Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 16, 2020
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 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.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 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. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
— John 3:22-36, ESV
There have been a number of professors and pastors who have greatly influenced my life. As I look back on my favorite teachers and authors, I am surprised how many of them are named Dr. John. I learned theology from Dr. John Mahoney and missions from Dr. John Floyd in seminary. The writings of Dr. John MacArthur introduced me to Reformed theology, Dr. John Stott encouraged me further, and Dr. John Piper’s books helped cement my confidence in the absolute sovereignty of God.
I even enjoy music by Dr. John, although sometimes it puts me in the right place at the wrong time, saying the right thing with the wrong line. That Dr. John actually apprenticed under a musician whose legal name was Professor Longhair; and, he actually held an honorary doctorate from Tulane University.
My favorite biblical author is Dr. John Bar Zebedee, first follower of Christ and longest living of the Apostles. We are studying the Gospel he wrote and today we come to the text which presents us with the last narrative featuring yet another Dr. John. This is the final scene involving Dr. John Ba Harim, the revered prophet who came from the hills (ref. Psalm 121:1) of Jerusalem to the valley of Qumran near the Dead Sea. Of course it is his other nickname that stuck, John the Baptist, as he preached a gospel of repentance and prepared the way for people to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
At this early juncture of the ministry of Jesus, it was John the Baptist who would have been the most notable public figure in Israel. Shortly after the ministry of Jesus began, the ministry of John ended, when he was unceremoniously thrown into prison and subsequently executed by the evil Herod Antipas. Before he leaves Gospel, however, we have a lot to learn from the lips of the Baptist and the inspired pen of the Apostle, both of whom we will call Dr. John.
John the Baptist did not get his name for nothing. He was a baptizer, and if you will, the father of New Testament baptism (ref. Acts 1:22). The word baptism is a transliteration from Greek into English, literally meaning to immerse or submerge in water. It was practiced by Jews upon Gentile proselytes into Judaism, by the Essenes as a regular ritual for purity, and it became the plunge one takes among their first steps into Christianity. Dr. John was Jewish, akin to the Essenes, and the one who introduced Christ and therefore Christianity into the world.
Baptism was important to John the Baptist. It said something, a non-verbal profession of faith in God and God’s rule in one’s life. It symbolized something, namely the washing away of sins through sincere repentance and faith. And, it sealed something, as water was also associated with the Spirit’s cleansing and indwelling work in the life of a believer.
Baptism was important to Jesus. That is why Jesus Himself was baptized by John, and this text finds both Jesus and John baptizing people in the plentiful waters of the Jordan River near the Dead Sea. Jesus and His followers baptized His followers and furthermore commanded His followers to baptize new followers of Christ in the “Great Commission” (ref. Matthew 28:18-20).
Is baptism important to you? You do not have to be baptized to be saved, but if you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you have to be baptized. It is a proper profession of faith, it is a prerequisite for Holy Communion, and it is a powerful witness to the church and the world.
Your first Christian responsibility to Christ and His church is to be baptized. Once inside the church family, one of your main missions is to maintain the unity and integrity of the church. Be assured, Satan is trying to tear down both, and his modus operandi is an inside job.
Dr. John the Apostle, although he was Jewish, seldom uses Jew or Jews in a flattering manner. Writing as he was after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, his reference here to a dispute with a “Jew” marks this man as a religious leader who was hostile to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Christian church. His satanic strategy is to pit John the Baptist against Jesus Christ. This is an age old attempt to divide and conquer by sparking envy and competition between two camps of a common cause. Of course, this strategy failed when tried upon John the Baptist, for reasons that will follow.
This lesson on unity, however, must be heard by every member of every church today. We are not in competition with other true churches, and we should rejoice if they are bigger or growing faster than our own. We should not destructively criticize other churches just because their doctrines are different from our own, if those doctrines are based on reasonable biblical interpretation. Pointing out false doctrine and constructively criticizing poor practices is another matter altogether, for such is necessary to protect and strengthen the true church. But competition and petty criticism with other churches can only hurt our own, and it damages our overall witness to the world.
The first church I joined and the first seminary I attended were Baptist. They taught me to be Baptist, and only Baptist, and to be suspect of anyone or anything not Baptist. Thank God I outgrew such religious prejudice. Never strive to be Baptist, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or Catholic. Just be a faithful Christian, “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (ref. Ephesians 4:3).
