22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “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.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 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. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
When last we looked at this passage, we left John the Baptist's followers in an uproar. Let's see how he answered them, shall we?
John begins the work of calming and quieting his argumentative followers by repeating something he had said earlier: "I am not the Messiah." But then he changes gears! He begins to use wedding imagery! We can immediately deduce that John is talking about Christ as the bridegroom, but where did this come from . . . did it just pop into John's head? Nope, as always, God guides the words and we see a beautiful image from the Old Testament.
The Old Testament prophets repeatedly portrayed Israel as the bride of their covenant God. Let's look at two instances to refresh our memories. In the book of Hosea, we see the prophet's own story. God guided him to marry a prostitute, Gomer. Hosea obeyed, and married and cared for Gomer, but she went back to a life of prostitution. Eventually, God told Hosea to take her back again. God used Hosea's marriage to make a point about the faithlessness of Israel, as they turned again and again to other gods.
In Ezekiel 16, Jerusalem is pictured as an orphan girl, who is cast out upon the streets. The imagery shows God as a person who sees her, takes her in, cares for her, and then marries her. The girl, Jerusalem, then is unfaithful, and chases after other suitors (other gods) but at the end of the chapter, we see God promising to take her back and provide atonement for all that she's done.
Do you recall the last wedding that you attended? Do you remember the joy on the faces of the bride and her groom? That is the joy that John the Baptist is pointing to here. He's saying that he rejoices in this coming wedding. So what if his followers are dwindling? If they follow Him instead? So what is there are still some that don't yet "get it"? John is rejoicing as a friend of the bridegroom, for he sees that the bridegroom is on the scene, and is holding out His hand to His bride! It's a cause for celebration!
The joy that John the Baptist felt was the joy and freedom that we can feel, when we no longer care about seeking our own desires, or our own fame; this is the joy that we can feel when we are selfless and are seeking to decrease our stature, rather than to add to it. It's the joy that comes from saying, "He must increase. I must decrease." It's truly a joyful thing to leave our "stuff" behind. How joyful and free can we be, if we let go of our pride, our need to control, our striving for attention. As friends of the bridegroom, we can rejoice as John the Baptist did.
We can also rejoice in the bridegroom Himself: verses 31-36 tells us how great He really is. He is sent from God, and He is above all others -- He has the Spirit without measure, not measured out as it was to the prophets of old.
Verse 36 speaks of eternal life for those who believe in Christ, and wrath for those who do not believe. Remember in Hosea and Ezekiel, how they were anticipating a time when God would take back Israel, in spite of her faithlessness, and make her whole again? That's what can happen right here, and right now, for those who believe in our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is making His church clean and whole and good, and He is doing it today in us, and in the church.
That is truly a cause for celebration and for joy!