Living for Eternity
Wisdom from a Great Man
Turn to John 3. When I was in Chatham attending Emmanuel Baptist, I had the privilege to sit under the ministry of 2 outstanding pastors, Phil Stairs, and Rick Baker. Who both over the years for me from a young teen when Phil came to about age 40 when Rick left. Much of their thought and theology have left such an impression on me. But also, their love for Anne and me, and our families. For I believe that much of ministry is the blessing that must come from leadership who dearly love and care for the church family. Rick Baker is in ministry at Calvary Baptist in Oshawa still today, but Phil Stairs passed away a few years ago. And for the last few years of Phil’s ministry, he was an Associate Pastor where our son Aaron was a Youth Pastor at Temple Baptist in Cambridge. Phil’s son, John was the Senior Pastor there and still is. And Phil was only in his 70’s but had cancer, yet he added such wisdom to that congregation. And I remember at times Anne and I would go visit Aaron on a Sunday night, and Phil would preach. And you just were so excited being there, knowing he was getting older, but wondering what wisdom he would share.
When good men of God get older, good men of God, faithful men. Those who have been committed for a long time. Those who have been careful how they have lived, they have proved to be faithful. Those who were studiers of the Bible, and those who loved God’s people often have such a depth to share. And sometimes, we wonder who is going to replace these men. Sometimes we look on the Christian horizon today and say Lord, who is going to step-up after these men are gone? But God always has His men. Yet we must always be careful when we speak about “good” men, because sometimes “good” men can disappoint. We can hear about that in evangelicalism. Some who have proclaimed the gospel so strongly, so faithfully, and we only find out later that there was an affair or a power issue or stealing money in some way from the ministry. And in our day of access we often get connected with preachers that we don’t know personally, yet we are blessed by their ministry.
But what is really helpful is when we get approval from the Lord regarding the ministry of someone. Imagine if God did that today in an audible voice or written letter said, follow this ministry or attend this church. In our passage this morning we are going to read of some great wisdom from a great man, John the Baptist. And we can be very confident of the character of John and the quality of his ministry because God Himself gives us a commentary on him. Jesus said in Matt 11:11:
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than
John the Baptist!”
Matt 11:11a (LSB)
And what is so interesting in our passage this morning is that it begins with what could have been some friction between John and Jesus.
“After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized—for John had not yet been thrown into prison.”
John 3:22-24 (LSB)
And because there were two men who were gaining great accolades in the Jewish community, there were probably some who agreed more with John, and some who sided more with Jesus. Maybe John’s overarching ministry was called “The Gospel Coalition,” and Jesus’ ministry was called “Together for the Gospel.” And some followers may have loved them both, but others were strictly Gospel Coalition guys and some were only T4G guys. And maybe there were a few who were strictly Ligonier Ministry guys. Anyway, you know what I am saying, as anytime you have various opinions that are often somewhat similar, it is still easy to bring division. Sometimes what draws us together is false truth or some kind of opposition. When something comes up in our culture that is blatantly wrong, it is easy for Christians to unite, because it is always easy to unite against something, something with which we disagree. But far more difficult to unite on what we agree on, especially when you have two ministries that are both thriving.
So, what happens, in this case, is that there is some debate among John’s disciples (vs 25). And we do not know a lot about this discussion, as it mentions this “Jew.” We do not know it this was someone who was with Jesus, or it was just a “Jew” who had observed both ministries, and was noticing some differences. Partly (4:1) that Jesus’ ministry was growing and John’s was beginning to decline. There may have been some theological differences between these two ministries, but that is not likely the case. For we know that Jesus’ ministry could not have any error; and certainly, Jesus’ high regard for John (Matt 11:11), it is unlikely that John’s ministry was at fault. I would suggest that the conflict or debate was strictly due to the changing of the guard, that one ministry was growing and one was declining.
