Thursday, August 25, 2016

John 3:22-36 - The Humility of John the Baptist

John the Baptist

Dr. George Washington Carver said, "When I was young I was walking along a dusty dirt road. I said to God, 'God, tell me the mystery of the universe.' But God answered, 'That knowledge is reserved for me alone.' Then on that dusty road I kicked a peanut. So I said, 'God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.' Then God said, 'Well, George, that's more nearly your size.' And he told me." The young African-American scientist went on to develop hundreds of useful products from the peanut.[1]

M.R. DeHaan, the founder of Radio Bible Class and co-editor of the daily devotion Our Daily Bread, used to say, “Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have it," because then we would have to repent for pride! Tonight, I have been assigned to preach on humility, and I suppose the Lord knew I need a lesson on it most of all. Our lesson tonight focuses on the humility of John the Baptist. We will give a sketch of his life but focus on a moment in John’s life when his humility was most on display – the day he realized it was time for him to step out of the spotlight.

Pray and Read:  John 3:22-36
Key Truth: Luke wrote John 3:22-36 to give believers an example of humility in John the Baptizer.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about humility.
Key Verse: John 3:30
LISTENING GUIDE - Tip for the Trail: The cardinal secret of humility is a constant commitment to the increase of Christ and the decrease of self. (John 3:30)

Contextual Notes:
Jesus once said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). A compliment like that sounds like it would have been handpicked for perhaps Moses the great Law-giver or David, Israel’s great king and giant killer. But no, Jesus gave that compliment to an eccentric hermit named John.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, sent by God to prepare the way for Him. Born of elderly parents, both of whom were of Jewish priestly lines, John’s birth was announced by an angel in the Holy of Holies. He was born about six months before Jesus. Once grown, John lived in the desert as a hermit, having taken a lifelong Nazarite vow never to drink alcohol or cut his hair.
He dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, hardly dressed for success, and ate locusts and honey. His first public ministry began about A.D. 26 in the Judean wilderness and the Jordan Valley. As a prophet, he announced the soon coming of the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, and urged everyone in an uncompromising, politically incorrect message to prepare by repenting or turning away from their sin. As a sign of their repentance he invited people to be baptized in the Jordan River.
LISTENING GUIDE: John the Baptist was a rough renegade of a man. He was also a great example of a humble man.

Huge numbers of common people flocked to the Jordan to be baptized. Religious leaders from the Temple in Jerusalem came to check out this renegade prophet’s doctrine so they could report back to their authorities. Jesus came to be baptized too. John did not want to baptize Jesus because he saw that Jesus had no sin, but when the Lord came up out of water, it seems it all became clear that his cousin was indeed the Messiah he had been announcing. John told his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), and he encouraged them to join Jesus’ band of followers.
The humility of men like John the Baptist brings a certain boldness, and John was bold. He called out King Herod publicly for living in adultery with his sister-in-law Herodias. Herod was afraid of John and the power he wielded anyway with the people, and he imprisoned him. After John had been in prison seven months, the dark loneliness of the prison had a bad effect on John, and he sent a message to Jesus to ask if He truly was the Messiah.
LISTENING GUIDE: Humble people are honest about their doubts and temptations. (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23).

One night a drunken party, the vindictive Herodias took advantage of her position with Herod and ordered John beheaded in the prison and his head presented on a platter.
Listening Guide: Humble people are bold in their convictions and take stands that may cost them (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9).

