In the last few episodes we’ve been looking at the first few events of Jesus’ public ministry as John’s Gospel records it. In Episode 48 and 49 I talked about the cleansing of the Temple and why it was so significant that Jesus began His public ministry there in Jerusalem. And then in Episode 50 we looked at Nicodemus and his visit to Jesus by night. In both of these scenes in John 2 and John 3, we see Jesus condemning the two most important things in the Jewish mind – the Temple and the Law. In John 2, He is confronting the corruption in the temple and the failure of the Jewish authorities to lead righteously. Then in John 3, He is confronting the institution and the teaching of the law in that it was not actually preparing people to inherit eternal life and the promises made to Abraham. Jesus will continue to condemn the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law throughout the Gospels, but it all began in Jerusalem right at the beginning of His public ministry. Again, it’s so important that we see Jesus starting His ministry in this way, instead of just starting up in Galilee doing some random miracles. John 2:23 actually says Jesus performed signs in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, and this was before anything public happened in Galilee. We’ll see right at the beginning of John 4, that from the very first month of Jesus’ public ministry that began in Jerusalem, the Jewish authorities are already trying to seize Jesus. This is one of the reasons why He goes to Galilee – perhaps because they might listen to Him, unlike those in Jerusalem who have already rejected Him. In this episode I want to look at the last part of John 3 and the events following Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus. Let’s read today in John 3: “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized(for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And 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 3:22–26 ESV) So where and when is this happening? We’re somewhere in what John calls “the Judean countryside”. It’s a pretty broad term, but I think John is just contrasting the urban areas of Judea that Jesus has been in, specifically Jerusalem, with the more rural areas. So we can’t pinpoint specifically where these events happened. The passage does say that John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim though. There’s so much uncertainty but some scholars say Aenon was about 30 miles north of the Dead Sea and just west of the Jordan River. The word Aenon means “double spring”, so there definitely was an abundance of water there for people to be baptized in. What about chronologically? John just says “after this”, so we really aren’t sure how much time passed between the meeting with Nicodemus and these events. But according to verse 24, we do know a very important point – that John had not yet been put in prison. And of course if he was in prison, than he couldn’t be baptizing. And as I mentioned briefly back in episode 45 and 46, this is an extremely important chronological marker that helps us place the events of John 1-4 before the events in Galilee that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record. Keep this verse in mind and we’ll look at the chronology more in detail in a few episodes. In this scene, some of John’s disciples and a Jew begin arguing around the issue of purification. It seemed like the Jew was arguing for Jesus’ ministry and of course John’s disciples were arguing for John’s, all surrounding the issue of the ritual effectiveness of their respective baptisms. And so they all come to John, seemingly in the spirit of competition, like Jesus’ ministry and John’s ministry are rivals of one another. It seems like they are rebuking John in some way, because they emphasize the fact that John pointed everyone to Jesus and they said “hey John, you know that guy you pointed everyone to? Everyone is going to him now, and at the rate this is going, you’re going to be without any disciples pretty soon.” And John, knowing who He was and what He was sent by God to do, responds with such a noble answer: “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 ESV) John knew that he had a very specific role in the plan of God for the people of Israel, and he had no right to lay claim to any other honor that hadn’t been given to him from heaven. What a test this must have been for him. Think about the real dynamics with his disciples, people he must have loved and rejoiced in when they heard his message of repentance, actually turned, and heard him talk about how Jesus was the one whom he was preparing the way for. But now these same guys aren’t rejoicing with John that his ministry was being fulfilled, but they were clinging to and defending their teacher, not the one whom he had pointed them to. This is why John affirms his role again and says “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'” John goes on to use an illustration or a parable from Jewish marriage customs to make his point clearer. I talked a little bit about Jewish weddings back in Episode 47 when we looked at the wedding at Cana. In a Jewish wedding, there was of course the bride and bridegroom, but there would also be friends of the bridegroom. The bride, he says, belongs to the bridegroom, not to the bridegroom’s friends. These friends would escort the bride to the bridegroom’s house and wait outside the room or tent for the bridegroom’s shout indicating that the marriage had been consummated with his virgin bride. The friends would then be able to tell the wedding guests that the consummation had taken place and that the festivities could continue. This is the illustration John is using when he’s talking to his disciples. He had gladly walked out his role as the bridegroom’s friend and was expressing joy that Jesus, the one whom he had prepared the way for, was actually being accepted by the people of Israel. I think it’s so awesome that John said that his joy was complete or it was full, and that he must become less important while Jesus should become more important. As fallen humans we love to be affirmed, we love to have people paying attention to us, we love to be made much of. But John found the fullness of his joy in pointing others to Someone so much more glorious than Himself. This is just completely the opposite of where we think we’ll find our greatest pleasure and fulfillment. No one goes to the Grand Canyon or looks at a beautiful sunset to increase their self-esteem, and no one stands in front of a mirror all day to make themselves feel happier. To make much of Jesus is our highest calling and where we’ll find our greatest pleasure. John the Baptist is the first of many examples of this truth from the New Testament, and we would do well to ask the Lord to think and live the way that John did in pointing people to Jesus. As I’ve already mentioned in several past episodes, marriage is a profound picture of the relationship between Christ and His church. Marriage was a prominent theme in the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea where the faithful in Israel were depicted as the bride of Yahweh, the God of Israel. John would have most certainly been aware of these passages and, by calling Jesus “the bridegroom”, is implicitly saying that Jesus the Messiah, the one he was preparing the way for, is in fact the husband of Israel, that He is Yahweh Himself. Wow. The New Testament would continue this theme in passages like Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, and the later chapters of Revelation. The faithful remnant of Israel and even Gentiles would be joined as one new man to inherit the promises by faith in the death of a Jewish king. What a story we’re a part of. Let’s keep going in John: “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.” (John 4:1–3 ESV) An unknown amount of time had passed after Jesus’ disciples had been baptizing and He learns that the Pharisees had found out that more crowds were coming to Him than John the Baptist now. So what does he do? He leaves Judea and departs again for Galilee. That’s kind of strange, you think? The crowds get bigger in a certain place, and then Jesus just leaves. This won’t be the only time He does something like this. Remember, he was just in Galilee a short while ago before the Passover for the wedding of Cana and the visit to Capernaum. But why does He leave when he hears that the Pharisees know that he has more followers now? Well remember, just recently at the Passover he had cleansed the temple and made the Pharisees and Jewish authorities really mad. And like I said in the last episode, they had already become antagonistic towards Him. The time for his death had not yet come, and I believe He knew that seizing and killing Him is was what was already in their hearts. So that’s why He goes north to Galilee. Remember, Jesus isn’t randomly walking around Israel. He’s being very purposeful, and I believe he heads north to Galilee to see if He can find those who are bearing the fruits of repentance there, since He found nothing of the sort in Jerusalem. Well, here’s a few points for your meditation this week: 1) Imagine you’re one of Jesus’ disciples and you’re baptizing people. What did Jesus do and say as the crowds were swelling and His popularity was increasing? 2) Put yourself in John the Baptist’s place. What would you have felt as you were talking to your disciples? In the next episode we’ll continue in John’s Gospel and look at another well known scene, the Samaritan woman at the well.