After the Passover Jesus decided to remain in Judea with His disciples, making camp beside the Jordan River. As more and more people sought out the miracle-working teacher, large crowds were a regular occurrence. Many in the daily audiences were moved to repent of their selfish lives and lukewarm or nonexistent religion. These Jesus sent to His disciples, who were standing in the Jordan waiting to baptize those who came.
About twenty miles north at Aenon, near Salim, John the Baptizer was preaching to those who came to him and was baptizing whoever was moved by God’s words.
“Hey, you!” the words were said by a Pharisee standing at the edge of the crowd along the banks of the Jordan. The people were watching the steady stream of people wading out to the Baptizer to commit their lives to serving God. “I’m talking to you,” the Pharisee called again. “Yes, you. You are one of the Baptizer’s disciples, aren’t you?”
Eliezer of Jericho turned to face the speaker. “Yes, I am. Many of us here are.” As he said this, eight other men standing beside him turned to face the Pharisee.
“Well, maybe all of you can tell me what this is all about,” the Pharisee demanded. “How is getting dunked in the Jordan by this man helping people keep the Law?”
“It’s about humbling yourself before God and drawing close to Him,” Eliezer answered to the nods of agreement from his companions.
“Why would God want smelly people close to Him?” the Jew shot back. “He wants people to keep His laws.”
“It is our sins that make us smell badly to God,” another disciple returned. “Isaiah said, ‘The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save, neither is His ear so dull that He cannot hear, but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.’”
“That is what the Baptizer is doing,” Eliezer added. “Today he taught us from the words of Zephaniah the prophet: ‘I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty on My holy mountain. But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord.’”
“Hmm,” the Pharisee muttered. “So this baptizing he’s doing is some kind of purification like is mentioned in the Law?”
“Yes,” Eliezer returned, “but it is a purification on the inside.”
“Alright,” the Pharisee nodded. “I suppose that’s acceptable. But you better tell your master to preach harder. I just came from seeing what this Jesus of Nazareth is doing, and He’s baptizing a whole lot more people than your master is.”
As soon as John baptized the last person, Eliezer and the others rushed to meet him. “Teacher,” the disciple said urgently, “we have just heard some very disturbing news! Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth who was with you beyond the Jordan, the very one you bore witness about, is now baptizing, and everyone is going to him instead of coming to you! Something must be done about this!”
John gave his friends a comforting look and smiled. “Don’t let this worry you. A man can only receive what God gives him. I have been given my ministry, and Jesus has been given His.
“Each of you are my witnesses,” John continued looking his followers in the eyes. “I have made it very clear that I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent before Him, to prepare the way for Him.”
The disciples’ nods of understanding also showed a look of disappointment.
“My friends,” John said eagerly, putting his hands on the two closest ones, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom! That’s not me! I am the friend of the bridegroom. I am the one who stands and hears Him, and when I hear the bridegroom’s voice, it fills me with joy! Do you hear what I’m saying? When I hear that Jesus is teaching and reaching many more people than I am, it causes this joy of mine to be absolutely full!”
The huge grin and joyful look on the Baptizer’s face caused involuntary smiles to appear on his disciples.
Suddenly John got very serious. “Listen to me, all of you! This is very important! He must increase, but I must decrease. Do you know why? He must increase because He comes from above and He is above all. I must decrease because, like you, I am from the earth, and what I say is about earthly things. What Jesus has seen and heard is from above, and He is faithfully bearing witness to what God has given Him. Sadly, few will listen to Him, but those who do will know for certain that Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, is speaking the true words of God!”
“So this man Jesus,” one of the disciples asked, “is the true Messiah?”
“Yes, Judah,” John shot back. “But He is also more than that! I have seen and heard the very witness of God Himself declaring to me that Jesus the Messiah is also the Son of God!” The Baptizer paused a moment to let that sink in.
“The Father loves the Son,” John continued, “and has given all things into His hands! Did you hear what I said? ALL THINGS have been given into His hands. Following me is not where eternal life is. My teaching will only take you so far. Eternal life is for those who believe in the Son of God.”
“Teacher,” Eliezer said, “if you say that this Jesus is the Messiah and is God’s Son, then I will believe it because of your words. So does that mean I now have eternal life?”
“That is not the kind of faith that brings you life,” John shot back. “The faith that God wants is a faith that is so convinced about the truth of who Jesus is that it changes the believer. That kind of faith motivates the believer to obey what his Master tells him. It is a responsive faith, like Abraham, Moses, and David had. Anyone who does not have a faith like this will not see life. What they will see is the wrath of God.” Looking around at his faithful followers, John could tell his words had touched their hearts.
“Listen to me, all of you,” John said with a smile. “Your faithfulness and loyalty have meant a great deal to me, but you should not be here, devoting yourselves to the friend of the bridegroom. Your faithful devotion should be to the bridegroom. He is the only one who can give you life!”
“John…,” Eliezer began sadly.
But the Baptizer cut him off. “He must increase, and I must decrease! It’s not that He should increase…He MUST Increase, and I must decrease! That is true for your lives as well.”
By Alan W. Harris
(Based on John 3:22-36)