The Strength of Humble Faith
I’m going to invite you to John chapter three together. John chapter three is where we are. John, if you’re new to the faith or you’ve been walking with Jesus for years, John is just one of those books, no matter where you are in your Christian faith, beautiful book to be in, especially if you are new to the faith. If you’re new to the faith and you open up this book, and assume you know nothing about the Lord and just let God’s word speak to you, this is one of those books that can really just build a foundation for your life, your walk in Jesus, and especially I think today’s message, where we’re going to be. Because as we’ve gone through John together, what we’ve seen is John has built at the very beginning of this book, he’s laid out just this beautiful picture of the identity of Jesus, first 18 verses. Who Jesus is and why that should matter to you.
And then it starts to unfold the story of Jesus in verse 19, and that’s where Jesus gives the invitation for people to come and follow him. And then he gives this miracle of the wedding at Cana, which is a demonstration of his goodness. But then right after the wedding of Cana, Jesus really starts his ministry and interacting with people, and what you find is that Jesus goes to the temple on the Passover, which is an incredible day for Jesus to go to the temple. I mean, the temple is a foreshadowing of everything Jesus would fulfill and the Passover is like the main holiday that demonstrates everything that Jesus will fulfill. But what you find during that time is that Jesus doesn’t entrust himself to the crowd. That’s how chapter two ends.
And the crowd is sort of wrestling with this idea of Jesus, and even the religious leaders, they’re wrestling with Jesus. When you get to chapter three, you see Nicodemus representing the Pharisees. He comes before Jesus and says, “We really don’t know what to do with you, Jesus.” And so there’s this struggle with them, this pride within them that’s not wanting to bow down to the beauty of who Christ is in their lives. And even when you get to where we’re going to be in chapter three today, starting in verse 22, you see John the Baptist’s own disciples are now wrestling with Jesus. But then we’re introduced in this story to John the Baptist and how he embraces Christ. And what we find in the life of John is the strength of humble ministry, or the strength of humble faith. As you see this world in Jesus’ day, first century, all of them looking at Christ, and some rejected him, and some still keeping him at a distance.
Here in this story, you finally see one individual come to Christ and it really lays out his heart. It reveals to us what rests on the inside of John and it becomes an example for us and how to walk with Jesus in our own lives. So in John chapter three, verse 23 is where I’m going to pick up and here what we see in this story, John and Jesus’ ministry really continues to move forward, it continues to grow. And in verse 22, after these things, Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea and there he was spending time with them and baptizing them. Now, John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there. And people were coming and being baptized for John had not yet been thrown into prison. So it gives you the time period here.
John’s ministry was a pretty short ministry in comparison to most other people that do ministry. But he’s thrown into prison and he’s beheaded shortly after that. He probably does ministry for about a year when all that transpires. But this is letting us know, before all this happened, this is what took place with John and Jesus’ ministry. John and Jesus were baptizing. And if you remember, John and Jesus were related. John came rom a priestly lineage and John started his ministry about six months before Jesus, and he’s baptizing and he’s preaching. And John did ministry, we’ve talked about this a little bit, he was somewhat of a wild man. He wore camel’s hair and ate bugs and honey and lived out in the middle of the woods. Most people today would encounter John and think he’s crazy. “This man needs help.” But John’s out in the country, he’s preaching this message, and he draws a crowd out into the wilderness, out into the desert, and he’s baptizing them.
In fact, it tells us in most of the Gospels, well, not so much in John’s ministry does it highlight, but in the other Gospels, it makes clear to us this message that he’s preaching isn’t just completely a baptism message. It’s repentance and baptism. In fact, the Gospel of Mark, Mark chapter one, starts off that way in recognizing, “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Even Jesus in Mark chapter one, verses 14 and 15 says the same thing, “Repent and be baptized. Repent and be baptized.” And so the message of Jesus, the message of John the Baptist, even the message in scripture, you see in Acts chapter two when Peter preaches the first message is, “Repent and be baptized.” That’s the message of scripture. And so we think about those terms, what does the Bible want us to understand? Well, in terms of repentance and baptism, it’s really a beautiful picture holistically of what a disciple in Jesus represents.
