July 7, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Unionville
[Jhn 3:22-36 ESV] 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Amen
This might in some ways be an unusual sermon. In most sermons it is a major goal of mine to proclaim the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And we certainly see that message in the end of our passage. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” But, as I have emphasized this point in most of the sermons here in our series on John’s Gospel, I want to focus today’s sermon on some other points in the text. We find, in fact, quite a number things said in this passage. And I cannot elaborate upon them all. So I want to focus on two particular things regarding this passage. The first is in regards to the proper mode of baptism. And the second is about the importance of humility. [REPEAT: First, the proper mode of baptism. And, second, the importance of humility.]
We find Jesus and his disciples now in the Judean countryside. This is chronologically after the previous events: it is after the wedding at Cana, after the cleansing of the temple, and after Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus. In our sermon text we find the transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to that of Jesus Christ. As John fades out of the picture, Jesus comes more into view.
I. THE PROPER MODE OF BAPTISM IS SPRINKLING OR POURING (vs 22-26)
The first point I want to discuss is that of the proper mode of baptism. The proper mode of baptism is the sprinkling or pouring of water upon the one being baptized. Now you might think that the passage doesn’t emphasize this point. And you’d be right! However, this passage is one of the most frequently cited by those who wish to argue that Baptism MUST be conducted by the full immersion of the person completely under water.
That is the contention. Some contend that Baptism MUST be conducted by the full immersion of the person completely under water. But, as the Presbyterian church and most of Christendom has always taught, and so I believe—baptism is properly administered not by immersion but by the sprinkling or pouring of water upon the one being baptized.
John the Baptizer was baptizing at Aenon near Salim. The text of the English Standard Version says that he was doing so because “water was plentiful there.” The King James Version translates this same phrase in “because there was much water there.” Our Baptist brethren have taken this to imply that John the Baptist was at Aenon baptizing by full immersion in deep waters. And you will find many Baptist churches taking the name Aenon or Enon.
The literal translation of the text however is that Aenon was a place of “many waters.” It is not “much water” as in there being a great body or great quantity of water, but rather the literal translation—“many waters”—probably refers to their being many springs or many fountains at that place. In fact, the word Aenon means exactly that – fountains or springs. Saying then that there are many waters or many fountains is not to say that there is a large body of water, but rather that there are many springs around that location. One author in fact notes that “these springs (of Aenon) trickle through marshy meadow land on their way to the Jordan River, and as they do this day, they offer little or no facilities for immersion.”
So this passage, and the geography of the place in view, should not lead one to conclude that the Baptisms of John were full immersions in deep waters.
Now, before I go on to explain the proper mode of baptism, I want to assure you that if you have been baptized by a single immersion, or by three immersions in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; if you have been baptized in any mode it is a valid legitimate completely good baptism so long as it was done in the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of the ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, and the remission of sins.
We must remember not to make baptism into a work that must be done in some particular way in order for man to achieve salvation. No, salvation is of the Lord, and Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promises.
Yet, we do baptize in a particular way, that of pouring or sprinkling as we believe this is the proper Biblical way. And today’s text provides us with as good of an opportunity as any to explain the reasoning for this belief.
Baptism, throughout Church history, has been done through the sprinkling or pouring out of water upon the person. This idea of baptism as a sprinkling or pouring matches with that of the purifications rituals of the Old Testament which are explicitly said to be of sprinkling or pouring.
Baptism, generally, in the New Testament was not an unknown concept to the Jews. They had been doing various purifications for many centuries.
We find one such purification in Numbers 8:7,
[Num 8:7 ESV] 7 Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves.
And again in Numbers, 19:17-18,
[Num 19:17-18 ESV] 17 For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. 18 Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave.
So, you should notice that in all of these purifications there is sprinkling. In some cases it is of water, and others it is of oil or of blood. One such example of the sprinkling of blood is from Leviticus 16:14.
[Lev 16:14 ESV] 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
And so when in the New Testament, in the book of Hebrews (9:10), we find mention of “diverse washings” it is these Old Testament sprinklings that are in view. There were no immersions in the Old Testament. All of the washings, all of the baptisms were of sprinkling. This should strongly incline us to thinking that the Baptisms of the New Testament are of the same pattern.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMILITY (vs. 27-31)
There are other arguments in favor of sprinkling or pouring as the proper mode of baptism, but we must return to our text.
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.”
It says that Jesus was baptizing, but we know from the next chapter, in John 4:2, that Jesus himself was not baptizing but only his disciples were doing so.
