laughs" "Who needs to swim; who likes to swim; and flying...truly great animals keep their feet on solid ground!" So the duck, along with all the other animals begin to practice running - and hopping. Poor Duck...he just can't get it right - in fact, whenever he picks up some speed, his back end is swinging so fast it bowls him over; and he can never seem to get the hopping down, unless he flaps his wings, but then it's not a real hop - like the rabbit does. So eventually, discourages, the duck waddles back to the pond - and gliding gracefully across the water you hear him say, "I guess I'll never be a truly great animal."
We have in this room a lot of ducks. We have some rabbits too and some sparrows. We have some eagles and butterflies. We also have an awful lot of trouble if we all start trying to look like a rabbit - run fast with little hops.
God purposefully chose not to make us like General Motors makes Buicks. We all don't have the same ability, intelligence or gifts...in fact, to wish to be like someone else is to discredit the wisdom of God who formed and outfitted you. Who knit your parts together.
So instead of trying to learn how to hop, or swim or run; try two other activities instead:
1) Let's be thankful! Thank God for the way He designed you! You are an original!
From your persona to your physique, you have been fashioned by divinely devised DNA!
Now I remember as a Jr. High boy - upset that I wasn't bigger and stronger. Besides, Frankie who lived down the street was the neighborhood bully and he terrorized me and all the other kids. So I bought a can of that powder from the nutrition store - the one with the picture of that man on the front with huge biceps -a beautiful woman on either side of him - that's what I was missing in life. My Mom even went along and made me milkshakes that I'd mix this sawdust with...I never gained a pound.
Trouble is, many people never outgrow that insecurity - so they spend thousands of dollars on sports equipment or fast cars or designer label clothing to somehow measure up!
Take a look at your thumbprint...it's the only one like it in the world. It's as if God's trying to communicate a message that you are special and distinct from everyone else.
2) Let's be realistic!
God created us less than ideal. No one in here is intellectually or physically perfect. Perhaps God is trying to teach us that the inward is more important than the outward. In fact, has it ever occurred to you that your outward imperfections are a reminder of God's priorities - He's concerned with the qualities of character -
And if you can hop or run, you can't take credit for it; if you can't swim - you can't take the blame.
If all you can do is waddle - then waddle to the glory of God. If you can soar or run and hop or swim - then do it with everything you've got - develop it, refine it, use it for God's glory.
Above all, remember Who gave you that particular expertize.
I happen to believe that one day we will probably be amazed at the variety of people to whom God will say - "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Not, "Well done thou brilliant servant!"
"Well done thou educated servant!"
"Well done thou attractive and wealthy servant!"
"Well done thou flawless, perfect servant!"
Oh no - well, done thou faithful servant! That is, you've been faithful with what I've given to you to use for my name-sake.
(Go back to John 3 - I've taken you on quite a rabbit trail!)
Humility refuses to emphasize personal importance
v. 28. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, "I am not the Christ", but "I have been sent before him."
In other words, "C'mon fellas, don't forget who I'm not!"
And they're saying, "C'mon John - don't sell yourself short -take a look around you - and have you forgotten the angel?"
Since we probably have, hold your finger here, and turn back to Luke 1:13.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
15. For he will be great (there's the word - he's going to be great) in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb.
16. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the Fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
You forget that John - you're great!
And your ministry is having a three fold impact:
1) a restoration of the family
2) a revival of rebellious people
3) a re-focusing of an entire nation for the coming Messiah
That's what's happening John!
And John quitely says, "Pull up some chairs fellas, and let me give you a different perspective.
Return to John 3:29. he who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hear him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full.
In John's day, in the middle East, it was customary for the friend of the bridegroom - we call him the best man) to make all the arrangements for the wedding. He was the master of ceremonies and for a time - everyone listened to his direction and obeyed his orders. His final act, which was primarily ritual, was to stand by the door of the bridal chamber where the marriage would be consumated and make sure that no one went into the bridal chamber to meet the bride except the bridegroom. And so he stood by the door until at an appointed time, the bridegroom came. He then stepped aside - his duties were finished.
John says, "For a time, everyone has been listening to me - but remember, I've just been making preparations for the nation - the bride - to meet the bridegroom - the Messiah. I hear his voice. Now that He's here, it's time to step aside with joy.
