Sunday, October 08, 2023

"Above All" [Matt's Messages]

“Above All”
Life in Jesus’ Name - The Gospel of John
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 8, 2023 :: John 3:22-36 

This church is not about us. This church is not about me. And this church is not about you. And this church is not even about reaching the world outside of these walls.

This church–above all–is about Jesus.

I was really excited when I saw that this passage is where we’d be in the Gospel of John on Celebration Sunday 2023.

Because I could immediately see how we could profit from studying its message on the day when we pause to celebrate how wonderfully God has blessed our congregation for the last 131 years.

On your birthday, it’s easy to think that it’s all about you. And while we have most certainly been blessed–above all–this church is not about us. It’s about Jesus above all.

I pulled the title for this message from verse 31 where it appears twice: “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” And, as we shall see, that is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s study the passage closely and see how this comes out and think about how it applies to us today. 

Let’s start in verse 22 and read through verse 24.

“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized (This was before John was put in prison.)” (vv.22-24). Stop there for a second.

This story takes place some time after Jesus met with Nick at night. Some time has passed since Nicodemus came to Jesus in the darkness, and Jesus told him that he must be born again. And that he must believe in the lifted-up Son to have eternal life.

Some time has passed, and Jesus has taken his disciples on a team-building retreat into the countryside. And while there, they are also baptizing new disciples in Jesus’ name.

At the very same time, John the Baptist (remember him?) and his disciples are also baptizing. They are west of the Jordan in a very wet place called Aenon near Salim.

I think it’s interesting, and I always point this out in our baptism classes, that it apparently takes a lot of water to baptize the right way (or at least whenever you can get a lot of water, it’s best to use a lot of water). John and his disciples are baptizing in this spot (v.23) “because there was plenty of water.” He was a full immersion kind of guy. No little sprinkling going on here. They don’t call him “John the Baptist” for nothing!

But John’s not the only one baptizing now. Jesus is! Or at least His disciples are baptizing under His authority (see 4:2) now.

And it might seem like a competition. It might seem like a rivalry. In fact, I think John’s disciples very much saw it that way. Look at verse 25.

“An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.”

We don’t know what the argument was about. It apparently doesn’t matter. Something to do with the relationship between baptism and ceremonial washings.

What does matter is that apparently Jesus’ name comes up during the theological debate. And John’s disciples seem to be jealous for John’s corner on the market. Verse 26.

“They 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.’”

You can just hear how concerned they are for their master. “Teacher, remember that guy you pointed out back in chapter 1? The guy who some of us immediately started to follow after you pointed him out? Well, now he’s baptizing. And it looks like he’s ‘blowing up!’ ‘Everyone is going to him.’”

Now, I love how loyal they are to their leader. They clearly love him, and that can be a really good thing. 

But if they are truly upset, they have truly missed their master’s whole point. “Rabbi! We call you ‘Notorious JTB.’ You are John The Baptist. Is it okay if this Jesus guy baptizes, too?”

Now, let’s look at how John responds to them and learn an incredible lesson in how to think about ourselves. John just nails this. Verse 27.

“To this John replied, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.’”

In other words, “If I have anything good, it was a gift in the first place. If I have a blessing. It was a blessing I didn’t earn. If I have a wonderful position in the world–the forerunner of the Messiah[!?]–I didn’t deserve that in the first place. I just received it. So I don’t need to hold onto it desperately as mine by right.”

The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7 NIVO).

I love how humble John is here. He knows that if he’s had a wonderful ministry and it might be taken away from him, it wasn’t about him anyway, so he’ll be fine.

Our church has had a wonderful history. But if we start to see the churches around us start to grow and we don’t, we should not get resentful or envious. You can only receive what is given you from heaven. Verse 28. 

“You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.'”

Remember that from chapter 1? They wanted to know who John thought he was, and he said that he was “The Voice.” “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord'” (Jn. 1:23 NIVO). He knows that he’s just a voice, and being the voice was just his gift from heaven. He didn’t deserve it or earn it. He’s just the Voice, but Jesus is the Lamb.

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29 NIVO).

John was just here to point his boney finger at Jesus. And the point of the pointing was not the pointer! But the Person he was pointing at! So if his disciples were getting bent out of shape that John was being eclipsed by Jesus, they were missing their master’s whole point.

So John uses a cultural illustration that they would all understand. Look at verse 29.

“The 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. He must become greater; I must become less” (vv.29-30).

I’ve got two points of application this morning, and here’s number one:


This is a beautiful illustration. It just sings!

Who is the most important woman at a wedding? That’s easy. It’s the bride.

Who is the most important man at a wedding? Should be easy, too. It’s not the officiating pastor.  And it’s definitely not the best man. 

It’s the groom. “The bride belongs to the bridegroom.” That’s how it is, and how it should be.

John says (v.29), “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.”

