John 3B StartDown

Questions: Is religion a competition? Whom exactly do we follow? Whose glory do we seek? What success have we earned?

Click “Read More” to pursue answers in the Gospel of John.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

John 3:22-36

After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

It is tempting to wonder what Jesus meant by baptism at this stage, since there was no crucifixion and resurrection to look back towards. However, the simplest answer is probably that people were inspired by Jesus to dedicate themselves to following God. The tricky bit is the ambiguity between “following God” and “following Jesus”, since he’s not the only one baptizing:

And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison.

This led to a bit of a dispute:

Then there arose a question between [some] of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

I’m assuming the “purifying” here is more-or-less synonymous with baptizing:

And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all [men] come to him.

I assume the “they” refer to John’s disciples who are a bit jealous for their master’s glory — unlike their master himself!

John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I [must] decrease.

Now, pause and think about. Here is a guy who spent his life living in the desert (not exactly ambush marketing), devoting his life to bringing people back to purer view of God. Finally, after great perseverance he succeeds, and starts building a base of followers — then suddenly someone he baptizes ends up stealing his thunder! Doesn’t he feel even a little resentment?

Apparently not, and the reason is both simple and profound. Despite his enormous investment in his calling, John doesn’t seem to think of his ministry — or his success — as “his.” Rather, he sees it as purely a gift from heaven. Because of that, he cares about heaven’s glory above his own — and he recognizes Jesus as the messenger of that glory:

He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.

A bit of a dense passage, even in The Message. The relevant point, I think, is that John is more concerned with the message than the messenger, and he trusts this messenger even more than himself. Since the only important message is not something born of human cleverness, but that which God is saying — through His Son:

For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure [unto him]. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.

And this is why John (which John, I’m not sure) urges his listeners to also trust in Jesus, because that is the only way to see the true character of God:

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

In my Protestant/evangelical worldview I usually interpret that in terms of heaven and hell, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair (though it does contain that). Rather, it ties back into the whole question of “Whom should we follow?” John’s disciples — and Jesus’s — decided to follow a person because they saw something Good in them, worthy of honor and emulation.

To me, that is the Big Question: what do we consider Good enough to lay down our life for, and submit to? John, bless his heart, knew exactly which God he served, and hesitated not a moment to give up his power and prestige in order to fulfill that service.

Do we?


God, I just want to confess my own pride and pursuit of self-glory — which leads to death. Father, help me trust in that which — unlike me — is pure and right and good, for I know that only in that can I find True Life. Teach me the joy of holy submission, that I may be wholly submitted to your unfailing Joy. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a play on the popular Silicon Valley pastime of startups.