That leads me to the third and perhaps most difficult characteristic:
Humility refuses to preserve personal recognition
v. 30. "He must increase but I must decrease."
Literally, "He must keep on increasing, and I must keep on decreasing" Just as the star shines bright in the darkness, as the sunlight begins to bathe the horizon, the star begins to fade. It's still there, but it's reflection is no longer needed."
John is a fading star!
Here is the opportunity for John to feel injured, forgotten or discarded! And John's disciples don't like to see their leader overshadowed. They were implying, "Look John, say something to make Him stop."
You know, it's interesting that the opposite of a humble Christian is a person who loses site of what he's supposed to do.
Here's a preacher preaching on the subject of the rapture; in the middle of his sermon Jesus appears in the clouds to rapture the church, and the preacher gets upset that his sermon was interrupted!
That's like a corporate headhunter, upset that his clients are landing jobs; or a baker that his bread keeps on being eaten; or a builder, upset that people buy the homes he builds or a painter that his paintings are being purchased. . .foolish? Yes. Why? Because that's the aim of their occupation!
Here are John's disciples - whose job is to introduce people to Jesus, upset that people are following Jesus. Pride does ridiculous things!
Now, the ministry of John and Jesus evidently overlapped - Why didn't John quit baptizing . . . I believe that's because God had given him his work and he would continue to do it until God called him to do something else. In a short while his new calling would be manifested - he would be imprisoned by Herod and martyred.
Not John..."Did somebody mention Jesus. . .let me tell you about the Messiah . . .John doesn't lose this opportunity and he immediately launches into his favorite subject - the Messiah.
He declares two things about this Christ:
1) Jesus is an eyewitness account (v. 31-33)
John 3:31. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. he who comes from heaven is above all. 32a. What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness.
You remember in a previous study the emphasis of the word "Witness" in John chapter 1. 7 times in that chapter John is referred to as being a witness.
Now you remember what makes a good witness - someone who stands up and tells what he's heard. What makes a perfect witness - someone who stands up and tells what he's seen - an eyewitness has the strongest case in court!
This is where John - a terrific, faithful witness can not match the witness of Jesus Christ! It is like the difference between speaking to an audience through an interpreter and speaking to them in their own language.
Go back to the v. 32 What he has seen and heard, of that He bears witness, and no man receives His witness. 33. He who has received His witness has set his seal to this that God is true.
John said, in effect, I can tell you some things about God's truth, and I can tell you about the Kingdom of Heaven. . .but I've never been there and I've never seen God . . .
When you hear Jesus talking about:
Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden - He was there!
When he speaks of Noah and the flood - he saw it happen!
When he refers to Abraham and Isaiah, David or Daniel, these were people he'd watched!
When he unveiled the future and talked about building a church, he, who had not been confined to our space, time, dimension, had already seen the beginning and completion of the church age.
When he talked about heaven and his Father's mansion, he'd just come from there...
Jesus is an eyewitness!!!!
But also: 2) Jesus is an eternal authority (v. 34-36)
34. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. 36. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John says "you think my ministry has had authority...I'm introducing to you the Master - He speaks the words of God - he is part of the divine trinity of Father Son and Holy Spirit.
He has eternal authority!
But what of John the Baptist - Jesus said, that no one of human descent was greater than John.
Jewish historians estimate that more than 300,000 people followed this man's ministry. He had generated so much excitement that many were calling him the re-appearance of Elijah.
And now the star is fading - why? Because the Son is appearing on the horizon of human history. The curtains are closing on the illustrious career of a courageous humble man - and, funny thing, he has absolutely no regrets.
Once, when Hudson Taylor the great missionary pioneer to China was visiting Australia, he was scheduled to speak in a large church in Melbourne. The pastor introduced J. Hudson Taylor by using many superlatives, especially the word "great". Taylor stepped to the pulpit and quietly said, "Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master."
Like Hudson Taylor, John the Baptist was a man content to come in second place. And we honor him as Christ honored him...there is coming a kingdom when we will be given positions of honor...to those who have played second string well; who with great passion have filled the roles of a supporting cast...who have finished second with grace; whose primary desire is not to be served, not to feel the blaze of the spotlight, but to point the spotlight to "the witness", the lamb; the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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