Now if anyone was going to be set back by all this or have their “nose out-of-joint,” it would be John. For it is not easy when you have two men who are both extremely gifted and their ministries get compared. I had told you about the two pastors that had the greatest impact on me Phil Stairs and Rick Baker. Phil was the Senior Pastor when Rick started as the Associate. Both ended up preaching and teaching a lot, and both were extremely gifted. However, this never hurt their friendship, as Phil later moved on to another church, and Rick became the Senior Pastor in Chatham. But both were best friends until the day that Phil died, and Rick preached at Phil’s funeral.
But this is not always easy, not always the case, especially in John’s case where his ministry was declining, when, before Jesus came on the scene, John was the guy! John was known as the preacher. I mean if there was a conference and you could get John to be on the line-up, people would come. Interesting, that both men cannot be judged by their end. John was beheaded by Herod, and of course, Jesus was nailed to a cross. Neither of them gained any earthly wealth. Neither had made anything off of book sales or podcast releases. John would be killed at a young age, yet he had a “wisdom beyond his years.” And as I studied this passage, I was just amazed at five statements that John would make prior to the end of his ministry and ultimate death. And what is also amazing about these statements is that they are made at a time when John could have become negative. For he was human like you and me, and sometimes when things don’t turn out well for us, we can tend to get a little on the grouchy side.
“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.’”
John 3:26 (LSB)
Well John’s answer could have been, Jesus’ ministry can tend to be a little seeker friendly. After all, He does more miracles than I do. No wonder they come flocking. And he likely does not dress as weird as I do. He is a little more in style with the times. Yet what we witness from John is nothing but praise for Christ, which really proves the kind of character that John had. And he makes five great statements:
Wisdom Statement #1: (vs 27) “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given
him from heaven.”
What John could be referring to here is thinking about material things or even blessings such as family or some kind of fulfillment in life. But I think he is thinking much deeper than that. It is interesting that both John and Jesus were chosen in very unique ways. Of course, Christ, cannot be compared with anyone as He is the Son of God. But even John was called by God for a such a unique purpose.
“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will not drink any wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”
Luke 1:13-17 (LSB)
And John was certain about this calling. And therefore, there was no lack of confidence or insecurities or hint of rebellion, for this is what the Lord had asked of him. We can sometimes look at these heroes of the faith and think this is really great. And what a privilege for someone like John to be able to be the proclaimer of the coming Christ. Yet, who would really want to be John? Wandering around your whole life preaching. Most would have rebelled against such a calling. This is such wisdom in taking very seriously what the Lord has called us to. And we could easily dismiss this, thinking that the Lord obviously has not called me for anything special. But that is likely a complete copout, because we can be very certain about not everything God has called us to, but we know for the most part what God would ask of us. The difficulty is not discovering our calling, the greater difficulty is likely the many distractions in life that keep us from pursuing that calling with a great seriousness. Satan does not need to bring tremendous problems upon us to keep us ineffective for Christ. All he really needs to do is dangle things and plans and sins and other interests in front of us to keep us fairly neutral for Christ. Obviously, John was not sidetracked from such temptations, though he could have been, for John was human just as we are.
What has God given to you from heaven? Don’t tell me about your blessings, your house or job or salary or kids, though we are always to be grateful. Yet what assignment is God asking you to do for Him that is essential to the Kingdom? What is it that God has gifted you to do Christian adult, Christian teen? And you can take that thought seriously right now, or you can put it off and still be thinking about it months and years from now. Paul spoke to young Timothy about being a vessel of honour, who was fit or useful for the Master’s service. Because every one of you here who knows Christ as your Saviour and Lord has been gifted uniquely for the Master’s use. And if you are willing, God will use you. But you need to think very deeply about this and pray constantly with a willingness to be used by God.
Wisdom Statement #2: (vs 30) “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
This statement by John is likely the key element to have kept him from becoming disgruntled in ministry. For I want you to think about this in the case of ministry. For here you have two parallel ministries going on at the same time. John’s started first and Jesus continued on later. But at this time, they both were going strong. So how was John able to say what he said here. He must have been very grateful and content in what the Lord had asked him to do. Think of this. If this was a selfish and man-centered ministry of John’s and it was suddenly cut short, John would have definitely lost it and likely have become very depressed or even cynical about Christianity. Yet John must have had such a pure ministry focus, as it could not have been about him. The things he said about Christ’s coming, and the great excitement he would have shared about our Lord’s birth and future ministry must have been sincere. In other words, they were not just words. When jealousy would have kicked in here for many of us, John is declaring, “He must increase!” In other words, this is exactly what I was telling you.
