It is never fun to feel as though you’ve been replaced, and John the Baptist’s disciples really didn’t like it. As John and his followers were baptizing near Salim, Jesus also began baptizing in the Judean countryside nearby. Alarmed that this new teacher was enjoying more success than their own, John’s disciples voiced worry to John that “everyone” was going to Jesus to be baptized (John 3:26, CSB throughout), perhaps expecting similar indignation or a competitive response from their teacher. John instead showed them the beauty of gospel paradox.
His disciples feared the unexpected turn of events, but John reminds his followers of what he’d been saying all along: “I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him” (v. 28). In fact, upon hearing the news of Jesus’ success, John says his joy “is complete” (v. 29). John’s popularity was ending. His success fading. His influence declining. For most of us, this would be cause for discouragement and envy, yet for John, it brought joy. This is the beautiful paradox of the gospel. The Christian life is about losing to find. Giving to gain. Dying to live. That means sometimes growing smaller, losing outward influence, or lessening in rank is a good thing.
John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). In a season typically associated with busyness and increase—more things to do, more things to buy, and more people to see—maybe you are in a season of decrease. You may have lost a loved one and find fewer chairs at the table. Having lost a job, your calendar may be emptier and the pile of gifts around your tree may be smaller. Much like John’s disciples, we may worry or mourn the changes. Yet just before reminding his disciples that he is not the Messiah, John reminds them that everything is a gift from God (v. 27). You see, John had a proper view of his assignment. He didn’t think of himself too highly, as if he were Christ himself, but he also knew he had value and purpose in God’s plan. In John 1, the author reminds the reader that John “was not the light, but he came to testify about the light” (v. 8). Christ is the “true light” (v. 9). John knew his role was important, but it wasn’t the ultimate point.
During this Advent season, we can embrace the fact that any success we have is not of our own doing but is heaven’s goodness undeservedly poured out on our lives. We can defer to what God has for us, whether he gives or takes away, because our lives are not our own but belong to God (1 Cor. 6:19). No matter where we are in life, we can humbly trust the plans of the true light, and bear witness to his fame.
Laura Wifler is a writer, podcaster, and co-founder of Risen Motherhood, based in IA. She has authored several books for children, including Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer.
This article is part of The Eternal King Arrives, a 4-week devotional to help individuals, small groups, and families journey through the 2023 Advent season . Learn more about this special issue that can be used Advent, or any time of year at http://orderct.com/advent.
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