Story 31: Divine Paradoxes and the Sin-Shattering Power of Humility

John 3:22-36

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. Jesus and John the Baptist

This mosaic is from a wall in the Hagia Sophia, the first cathedral of Christendom. The building of the Hagia Sophia started somewhere around 530 AD in what was then Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Its artwork reflects the themes that the members of the Early Church were reflecting on. In this beautiful mosaic, we see John the Baptist humbly bowing before Christ, showing deference to the Son of God. How beautiful that this image of deep humility has been imprinted on millions of hearts over thousands of years through the writings of the Gospels. May our generation embrace that humility as well.

After the Lord and His disciples left Jerusalem, they went out to the hilly region of Judea. Jesus spent time with His disciples there and they baptized those that came to Him. John the Baptist was baptizing people in an area called Aenon. There was plenty of water there and many people journeyed to him as well. His disciples began discussing something that they thought was a real problem. In fact, they were upset. It seems that more people were going out to be baptized by Jesus than by John. They went to him and said, “ ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan-the one you testified about-well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.’”

John’s disciples didn’t like it. They wanted to protect his ministry. But John wasn’t worried about his own fame or popularity. He had given his life to serve the will of God and prepare the way for the Messiah. Listen to the strength and beauty of John’s humility:

“‘A man can receive only what is given Him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ 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.”’”

John 3:27-30

Wow. John is saying that Jesus was (and is!) like the Groom in a wedding. For thousands of years, God had been preparing a bride for Him. The bride was the nation of Israel. And just before God was going to send the Groom, He sent John to get the bride ready for the One she had been waiting for. Everyone who repented of their sin and was baptized showed that their hearts were ready for Him. And now He had come! John was happy to hand the Jewish people over to Jesus. That was his calling in life! He wasn’t worried if everyone forgot all about him as long as they followed their glorious Groom.

It is interesting to think about what other choices John could have made. He could have been bitter that all of his hard work was passing on to another person. He could have competed with Jesus…and the will of God. He could have decided that his own ministry and influence were so important and necessary to God that he needed to go right on increasing alongside Jesus. He could have found his identity so wrapped up in his popularity and influence that he couldn’t help but fight this transition in his role.

That is exactly what the powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem and throughout Israel were doing…fighting the will of the God they claimed to serve and undermining the work of their own Messiah. They are a clear example of what we humans often do in our frailty and faithlessness. But John the Baptist is a shining picture of the humility that honors God. His focus simply wasn’t on himself. It was wholly on supporting the work of the Lord:

“‘The One who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives His Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’”

John 3:31-36

Wow. God gave Jesus His own Spirit without limit. In Philippians 2:6-7 we learn that “…though He was in the form of God [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (ESV). For all eternity past, Jesus was ruling and reigning in the glories of Heaven with all honor and power. Somehow, He laid those divine privileges aside in order to enter this harsh, sinful world that is so contaminated by the Curse. He became the Man who could rescue us by depending on the unlimited power of God’s Spirit.

It is impossible for us to understand how Jesus was fully God and fully human. It’s like trying to teach a bird to play the violin. A bird can hear the music and chirp along, but it could never understand the notes on the page or play the instrument. We can appreciate the wonder of what Christ did for us when He became a human, but it is beyond our limited human capacity to comprehend. It is a divine paradox. But we do know that He emptied Himself for us, and that it was the Spirit of God…the same Spirit that God gives to those who put their faith in Jesus…that empowered Christ’s amazing ministry when He walked the earth.

John the Baptist understood that he was a mere man with a particular role he was meant to play for his God. We have seen that he knew it was right to boldly fulfill his role. It was also okay not to force his way into more ministry, influence, and accolades. In fact, one of the great beauties of his ministry (and one that the Apostle John made sure to highlight in his book) was that John the Baptist was willing to honor the limits of his calling so that his own will did not hurt his ability to honor the will of God. He willingly decreased so that Christ could increase. His belief in Jesus was profound on the deepest personal levels of his own life’s work, making it a powerful testimony of faith in the truth of Christ. John said that many would not accept the testimony of Jesus, but he did with his very life, and so can we.

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