Playing our Part as Witness: Homily on John 3:22-30

John 3:22-30 Jesus and John the Baptist

27 John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.’”

The Gospel of John spends the better portion of its introductory scenes in chapters 1-3 distinguishing between the Christ and not the Christ. Like a well-written play, the characters are clearly and quickly identified. There is the Christ and there is Not the Christ. Consider John 1:6-9

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

And John 1:15,

“(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’)”

And John 1:19-20,

“This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah’”

Chapter 2 demonstrates the divine power of Christ in both the miracle of the water turned into wine and the cleansing of the temple. The miracle at the wedding of Cana is the manifestation of Christ’s glory. The overturning of the tables in the temple and clearing out the temple of establishes Christ’s authority as prophet, priest, and king. “This,” writes the gospeler, “is the Christ, and I am not him.”

Chapter 3 continues the witness as to who the Christ is in Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus in the dark of night (the son of man that has descended from heaven and the one who will be raised and lifted up John 3: 13-15) and the establishment that this son of man, the Christ, is the one sent from God because God so loved the world (John 3:16).

Why is there so much upfront work establishing a relationship of Christ and not the Christ in the first few chapter of the Gospel of John? A good knee jerk response would be: to establish witness. In order for John to be a good witness to the Christ, a distinction must be made (and made firmly) about who John is and who the Christ is. John is the rejoicing friend to the bridegroom and not the bridegroom (John 3:29). John is not the Messiah but the one sent ahead of Messiah (John 3:28). John’s entire ministry is about pointing and witnessing to the one who comes after him, the one whose sandals he is not worthy to untie (John 1:27b).

John is not the Christ and should not be confused with the Christ because John is the one witnessing to the Christ. To confuse the two, to confuse the proclamation with the one proclaiming is to conflate the message with the one witnessing and this means the message is lost. If John doesn’t draw a thick line in the sand between him and the Christ, the good news we just heard yesterday, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16) is lost, completely lost. And surely, this is not the news you want to lose.

In perfect dramatic sequence, John speaks one of his last lines for this portion of the drama that is unfolding for the audience. “‘He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:30). And very literally, John decreases from center stage. He steps stage left and out of view, picking up the role of witnessing narrator to the works and deeds of Jesus Christ, the son of man, the son of God, the messiah come to save the world.

In a very real way, we are invited into this moment as fellow witnesses with John. I don’t want to take away from our very real and very good desire to be more like Christ in our own lives and in our lives toward others. But in this moment, let us step in to the place left for us: the witnesses of Christ. Let us follow John’s lead.

In our real life and our virtual worlds, there is a huge pull and desire to build our own platforms and personal image, to draw attention to ourselves. And this isn’t merely a “you students” thing, but is an “all of us” thing. It is very hard to resist the urge and the pull to promote ourselves, to be overly concerned with our reputations and images. We want to increase; decreasing isn’t an option for us in a world that demands we prove our value, our worth, and ourselves. And this is surely an exhausting rat race to be in, with no trophy, no end, no rest because the world is never satisfied, “More!” it cries, “Give us more!”

But here, in our passage with John pointing to the Christ and witnessing to Him, we are invited to witness and to be witnessed to. Hear John’s words for you and rest in those words: for God so loved the world, so loved us, that God broke into our timeline and created such an impact that the ripples of that event are felt in every sector of existence then, now, and tomorrow. The first are last, the last are first; hierarchies overturned; oppressors condemned and the oppressed set free.

But don’t stop there; find the activity from that rest in understanding that this is all about Christ. We exist as the body of Christ corporate to point others to him and what he has done for the world. And we point to Christ not just with proclamation with words of the gospel (those words are very important) but also with our actions of walking in mercy, humility, kindness, and justness (Micah 6:8).[1]

And I want to be clear, Christ’s increase and our decrease isn’t about being so overpowered by the divine encounter that we lose ourselves so completely as to cease being and having ourselves. For in God, in union with God, we are more fully ourselves in all of our quirks, eccentricities, and uniqueness. We receive ourselves back in an active and living and witnessing way.

The fun part about this active witnessing is that as we stand pointing to him, directing others toward him we are freed up in a radical way to enjoy our lives in their multifaceted brilliance and with a deep abiding, completely free joy: in the classroom, in our myriad performances, in our various athletic commitments, at home with our family or out and about with our friends.

Let our voices and lives come together with John and let us play our parts as witnesses: Come! Come and meet the Messiah, the Christ who came into the world to save it because he loves us.




[1] “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

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