Do you want to know how John the Baptist handled the attacks against him? Do you want to know how John the Baptist summoned the strength and confidence to carry out his challenging ministry? Do you want to know what sustained John the Baptist during the difficult seasons of life and work?
John the Baptist and John the Apostle believed strongly in the absolute sovereignty of God. As an old preacher once taught me, God’s sovereignty means God can do anything He wants, anytime He wants, and involve anyone He wants. God’s will will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Here John the Baptist's classic lesson on the subject: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (ref. vs. 27).
You cannot be saved, unless God gives you the gift of salvation from above (ref. John 3:3ff). You cannot have a ministry, unless God gives you the gifts and opportunities, and gifts and opportunities differ as determined by God. You cannot received pain and suffering, apart from God’s allowable grace, and then it will ultimately be for someone’s good and God’s glory.
God is sovereign in salvation and God is sovereign in all the lesser matters of life. Learning this lesson in the Christian life will yield amazing dividends. It builds faith. It kills pride. It makes envy almost impossible. It conquers greed and lust. And, it breeds confidence for evangelism and ministry because we are not pressured to do God’s work, rather we are blessed to have God working in and through us to accomplish His will (ref. Philippians 2:13).
John the Baptist’s whole philosophy of life is captured in his last words, recorded in verse 30. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He had been sent by God to introduce the Messiah to the world, then get out of the way and let the Messiah do His thing. Of course, Jesus’ thing and John’s thing both ended in execution, which is the strongest rebuke possible to those who preach a gospel of patronizing prosperity.
Accepting God’s Son into your life and accepting God’s mission for your life requires humility. To be saved, you have to come to grips with your sinful, selfish, depraved nature, a humiliating experience, indeed. Accepting God’s mission for your life means doing God’s thing rather than your own thing, and often getting little or no notoriety for it. Christ comes first, the needs of others are more important than your own, then grasp whatever simple pleasures the Lord reserves for you. Jesus first, others second, yourself last spells joy, but it joy imitated from humility, for which there will be a great reward.
A century ago a career missionary named Teddy was returning home on steamship after a life’s work of evangelizing and planting churches. It was good work, but no one had really noticed back in America. He was surprised to see a huge banner on the dock with the message, “Welcome Home Teddy!” Just as he was about to feel appreciated and recognized for his work, it was announced that President Theodore Roosevelt had been secretly on board the ship and was about to debark. That’s when the Holy Spirit told the humble servant, “You are not home, yet.”
Dr. John the Baptist’s practical theology (vs. 22-30) now gives way to Dr. John the Apostle’s systematic theology (vs. 31-36). As is the Gospel writer’s custom, he takes the practical and makes it theological, moving us from a fascinating story to spiritual depth. The whole foundation for the elder John’s water baptism, striving for unity, submission to sovereignty, and personal humility is the person and work of God in Christ, who came to bring God’s salvation to humankind.
To say that Jesus “comes from above and is above all” and “He who comes from heaven” means the Lord Jesus Christ is from God and He is God (ref. John 1:1). The Apostle will go on to provide a direct quotation from Jesus to this effect, “I and the Father are one” (ref. John 10:30). John’s Gospel makes the best case in the Bible for the deity of Jesus Christ.
This Dr. John also makes a case for the Trinity. He explains that God the Father has sent God the Son who sends God the Spirit, “without measure,” to accomplish the ministry of salvation. This moves the lesson from Christology to Soteriology, from “Jesus is Lord!” to “Jesus Saves!”
What was the ministry of Dr. John the Baptist all about? It was about pointing people to the Lord Jesus Christ. What does Dr. John the Apostle say the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is all about? It is about salvation, the rescue from wrath, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life. So who can be saved?
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” As he did in 3:16, Dr. John the Apostle circles back to belief, the active, ongoing trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ, His atonement for sin, and His lordship over all of life. That is what belief really is, deep and abiding, as confirmed in the next sentence.
“Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” These are key words and strong words. Note that Dr. John equates “belief” with “obey.” To believe is to obey, and to not obey is to not truly believe. This is a lesson lost on the modern church, but strongly supported by Dr. John and Dr. John MacArthur, who wrote in The Gospel According to Jesus, “Obedience is the only possible proof that a person really knows Jesus Christ.”
So thank you, Dr. John, all of you, who have spoken the right things with the right lines. And if you want to be in the right place at the right time, trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Be baptized, stay unified, accept God’s sovereignty with humility, and live and preach the message of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org