April 14, 2013

Jesus' Supremacy for Our Gladness

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 3:22–36

Sermon from John 3:22-36 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on April 14, 2013

Setting the Stage: Missing Jesus, the Purifier

Verses 22-26 set the stage for today’s message. Jesus is finished talking with Nicodemus about the new birth and his sacrificial death, and we now find him in a different scene with his disciples in the Judean countryside baptizing people (v. 22). And apparently, John the Baptist is also in the surrounding region and people were still coming to him for baptism (v. 23). So we see a bit of overlap in John’s ministry with Jesus’ ministry, and this overlap in ministry—especially as it’s playing itself out in baptism—causes a discussion to arise between John’s disciples and a Jew over “purification” (v. 25).

“Purification” is the same word used in 2:6 to describe the stone water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification. So, John has in mind the ceremonial washing under the old order of Jewish law—this is what these guys are arguing about. And the irony about the discussion they’re having over purification is that the true Purifier—the one who brings true cleansing from sin, the one who replaces ceremonial washing with the new wine of his blood—is just across the way baptizing with his disciples. But they don’t see that yet, just like 1:10-11 say: “[The Son of God] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” “No one receives [Jesus’] testimony,” as verse 32 says.

So, instead of running out to see the true Purifier—this man named Jesus—and be with him and follow him, they actually grow very skeptical that so many people would be going to him. This seems like a problem in their eyes. So they come to John and say this in verse 26, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” In other words, “How is your mission to succeed, John, if they’re all going to Jesus? You’re going to have to get some lights and more smoke on the stage, man! And the camel hair just isn’t cutting it with the hipsters nowadays.” They’re worried that so many would be going to Jesus. Sure, some are still coming to John, but Jesus’ crowds are getting noticeably larger at this point. “What do you say about this John?” is their question.

All of Heaven Is Behind the Prominence of Jesus

John then replies by basically telling them, “That makes me the happiest man on earth. Do you want to know where my soul finds gladness, what gives me pleasure in life, what fuels my joy? Everybody turning to Jesus.” Read his response with me, starting in verse 27, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” So he’s essentially saying that heaven ordained this to be the case, that Jesus grow in popularity and John fade into the background. What they’re observing in the Judean countryside is not a small interruption of plans to be perturbed about. All of heaven is behind the prominence of Jesus Christ. All are going to him, because God wants them to. That’s what John the Baptist has been trying to tell them all along.

Verse 28, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” John has made it clear to them already what his ministry is about. He is that end-time prophet anticipated by Isaiah, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23). He is that Elijah-like messenger that Malachi promised hundreds of years before, who was to announce the day of God’s visitation (Mal 4:5). “He came,” John says, “as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:6). Even of his own baptism John says, “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that [the Messiah] might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31). His preaching ministry was never an end in itself. God appointed him to announce the coming of Christ—to tell the people, “don’t come looking here for eternal life and peace with God; there’s the man you need, Jesus of Nazareth. Behold, look over here, he’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I saw the Spirit descend on him—not anybody else—him; he’s the Son of God.”

So to their surprise, John is thrilled that folks are going to Jesus. Heaven ordained Jesus’ increase and the whole point of John’s ministry is that Jesus would increase. Then to top it off, John compares his joy to that of a best man rejoicing over the bridegroom at his wedding festivities. Verse 29, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom [he’s saying that’s Jesus]. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him [that’s John], rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What a fitting illustration this is for John to use when talking about Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament, God referred to himself as a husband to his covenant people, Israel. That’s why the prophets can speak of Israel’s sins in terms of adultery and also why they can talk about Israel’s salvation from those sins in terms of marriage. So, for example, in Hos 2:16-20, God promises to deliver his people from their idolatry; and he promises them that in that day of salvation they will call God “My husband.” God even promises to betroth them to himself forever in righteousness and justice and faithfulness. And what we learn from the New Testament is that ultimately these Old Testament images foreshadow the day when all God’s people are presented to Jesus Christ as a bride made ready for the husband who gave his life for her, that she may be “clothed with fine linen, bright and pure,” Rev 19:8 says. In fact, Eph 5 implies that’s been God’s plan since before the foundation of the world. Christ as husband over his people through his saving work is the story of Scripture from beginning to end.

And here comes John the Baptist comparing Jesus to the bridegroom—not just a bridegroom but the bridegroom—and John’s own role as that of the best man, as if to say, “Not only has heaven ordained Jesus receive his bride, not only did God send me to announce he’s coming for his bride, but I’ve heard his voice myself and that means the church bells are ringing. The wedding day is coming. And I am thrilled with this one called Jesus, because when he goes up—when he’s revealed as supreme Son of God to all, the Faithful Husband—my joy is complete. I delight in his increase, because he—as the Son of God—is supremely worthy to increase. Indeed, he must increase—because he’s worthy to increase—but I must decrease.” Do you hear the divine plan in the increase of Jesus Christ that makes John so happy? “He must increase, but I must decrease.” God determined that Jesus increase—be seen and recognized as supreme—and God determined that John the Baptist decrease; and that fuels John’s joy.

