Online Text Sermon - The Heavenly Bridegroom, John ch.3 vv.25-36
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Heavenly Bridegroom|
|Text||John ch.3 vv.25-36 |
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"Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3, 25-30).
This is a touching passage of Scripture. It is a turning point in the ministries of John the Baptist and, in a sense, also of the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was of course related by blood to Christ, and he was born something like six months before Christ was born, so he was slightly the elder of the two. John's great mission in this world was to prepare the people for the coming of Christ, so John the Baptist was sent before Christ. It seems that in ancient times, when some great king was going to make a journey, that engineers were sent ahead of him along the way, repairing the bridges, putting right the roads, making smooth the path. That was what John was called on to do in a spiritual sense. Isaiah uses that illustration in his prophecy: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isaiah 40, 3-5). See also see Malachi 3, 1; Mark 1, 2; Luke 7, 27. That was John's ministry. It was a ministry of preparation - preparing the nations for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the point at which we take up this in John 3, John the Baptist had become famous throughout his country. Thousands of people knew that John was a prophet of God. Hundreds, if not thousands, had gone out into the wilderness to hear John's preaching. It was extraordinary. The authority with which he spoke was that from heaven. Multitudes were baptized unto repentance in the waters of the River Jordan. But now, a turning point comes. The Lord Jesus Christ, who, in a sense, came out of obscurity, has now begun his ministry. To the alarm of John the Baptist's disciples, Christ's reputation is overtaking that of John, and John's disciples are jealous for the reputation of their master. They come to him in this way and they say: "Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him" (v.26). That was the background. The conversation which ensues here in these verses is between John the Baptist and these disciples, in which John explains something of great importance, which we all need to listen to.
The first thing we learn is that true ministers are never to be thought of as in competition with one another. It was a mistake made by the disciples of John that they imagined that Jesus now was stealing their master's thunder. And so they have to be taught who Jesus is, and John does that consummately well. But the point of course is of general application. Real ministers of Christ are not in competition with one another. That is a very worldly way to think; that's exactly the way people of this world think. They think in terms of my hero and your hero, or my political party and your political party, and people love to be in competition over these things. Or else it's something like this, it's my team and your team, and that's the way the world thinks, and the way the world behaves. But the Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, these men who were of God of course - Christ, above all, being the Son of God - were not in competition with one another. They both brought the same Gospel message.
That is to be applied to all preachers of the Word of God. We must never suppose that they are in competition with one another. The devil is so clever at stirring us up with a sort of jealousy, or this preacher over against that one, or that preacher over against some other one. It becomes even worse when we think of our denomination as being the only one that really counts. I'm afraid we're all inclined to be guilty of that at times. We think, really, there are other churches in the world besides our own but they're hardly worth mentioning. There have been other preachers beside our preachers, but they are not to be compared, of course, with our men. That's the way we can sometimes very stupidly think. It isn't true, of course it isn't true - there have been outstanding preachers in the Church of England, outstanding Baptist preachers - think of Spurgeon and men like that; outstanding independent men - Dr Lloyd-Jones and men like that. So we are not to think of the servants of Jesus Christ as though they were in competition.
This is what John the Baptist says to his disciples. He corrects this in them, you notice: "John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven" (v.27). All of a minister's gifts, whatever he has, they come from God. If God has sent a man to preach the Gospel, then he will have sufficient grace to do the work, sufficient gifts to do the work, and he will do what God has called upon him to do. Of course, it goes without saying, that some are greater and some are lesser, but if they are preaching the truth, and living a holy life, then all of them are to be loved because of their Master who sent them, all of them are to be respected and encouraged because they do the work of spreading the Gospel of Christ.
The apostle Paul met a similar scenario at Corinth. I need hardly do more than allude to it because you are very well familiar with it. He says that he was very disappointed in these Christians at Corinth because everyone said: "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1, 12). As though the Gospel could be divided into parties like the political scene: I am of the blue side and you're of the red side; I'm of the left wing and you're of the right wing. That's the way politics works. But, my excellent friends, we are not like the children of this world. We love the truth, whoever preaches it, and if people are found to be preaching the truth whose church connections we may not thoroughly approve of for some reason or other, then, we are only rejoicing that these men are doing the work of Jesus Christ. We are to love them, encourage them and promote the work of God which they are doing, with all generous reverence on our side.