I find it interesting that John’s ministry and Jesus’ ministry, though at the same time, hardly intersected, except at the time of Jesus’ baptism. Wouldn’t it have been better for John if Jesus sort of came alongside of John. And then Jesus could introduce John at times to preach, and to tell everyone, do you see John here? This is the guy that got me going. He was the one who introduced me to the “Christian” community. Yet Jesus doesn’t even show up for John’s funeral, as John dies in a pagan king’s dungeon as he is beheaded. And then Jesus just gives this long-distance character reference of John, that he was a great guy. If there was reason for a pity-party, John had the right to it.
Folks, we learn so much here about the right heart in ministry, the right sincerity in ministry, the right character in ministry, the right integrity in ministry. Where you and I might belly-ache about something in ministry, John does not. John must have truly believed what he said that “Christ must increase and I must decrease.” As he realized that the true success of his own ministry was that he was able to redirect people to Christ. Lord, my ministry is successful because everyone is leaving! My church is getting smaller and following the Christ! Praise God!
Wisdom Statement #3: (vs 31) “He who comes from heaven is above all.”
Now remember that John and Jesus were related somehow. In Luke 1:36 we read that Elizabeth (John’s mother) and Mary (Jesus’ mother) are related. Yet we do not know exactly how. But John also knew that Jesus, though human, also had a heavenly origin. And through the writer John in this gospel, we know that Jesus was God Himself, God in the flesh. Listen to what Jesus Himself later says:
“You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. But the witness I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the witness I have is greater than the witness of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness about Me, that the Father has sent Me.”
John 5:33-36 (LSB)
Christ, who came from heaven is above all. Do you know that? Do you know the Lordship of Christ in your life? Not just intellectually, but that the Lordship of Christ rules your life. That He governs your plans, your thoughts, and your desires. This is not about your felt needs. Certainly, John was not trying to “feel” good, trying to satisfy his own selfish ambitions or desires. And John’s life was cut short not because he made some wrong choices. No, John’s life was cut short because he lived what he believed. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and you live what you claim, John Piper said:
“[Y]our life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full”
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life 10
He went on to say that true Christianity is not avoiding a wounded life, but it is avoiding a wasted life. He said:
“Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ [that would] be a tragedy.”
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life 10
John the Baptist said, “He who comes from heaven is above all.” Jesus said:
“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
Matt 10:39 (LSB)
Wisdom Statement #4: (vs 33) “God is true.”
Last Sunday night we discussed the threats to the church. Things such as legalism, believing that if I do these things each week and check off these boxes, I am a good with God. Or moralism, that if I live a certain level of morality. In other words, as long as the good outweighs the bad, God will be okay with me. Or traditionalism, that if I was baptized as an infant, or that I grew up in a Christian home, then I am safe with God. And these are all threats within the church, and therefore, must be confronted and preached against constantly, so that they do not become part of our thinking. But I believe a greater threat is that of universalism, the belief that in the end, God will have a heart of compassion and everyone will be saved. Even if they did not receive Christ, especially if they were sincere and did what they thought was best. Yet John refutes that thinking in this wisdom statement by saying God is true, because if God is true then everything He says must also be true. And God warns of hell and sin and pride and rejecting His Son. Therefore, we are all without excuse. Therefore, we cannot just go along in life following our hearts, without considering what God has said to be true.
Now you might be sitting here thinking, man the preacher is hard this morning. Listen, I am preaching to myself as well as you, for these are the things that God has said in His Word. God is true and everything God says is true. And God has given us minds to think and to read and to study. We have His Word and therefore we are without excuse. And the subtle thinking that in the end, that God will save everyone, something that is already taught in a number of churches. And then in churches where the real truth is taught, it is the very reason many are leaving those churches these days, it is because we are listening to ourselves, or we are listening to the talk shows or we are listening to the internet. That tells us what is not true, that convinces us of what is not true. Yet, God is true. And He has revealed to us His truth in His Word. Therefore, that is what we must listen to. Which brings us to the final wisdom statement made by John:
Wisdom Statement #5: (vs 35-36) “The Father loves the Son and has given all things
into His hand. He who believes the Son has eternal life; but
he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath
of God abides on him” (vs 35-36).
