Finding Joy–Witnessing While Waiting Where We Are– John 3:22-30

// December 7th, 2016 // Sermons

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I have worked a ton of different jobs in my life. I’ve had many people laugh at me when I start to talk about the number and the odd jobs that I have worked. I have worked at bait shops, vet clinics, cabinet shops, various farms, construction, a factory, as a car salesman, ran a dock business, and finally found my calling as a Youth Director (and that’s not all of them jobs I’ve had over the years). However, over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about one of those jobs in particular–the car salesman. I started the job with excitement about my ability as a salesman and the potential of making a lot of money and making it “big.” Yet, as this job worked itself out, I absolutely hated this job. I quickly found out that everyone of the salesman in the company were fighting to “make it big.” They all wanted to move their way into a sales position that was “higher up” and had more prestige (and more money). I also found out that they were willing to do anything to get there. They were going to bite, kick, scratch, and cheat their way to the top. Some of the people I thought were close friends cheated me out of sales and stole from me. I wasn’t willing to do that. My managers were trying to force me to do it and we had some heated conflicts. So, after a few months, we had a frank conversation about ethics and the way they treated employees and I walked out the door.

Now, I realize that car salesman get a bad rap these days, and much of what is said about them is true. However, they aren’t the only ones that operate with this worldview. It is the worldview that is surrounding all of us. It is the worldview of the culture in which we live. If you want to be happy or find joy, you need to be “at the top” and make a lot of money. If you’re not happy, you need to fight and cheat your way to the top–without getting caught of course. Once you get there, you will find joy.

This worldview applies to many different aspects of life. Many teenagers apply this philosophy to school. If I want to be happy, I need to be at the top of my class. Many teenagers apply this to their extracurricular activities. If I want to be happy I have to be the best player on the team or the best actor on stage or the best artist. Many teenagers apply this to their social life. If I want to be happy, I need to be “at the top” of the popularity scale in our school. Some teenagers have embraced the opposite mentality. They have come to a place where they believe they will never “rise to the top” of any of these things, so they embrace the fact that they will never “really be happy.” The base assumption behind every one of these philosophies is that if we exult ourselves, if we can place ourselves at the top, if we can make people see us as being “better” than everyone else (or most people), then we will be happy and find joy.

Yet, the Bible paints a very different picture. This particular passage paints a very different picture. Let’s look at John 3:22-30:

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 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 3:22–30, ESV).

In this passage, John the Baptist comes back on the scene. Who remembers what his calling was? God has called John the Baptist to be a……….Witness. So, every time John pops into the picture it should be a red beacon saying, “This passage is going to talk about being a witness.” And the definition of a witness is, what? To point away from yourself and to Christ. That’s the core of being a witness. That’s the calling of the Christian life.

So, we see Jesus and his disciples baptizing people and we see John and his disciples baptizing people. And a conflict arises all of a sudden. A Jew approaches some of John’s disciples and begins to argue with them about purification rituals. The author, John, doesn’t give us the details of this argument. It was possibly a misunderstanding of what John was doing when he was baptizing people, or it was an argument about purification rituals that turned into an argument about baptism. Either way, the argument turned toward baptism and it turned toward Jesus.

Then, John’s disciples come to him with some information. They say, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” Notice a couple things about what they say in this passage. How do they talk about Jesus? Do they refer to him by name? No, they address him very impersonally as, “he who was with you across the Jordan.” That points to their disrespect for Jesus in this interaction. Then they say, “Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” First off, is that a true statement? Is it true that everyone is going to Jesus to be baptized? No, just a few verses back it says, “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” So, people were still coming to John to be baptized. Yet, these disciples misrepresent the situation. Why? Because they are frustrated and worried. They see many people going to Jesus and no longer going to their teacher. They see their teacher losing his status as being “THE Baptist.” They are worried that their teacher is losing his prestige. In some ways, they are worried their teacher will be losing his joy.

How does John respond to this statement? Does he get worried? Does he get frustrated? Does he feel threatened? Does he come up with a new marketing plan in order to draw followers away from Jesus to himself? No. He starts off by saying, “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.’” He reminds his disciples that he has always understood his task to be a witness. His job is to point away from himself to Christ. That’s been his calling and his mission from the beginning. It’s also been his message. He also says a cryptic statement: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” John is saying this to remind his disciples of a couple things. First, he is reminding them that God is the one who is in charge. God is the one who will give him disciples and God will give Jesus disciples. All things come from him. If many are leaving John and going to Jesus it is because it is  part of God’s plan and purposes. Secondly, closely connected with the first, John is saying something about his status. The disciples are concerned about John’s prestige and position. John responds by saying, “Prestige and position also come from God.” John is letting them know that he is embracing the position that God has given him. He isn’t going to try to force himself into a position that God hasn’t placed him.

