John the Baptist was not the Messiah, he was the Elijah figure, the one who would go before the Messiah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. He was a voice crying out in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord.” He declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That was quite an endorsement. John the Baptist was the son of a priest and his role had been prophesied in the Scriptures and his coming birth announced in the temple by the angel Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God. A bit eccentric, maybe, but he was a man of integrity and boldness. He would confront the sins of people, pharisees, and kings.
Yet when his ministry began to be eclipsed by the ministry of Jesus, he was still presented an opportunity for his flesh to rise up in pride. He did not.
John 3:26-30 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (27) John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. (28) You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ (29) The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (30) He must increase, but I must decrease.”
As I consider his response I am deeply challenged. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I think the first part of that response is readily acceptable. I want Jesus to increase, in this world, in society, in my own life. I want him to grow in influence and exercise his Lordship in increasing ways. But I think the second part of that response is relegated to a relative comparison with that of Christ. It is like the chorus of the song “No Matter How High I Get” by the Oak Ridge Boys:
“No matter how high I get, I’ll always look up to you
You’ll always be number one, I’ll settle for number two
You’ve always been there for me, baby, I must confess
I’ll always look up to you no matter how high I get”
I am fond of the idea of Jesus increasing as long as he is taking me with him. I interact with this verse thinking, as long as Jesus is kept at number one I can increase to the highest attainable heights myself. But that is not the way of Christ. I need to pursue my decrease as fervently as I seek his increase. Let my will, way, desires and the purposes that drive my life decrease. Only when I take up my cross daily, denying myself can I then follow him. Join with me, today, in actively pursuing your own decrease that Christ may be exalted above all.