22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 27To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.
Here we are on Day 11. It is now 12:21 AM, Monday Morning, June 11, 2007. I really should be sleeping. I’m not tired though. I just looked over some of the ‘statistics’ for my blog—Life Under the Blue Sky—they seem a bit low, but I forgot some people read at the Life in the Aquarium blog too. But I digress. I sometimes forget that its not quite about me. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Jesus has graciously prepared the way for this word by speaking first of self-denial. Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake. If in the end we know only him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto him” (The Cost of Discipleship, 88).
Here is an interesting passage of Scripture that begins with a quiet and serene setting. A flowing river, disciples gathered around baptizing eager converts or penitents, harmony all around—except for that fight that broke out among some of those baptizing. The argument sort of gets dropped, but John’s disciples do use it as a pretext for asking their master why he doesn’t seem more concerned about this Jesus fella who is gaining more disciples. But John does not seem to care; in fact, he seems downright elated: I have done my job, my joy is now complete. (I think too that John’s statements concerning Jesus the Lamb of God were also John’s way of saying, “Look! There’s the One you should be following.” That’s why he said it twice. He wondered why people were still hanging around him.)
John then says the most astonishing thing a human being has ever uttered: He must become greater; I must become less. John doesn’t get involved in the argument. John does not care that more people are going to Jesus. John does not go out of his way to attract attention to himself. He always points to Jesus and is not jealous when Jesus begins to rise in stature. How could he? John, in my estimation, perfectly understood his role. He accepted what God gave him and did not throw a fit that it was not more. Really, that is about it for these verses. John was doing all he could to get out of the way so that people could see Jesus.
So here’s what I’m thinking about this. We need to get out of the way too. It’s no wonder, isn’t then, why God chooses us to be his messengers? Who else but us could so adequately make the case that this message is from God and not us? And that is precisely why we must continue to preach the gospel! That is precisely why we must continue to preach Christ Crucified! That is exactly why the treasure is hidden in dirty vessels like John the Baptist, me, and many others just like us. God hides his message in us and says: Point away to Jesus. I can’t emphasize this enough. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Jesus, the Supremacy of Jesus, the Above-all-there-is-Jesus, the Son of God Jesus, the Lamb of God Jesus.
I don’t even want to tell you today what I think the problem is in most preaching, but it has something to do with preachers being far too concerned about their job security and the approval of parishioners and the respect of their peers and colleagues. Hey, I’m a preacher, I’m most likely part of that problem to some extent so I think I’m safe to criticize my own. But I have to say something about: Preaching, preachers, prophets nowadays are far too self-centered. They know too much about too many things and so instead of preaching the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, the Whole of the Scripture, preaching takes on new shapes and dimensions and rises to new levels of oratory and rhetoric and psychology. But preachers are to be more like John and get out of the way. God doesn’t need us to stand up and glorify ourselves. God needs preachers to point to Jesus. There is something to be said about preachers not being so smart about so many things and instead being prophetic geniuses when it comes to the cross and the Crucified Lord.
David Wells, writing about the place of Scripture in the church, wrote in God in the Wasteland, “The fact that this Word is now so silent, that it has so small a part to play in the church’s worship, understanding, and spiritual nurture, goes a long way toward explaining why God, in his holiness, is also a stranger to the church…And so it is that God is disappearing from his church, being edged out by the self, naked and alone, as the source of all mystery and meaning” (149). Wells has much more to say about this, but let me sum up the main idea which is this: When the church becomes so full of us, it becomes emptied of God (there’s not room for both in the Body). When preaching, that means by which God has ordained his Gospel to be announced, is less filled with, constructed from, and centered on Scripture, what else is left to preach but the self–and many are profound exegetes of their culture, themselves, and films but not of Scripture. And I submit to you that man’s life, man’s experience, man’s wisdom is not sufficient enough to guide the lost or the redeemed through this life; and it cannot even come close to leading people to that Place where the Houses are build by the Hands of God. Wells concludes, “Without this transcendent Word in its life, the church has no rudder, no compass, no provisions. Without the Word, it has no capacity to stand outside its culture, to detect and wrench itself free from the seductions of modernity. Without the Word, the church has no meaning” (150).
All of this is an example of what happens in the church when we become more and Christ becomes less. When Christ becomes less then we don’t even have ‘use’ for the Scripture let alone reverence and dependence upon it. When we become more and Christ becomes less then the mission of Christ is less about the Cross and more about our ideas which are decidedly cross-less. My encouragement to you today is this: Make it your ambition, or not your ambition just your life, to become less. It’s hard to want to not be all things to all people at all times. It’s hard to be the moon and not the sun. It’s hard to get out of the way, but do it anyhow. Be a servant. Accept what God has given you and find joy and satisfaction in seeing Jesus exalted, lifted up, gaining, growing, becoming more. Become less so that Jesus can become more. When what matters most in your life is Jesus and not you…well, then what matters most will matter most. And that matters. It seems to me that Scripture is convinced that God can do far more with less than He can with more. Ours is a culture of more, and to a great degree this pathetic philosophy has penetrated the hearts and minds of church folk. The Way of Jesus is counter-cultural: Narrow ways, foolishness, weakness, and, surprisingly, less.