Repentance is an inward change and baptism is an outward expression. Repentance inward expression, baptism outward expression. Repentance is this turning of your heart and bowing down to a new King rather than yourself. It’s looking to Jesus and recognizing, “Okay, I was living in this world for me or a different kingdom. I was pursuing that. I was making my life about that. I was worshiping that. But now I’ve been introduced to this new King, and rather than live my life for the former King,” who most likely is yourself, you turn and you see the goodness of Jesus in saying, “Now I’m trusting in him. He will be my King.” That was the declaration of Jesus’ ministry. The King has come, introducing you to his kingdom, giving you a place to join in with him. He’s going to give his life for you so that you can be cleansed of your sin and belong to Christ.
It’s this message of kingdom, and in order to join that kingdom, there is this place of repentance in your heart that you lay your life down for this King. And baptism becomes that expression. It’s an outward demonstration of your loyalty to Jesus inwardly through repentance. Repentance isn’t a process. Repentance isn’t penance. Repentance is the turning of anything else that you could choose to find your identity in and choosing to find yourself in Christ. And baptism shows that. Baptism is that outward expression to the world to say, “Yes, Jesus is mine and I am his.” It’s like maybe the comparison of a wedding. Think of what a wedding represents. It’s these two individuals that come together coveting in their heart this expression of a union, and yet outwardly wanting the world to understand and know that the way that they have communicated themselves inwardly towards one another is to become one in the Lord.
I mean, even today, being married, I carry the symbol of that inward expression on my finger. It’s the ring, it’s that mark of belonging to someone, and baptism becomes that same demonstration. In fact, at the end of the service today, we’re going to partake of communion, and communion is that demonstration outwardly of we belong to Jesus. And so baptism has been that way that God has asked us to express our faith in him outwardly. In fact, if you’re interested in being baptized on Easter, we’re going to do it here at the church, and so that will provide a place for you to do that. But when you read the New Testament, there’s no example in the New Testament of someone that belongs to Jesus that has not been baptized. I know sometimes in our life we might treat it like, “Yeah, it’s just this thing that Christians do. I’m already a believer, why do I need to do that?”
Well, it’s this outward expression of where your heart belongs and declaring to the world that Jesus is yours and you belong to him. And that’s John’s message with his disciples. They come preaching this, demonstrating the goodness of who Christ is and, for us, baptism represents this pattern. You think about what Jesus has done for you. He’s come to this earth and he’s given his life completely to the point of death, and then he’s lived in victory from that in overcoming death in the grave and sin, and now we see him in resurrection, showing and demonstrating to us that he holds the authority over all things. Jesus is life, Jesus has life, Jesus grants life, and for us, baptism demonstrates that, that when you get in the water, you’re buried with him in the likeness of his death and you’re raised with him in the likeness of his resurrection, that Jesus cleanses us.
And in this passage, when John talks about this baptism, Jesus’ disciples doing this ministry of baptism, it says in verse 23, that there is an abundance of water there. Meaning, as a church, when we baptize, we like to make sure we really baptize you, we dunk you under the water. Some of you might we might even hold a little bit longer to make sure we really get you baptized. But the point is, it’s this complete demonstration as Jesus has given his whole life for us, so we want to give our whole life back to him. When Jesus and John conduct their ministry, repentance and baptism, but here’s what we find, verse 25, John’s disciples are wrestling with pride. It says in verse 25, “Then a matter of dispute developed on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.” The church people do what good church people do and they make a big deal out of small things. That’s what it says in verse 25.
It’s like Satan gets a victory there, guys. We recognize that in our lives. We want to major on the majors when it comes to Christianity and give grace to each other on the minors of secondary issues. But here’s what you find in verse 25 is that Satan likes us to make mountains out of molehills and create division within the body of Christ. And here you find in verse 25 it’s already starting with some arguments that are taking place over purification, and I don’t even know that the next verse really explains what exactly that argument is. But what we find out in verse 26 is, I think what we find out is that that’s really not the depth of their argument, that there’s something more going on in their hearts and it starts to play out in verse 26. And so look at this.
