“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”” (John 3:22–30, ESV)
After baptizing Jesus, John continued to baptize people with water pointing them to the Christ. Here we read of Jesus coming into the same region baptizing people with the Spirit and water as they came to believe. Seeing this John’s disciples got into a discussion with a Jew over baptism and purification. But as they talked the focus seemed to shift toward a concern among John’s disciples that Jesus was in competition with them, and that John was losing followers as people seemed to be flocking Jesus.
John responded to his disciples by telling them that what they have is a gift—a privilege. They were granted by God to be witnesses to the coming of the Christ. John reminded them of his testimony that he was not the Christ, but rather the one sent before the Christ to proclaim Him. As such his call all along was to stand aside for the One he was speaking about. When Jesus, the Christ, arrived on the scene John knew that he was intended to become less and less the focus, as eyes were turned to the One who was truly sent to be that focus.
John explained this to his disciples by speaking about himself as the friend of the bridegroom privileged to know the joy of the bridegroom arriving to make Himself known to his bride. John knew he had truly been blessed to God to stand in this very special place.
God coming for His bride was not a foreign thought to the Jews. Isaiah 62 speaks of the coming time when Jerusalem would shine like the glowing bride prepared for her groom. In verse 5 we read, “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (ESV) And as we progress through the writing of the rest of the Bible we find this understanding repeated. In Ephesians 5:25-27 we read, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (ESV) Then at the end of the last book of the Bible, the conclusion of the Revelation of God, we read, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;” (Revelation 19:6–7, ESV)
It was the intended plan of God that the bride would be drawn to the groom, and John knew that it was intended all along that Christ would become prominent as he, himself, faded into the background. John’s joy was complete. His purpose for being sent was fulfilled, and as we read earlier in this passage John was shortly to be removed (arrested and eventually beheaded) from his ministry of proclaiming the coming of the Lamb.
As believers in Christ we are a part of His church—His bride, and we have been given the great privilege and responsibility of proclaiming that Christ has come and one day will come again. This is true regardless of how others might respond. Even as I write this blog there are those in our world who are being put to death because they have taken on the name of Christ as His followers. This kind of persecution of the followers because of the hatred for the one they follow is not new, and we have every reason to believe that it will intensify rather than go away. It is for this reason, like John, that we are to keep our eyes on Christ and look forward to that time when He returns for His church and eventually presented to Him as the fullness of the bride at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. The apostle Paul lived with this tension between remaining to engage in productive ministry and leaving to be present with the Lord. He reminds us of our great hope.
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–9, ESV)
John came to fulfill what God had called him to do, and in that he knew the joy of pleasing God. This guided his ministry. It also guided the ministry of Paul, and we ourselves are called to make it our aim to please God as well. Because of His love for us and the salvation given to us in His Son we respond by making it our aim to please Him. This is done when we walk by faith in obedient service to Him, trusting Him that no matter how people respond to us that it is really about Him.