John the Baptist, for some time prior to Jesus becoming known, had been calling the Jewish people to repentance in preparation for the Messiah who was to come. He had set himself up out in the wilderness at the Jordan River and people would come to him and John would preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
As the people would repent from their sins, the action that confirmed their repentance was to be baptized in the river. So John would baptize them, and this was his work, preparing the way for the Messiah who was to come, who was Jesus.
As it turned out, Jesus would also go out to the Jordan River where his disciples would baptize people who would come to Jesus to hear him and to receive forgiveness. John’s disciples, though, had become jealous. They had been with John, doing the work that John had been given to do, but now Jesus had moved in with his disciples and were doing the same thing.
John, don’t you see? Jesus and his disciples are over there baptizing too!
They weren’t happy. This was supposed to be their thing. Their work. This was their area, but this other guy – this interloper – was trying to do the same work…and right there in their area! Who did he think he was?
My goodness, how often do I hear this same thing, even today?
But, we have our church here in this area, and these interlopers have come in and setting up their church in this same city!
I heard this same sentiment recently. A church where I had presented and trained a disciple-making strategy had said that their definition of church planting was to plant churches where there aren’t any churches. And in one sense, I, of course, completely agree with that idea. We need churches, geographically, in the areas where there are no churches.
On the other hand, I think that the statement actually betrays this same attitude that John’s disciples had. What is the real concern? The real concern is that the other churches will “steal” their people. And if the people go to another church, the initial churches miss out. Miss out on the people. Miss out on money. Miss out on prestige.
Meanwhile, if we look around, we see that the number of people who are actually following Christ are few and instead of developing a plan, developing a strategy for those that are lost, we are more preoccupied with trying to hold on to those who are saved. Instead of sending our people to go reach more, we try to maintain what we have.
But I love John’s attitude in his response when his disciples come to report what that interloper – Jesus – and his disciples were doing.
To this John replied, “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.’ 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.”John 3:27-30
John doesn’t concern himself with his status. He doesn’t concern himself with the number of disciples that he has. His concern is that more people will know Christ. His concern is that the Kingdom of God will continue to grow. If John becomes less because Jesus becomes greater, John is greater.
I pray that this will continually be our attitude, that Christ would become greater while we become smaller. I pray that our plans would reflect this, that more people would be sent