It says, “Then they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, he is baptizing, and all the people are coming to him.'” And they’re like, “Remember all the hard work that we did for six months before Jesus got here, and then you told people Jesus was here? Well, now he’s cooler than us, and we don’t like it. He’s got more followers on Instagram. He’s got more likes on Facebook. His ministry looks cooler. His church has a fog machine and we don’t,” that kind of argument that they’re having over, “Their church is cooler, and what are we going to do about this? Because we seem to be losing some people. He seems to be gaining some people. We want to look cooler than him because we were here first.”
I heard a minister say this once, “When churches argue with other churches, it’s the equivalent of two ants arguing over who’s going to eat the dead elephant.” What he’s saying is there’s enough of the elephant that you really don’t have to fight. And when I think about this valley, I recognize churches do get jealous over each other. I mean, in fact, when I think about ABC in this circumstance, we probably could relate pretty well to John, guys, because we built the first church in this city. I mean, in some ways we could say we’re first church building in this city. We were here first. But that’s not our attitude. That’s not who God called us to be. God doesn’t call us to be a church down the road. God calls us to be who he’s gifted us to be. And when you think about this valley, there are thousands upon thousands of people that need Jesus, plenty of room for churches to join in and help us with the mission that God has called us to.
We don’t fight with each other. We celebrate the victory over the fact that God would send more people to reach a valley that needs him and to put our eyes on what God calls us to. But this isn’t what you see with the disciples, they’re trying to wrestle with really who they should be in light of who Christ is. And this is the part I want to focus on really this morning, is how John responds. Because in John, we see the strength of humble ministry, and this is a beautiful passage of scripture. John reveals to us the beauty of humble ministry. Verse 27, “And John replied, ‘A person can receive not even one thing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said I am not the Christ. But I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the groom, but the friend of the groom who stands and listens to him rejoices greatly because of the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.'”
That’s one of those phrases that your eyes just fixate upon, that statement in verse 30, and your heart really looks at that and you find it attractive. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It’s only six words this morning, you’re like, “All right, if I get a memory verse in today I want it to be this one, because this is the shortest one.” It’s the easiest one to remember, but it’s the most memorable out of this whole passage. I mean, you read the book of John and just reading through first time that’s one of the verses that just sticks with you. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That’s a beautiful passage, a beautiful place to meditate on. But you know what John is saying here? He’s saying this. You ever been to a wedding or have ever been the maid of honor or the best man at a wedding? What kind of fool in that position would show up to the wedding and think the purpose of the wedding is about them? That’s not what John’s saying.
Only a dumb, probably the world’s worst, best man would show up to the wedding and try to get the spotlight. It’s not about him. It’s not about John, but it’s about the bride and the groom. When I think about this passage and I think about the Church, big C church, maybe not little church, but big C Church, and my mind starts to reflect here, I want to be honest and say, my heart wants to be very critical here, “But I know what rests within man,” as Jesus said at the end of John Two, and I get leery of maybe even my own heart here, because when I think about big C Church, my mind sometimes wants to start thinking about little C church and just look around and say, “What are you guys doing? What are you guys doing in your church?” Because I recognize sometimes in ministry, I feel like there are people that lead ministry that love the spotlight way too much, and they treat God’s people when they gather together as if the point is for the church to think they’re cool, rather than Jesus.
And what John is saying here is, when you try to court the bride of Christ, you’re really committing spiritual adultery. And the point isn’t that people think you’re great, the point is that people think Jesus is great. And the moment we start doing ministry so that people think that we’re cool or we’re good, we’ve completely missed the point. And one day we’re going meet Jesus face to face and have to confess before him that this was your bride but we tried to steal her. Now, this is morning for us, this morning is not about me, this is not about you, but ultimately it’s about him. How can my heart connect to him? How can I look at the people around me and encourage their hearts to connect to him? Now, I want you to know, because of that, we really are focused on you because we want the best for you, but we want the best for you not because of you, but because of him.