Calvin gives us a great reminder in this regard and a comment that helps us think about this passage through the lens of Advent. He says, “John is asserting that it is not in his power or in theirs, to make him great, because the measure of us all is to be what God intended us to be…How comes it then, that every man exalts himself more than is proper, but because we do not depend on the Lord, so as to be satisfied with the rank he assigns to us?” This is a powerful reminder for all of us to be faithful where we are in the position we are in. It is very easy for us to wish we had more power and more prestige. Yet, that is in God’s hands. He has placed you where you are and in the position you are in for a particular reason AND he is calling you to be passionately faithful in that position. That’s success. Right now, you are teenagers in middle school and high school. Many of you are looking forward to the day when you will finally have authority, honor, and power. Then you will be able to make things happen. Yet, God has not called you to anticipate the future. He has called you to participate in the life he has given you right now. You’re job, right now, is to passionately be a faithful high school student, to passionately be a faithful athlete or artist or actor or (whatever), to passionately be a faithful son or daughter and friend. You are called to passionately and faithfully follow Christ and witness to Christ in every aspect of your life, wherever you are. That’s being successful. God may grant you power and prestige and he may not. We must trust that he has given us whatever we need to fulfill the calling he has given us in this world and for his kingdom. Be satisfied with where you are, serve there passionately and faithfully, and trust God to move you in his time.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Advent is about waiting and God’s perfect timing. God’s people have always been a people who waited. Two of the most common phrases in the Psalms are “How long, O Lord?” and “wait on the Lord.” God’s people waited thousands of years for the Messiah to come. Now, we have waited another two thousand years for him to come again. We are a waiting people. However, we are also a people who understand that God always works in his perfect timing. A simple answer to the question, “Why did it take so long for Jesus to come the first time?” is because it wasn’t the perfect time yet. That also applies to Christ’s second coming. He hasn’t returned yet because it’s not the perfect time yet. This also applies to what we’ve just been talking about. Why hasn’t God moved you out of your current position? Because it’s not the perfect time yet. Why hasn’t God given you more power and prestige, because it’s not the perfect time yet (it may never be the perfect time). Why hasn’t God (done whatever) yet? Because it’s not his perfect time yet. So, we wait for God to move and to act. We don’t try to force our own way. We don’t try to exalt ourselves in our own strength. We don’t try to “make things happen” on our own. We wait for God to move. And while we wait, we passionately and faithfully pursue what He is currently calling us to do in the world, trusting that He has us right here for a reason, in His perfect time, and for His plans and purposes.

After saying this, John says something even more powerful and profound–something that goes against human nature. He says, “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.” He’s talking about what we would call the “best man” in today’s terms. In that day and age, the best man was in charge of making sure the wedding went smoothly. His job was not to try to take the groom’s place in the wedding. His job was to make sure things went well and will rejoice at the end of the wedding when things have gone well, the couple is married, and are rejoicing in one another. He would ruin the wedding by stepping out of his role and trying to step into the role of the groom. That would be bad.

Then he makes a powerful statement about his joy. Where does his joy come from? “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” He says that his joy is complete, or full. He is filled with joy. Why? Because his reputation is decreasing and Christ’s is increasing. The brightness of John’s ministry is fading as the brightness of Christ’s ministry is increasing. He is seeing the fulfillment of his witness. People are no longer looking at him, but are looking at Christ. As a result, his joy is full.

I want to introduce you to a band that my family is really enjoying lately. I’m sure many of you haven’t heard of them because they don’t play them on the radio. But I want to recommend this band to you because their musical style is very different than the typical Christian band and their lyrics are as theologically sound as I’ve found in any Christian band. As I was preparing this message, I heard one of their songs and I thought it was a perfect example and gives a perfect image for what John is saying in this passage. Right now, I’ll read you some of the lyrics, but after my message, I’ll play a video of the song itself.

The band is The Gray Havens and the song is “You Stole My Fame.” In the song they say:

I’ve got a spotless reputation

Not my own

Give me joy and fire

Keep it burnin’ in my soul

But every triumph

I count as mine

It turns to stone

And stones don’t often catch on fire

If joy is like a fire burnin’ in my soul

The last thing I desire it to feed it stone

Cuz stone will just pretend to be your friend

Because he’s warm inside the fire

But in time he will grow cold

And you’ll grow cold

Until you know the reason why

So please throw me down

And steal my fame

Please don’t stop until

You crucify my name

Take my boast

Put it in the ground

Bury it in water

Now the water’s showin’ how

I love the imagery of stone and fire. Joy is the fire and the kindling for that fire is not to exult yourself and make your name great. Every time you try to exult yourself and make your name great you are placing a stone on the fire of your joy. It will fool you into thinking that it’s working because the stone will warm up in the fire, but it won’t burn.  It will eventually cool off and will steal your joy.

The question of the evening is, “Where do you find joy?” First, I want to tell you where you will not find joy. You will not find joy exalting yourself. You will not find joy by playing your hope in being “the best.” You will never exalt yourself high enough. You’ll never be satisfied. You will always be trying to protect your reputation. You will be hurt and frustrated often because you’ve put your hope/joy in something is can be–and will be–easily taken away from you. If you listen to what the culture is telling you, you will never find joy. What they are telling you to do will actually kill the fire of your joy.

Yet, you can find fulness of joy. You do this by praying with John, “Christ must increase, but I must decrease,” or by praying with The Gray Havens, “So please throw me down and steal my fame. Please don’t stop until you crucify my name.” You find joy here because this is what you’ve been created to do. You are created to be and appointed by God to be a witness in this world. You are called to point away from yourself and to Christ in every aspect of your life. This is not easy. Our sinful nature will fight us to prevent us from doing this, but we must fight back. We must fight against our tendency to place ourselves in the position of God. We will find no joy there. However, we will find the fulness of joy by lowering ourselves, pointing away from ourselves, and pointing to Christ. There is true joy in this place. There is fulness of joy in this place. There is everlasting, unmovable, unshakeable joy in this place.

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