Have you ever heard of Bill Alexander? Perhaps a few of you have. How about Bob Ross from PBS’s The Joy of Painting? He’s the fuzzy-headed guy that painted “happy trees” and wonderful landscapes in his 30-minute show from 1983 to 1994. All those shows are available on YouTube. But here’s the thing, without Bill Alexander, there wouldn’t have been Bob Ross or the Joy of Painting. Alexander also had a tv show (from 1974 – 1982), and Bill personally introduced and mentored Bob Ross on his wet on wet painting technique. So, what does this have to do with John’s Gospel? I’m glad you asked.
Sandwiched between Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman, there is an often-over-looked section. Specifically, John 3:22-26. The writer John sets the scene. “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim.” Now, has will happen a rivalry kicked in on the part of John’s disciples. “And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” Although put in nicer words, it sounds to me like – Hey, we were doing this first. This is our brand, our thing.
What follows is John the Baptist’s last discourse in John’s Gospel. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (NASB)
John the Baptist recognized that his mission is complete. He’s paved the way for the Messiah, for Jesus. And even though he once had a bustling, dynamic, world-shaking ministry, now he is only like the best man at the wedding. His ministry, his brand, his voice must fade as Jesus’ grows in prominence.
But John’s discourse also breaks new ground. The center is no longer Jewish faith and purification but belief in Jesus. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” This is radically different and is the reason (I think) why John the writer sandwiched this between Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well. Jesus is the Way and the Way is open to all who believe and walk out Jesus’ commands. John will go on to demonstrate Jesus’ willingness and power with three examples. All of which upset the previous order of things.
There is also a practical application to this section. We don’t need to be jealous or create rivalries between ministries and ministers. There will be ebbs and flows in the life of churches and leaders. God may use folks to powerfully extend the Kingdom, and yet there is always the sense of season. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes, hopefully, more frequently than not, an ending creates a beginning. The torch is passed. A renewal happens, which reignites purpose for today. The willingness to renew defeats the calcification, which often happens as tradition is formed, and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” becomes the creed.
We must all be about the business of – He must increase, but I must decrease. Our ministry or service may grow in size, but Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. Why? Because people need to bond with Jesus and not ourselves. When we pray for folks, serve folks, give generously, care, love, preach, sing, clean up, make food, help the poor, raise the unwanted, do justice – our attitude must always be that of John’s. Jesus must increase, and I need to get out of the way. And if someone else does it better than I? Praise God!