He’s the one that puts his image in you and puts his identity upon you and gave his life for you. And so when we make much of him, everyone wins. And this is what John is saying to us in this passage and yeah, John’s ministry, what we’re seeing is now people are starting to leave from John’s ministry and go to Jesus’ ministry. But just because people are leaving John’s ministry, does that mean John’s not great? Does that mean John’s doing something wrong? No, in fact, in Matthew 11:11, Jesus said about John the Baptist, “That there was no one greater that’s ever lived than John the Baptist.” Just because in these moments people are leaving from this ministry doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with John. But rather, what we find in this passage is what made John great and what makes John great we find in verse 30. We see it in his heart. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
And so what we’ve seen in the Book of John so far as we’ve been introduced to different characters is people have wrestled with pride as it relates to Jesus, and ultimately what they do is they reject Jesus. Jesus goes to the temple and people look at Jesus with a little bit of a stink eye and they don’t want Jesus. And then Jesus comes before Nicodemus and you see him wrestling with Jesus, but he doesn’t embrace Jesus. And even John’s disciples, they’re having this tension over Jesus and they’re jealous over Jesus and they don’t want to see Jesus succeed. They want to succeed. They want it to be about them. And then we see John, and John’s model is one of humility and John embraces Jesus. This passage becomes so important for us, because I think all of us, in some way, we wrestle with pride, but we need to learn humility.
And can I just give you a few reasons about the strength of humble ministry or the strength of humble faith in these passages that we see that just are so important that John does here? Number one, I want to say this, humility brings contentment, but pride brings entitlement. I’m going to say it again. Humility brings contentment, but pride brings entitlement. Verse 27, look what John says. You can only say this when you come from a humble place. “A person can’t receive one thing unless it is given from heaven.” Contentment is one of those words that when you think about what you’ve been given, contentment always finds itself saying, “Thank you, God.” But entitlement says, “I want more. I deserve more. I need more.” But here you see in this passage with John, I can’t receive one thing unless it’s given from heaven.
So it’s worth just stopping and asking the questions to wrestle with in our own heart. What does God owe you? What do you think you’re entitled to? When you read scripture, there’s no promise that God even owes you today. He doesn’t even owe you the breath that you just took. When you read even in John chapter three, what you see in this passage is that the only thing that God truly owes us as people is judgment. I mean, that’s what John Three 17:19 says. It’s what we’re going to see here at the end of John. The only thing that God owes us is judgment. And what we mean by that is, honestly, it’s hell. The only thing that we’re deserving of, apart from Christ, is separation from him, because we’ve sinned against him. That’s the only thing that God owes us. And so that means that anything that you have is a gift from God,
This day that you’ve received is an act of his grace. The way that you got here, the words that you’re able to speak, it’s only an act of his grace because apart from the grace of God, the only thing that God owes us is judgment. Everything, as John says then in this passage, is a gift come down from heaven. And we may say, “Well, I’ve worked hard for the things that I’ve received,” and that could be true. Maybe you just didn’t wake up one day and here you are in life and you have the silver spoon in your mouth or in your hand. But even those things are a gift from God. The ability to have today, the fact that you could even possess anything, God didn’t have to let any of that pass through your hands. Humility brings contentment. In fact, maybe we can ask it like this with John’s people.
John’s men, they want more. “Our ministry is shrinking. Look at this guy. He’s more popular than us. We need, we need, we need.” But maybe it’s worth asking the question, when is enough, enough? How much is it going to take before you find yourself really content? How much praise is enough? How big of a crowd is enough? How much influence do you need? How much money do you have to have? How big does your house really need to be? How many cars do you have to own? When is enough, enough? It’s funny when you find yourself, you set that goal. You’re like, “Well, when I get to this place, that’ll be enough.” And you finally get to that spot and then you look beyond, and you’re like, “Well, it was enough. But now that I’m here, it’s not anymore.” Can I tell you, if you struggle with finding enough at the things that you own, you don’t really own, they own you.
