A Successful Failure

After the talk with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples walked down to Judea to stay for a while and baptize. Emmanuel abided with them (John 3:22).

John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.

John 3:23-25 (ESV)

All this free-lance baptism activity going on at the Jordan was arousing attention. First John, and now Jesus, were baptizing people apart from the authority of the temple. This brought up questions, perhaps such as: What benefit did John’s baptism have over the temple ritual cleansing? Was Jesus’ baptism somehow better than both? Did it make you more pure? Why get baptized by John when you can get baptized by Jesus?

Things were simpler before Jesus came along.

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.”

John 3:26 (ESV)

From a business perspective, the news was not good. John’s baptism enterprise had been going strong for a while, with crowds of people showing up. But now, even though they had plenty of product (water), the flow of customers was shrinking. More and more people were flocking to the new competitor in town. Perhaps John’s employees had hoped Jesus would sign up with them to help their monopoly expand even more. But now, with Jesus baptising on his own, they saw the writing on the wall. Disturbed, they go tell John.

It must have been hard to be a disciple of John, desiring to see your master’s ministry grow, and instead seeing it fade. Perhaps they were using the ministry for future personal glory (like an excellent retirement plan), just as Jesus’ disciples did later (Mark 10:37, Luke 22:24).

It was time for John to have a little talk with them (John 3:27-36)…

“Guys, you know everything we’re received comes from God. It’s not different with this ministry. I’m just a steward of what God has given me.

“I’ve been given a charge to proclaim the coming Messiah, which I’ve done to the best of my ability. He’s the Bridegroom, if you will. I’m merely the best man, getting things ready for the wedding.

“Now that Messiah is here, you should be happy He’s receiving more attention than we are! My mission is a success! To live in a day when we can see and hear the promised One speak… doesn’t that thrill you?

“So, while the ministry has been a success, I’m delighted to see it going away. I don’t want anything to detract from Jesus’ glory. The more you and I fade into the background, and the greater He becomes, the happier I’ll be.

“You all know I’m an imperfect human. I’ve spoken only what I’ve learned here on earth, or what God has told me to speak. This Jesus, on the other hand, literally came from heaven and is above us all. He’s a direct witness to heavenly things. Not even Moses saw the things Jesus did. Too bad most people don’t believe what He says!

“You should be like the few who do believe Him, because then you’ll be agreeing with God. This is important because Jesus, having the full measure of God’s Spirit, speaks God’s words.

“More than that, God the Father loves His Son Jesus, and has given all authority into His hands… even the exclusive right to give eternal life to those who believe in Him! If you refuse to believe, if you continue to call God a liar, then there’s no hope for you. You’ll remain under God’s wrath.”

This was John’s last recorded testimony of Jesus. Soon he would be imprisoned and beheaded.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

In this passage I’ve noticed how John continued to do the work God gave him, even though his ministry was winding down. He knew that the work he had to do was for a limited time, and he was ok with that.

It seems to me all God-given ministries have a limited lifespan. God calls someone to a work and it continues for a time – a few years, maybe a few generations – and then that ministry ends. In the meantime, God calls others to serve in other ways. Ministries come and ministries go. The problem is not that they come to an end, but that oftentimes we hang on to them, artificially extending their lives beyond what they should be. When that happens, the ministries become dead, lifeless organizations.

God will supply the needs of the ministries He wants to continue. And when it comes time for a ministry to end, rejoice! Take a lesson from John the baptist. He had the same attitude as Job:

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

Job 1:21 (ESV)

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