John 3:22 – 30

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.”

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It is clear from this passage that baptism is a major topic of these verses.  It is also clear that there is some discussion that comes about due to these rituals of purification.  Actually, it would be better to translate this word more along the lines of “a strong argument” or “a major dispute”.  Not everyone saw eye to eye on this topic at hand.  And it is also clear that there is a sense of competition, at least on the part of John’s disciples as they saw greater numbers of people flocking towards Jesus, rather than their “Rabbi” John.

Spiritual competition between religious groups and their strong leaders of each is nothing new.  And the discussion (argument) concerning proper spiritual rituals in their interpretation and application is also something that has been around long before the time of Christ.  I do want to speak about the passage above within getting myself or any of my readers into a discussion that is full of spiritual landmines.  But let’s see what we can try to understand and apply to all of who call Jesus their Lord.

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Let me begin with an imaginary dialogue between two clergy.  The first man is the pastor and preacher of an Anglican church.  The second man is the pastor and preacher of a Baptist church.

One day the Anglican minister was talking to the Baptist minister and wanted to understand better their traditional form of baptism.  And so the Anglican said, “If the water is low and only comes up to the thighs, does this constitute baptism for you Baptists?

The Baptist preacher replied, “No.  That would not be enough to call that a baptism.”

So then the Anglican minister asked the Baptist preacher, “If the water comes up to the shoulders of the person, does this constitute baptism?”

The Baptist preacher replied again, “No.  That would not be enough to call that a baptism.”

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One more time the Anglican asked the Baptist preacher, “If the water was high enough to cover the person’s eyes, would you call this a baptism.”

Exasperated, the Baptist preacher told the Anglican minister, “No. Definitely not!!”

And at that, the Anglican minister then calmly went on and said, “Oh, ok.  I see now.  It is the little bit of water that is put on the top of the head of the man that makes the difference.”

It is my hope that I can talk about such a sensitive issue as baptism, not being cavalier about it like the funny story above, and write a good article about it that will be acceptable to people of many different Christian religious groups. 

It is sad that wars have been fought over this point of doctrine, for when one is different from us, and vice versa, then a wall of separation comes between us and them.  The “enemy” then becomes not the true enemies of the Kingdom, the forces of evil in the spiritual realm.  No, the “enemy” becomes the Christian who believes and practices different from me.  How sad!

Great theological debates have come around because of trying to emphasize the form of the baptisms being given.  But here in John’s gospel, the questions that arise do not deal with how baptism is done, but rather they deal with “who” is performing the baptisms. 

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John quickly reminds his followers that John’s primary purpose in coming was to help identify who the “Christ” or “Messiah” was who would save people from their sin.  John compares Jesus to the “Bridegroom”.  The “Bride” would be all those who believe in Jesus and follow Him.  That leaves the “friend of the Bridegroom” (that would be John) who stands to the side and rejoices to see the happiness there is when the Bridegroom will be able to fully redeem for Himself His holy people, all who believe in Jesus.

As hard as it may seem, the issues that carry very little importance to the main thrust of this passage is not baptism, nor the form or ritual of it.  What is most important is that people are flocking to see Jesus and hear His message.  Remember that Jesus has come to be the Light of salvation to all people.  So John does not entertain any thought of competition or jealousy as he sees people go and follow Jesus.

I wonder if you and I would be able to exercise such great humility that John did.  At one point, John did have the center stage of attention as people wanted to be baptized so that their sins would be forgiven.  But John knew that One greater than he had arrived, and so now his job was to encourage people to follow Jesus.  What a great example of faith and selflessness he left for us to follow after.