Now, the closest thing we have in our culture to the “friend who attends the bridegroom” is our best-man at an American wedding.

But the “friend who attends the bridegroom” had a much bigger role than most “best-men” do these days. In those days, “The ‘friend’ was a highly honored position who had numerous, important functions at the wedding, including serving as a witness, contributing financially, having a prominent place in the festivities, and providing general oversight and arrangement for the ceremony” (Edward W. Klink III, pg. 219).

He was almost responsible for the whole thing. And he has responsibilities for the bride, too, in terms of making sure that she was ready to be presented to the groom at the wedding. In some of their weddings, this guy was the guy who presented the bride to the groom like how in our weddings often the father-of-the-bride walks her down the aisle?

It would not be hard to imagine a guy in that role that thought he was the most important man at the wedding. And, honestly, it would be a very important role, right?! There is no shame in being the best-man. Unless! Unless the best-man started to think that he was more important than the bridegroom.

If he’s doing his job, he’s waiting to hear the bridegroom say, “I do.” “I take you as my lawfully wedding wife.” He’s doing everything he can to bring these two together on their day. So that the groom says, “I am so happy! I am happy above all men today because we are now married.”

And then, and only then, is the groom’s friend happy. “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.”

John knows that he is the friend of the bridegroom.

Who is the bridegroom? It’s Jesus.

So who is the bride in this illustration? The bride is the people of God. In the Old Testament, it was Israel. Israel was often pictured as the bride of Yahweh. And in many ways, the story of the Old Testament is a story of a wedding to come where the bride and the bridegroom are united at last. The Messiah is like a bridegroom that has promised to come for His bride.

And now in the New Testament we know that the bride is more than just Israel, Jew and Gentile together in a new thing we call “The Church.” We, all of us who are believers, are a part of the Bride of the Messiah. 

So here’s the picture. John is just so happy that he has brought people to the Messiah. He has gotten the people of God ready and presented them as a bride to their long-awaited groom. And nothing could make him happier. “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” This is what I’ve come for. This is my whole point!  “He must become greater; I must become less.” My ministry is not about me. It’s about Jesus.

Do you see how we could all learn from that? There is no reason to get jealous for ourselves or for our ministries. If we see other churches or ministries flourish, we should just be glad that the bride is coming to the bridegroom. Because it’s not about us.

We should be content and humble and thankful for any role that we can play. And anytime we do play a role, however big, we shouldn’t get a big head about it. Because we didn’t do anything to earn or deserve in the first place. It was given to us from heaven.

Notice that “becoming less” does not mean that we shrivel up but that we are increasingly blessed by Jesus. He gives us more and more. We receive more and more. We are not impoverished by “becoming less.” We are enriched! We just are not that important.

John the Baptist was truly great. You know how I know that? Jesus said so! He said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist...” (Matt. 11:11 NIVO).

But part of his greatness was his humility. Recognizing that it was not about him. Even he was not about him. He was about Jesus!

I think there is a good word for us here to not get too attached to our spiritual leaders.

For example, don’t get too attached to me. It’s Pastor Appreciation Month, and I am so grateful for all of your expressions of appreciation. Thank you for the cards and calls and messages. They are very encouraging. Thank you for sending Heather and me to the Pastors and Wives Retreat next weekend, especially in a year when you gave us that incredibly restorative sabbatical. Thank you. We feel very very loved.

But don’t give me any of the love and loyalty that Jesus deserves. When we came back from sabbatical, I came up with this sentence to describe how it felt. I would tell people, “They missed me, but they didn’t need me.” 

And that’s exactly how it should be. You don’t need me. You need Jesus. I’m not the point. I’m just one of the friends of the groom. Pointing you to him. Often pastors can get a “messiah complex” and begin to think that everything is about them. And churches can make that mistake about their pastors, too.

John the Baptist shows us the right way, “He must become greater; I must become less.” How fitting that these are the last words from John the Baptist in this Gospel. “He must become greater; I must become less.”  Not jealous but joyful. Rejoice in Jesus above all.

I don’t have any plans to go anywhere. But if I were to leave this church or to die, would you continue on? I sure hope so. Because this church is not about me. It’s not even about you! This church is about Jesus, above all. And we should be, like John the Baptist, doing our little part to introduce the bride to the bridegroom. We will find our greatest joy when we see the people of God united to the Son of God.

This last Spring, we had two baptisms that I didn’t get to do. Joel Michaels did them with their dads, remember? It was the Sunday right before our sabbatical began. They were the first baptisms in twenty-five years that I have witnessed here at Lanse Free Church instead of doing the dunking myself.

And I was so happy! Jealous in a good way but not in a bad way. Just super happy to see someone taking that step of public identification with Jesus. I’m looking forward to more of that sort of thing.