Personal loyalties, then, were misplaced in the case of John the Baptist's disciples. John the Baptist was a truly very great servant of Christ and he corrects this mistake within them: "Oh no," he says, "you mustn't think like this. No man can receive anything unless it be given him from heaven." Meaning that if the Lord Jesus Christ were not that glorious Messiah and Saviour that he is, He could not be promoting the Gospel so successfully as now you see Him doing. Then John very modestly explains that he himself was nothing compared with Christ. He puts it in this very famous phrase, which is well worth taking to heart: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (v. 30). That would be a good motto for us all in terms of our own attitude to one another as Christians, and to our own attitude to ourselves as Christians - He must increase, and I must decrease. Let our references to others be generous. Let our references to ourselves be modest. The best Christians are always the most modest Christians. The most spiritual Christians are always those who are most generous in their references to others. Party spirit and strife are not consistent with the spirit of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ, or the apostle Paul.
If you want an illustration, I will give it to you - something like this. Boys and girls, it's like the difference between the sun and the moon. In my illustration John the Baptist was like the moon and the Lord Jesus Christ can be compared to the sun. The moon at night is very welcome because, if you are in a dark place, the light of the moon is not tremendously bright, but it's quite sufficient just to see your way along. The light of the moon is very welcome, and the light of the stars is very welcome. But now, in the dawn at the beginning of the day, when the sun begins to come up, you're not interested any more in the light of the moon. The light of the moon is just obscured and forgotten - it's out of mind - because the sun is now up, and it throws forth glorious light throughout the entire world. So when the sun is up, the moon is out of mind.
So it is with John the Baptist and Christ. John the Baptist did faithful work preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He told the people the truth. He was faithful to what God had commissioned him to do, but he knew very well that his career was a short one. He was like a blazing meteor across the sky, and threw a lot of light down onto the earth, but then, as it were, petered out into nothing. John soon would disappear; he would be taken into prison and beheaded, as you know, by Herod. In that atrocious action that took place at the king's birthday, John would die and his soul would go to glory where he would be honoured - and still is honoured. But the Lord Jesus Christ is like the sun rising up. His glory was not simply over Palestine, over a few hundreds of people; the glory of Christ has shed light over the entire world of mankind, so that east and west, north and south, and every other country in the world is affected by the light of the glory of Christ shining in this world. That's what John meant when he said that Christ must increase and he must decrease; the sun rises and the moon therefore vanishes. My dear friends, let us learn this practical lesson from the disciples of John, that we are to make generous reference to all those who preach the Gospel of Christ, and we are not to be afflicted with this party spirit, or strife, which these disciples of John had.
The second thing is this. Ministers are nothing but the helpers of men to come to Christ. This is the way John puts it: "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him" (v. 27-28). "I am not the Christ," he said. We must understand from this teaching here that John the Baptist is making it clear that the honour that Christ had is an honour which he has from heaven: "He that cometh from heaven is above all" (v. 31).
The Lord Jesus Christ is above all the preachers and prophets who ever existed. He is above Moses, He is above David, He is above Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and above John the Baptist. There's none, anywhere, who can compare with the Lord Jesus Christ because He is from heaven. Jesus is the Son of God, the everlasting Son, equal with the Father in power and in glory; worshipped by the whole host of angels in heaven. He came down to take our human nature, says John, He came down from heaven, and therefore He is above all. He is a prophet to teach us, and a priest to die for us and to make an atonement for us, and a king to rule over us - both in His estate of humiliation, in which He was afflicted, despised and crucified; and also in his state of exaltation in which He has taken His seat - according to Psalm 110 that we were singing - at the right hand of God. There He sits now enthroned in majesty, and the rod of his strength goes forth, which is the Gospel of His power, to convert sinners in all the nations of men, and to bring them into subjection to His obedience.
John the Baptist makes it very clear who Christ is. He is not a mere man, He is from heaven, and He is above all. Notice the way in which John hides himself; that is the mark of the genuine preacher, the real minister. That's the genuine Christian too. The better the Christian the more the humility, the more self-effacing he is. Nothing is so out of place in a Christian as anything like self-importance. If you meet a self-important person who claims to be a Christian, then you have met a 'little man'. The sign of a little man is that he struts upon a stage and thinks himself to be something. He is always busy promoting himself. That's a little man. My friends, we mustn't be like that. These great men of Scripture, they were self-effacing. "He must increase, but I must decrease". This is the Son of God from heaven."
