“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.… He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:27-30
Aside from Jesus Christ, who is the greatest person in the Bible?
In Matthew 11, Jesus answered that question. Interestingly, he didn’t choose any of the great leaders you might expect. He didn’t choose Abraham, Moses, Esther or David—all great heroes of our faith. Surprisingly, Jesus said in Matthew 11:11: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”
Really? John the Baptist? The guy who lived in the wilderness? The guy who wore camels’ hair clothes and ate bugs? Seriously, Jesus? That’s the GREATEST man who’s ever lived? Yes. And John 3 explains why.
The Gospel of John makes it clear that the early part of Jesus’ public ministry overlapped with the final weeks of John’s public ministry. While Jesus was turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, while Jesus driving out the money changers in the temple courts, and while Jesus was having a one-on-one conversation with Nicodemus about being born again … John the Baptist was still out there preaching and baptizing.
Well, by John 3:22, Jesus had also begun baptizing people in the Judean countryside. Some of John the Baptist’s loyal followers didn’t like that. They felt that Jesus had come into John’s backyard and snatched up John’s customers. So they went to Aenon, where John was—once again—preaching and baptizing (v. 23). And they told John: “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him” (v. 26).
John’s disciples thought they were being good, loyal followers by being offended on his behalf. How did John the Baptist respond to his zealous disciples? He responded masterfully … by responding humbly: “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ … He must become greater; I must become less” (vs. 27-30).
It would have been so easy for John to side with his followers and feel offended and mistreated. It’s easy to feel offended. It’s easy to feel wounded. It’s easy to feel unappreciated. All of us have done it at one time or another. But John the Baptist didn’t take the easy road. John’s humble response to his disciples’ frustration and jealousy reveals WHY Jesus considered John the Baptist to be the greatest man born. Instead of following his ego into a trap, John corrected his disciples on the spot.
Here are three Life Lessons we can learn from this passage:
Life Lesson #1: Be careful that your sympathy for others doesn’t encourage them to be bitter or jealous. As the great theologian William Barclay writes, “Sometimes a friend’s sympathy can be the worst possible thing for us. It can make us feel sorry for ourselves and encourage us to think that we have not had a fair deal.” So often when people feel they’ve been ignored or treated unfairly, we validate their toxic thoughts and feelings. When speaking to a Christian who feels shafted, 1) Remind them that God is control; (2) Encourage them to be content with what God has given them; and (3) Urge them to rejoice with others who God is blessing.
Life Lesson #2: As you serve Christ, be content with every season of ministry—the highs, the lows and everything in between. The world’s view of success and God’s view of success are NOT the same. God doesn’t call us to be “successful” by the world’s standards. Instead, He calls us to be obedient and faithful … and leave the results up to Him. Sometimes the results God brings will knock our socks off. At other times, the results will seem underwhelming. But GOD KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING. He is always true to His promise to work ALL things together for the good of those who love God and are called to carry out His purposes. So, trust Him. And be content to be used by Him on the mountaintops AND in the valleys.
Life Lesson #3: As you serve Christ, make this your motto: He must become greater. I must become less. As the forerunner to Jesus, John had two important jobs: #1) Prepare the way for Christ. And #2) Get out of the way of Christ. Don’t you think that’s a pretty good job description for you and me as well? From the moment He was born, John the Baptist had a subordinate role to Jesus. He understood that. He owned that. John was okay with that—as long as Jesus Christ was glorified.
There was once a pastor who had a thriving ministry. His church services were full every Sunday. But as the years went by, most of his attenders left to attend a new church just down the road. So, one evening the pastor asked his small congregation, “Where have all the people gone?”
After a few seconds of awkward silence, someone spoke up: “I think they’ve gone to the church down the street to hear the new minister.” The pastor thought for a moment, then said, “Well, then. I think we ought to join them.” And he descended from the pulpit and led his congregation down the road to attend the other church that night. In Jesus’ book, THAT is a great pastor.
Do you want to be a great servant of the Lord Jesus Christ?
That’s fantastic—as long as you don’t misunderstand what greatness looks like
Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us for worship on Sunday
at 8:30am or 10am at