The prosecuting lawyer calls his first witness to the stand in a trial—a grandmotherly, elderly woman with white hair. He approaches her and asks, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” “Why, yes” she responds, “I do know you Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie; you cheat on your wife. You manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you are a rising big shot when you have not the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.” The lawyer is stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he points across the room and asks, “Mrs. Williams, do you know the defence lawyer?” “Why, yes I do too,” she replies, “I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, like you. I used to baby sit him for his parents. And he, too, has been a real disappointment to me. He is lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. The man cannot build a normal relationship with anyone and his law firm is one of the most dubious in the entire county. Yes, I know him.” At this point, the judge raps his gavel and calls the courtroom to order. Asking both lawyers to approach the bench he whispers with menace, “If either of you asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt!” Three preliminary observations.
Life is Built on Testimony
Life is built on the credibility of testimony. Is what we are told honest and trustworthy? In law hearsay is inadmissible. What matters is eye-witness testimony because it is worth hearing. Life is built on testimony.
We Each have a Testimony
We speak to many people every day about many issues. We each have a testimony. Does it build others up or does it tear others down? Does it focus on ourselves or on Jesus?
I once heard of another pastor about to leave his parish. It was his last Sunday. After the service, one of his parishioners said how sorry she was that he was leaving. “Don’t worry,” he replied, “I am sure they’ll choose a godly new pastor who will do a great job.” “Well, I don’t know about that” she confessed, “That’s what they told us the last time.” Life is built on testimony. We each have a testimony.
The Bible is the Testimony of Jesus
This morning we come to the testimony of John about Jesus. There are three parts to John’s testimony.
1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)
2. Jesus the Bridegroom is Coming (3:27-30)
3. Jesus the Beloved is in Control (3:31-36)
1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial
1.1 There is Diversity in Ministry
“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised. Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptised. (This was before John was put in prison.) (John 2:22-24)
At the beginning of his ministry we encounter Jesus spending time alone with his disciples. They are getting to know each other. They were learning at the feet of the Master. This was not a classroom or structured program. To be the Lord’s disciple simply meant to be with Jesus, to follow Jesus and learn from him. They spent time with Him, and so must we if we too want to be his disciples. John the Baptist was also continuing to have an extensive public ministry, proclaiming the message of repentance, preparing people for the coming of the Messiah and baptizing those who wanted to change their lives. There is diversity in ministry.
1.2 There is Division over Ministry
“An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.” (John 3:25)
We don’t know specifically what the disagreement was about. We do know there were ceremonial washings that were done on a daily basis, and some considered them superior. This was especially the position of the Essenes of Qumran, near where John was baptising. People had begun to take sides – John’s supporters felt threatened. Someone was counting numbers and noticed that Jesus was gaining popularity. More people were coming to Him. Less people were now coming to John. Diversity in ministry had become a division over ministry because
1.3 The Devil is in the Ministry
“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—well, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:26)
John’s disciples were worried. Numbers were declining. Were they doing something wrong? Someone once said, “Envy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own!” Jealousy is dangerous because it is so destructive. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)
2. Jesus the Bridegroom is Coming
“To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given 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 3:27-30)
John was like the “best man” at a wedding. In the 1st Century the Best Man was known as the “shoshben.” He played a prominent role in the lead up to the wedding. He arranged the wedding and sent out the invitations. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together and once married ensured they were not disturbed. But at the end of the honeymoon his role was over. John the Baptist sees himself in this role. So the news his disciples brought to him about falling numbers was good news! Jesus was succeeding! “He is supposed to” says John, “Because He is the Bridegroom, He is the Messiah. And as a result… “He must become greater; I must become less.” Notice the word ‘must’. It is never the role of the servant to displace the Master. We are all servants of Jesus.