Sermon Points:
1.   Humility is not jealous or insecure (John 3:22-26)
2.   Humility finds joy in obedience (John 3:27-30)
3.   Humility prioritizes Jesus over self (John 3:31-36)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   John knew his purpose. He was there to be a forerunner of the Son, a job with three functions: to clear the way in the minds and hearts of others to be ready for the Messiah, to prepare the way by urging people to repent so He would be accepted, and then to get out of the way when the Messiah was introduced. We see in this passage how he gets out of the way, the toughest part of his job, and undoubtedly the reason Jesus thought so much of him. He was humble.
b.   Jesus had just finished celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem (John 2:23-3:21) where he had a secret late night interview with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Ruling Council, in which Jesus told Nicodemus that to be saved one must be born again (John 3:16-17). Now he headed back toward Galilee to inaugurate his ministry there when he came through the area where John was baptizing, an area through which many Jews were traveling home from Passover in Jerusalem. Aenon means “fountains” or “springs,” and Salim means peace, so Aenon near Salim is simply, the “Springs of Peace.” Notice that their two ministries were operating on the same turf, and people saw them as preaching the same message with the same purpose, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
c.   John 3:25 – A Jew who had apparently heard Jesus teaching sparked a debate with John. It seems he was trying to drive a wedge between John and Jesus, to sow some doubt, create some strife, create some competition, spin things to get a reaction out of John. John’s disciples were feeling the heat of competition, and tempted by jealousy. They took the bait, but John didn’t.
d.   ILLUSTRATION: “Hey, Preacher! You gotta do something! Your attendance is way down compared to this new guy in town, and we’re losing a lot of members!” “So why do you think they like the other guy more than you?” “I Sound familiar? There is always somebody who brings up something that is peripheral, something that does not matter, something that doesn’t even apply, and try to make an issue of it. We do it often in the church. We get upset over silly things. We make mountains out of molehills. We create drama just for the pure joy of seeing something stirred up. Those kinds of people, like this certain Jew, are to be avoided. Tell them to talk to the hand, because you are not going down that road with them.
e.   John 3:27-30 – John threw cold water on their fire. He said first, that God was in charge, not us (John 3:27); second, that everyone’s contribution is significant, but only One’s work takes first place (John 3:28). Third, joy comes from being obedient, not from getting the glory (John 3:29). Fourth, humility calls attention to Christ, not self (John 3:30).
f.    ILLUSTRATION: A young African boy was once asked by a man, “What is your name?” He replied, “Boy.” The man knew it was a nickname, so he asked him, “What is your other name?” He replied, “That’s what Daddy calls me.” So I asked, “Who is your father?”, to which he replied, “Daddy.” Trying to get more useful information, the man asked, “Who is your mother?” and he told me, “Mummy.” The man tried again. “Who does Mummy belong to?” The boy responded, “Daddy.” Clearly the boy did not yet know his parent’s names, so the man tried a different approach. “Who lives in the house closest to your house?” The reply: “Daddy’s friend.” This young man had no identity of his own separate from his Daddy. John the Baptist was like this. He defined himself in terms of his relationship to God and Jesus.[2]
Aenon near Salim
g.   APPLICATION: A humble person is not jealous about protecting turf or crippled with insecurities and unhealthy comparisons with others (John 3:22-26). Envy and jealousy are robbers. Envy has empty hands and wants something someone else has. Jealousy is its evil twin and fears losing what it has. They activate in us when someone else is promoted, when the sophomore gets playing time and you are a senior, when close friends abandon us for others, when a new business is taking most of yours, a supervisor jokes with someone else on your crew but not you. The only way to stop falling for that is humility. Take the path of preferring others more than yourself. Focus on Christ and His purpose for you rather than what is happening to others.
a.   John called himself the friend of the bridegroom, similar to the best man. He arranged the wedding details, sent out the invitations, made announcements, organized the event, and presided over the marriage feast. Once the marriage was consummated, the groom would announce the fact with a shout. When the friends heard the groom’s voice, he would be happy and relieved. His job was done. He could step out of the way.