Joy Comes in the Exaltation of the Son of God

Joy doesn’t come by forcing our own agendas over God’s wise plans [i.e., John’s over God’s…that’s covetousness]. Joy doesn’t come with self-preservation to make us more popular [that’s idolatry]. Joy doesn’t come by making our Christian living more comfortable—John went to prison, verse 24 says, and shortly thereafter got his head cut off. Our joy, like John’s joy, must be rooted in the exaltation of the Son of God at all costs.

He knew the Lord’s will to preach the coming Messiah and his kingdom until Jesus arrived for His public ministry and journey to the cross, and then get out of the way. He doesn’t begrudgingly step aside so that Jesus will increase; instead, as the best man, he rejoices to see the bridegroom arriving for his mission to redeem his bride. It was determined by God that John would decrease, and he was glad. Joy came with submitting to the Father’s will to make his Son supreme through every act of his life. And I wonder, “How many of us own his perspective, where the whole of your life is given over to the Father’s will in making his Son supreme?” That’s where this world is going [see Revelation 19-22].

Joy Comes with Our Submission to the Father's Will

Let me get more concrete than that. We know the Father’s will for us because it is plainly and sufficiently revealed in Scripture. And, we know that when we abide in the Father’s will, his Son is revealed to others as supreme. So for example, husbands, the Father’s will for our marriage is that we love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). If you’re lacking joy in your marriage, a question you seriously need to ask yourself is, “Is my life given over to the Father’s will to love my wife as Christ loved the church?” If it’s not, then you’re trying to fabricate joy for your marriage with something false. Joy comes when we submit ourselves to the Father’s will for marriage, which is “display Jesus as supreme by imitating his sacrificial love for his bride, his pursuit of her well-being, his affection for her delight.”

Or, as another example, church, the Father’s will for our neighbors is that we make ourselves servants to them that we might win more of them to Jesus (1 Cor 9:19). If we want to foster true joy in our homes, in our Care Groups, in our church gatherings, we need to consider seriously what efforts we’re making to see the name of Jesus increase in our neighborhoods not just increase on our iPods. Joy comes through demonstrating Jesus’ supremacy in living self-lessly for the eternal good of others.

Or, what about when we consider the Father’s will in the practice of prayer. The Scriptures say, “be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12), “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col 4:2), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Prayer not only reveals our total dependence on the supremacy of God’s Son—thus we pray “in Jesus’ name”—but God also uses prayer to spread the supremacy of his Son—over our own lives, our Care Group members’ lives, the lives of our neighbors. Could it be that for some of us, joy is often lacking in our Christian walk because we’re not truly desirous of Jesus’ supremacy over all things. There’s no cry going up for our children, “Lord, reign in their hearts early!”; no cry for your co-workers, “Father, open a door with Jim to declare the excellencies of Christ as I ought to speak.” We’ve just grown satisfied with the way things normally go in a world of people ruled by their flesh and the devil, when God almighty has planned and determined to make Jesus supreme over all.

True Joy Is Rooted in Jesus' Supremacy

We could give more examples. The point I want you to consider is whether you believe that true joy is rooted in Jesus’ supremacy? John the Baptist knew that true joy only comes when the whole of your life is given over to the Father’s will in making Jesus supreme. God’s ultimate plan assigns all supremacy to Jesus Christ, and here is where every disciple is to find their joy. Paul writes in Eph 1:10 that God’s plan for the fullness of time is to “unite all things in the Christ whether in heaven or on the earth.” Joy comes not with resisting that predetermined plan, but by gladly embracing it just as John did in his own ministry.

But this still leaves a question as to why Jesus must be the one who increases? Why is it that true joy only comes with Jesus’ supremacy and not someone else’s supremacy? Some of you visiting with us this morning may have that very question? What’s so great about Jesus? Verses 31-36 give us at least four reasons why Jesus is the one who must increase.

1. Jesus Is Supreme Because He Alone Is from Above

First, Jesus is supreme because he alone is from above. Verse 31, “He who comes from above [that’s Jesus] is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. In the immediate context, that’s John the Baptist. He may be God’s appointed forerunner to speak God’s words and announce the coming of Jesus; he may have been sent by God, but even John wasn’t sent from above. That mission belongs solely to the Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.

“He who comes from heaven is above all.” This unique Son “sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness” (Isa 40:22-23). This unique Son “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17). He created, owns, and commands the universe from celestial powers to subatomic particles; and he came here in the person of Jesus. The only God who was in the bosom of the Father for all eternity (1:18) became flesh and walked in our midst. As the only Son from above, Jesus alone is supreme.

2. Jesus Is Supreme Because His Authority to Speak God's Word Is Unlimited

Second, Jesus is supreme because his authority to speak God’s word is unlimited. Verse 32, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent [that’s Jesus the Son] utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” It is true that God spoke to his people through prophets inspired by his Spirit. They too uttered God’s words. Peter tells us that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).