John uses an extraordinary illustration, which requires to be understood: "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled" (v.29). There's the illustration. What does it mean? Well, it's a reference, as you see, to weddings. Weddings are happy and beautiful things. This is what John means. He said: Jesus Christ is the bridegroom - he is the handsome man in the wedding, to be married. The bride is soon going to be married to him. A bridegroom has a best man, referred to here as the 'friend of the bridegroom' - that's what they were called in these days, the friend of the bridegroom - verse 29. We give them a different name. We say the man that assists the bridegroom at the wedding is called the 'best man' - he helps the bridegroom with whatever he needs to do. He helps him to get his clothes in order, put his tie right, and make sure that his top handkerchief is in place. If he has a flower in his buttonhole, he makes sure it's right, and that he has his notes. Has he got the ring on his finger and ready to give to the young lady? And so on. He has to remind him of these things - he attends to the bridegroom.
In the illustration, John the Baptist is the friend of the bridegroom: he is the best man. But the bridegroom himself is Christ. The history of the world is one long preparation for the wedding day. There's a wedding day coming, John means. When this world comes eventually to its end, and all its sad and sorry events have finished - its wars, and its crimes, and all those evils which we are so familiar with in the history of mankind - when they're all finished and the world comes to its end, there's going to be a wedding, says John, and I have a small part in this wedding. My tiny part in this, says John, is that of the friend of the bridegroom, the best man. I'm introducing the bridegroom to his bride. You might say: Well, who then is this bride? The answer is: It is the church - not the visible church, but the invisible church. What do we mean by that? Well, the visible church consists of all those who profess to be Christians - and many of them of course are not Christians. We call it the visible church - those who are outwardly professing the faith. Christ will not be married to that church; He will be married in the end of the day to the invisible church, which is true believers, genuine believers, those who are really in the spirit, those who have been born of God, those who are genuinely converted, who have real faith and repentance toward God. In the end of history, says John, there's going to be this wedding, and the bride, which is His true church - made up of all believers of all the nations in all the ages of history - they're going to come, and they're going to be presented to the bridegroom, and His bride will have made herself ready.
This is a very, very beautiful picture, my dear friend; a wedding is a lovely thing. There you have the young man in all his masculine handsomeness and excellence and at the height of his strength; and here you have the beautiful young maiden, pure and ready for the wedding, in all her beauty and all her garments, ready to be married. It's a very beautiful thing. Only God could have invented such a beautiful thing as marriage. It is a beautiful thing, and it is a picture of something still more beautiful: when all His people shall at last be married to the Lord Jesus Christ. Because He's not just a Saviour - Christ is not just a Saviour - Christ is more than a Saviour, He is a Husband to His people. He has loved them with an everlasting love and He will never cease to love them. He will never be satisfied till He gathers all His believing people out of this world. He knows what this world is like. This world is a dunghill and the more you live in it the more you see it's nothing but a place of wretchedness, sadness, death, criminality and wars. That's what sin has made of it. But the Lord's people are going to have a wedding day.
The work of a minister, like the work of John the Baptist, is to introduce people to the Bridegroom. This is Jesus our Saviour. Come and meet Him, come and love Him, come and be part of His bride. He will receive you and marry you to Himself eternally. He will look after you in His matrimonial home of glory - the house of many mansions - if you will come and trust in Him. That is what is being said here. Many ministers have thought of it this way.
Listen to the great Samuel Rutherford, one of the great Scots ministers of old. He said this: "If one soul from Anwoth," - that was the name of the little village in the south-west of Scotland where he preached - "If one soul from Anwoth meets me at God's right hand, my heaven will be two heavens in Emmanuel's land." That's the way all ministers and missionaries think. If through our feeble and poor efforts at preaching, and teaching, and witnessing for Christ, if one single soul will meet me in heaven and say, it was through the preaching of this man, or through the witness of this woman, that I was benefited and brought to know the Saviour - well, my heaven will be two heavens. That's what makes the work of John the Baptist here so very special. He had this great honour, not of being only a prophet - he was more than a prophet - he was a man who was to introduce Christ, as it were, to His church on earth, and to marry, as it were, the church here below by his presence and preaching. In the end of history the entire church universal will be gathered to meet the Lord. At the end of the Book of Revelation you see the church coming down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband - chaste, and holy, and beautiful, and ready to meet the Lord in the air, and to be forever with the Lord. That is the illustration that John the Baptist uses of a bride and a groom.