b.   ILLUSTRATION: My wife has a poster and teaching she uses with the children. J-O-Y. Jesus first. Others second. Yourself last. The first letters spell the secret to joy. It is found in obedience and preferring others above yourself. John Chrysostom said that “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.” That is because humility walks hand in hand with obedience. It is like the bit in a horse’s mouth. Accepting the bit is an acknowledgement that she is not in control, that she is not first, that the Master will control the reins, and thus the humility of the bit positions the horse for obedience to the Master. Andrew Murray says, “Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all.”  
c.   ILLUSTRATION: In his book, The Insanity of God, Southern Baptist missionary Nik Ripken writes of a visit he made to China in 1998. He flew into an airport and was picked up by friends of a friend. They slipped him in the back seat and out of sight as one of them made a phone call, “Our visitor has arrived. We will bring him to location number four at time number seven.” The car then slowed and drove in what seemed to be aimless, irregular circles until the dead of night when they finally stopped at the edge of a complex of fifteen-story concrete government housing buildings. They hurried through the shadows, through a rear exit door, up the back stairs, into a hallway, knocking softly on an apartment door. Inside, waiting, were seven underground house church leaders, pastors and evangelists. Four of them had just been released from prison for their faith. They chose to stay a few days in the city to meet Nik, then they would go home to be reunited with their families.
d.   One of these church leaders who intrigued Nik was Pastor Chang. He was 83 years old and had been out of prison for three days. Pastor Chang had spent his entire adult life preaching and teaching the gospel – and paying a high price for it. He remembered the early days of communism when Chairman Mao attempted to purge China of Christian (western) influence, deporting missionaries overnight, boarding up church buildings or turning them into brothels and bars. Thousands of believers like Pastor Chang were arrested and placed in brutal re-education labor camps. Pastor Chang had served three different sentences for serving Christ where in prison believers won more to Christ and sent them out upon their release to evangelize new areas of China. Pastor Chang had survived and watched the numbers of Christian believers multiply dramatically. Like the Apostle Paul, Pastor Chang had learned to be content regardless of his circumstances, within or without prison, he preached the same gospel and discipled believers. In fact he had devoted his life to mentoring and training younger leaders, just as Paul did Timothy. The other six men in the apartment, ranging from their twenties to their forties, were his protégés, his Timothys. He had led them to Christ and discipled them over the years. Pastor Chang’s joy was obvious as he talked for two days about his own life and celebrated the ways his life had intersected with the other leaders in the room, story after story of God’s faithfulness. Even more important was his demeanor as his Timothys told their testimonies. The old man squatted in the corner of the room, eyes closed, listening, sometimes humming a Chinese praise song, smiling in satisfaction as his young friends spoke of God’s faithfulness. This old man, only a few days out of prison, without a penny to his name, owning nothing but the clothes on his back and one extra pair of underwear, with no home to return to, and no surviving family to take him in.
e.   His plan? Live the rest of his life like a New Testament apostle, traveling the land and visiting one house church after another, encouraging believers in their faith, trusting the Lord for provision, until he was re-arrested and imprisoned again. By any standard, Pastor Chang had lived a hard life, with nothing tangible to show for his labor. Still, he was content, filled with a spirit of peace, more aware of the joy of living than anyone Nik had ever met.[3] Now guys, that is a life of humility. He wasn’t jealous or taking the credit for his investment in those young leaders’ lives or trying to control them. He was abiding in the Presence, thankful for the opportunity to be a servant.
f.    APPLICATION: A humble person can see God’s hand working in another’s life and applaud it. They know that joy comes from being obedient, not getting glory (John 3:27-29). But how do you really do it? How do we gain the largeness of mind of John? By intercessory prayer. Yes, that’s it. William Law, whose book on discipleship mentored John and Charles Wesley, says positively that it is impossible to harbor animosity or jealousy toward one for whom we keep interceding before God. If, William Law writes from experience, someone is leaving you behind, and you are becoming jealous and embittered, keep praying that he may have success in the very matter where he is making you envious, and whether God answers that prayer or not, one thing is sure, your own soul will be cleansed and ennobled, and you will grow a little nearer to the stature of the Baptist.[4]