John the Baptist’s disciples apparently are envious of Jesus’ success. ALL are going to him! (they say) There is a rivalry brewing here. John’s disciples exaggerate the situation saying – ALL people are going to Jesus!
While John the Baptist’s disciples see Jesus as a rival, John is completely happy about what is occurring. It has been his mission from the beginning to point to Christ, and get out of the way! I almost made that the title of this sermon – “Point to Christ and get out of the way.” John is in effect saying “don’t follow me, follow Christ!”
We see a similar situation in 1stCorinthians. Paul tells the church at Corinth do not follow Paul, nor Peter, nor Apollos. Follow Jesus Christ!
In our times, we might say, Do not follow this or that famous preacher or this or that mega church pastor. Follow Jesus Christ.
People have this sinful tendency to follow other men rather than God. And sometimes that error manifests itself in slavishly following some other human being, and other times that error manifests itself in a prideful self-confidence and self-will, following no one by the desires your one’s own flesh.
That is what we have in the Gospel of Luke where a disciple asked Jesus “who is the greatest disciple?” It reads:
[Luk 22:24-27 ESV] 24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
But who is the greatest? It is the one who serves! The least shall become great.
In our sermon text John points to Jesus. He is the greatest. Point to Christ and get out of the way. I am not great, John indicates. It is Christ. He is the suffering servant, the most high who came to earth and suffered for our sins in his humiliation on the cross.
We too, John says, should not place ourselves higher than we actually are, but each person should accept with gratitude whatever station in life God assigns him.
Let this be one of our applications from today’s passage: each person should accept with gratitude whatever station in life God assigns him.
27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.
Accept, therefore, with gratitude what God has given. Do not place yourself higher than you ought. Nor should you place any other person too high on a pedestal. But let us be servants of God the most high.
John the Baptist illustrated his own subservient role using the familiar imagery of a wedding.
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.
Whenever I come to an analogy or story like this, I like to pause and identify who is who.
So, to be clear:
In this analogy
(1) The bridegroom represents Jesus
(2) The bride represents the people
(3) The friend of the bridegroom is John the Baptist.
This person, the “Friend of the bridegroom” is similar to the best man. In the culture of the time it was the “friend of the bridegroom” who not only managed much of the wedding, but also brought the bridegroom to the bride. Remember, John the Baptist is the herald announcing the coming of Christ. As the friend of the bridegroom John the Baptist does the work ahead of time in preparing for the coming bridegroom to bring him to his bride, the church. Once the friend of the bridegroom has brought the bride to the bridegroom and then his task was completed; the focus now rightfully shifted from him to the bridegroom. It is time for the friend of the bridegroom to get out of the way.
And so this is why John the Baptist is so happy to let his disciples go to Jesus. It is time for the John the Baptist to get out of the way. He has pointed to Christ. He has prepared the way. Now, the bridegroom is here!
This is why he says “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
He “must.” It is in accord with God’s eternal plan that John decrease and Christ increase.
John has rightful humility. He knows his role in the world. He does not claim to be any more than he actually is. And he has joy in his role.
We too should find joy in the roles, in the places, that the Lord has set us. The Lord has you where he has you for His reasons.
So what is the importance of humility? If we place ourselves high, we shall be made low; but if we place ourselves low we shall be made high.
It is like the “parable of the wedding feast” in the Gospel of Luke:
[Luk 14:7-11 ESV] 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
So, to conclude the account, we read:
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 the Baptist in essence says, “now that the bridegroom is here, you need to leave me and go to him.” It is Christ that matters. For whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Christ is above all. He is greater than any man. Follow him, the one who has come from above.
Now, I mentioned one application earlier – each person should accept with gratitude whatever station in life God assigns him.
But there is another application I want to look at as well. And that is this – let us give thanks when another is blessed by God. [REPEAT: Let us give thanks when another is blessed by God.]
Don’t be like the disciples of John the Baptist, envious that another is getting something that you are not.
If another person has good health while you have poor, do not be jealous, but accept with gratitude whatever station in life God assigns you.
If another person gets married while you are single, do not be envious, but accept with gratitude whatever station in life God assigns you.
If another is blessed financially, do not be envious. You know the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. The Lord has given you your pay. Be thankful to him for that. What does it matter to you if another gets more pay per hour, or more blessings?
In all cases let us praise the Lord that He has blessed someone, knowing that all of us who believe have the greatest gift of all, salvation in Jesus Christ through his grace and the gift of faith.
May God work in our hearts that we may accept all that happens to us. And may we decrease and he increase. Let Christ be above all. Let him be above all in your life.