John is repetitive for good reason. Because we not only forget, but because repeated truth has such a massive influence on us. I am going to say that there has been nothing I have said this morning where you were thinking, I have never thought about that before. No, for the most part, we just need to be constantly reminded, challenged, motivated, and redirected. This is why the Apostle John records these words by John the Baptist, when John the gospel writer has already said a similar thing just a few verses earlier (vs 18):
“[H]e who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
John 3:18 (LSB)
Because it is true. That’s why he has repeated it. Because if truth is not repeated, it is eventually pushed aside and it’s forgotten. And John the Baptist says something quite interesting here. This is one of those statements that we can read and be very quick to scan over it. So, I want to draw out some thoughts from this last one. Verse 35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” This is why John said last week that a person must have the Son to have life. Because God, the Father, has given everything to the Son. And therefore, if you do not have the Son, and the Son has everything, then you have nothing. If you are sitting here this morning out some kind of duty, or if somehow you think God has accepted you because you look good or you did some nice things this week, you stand condemned before God. You must have Christ. “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ. Hallelujah! Jesus is my life. Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.” That is not some kind of simple emotional statement that we make, but if we are like John the Baptist, we live it because what we believe. If you are here this morning without a thriving, joyous relationship with Christ; if He is not the Lord of your life, you have nothing. Because the Father has given to Christ everything, everything. In other words, in life if you miss Christ, you miss it all! You miss everything!
And we cannot miss something else that John states here, which helps define what it really means to believe in Christ. And that is that belief in Christ also means Christ Lordship and obedience. To say such a thing as I believe in Christ, but that he is not Lord or that I am not willing to obey Him, disagrees with that which God has declared to be true. Look at verse 36, and some translations do not get this. King James:
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
John 3:36 (KJV)
New International Version:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son [a little stronger] will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
John 3:36 (NIV)
Anyone have an ESV this morning?
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not [what?] obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
John 3:36 (ESV)
It is the Greek word apeitheō. Which literally means to “refuse belief and obedience.” Therefore, translated in the NASB, “but he who does not obey the Son will not see life.” Legacy Standard Bible:
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
John 3:36 (LSB)
“But he who does not obey the Son.” See John the Baptist parallels belief with obedience. I would suggest that in John’s mind faith and obedience are interchangeable. Now this does not mean that if I have ever sinned or disappointed God after becoming a Christian that I am not saved. We know that is not true. Certainly, Peter disappointed his Lord. Certainly, Paul struggled (Rom 7). But it does mean this, that true faith assumes that I desire to obey Christ. Therefore, any disobedience must be followed by repentance and asking the Lord’s forgiveness. It’s hating my sin and it’s loving Christ, for He is Lord.
One last thing he states, notice this (vs 36), the one who does not obey is not only void of eternal life, John says he does not even see life. This is because it is not only that the unbeliever will be condemned in the end, though that is true; the idea here is that the unbeliever is already condemned or (vs 18) judged already, for the wrath of God already abides on him. So, unbeliever here this morning, do not think that someday God is going to judge you in the end, though He will. But the Bible teaches that unless you believe, you already today stand, live, breathe—condemned. In other words, there is no neutral ground with God. He is not waiting for you to decide for Him to determine whether He approves or disapproves of you. The Apostle Peter gives a similar warning to those who do not believe in 2 Peter 2:9, the Lord knows how “to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” So, unbeliever believe what God has said this morning to you. Obey Him for He is Lord. For He who comes from heaven is above all else. And He who believes the Son has eternal life. For God is true, and therefore whatever God has said is true. (let’s pray) Father, may we who call ourselves Christians, believers in Christ this morning, live and breathe and act under the Lordship of the One who is from above and above all. And all God people said, amen.