I put it to you, my dear friends: Doesn't this make this empty world seem so much emptier, when you think what is there here after all for the Lord's people? In this world, as Christians, we are but strangers and pilgrims - these are the words so often used by the Bible - strangers and pilgrims. We must be careful not to fall in love with this world. This is not our rest. This world is an accursed place. We are to travel through it with as much discomfort as we can. There will be afflictions and tribulations for you in this world, but look beyond them. Look to the wedding day. If you're discouraged today because you feel life is very trying and difficult, look beyond the trials of this life and look to the coming wedding day.
One minute in the presence of Jesus who loves us will make up for all the sorrows of this present hour. O to be with Him, even for ten seconds, will comfort us after all the sadnesses and sorrows, divisions and afflictions that we have experienced here below. He put it like that Himself. He says, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16, 33). He intends that when you overcome it by His grace, He will make you perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity. He will take you to the living fountains of water. He will love you with an everlasting love. He will forgive all your sins. He will make you so blessed that you will be filled with unspeakable joy. That's the way the Bible puts it even now at times: "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1, 8). This is only the anticipation of it. This is only the first tasting of it. In this world we do but taste and see that God is good, but in the wedding day, the royal wine of heaven will be open, the champagne of heaven will be poured in the glasses, the people of God will drink - not indeed to intoxication, but to their unspeakable delight, and they will each have their glory, their honour, their place, their distinction, and all will love one another when the wedding day comes. This is something that John the Baptist understood. You and I also need to understand it, and to rejoice that this is true.
Thirdly and briefly, let me say: There's only one thing in religion which is supremely important: "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true" (v. 36); "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath [or anger] of God abideth on him" (v.36). My dear friends, the Christian faith is not complicated; it is as simple as A-B-C. There's only one thing that matters in Christianity. It is to believe - to believe in Jesus. What could be clearer than that? That's all that matters in Christianity, to believe in Him. "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5, 12), "but the wrath of God abideth on him" (v. 36). It's as simple as that. All you and I need to get to heaven is faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, and if we have that simple faith in Him then all shall be well. We shall be saved now, and saved for ever. It's simple, it's easy. You don't need to go to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and read 300 pages of long, philosophical language to get to heaven - all you need is faith in Jesus Christ! My friends, if you have it, then go forth from this service rejoicing that you are part of the bride of Christ, because nobody has this faith but only those whom God chooses to everlasting life - it is the gift of God. No man can come to Christ but only those who are brought by God the Father to be part of His bride. That's it then, very simply. You see the summary of it all is in these words: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (v.36) - even now, in this life, but how much more in the life to come!
You know what they do, don't you, in weddings. We've all probably been to enough weddings to know what ministers say. We're at the stage now in the wedding service where the young lady is here, and the young man is here - whichever way round it is - and they are standing next to each other. Then the minister puts these questions. He says to the young man first: "Do you take this lady to be your lawfully wedded wife?" "I do." And the same to her: "Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?" "I do." And that's it. Then they're married. The two are one. I put it to you: Is Jesus Christ in the Gospel offering Himself to be your Husband? He offers Himself freely, without money and without price. He says, I will love you to time and to eternity, if you will have me.
Now, here's my question; I put it to you as the minister at the wedding service: "Do you take this Saviour to be your own personal Saviour? Are you able to set your seal to it? Put your name, as it were, to the page, and sign your signature to the document?" "Yes, I John Smith [or whatever your name is], I do take Thee, Jesus Christ, this day to be my Saviour, and for all eternity." Do you? Well, if you do, then I can promise you, from the authority of the Word of God, you have everlasting life, and you will have it. When the end of time comes, Jesus Christ will sweep you, body and soul, out of all the miseries of this world and take you to the heavenly home. There, eye has not seen, ear has not heard, the glorious pleasures which God, in Christ, will bestow upon all those who come and trust in Him.
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