Humility brings contentment. Pride brings entitlement. Two, humility uses opportunity, pride looks for another. Verse 28 shows us this. It says, “You yourselves are my witness that is that I said I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of him.” John is saying, “Look, I don’t want to take a spot that I’m not made for. And that’s not me. That’s not who God made me to be. I don’t want to lust for that. I don’t want to long for that. I want to be who God made me to be.” Humility in that platform uses the opportunity and pride looks for another. It works like this. There are some people in life so never satisfied with the things that they have that they think in order to do what God’s called them to do in this world that they need something else in order to be able to do that. But people that walk in humility like John here, they just look at what God’s given and they just make the most of the opportunity, because God knows right where they are.
You don’t need more to do what Jesus has called you to do. Jesus has made you the way that he desires to make you in order to do what he’s called you to do in this world. So where you are right now, that’s where God desires for you to minister. And that’s what John’s saying. “I’m not going to try to put on a hat God didn’t make me for.” In fact, that’s a great way to stress yourself out for no reason, always trying to live up to some other expectation. That’s not who God made you to be. I love this quote, it says, I hope I don’t butcher it here but, “You may not do great things, but you can do small things with great love.” And that makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Don’t long and lust for things that you may not even be ready for. If you just be faithful to God where you are in the small things, God will increase your ability to do more in great things. But just be faithful to where you are.
Number three, humility produces joy and pride creates jealousy. Verse 29, it says at the end of verse 29, “He rejoices greatly because of the groom’s voice. The joy of mine has been made full.” Could you imagine this, you’re in a company and at the end of the year, the company is smaller than when you began at the beginning of the year, and yet even if the company got smaller you still rejoice? Why in the world could that be? I mean, you look at it, that’s what John’s ministry’s saying here. They’re doing all this great ministry out in the wilderness and then all of a sudden the crowd starts to shrink and they start to wrestle with jealousy, and yet John is rejoicing. How in the world is John rejoicing? It’s because John understands the point of his ministry isn’t about the size of the ministry. It’s about glorifying God with what God’s been given him. And so John rejoices not because he’s not meeting this expectation of growth, because he’s meeting the expectation of honoring his King.
It’s interesting when you think about this, scripture tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. But I tend to find jealous people are the ones that weep when others rejoice and rejoice when others weep. Because they want what others have, and so when they see someone fall, they’re happy because now there’s their opportunity. But they see someone succeed, they weep because they wanted it. Joyful people rejoice when others rejoice and even weep when others weep. Humble people celebrate the success of others. Jealous people despise the success of others. Believers rejoice when your brothers and sisters in Christ succeed because when one succeeds we all succeed. Humility produces joy and pride creates jealousy. And I’ll say this, humility builds up, pride tears down. That’s what you see in verse 30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Could you imagine how this story would have went if John took the debate of his disciples?
They come wrestling with pride, you would never get this verse, that’s for sure, but they come wrestling with pride and they’re like, “John, did you know this? Did you know more people are going to Jesus than you now? Did you know that?” If John had given into that, what would have happened? Interesting when you examine relationships and what causes struggle. You ever notice, it’s not two humble people that tend to fight, but it’s pride that creates that tension within us? You want to lock horns with someone or you want to predict what two people are going to end up locking horns, it’s two prideful people. But John and Jesus don’t go there. Why? Because they walk in humility. They walk in humility. You think you want your relationships in life to improve, there’s an example even the demeanor in which John carries here that we could carry with one, relationship problems start in pride.