There may come a day when this church doesn’t exist any more. And that’ll be okay. As long as we are faithful in our day, that’ll be okay. Does anybody know the names of the churches in Sweden where the ten charter members of our congregation came from? Anybody know if they still exist? Maybe some of them do.

The point is that they passed on the faith to the next generation. They were best-men bringing the gospel to this area and birthing this church which has been faithful to the gospel for 131 years.

The point of this church is not to keep existing but as long as it exists to keep pointing beyond ourselves to our Savior. And as people come to a life-changing relationship with Him, we will rejoice, and our joy will be complete. Amen?

Here’s why. Because Jesus is above all. We’ve reached verse 31.

“‘The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth [that’s John the Baptist here] belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.”

It’s not bad to be from the earth. Or to speak as one from the earth. But it’s nothing compared to being from heaven! Jesus is superior to everyone and everything. “The one who comes from above is above all.”

Do we act like that is true? So often we let so many other things (including our own selves) take that top spot. We know that Jesus is above all.

Is Jesus above all right now for you?

What’s right here, above all, for you? 

I’m not asking if church is right here for you. Because it shouldn’t be. Jesus should be. 

Now for some of you, for you to have Jesus where He belongs, you’re going to need to move church up the list in your priorities. Because the church exists for us to help each other to put Jesus where He belongs. We exist to help each other grow in a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. We don’t put Jesus above all on our own. We help each other to do it. That’s why we are here. But we don’t put the church above all. That’s where Jesus belongs. 

That’s where He is! And our lives should show it.  What’s right here, above all, for you? What needs to be de-throned so that Jesus is seen to be where He rightfully is. “The one who comes from heaven is above all.”
But so many do not recognize it. Look at verse 32.

“He [Jesus] testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. [Like John 1:11, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” In general He is rejected by humanity. But (v.33)] The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. [God is not a liar! V.34] For the one whom God has sent [Jesus] speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”

Now we’re getting into the deep things of God! Now we’re seeing what Jesus is above all. God the Father has given the God the Son God the Spirit without limit. We don’t can’t even begin to imagine what that means! Jesus didn’t just have the Spirit given to him “to some extent.”

Like one of the Old Testament prophets. Or like John the Baptist himself. When John saw that Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove and resting on Him. Remember that from John’s Testimony in chapter 1? He saw the Spirit rest on Him. And there is no limit to that gift. No measuring out the Spirit. But pouring out the full Spirit of God on the Son of God. In fact, verse 35:

“The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.”

He’s got the whole world in His hands! He’s entrusted the whole thing to Him. Of course He’s above all! The Father loves Him. The Father cherishes Him. The Father adores Him.

When He poured out His Spirit on Him without limit, He said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17 NIVO). The Son is supreme in the Father’s affection.  Of course He’s above all! The Father loves Him above all.

And so, above all, we should believe in Him. Verse 36.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.’”

Number two and last:


Because faith in Jesus leads to life. That’s the whole point of this book, right? It’s written so “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”  (Jn. 20:31-21:1 NIVO). Here it is again: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life...”

Has! Don’t miss that present tense. If you believe in the Son right here and right now, you have eternal life right here and right now. For all who believe! Believing in Jesus is where the life is.

But rejecting Jesus means death. Look again. “...but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.” That’s the “perishing” that we talked about last week in John 3:16.

God’s wrath is His holy anger over against sin and evil. And that wrath “remains.” It does not fade away. It is permanent and unending which is almost unthinkable which is why we must heed this warning.

Don’t miss the warnings of the Gospel of John. The invitations to faith are so wonderful; we must take them up. But it’s either/or, not both/and. Ultimately, there are only two roads with two vastly different destinations. At the end of the road of faith in Jesus, there is eternal life. But at the end of the road of rejecting Jesus, there is nothing left but God’s holy wrath. The choices are stark but clear.

I hope that everyone here believes in the Son. I hope that everyone here has heard what the Son has done for us. He has become one of us and then died for us, in our place for our sins, on the Cross. But He did not stay dead. He came back to life to give us life, and life forever more. Believe in Jesus above all.

If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, then we invite you to do so right here and right now. And if you do, then you will have eternal life right here and right now.

Family, we need to get this message out to the world. This is too important to keep to ourselves.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.”

We’ve got to tell people about Jesus above all. That’s got to stay our main thing. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Amen? 

Because this church is not the main thing. You and I are not main thing. Even reaching the world out there is not the main thing. Jesus is the main thing. This church is not about us. 

It’s about Jesus, above all.


Messages in this Series

01. "That You May Believe" - John 20:30-31
02. "In The Beginning Was the Word" - John 1:1-18
03. "John's Testimony" - John 1:19-34
04. "Come and See" - John 1:35-51
05. "The First of His Miraculous Signs" - John 2:1-11
06. "This Temple" - John 2:12-25
07. "You Must Be Born Again" - John 3:1-15