“I Am Not”

GOSPEL | JOHN 3:22-36

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized — 24 John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.  25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew.  26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”  27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.  28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’  29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.  30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

the Isenheim altarpiece, by Grunewald

Grunewald’s depiction of John the Baptizer (right) gets a lot of mileage around the seminary community, and for good reason. Here we have an image of our role as preachers, as disciples, as witnesses, as Christians: our job is only to point to Jesus. Superimposed behind John the Baptizer (lower right) is John 1:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John the Baptizer knew who he was, and who he wasn’t. He understood his limits. He was able to see Jesus’ growing renown, and, instead of reacting with jealousy or competition, recognized joyfully that his purposes were bearing fruit. “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him” (v.28). Lent directly challenges our over-functioning, achievement-centered culture. Lent asks me to follow, not lead; to watch, not perform; to point to Christ, and away from myself. Rather than see this as a loss, may I follow John’s example and respond with grateful joy.

For more reading on NOT being the Messiah, but pointing to Him, here’s a link to one of my professor’s articles on “The Problem with ‘Incarnational Ministry’.” 

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