g.   John 3:30 – The importance of John’s ministry is only in opening the way for the fuller and eternal work of Jesus.
h.   APPLICATION: Jesus cannot increase in ability or authority or deity. He has and is all that for all time. What must increase is our vision of His Greatness! Many people see Christ at a distance, like a light at the end of a tunnel. The closer we get to Christ, the more light we have, the bigger He seems. He hasn’t changed, we simply know His Glory more fully. How do you see Jesus? Is He a far-off light? Or does His nearness fill your whole view?
a.   In verses 31-36, some translations have John the Baptist quoted, some do not. Regardless, the words summarize for John the writer the theme of Nicodemus’ interview, and we see shades of John 1 in this summation. The one who comes from above is Christ, confirming the nature of His work. Eternal life and wrath are now connected with a relationship with Jesus (cf. Rom 1:18).
b.   ILLUSTRATION: C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” Commentator A.W. Pink said, “The more I am occupied with Christ, the less shall I be occupied with myself.” Water always fills the lowest places first. The lower, the emptier a man lies before God, the faster and the fuller will be the inflow and the overflow of the Presence of God in your life.”[5]
c.   APPLICATION: A humble person calls attention to the priority of Christ, not self (John 3:31-36). John called himself the friend of the bridegroom. He had the grace and humility to step out of the way at the right time because he realized who the real Star of the show was. We are most humble when we focus on Christ first and central and highest in our life, above self. You can’t make yourself humble, in fact, you call attention to yourself if you try. But when you focus on Christ and others above self, humility supernaturally occurs. The question, then, is not “How can I humble myself?” but “How can I occupy myself with Christ?” Giving Jesus first place in your life – what does that mean for you? Is there something you should stop doing? Is there something you need to start doing so that Christ and increase and you can decrease? What are your biggest struggles in relinquishing control to the Lord? Perhaps that is something you need to commit right now to eliminate or decrease so that He may increase.
d.   Andrew Murray says in his little book of dynamite called Humility, “The truth is this: Pride must die in you or nothing of heaven can live in you. Under the banner of the truth, give yourself up to the meek and humble spirit of the holy Jesus. Humility must sow the seed or there can be no reaping in heaven.”
Invitation:  John gives a strong altar call or invitation to respond in John 3:36, a strong one that would jolt even the most apathetic off the fence. Have you given Jesus first place in your life? Each individual’s response to Christ has consequences. What is your response? Have you confessed your sin and submitted your life to His Lordship, His control, His rulership?
Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed., Africa Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1258-9.
Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed., “John,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 2:39-41.
F.F. Bruce, gen. ed., The International Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1239-40.
George Arthur Buttrick, gen. ed., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952), 8:514-518.
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 271.
William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (London: G.F. Browne & Co., n.d.), xxi.
Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, 195-6.
Dwight J. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 128-130.
Nik Ripken, The Insanity of Obedience (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2013), 217-222.
Charles R. Swindoll, John the Baptizer (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1991), 20-28.
Charles R. Swindoll, A Study of John 1-5 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1995), (49-54).
6pm Sunday, August 21; 7pm Tuesday, August 23, 2016, at Happy Trails Cowboy Church, Ware Place, SC

[1] Augustine of Hippo was once asked, “What is the first thing in religion?” “Humility.” “The second?”  “Humility.” “The third?” Humility.” “That which first overcame man, [Pride] is the last thing he ever overcomes.” Humility is a special product of Christianity. The whole Roman language, with all the improvements of the Augustan age, does not afford so much as a word for humility; nor was one found in all the copious language of the Greeks, until the Apostle Paul created it. Andrew Murray: “Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of man. It is the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.”  Humility, p. 10.
[2] ABC, 1258.
[3] Nik Ripken, The Insanity of Obedience (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2013), 217-222.
[4] William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (London: G.F. Browne & Co., n.d.), chapter xxi.