September 7, 2008
Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and went to the Judean countryside, where his disciples baptized many people. John the Baptist was also in this region at this time, carrying on his own ministry of Baptism. A dispute arose concerning baptism, prompted by “a Jew.” This dispute resulted in John the Baptist’s disciples feeling jealousy towards Jesus. They saw that many people were leaving John to follow Jesus, and feared that their own master’s popularity was being unduly diminished by this new teacher. Though John was still baptizing, Jesus’ disciples seemed to be baptizing more and more people every day. Jesus’ popularity was threatening to eclipse that of John.
John the Baptist confronted the jealousy that he saw in his disciples. He tells them that God has given him a particular job to do, and that job is to “come before” the Messiah. That is to say, John was to proclaim the coming of the Messiah and point people to him. John was like a signpost that pointed to something great. If he did his job well, people would take their gaze away from him and put it onto Jesus. John said that in order for his own ministry to succeed, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John’s purpose on this earth was to exalt Christ.
Jesus is indeed greater than John the Baptist, and all men. Jesus is contrasted to all of those who are from the earth, since he is from above, from heaven. He brings men the very words of God, and yet many do not believe him. Yet, if someone does not believe what Jesus has to say, they don’t merely fail to believe a man, they effectively call God a liar; since Jesus is sent from God and has all power in his hands and has the Holy Spirit without measure.
John the Gospel writer ends this section with the same theme that we have seen several times before, and that we will see several times again. He urges his reader to believe in Jesus, and trust in him for eternal life.