Unlike many teachers of his day, John the Baptist did not seek to build a following for himself, but to prepare the way for Jesus. Although he preached in the desolate wilderness, word about him spread so rapidly that people flocked to the desert to see and hear this strange man. His message gained ground to such an extent that neither the Jewish leaders nor King Herod could ignore his powerful influence. After Jesus was baptized by John, John’s following began its steady decline. Some of John the Baptist’s disciples expressed dismay that Jesus was gaining greater influence than John:
“They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3.26)
Can you hear their despondency?
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3.27-30)
John the Baptist recognized two important truths: His purpose and Jesus’ superiority
The ministry of John the Baptist was not about agitating Pharisees nor gaining power for himself—it was all about Jesus. Embracing this purpose allowed him to stand resolutely in the face of the Pharisees, and it allowed him to rejoice in Jesus’ ascendancy with no hint of disappointment at his own descent.
Do I have the attitude of John or of his disciples?
Do I want people to see and follow Jesus, or do I long for them to see and follow me?
In a world which puts great emphasis on self, the idea that we should become more like Jesus seems weak and foolish. We are discouraged from being a follower of Jesus with catch-phrases like, “follow your heart,” “be yourself,” and to“embrace your truth.” By contrast, Jesus calls us to follow Him, be like Him, and embrace His truth. Instead of seeking to be loved for who I am, I should encourage people to see the Almighty “I AM.”
Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Paul recognized what John the Baptist recognized: Jesus must increase, but I must decrease.
The Lord has a unique purpose for each of us within His kingdom. He has equipped each of us with a variety of talents that we can employ in his service. No matter how we serve, our aim should not be self-promotion, but Christ-promotion. May our mindset be, “Let Jesus be seen in my words and my actions.”
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4.10-12, ESV)
Not only should our outward behavior reflect the light of Christ, but the cry of our heart should be, “let me become like Christ.” He must increasein my mind, in my heart, and in my focus as I decrease.
Write the words of John on your heart, post them on your bathroom mirror, put it as the screen saver on your phone—“He must increase, and I must decrease.” This means less “me” time. This means less of our own pleasures. This means sacrifice. The life of a Christian is to imitate the life of Christ; to choose service over self. Allow him to increase so his light can shine into this dark world.
Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com