One yells at another, and the other’s pride gets hurt. They yell back, and before you know, a battle ensues. Perhaps that’s why in Ephesians 5:21 when Paul starts talking about the marital relationship, he says, “Submit to one another as we submit to Christ.” It’s this idea of humility that breeds intimacy to enjoy relationship. It’s when you kill your pride that you find success there. Humility builds up, and pride tears down. Last I’ll say this, humility invites the kingdom and pride denies it. You see this with John’s disciples. They’re wanting to distance Jesus’ ministry and try to compete. But rather, in John, you see him inviting the ministry of Christ in, wanting to live for this King and his kingdom. Humility invites the kingdom, pride denies it. The Bible says this twice in the New Testament. First Peter 5:5, James 4:6, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
John’s about seeing the kingdom move forward, not his kingdom. John therefore becomes selfless not selfish. When you think in terms of what humility is, humility isn’t about thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. “He must increase, and I must decrease.” How can I magnify Christ as Christ honors our lives by giving himself for us? I mean, he walks in this humble way. It honors us. And we walk in humility, we honor him. I love the thought that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. If you want to feel connected to the Lord, humility is the language of heaven. That’s why John’s message in the beginning is, “Repent and believe. Repent and believe.” It’s this idea of surrendering your heart to the true King, saying, “Lord, not my will, but your will be done.” That’s how you get to a place where you utter such beautiful words of, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
There is beauty in this humility. There is strength in this humility, because it invites you in. Your soul just looks at words like this and finds it attractive in your own life. So let’s say this then in the end, why does this matter? Verse 31, why does it matter? Verse 31, it shows us the glory of God here. It says, “He who comes from above is above all. The one who is only from the earth is of the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What he has seen and heard of this he testifies and no one accepts his testimony.” So you see Jesus coming, he’s the one that has this authority, he’s above all, and people aren’t accepting his testimony, and then the one who has accepted his testimony has certified that God is true. Let’s go on to verse 34 from there. It says, “For he whom God sent speaks the words of God for he does not give the spirit sparingly.”
In verse 35, it shows us the Trinity here, “The father loves the son and has entrusted all things to his hand.” Verse 36, “The one who believes in the son has eternal life. But the one who does not obey the son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Let me just say this. In John chapter three, John talks about wrath twice. He talks about the wrath of God in verse 17 and 19 in John three, and he talks about the wrath of God here. And this is the only time the Gospel of John talks about the wrath. But I think John chooses to do it early on in this ministry so that we don’t lay this thought down. Meaning, from the very beginning, he shows us this fork in the road in our lives, where there are those that are opposed to the kingdom of Christ and those that surrender to the kingdom of Christ. How much more beautiful it is to see the example of John than the others that we’ve seen?
But as we think about those examples, he wants us to take it serious, because what we’re talking about here is life and death. We’re talking about wrath and grace. Where you rest in this is important and the message that you carry with you from here is important, because in representation of wrath, the juxtaposed position here is eternal life, eternal life. And I told us last week, this isn’t just about when you die you go to heaven, eternal life is about what you experience starting the moment you trust in Jesus. Jesus wants you to walk with him right now, to live in that life right now. It’s not just a quantity of life, it’s a quality of life. It’s saying to you, “Look, every day with Jesus is a better day than without them.” And yes, walking with Jesus sometimes may not always be easy, because following after Jesus sometimes there’s sacrifice involved. There’s always sacrifice in the laying down of yourself, but sometimes there’s the cost that also comes with it in worldly terms. But every day with Jesus is better than a day without Jesus.
And so he’s bringing him to this place to show us, look, this quality of life isn’t something that you just embrace and move on. This is a quantity and quality of life that you live with Jesus right now. I love the way Charles Spurgeon said it. He said, “There are people that call themselves Christians, but there’s only really two types of Christians. Those that live on mission for God and imposters.” And there’s some that walk around with the label, but they don’t understand the significance of what God really called you to do in this world. And that’s what John lays out for us at the end of this chapter, is that God is bringing you not just into the quantity, but the quality of what it means to walk with him and to live in the beauty of that as we surrender ourselves. Nate Saint, and I’ll end with this, Nate Saint was a missionary to the Auca Indians and he was martyred for his faith, but someone asked him once about why he would want to give his life to serve as a missionary.
And this is what he says, “People who do not know me will ask me, why waste my life on serving Jesus? They forget they’re using their life to serve something too, and when their bubble bursts, they have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.” That’s what the story is with John, of just seeing the model of a beautiful relationship with Jesus, that our hearts may rest there, and that God may be glorified through us too.