We must never get in his way. From John we hear no tinge of jealousy, no hint of insecurity, no suggestion of bitterness. John understood that his ministry, his moment in the spotlight, and his declining popularity, were all a part of God’s sovereign plan. This is why Jesus would say of him, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
What connotations does the word “down” have for you? It doesn’t have many positive meanings does it? It’s a word reserved for cowards, losers and bear markets. It’s a word that is to be avoided or ignored. When you attach it to other words it brings them down as well, — down and out, down hearted, downfall, down-scale, down hill, down-size and downer.
Of course, what’s worse for the word “down” is the opposite, “up”. The word “up” has many positive connotations. It’s reserved for winners, heroes and bull markets. Add the word “up” to other words and look what happens — upscale, up and coming, upwardly mobile, upper class, and upstanding. Up is a word that signifies someone who is rising in fame, power or influence. It’s assumed that the direction of greatness is always up. Up on the company ladder, up on the salary scale, up in the world! It comes as a shock therefore when we read these words of John the Baptist. “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30).
“Descending into greatness” sounds like an oxymoron. It seems absurd, yet that is exactly what John was saying to his disciples. How do you react when a co-worker is promoted? When you hear that a friend or neighbour has experienced good fortune? When it is something you have wanted or needed? John’s answer to his disciples was, “A person can receive only what is given from heaven.” (John 3:27)
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate? “You would have no authority over me, were it not given you from above” (John 19:11).
1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)
2. Jesus the Bridegroom is Coming (3:27-30)
3. Jesus the Beloved is in Control
“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 person 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 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.” (John 3:31-36)
True to his life’s purpose, John continues to exalt Jesus. He presents us with three profound truths concerning Jesus Christ that should take our breath away.
“The one who comes from above is above all;” (John 3:30)
He came from heaven. Therefore, He is above all. Above all kings, above all powers. Above all rule and authority. Yet despite being above all, He came down from above. So profound, John repeats the phrase twice in the same sentence. Paul adds this dimension:
”…who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant. And being made in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2)
”He testifies to what he has seen and heard” (John 3:32).
What has He seen and heard? From eternity past he has seen and heard much in heaven. Scientists speculate about the universe around us and above all, what heaven will be like. In Time this week a neurosurgeon , Dr Eben Alexander, having repudiated near-death experiences found himself experiencing one and describes his journey to the afterlife. We can entertain ourselves for hours, speculating about that of which we are obviously ignorant. But John bore testimony to the One who speaks with authority about heaven because that is where he came from. See the logic of John’s message? Because…”The one who comes from above is above all… He testifies to what he has seen and heard…
“For the One whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” (John 3:30, 32, 34). Don’t ever disregard or devalue or underestimate that statement. This is the Word of God. Therefore… therefore John can make one of the most categorical and controversial statements of the entire Bible. Indeed, as we saw last week with John 3:16, a sentence that summarises the entire Bible.
“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.” (John 3:35-36)
See the connection between the words “believe” and “reject” here? Two realities, two life conditions, two destinies, one choice. Which is it to be? Which is true for you? Do you know that you have eternal life? On what basis? Only by grace.
Do you find obedience as difficult as I do sometimes? Then, like John, you must first decrease, in your own heart, in your own eyes, in your own estimation; and He must increase, as Lord of your life, as Shepherd of your soul, as the eagerly-awaited-longed-for bridegroom. Because the bigger, and the grander, and the more precious He grows in your sight, the more fragrant and pleasurable obedience will flow from your life. All that the Father has given into the hands of Jesus is your inheritance in Him. All that He came to achieve is yours. As the Father gave to Jesus, so He gives to you… without measure.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” In his epistle John amplifies on this promise.
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13)
So let me ask you again. Do you know that you have eternal life? On what basis? On the basis of the promise of God’s word? There is no other basis you can trust. Believe it with all your heart, with all your soul, with all mind and with all your strength. Believe it because it is true. And may that be your testimony this week as you eagerly wait for the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour.
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.Amen.” (Revelation 21:17, 20-21)