John 3: 22 – 36
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised.
One new thing that I have learned from this study of St John’s gospel is that Jesus had an important ministry of baptism. What significance does baptism have in our church today?
Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptised. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – look, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.’
In this passage, St John records that Jesus’ ministry of baptism became more important than John the Baptist’s. He tells us by means of a story. John’s disciples had an argument with ‘a certain Jew’ over ceremonial washing. I don’t think the nature of the argument, or the identity of the Jew, are important. What is significant is that John the Baptist’s disciples were feeling upset – and they expressed this by telling John that Jesus is baptising, and ‘everyone is going to him.’
To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Messiah 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 the Baptist explains that Jesus’ ascendancy is as it should be. He reminds his disciples that he had told them that he was not the Messiah. His job had been to prepare things for Jesus. He compares himself to the best man at a wedding; he’s organised matters, waited for the bridegroom, and now that the bridegroom has arrived, he is ‘full of joy’.
It’s a small point, but note the quotation mark after ‘I must become less.’ The NIV has a footnote which says ‘Some interpreters end the quotation with verse 36.’ That translation would put all the words of verses 31 – 36 into the mouth of John the Baptist. If the quotation properly ends with verse 30, then verses 31 – 36 are a commentary by St John.
I wonder if the difference comes down to St John’s intent to show us the witnesses to Jesus life? When we read verses 31 – 36, they are very familiar; we read them earlier in the chapter in verses 11 – 21. Why are they repeated?
In verses 11 – 21, Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, who is therefore a witness to Jesus claiming to be the Son of God. If verses 31 – 36 are spoken by John the Baptist, then he is a second witness to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Jewish law requires two witnesses to establish the truth of a matter.
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. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the 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 them.
This teaching contains a verse that is significant to me, here and now. It’s verse 33: ‘Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful’. I can’t trust unless I believe that God is truthful.
I have faith; please help me where my faith falls short.
In Jesus name