But no man ever had or ever will have a measureless anointing from the Spirit save Jesus Christ alone. The Father is always giving the Spirit to his Son without measure—however an infinite Father gives an infinite Spirit to his infinite Son infinitely, that’s how much Jesus is filled and that’s how greatly he’s anointed to speak God’s words. That means that whenever he opens his mouth to speak, God himself speaks—which is why John says, “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.” When we receive Jesus’ words, we attest that God is true—not merely that Jesus is true, but that God himself is true. At all times, to believe what Jesus says is to believe God himself. His unlimited authority to speak God’s word means that he alone is supreme.

3. Jesus Is Supreme Because the Father Loves Him

Third, Jesus is supreme because the Father loves him. Verse 35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” Now, we should be clear, especially since we just saw that God also loved the world in John 3:16. We must note that God’s love for the Son is different from his love for us. For starters, his love for the Son is eternal—it never had a beginning. John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24). His love for the Son never had a beginning, whereas his love for us had a beginning when he chose to love us fallen as we were.

The Father’s love for the Son is also different from his love for us because the Father has no sinfulness to overcome in loving his Son. Not so with us. When God loves us, he loves us in spite of our rebellion. When God loves his Son, he does so because everything about the Son is infinitely lovely, infinitely holy, and infinitely marvelous. This helps us understand more of what God meant when he declared from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased [—he’s the one in whom I delight most supremely!]” It’s no wonder, then, that he has given all things into his Son’s hand. In loving his Son, the Father entrusts to him supreme authority over the whole created universe. Jesus is supreme because the Father loves him.

4. Jesus Is Supreme Because Not Obeying Him Means Eternal Punishment

Lastly, Jesus is supreme because not obeying him means eternal punishment. That’s very plain in verse 36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son [note how the obey is informing what John means by belief—genuine faith in the Son expresses itself in obeying the Son] shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” That cannot be said of any other human being ever. That can only be affirmed about Jesus Christ. Eternity divides at Jesus Christ. Either you believe in the Son and all that he accomplishes for you in his death and resurrection and receive eternal life, or you keep stiff-arming the Son and the wrath of God continues to remain on you. In other words, without the Son you’re already under God’s wrath. It’s only in embracing the Son that you escape God’s wrath and enter into life. So eternal joy and eternal pain hang in the balance when it comes to how you relate to Jesus—you love his supremacy over all things and you will live; you hate his supremacy over all things and you will perish. There’s nobody else like him. He is supreme.

So those are four reasons John gives us answering why Jesus is supreme—answering why it is Jesus who must increase: (1) he alone is from above; (2) his authority to speak God’s words is unlimited; (3) the Father loves him; and (4) not to obey him means eternal punishment.

The Supremacy of the Bridegroom, Your Covenant Husband

Now, here’s where this passage gets even more exciting. All those truths about Jesus’ supremacy are meant to increase your joy because all of them are connected to the work of the bridegroom who came to save you. In other words, this passage brings together two things for your joy: Christ is your bridegroom and Christ is supreme. So when we work our way through his supremacy in verses 31-36, let’s not forget that that supremacy belongs to our covenant husband. He has come from above—from heaven—to earth—why?—to deliver us from the coming wrath, dying on a cross to absorb every last bit of God’s settled anger against our sin. He pursued his bride, even while adulterous toward him, and laid down his life for her, to rescue her from peril and join her to himself forever—not under eternal wrath but with eternal life.

Moreover, as your husband he is above all—cosmic powers, worldly temptations, difficult circumstances, painful trials, dark mornings. He is above all of them and thus is infinitely able to provide maximum protection from sin, ultimate deliverance from death, and victory over the devil. The Father has given all things into his hands. He is a husband never-failing and always victorious.

Even more, he’s not trapped by earthly limitations so that he speaks in an earthly way. What he speaks over us is heavenly truth. What he nourishes us with are utterances about glories he has witnessed for all eternity. We can trust every word he speaks to us. We can count on every promise he makes to us. We can depend on him always leading us with infinite wisdom and knowledge and truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

He even has the Spirit without measure and gladly imparts the same Spirit to all united to him by faith. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and all [of us who believe] were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). As our covenant husband, he doesn’t withhold the Spirit from us, but gives him to us for our eternal good. That’s where we’re going next week: “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

And lastly—though not exhaustively—if he has bound you to himself as a bride, then you share in the passionate love with which the Father loves the Son. 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus is supreme because the Father loves him as his unique Son. But don’t miss the fact that if the Son has bound you to himself as his bride, you share in the intense love between the infinitely glorious Father and his infinitely glorious Son.

All of this means that every move the supreme Son of God makes, he makes supremely for the eternal joy of his bride. Brothers and sisters, let us not pursue the fleeting pleasures of sin in this world, but embrace the supremacy of Jesus Christ for our true and everlasting joy. He is a supremely great husband whom God has given us for our ultimate gladness; and soon he will arrive to bring us face-to-face with his supreme beauty and splendor.

other sermons in this series