If he had really cared about the ministry he would have done something. He would have seen it was flagging. That the crowds were growing thinner. That his influence was diminishing. And he would have gone back to the drawing board. What needs to change? How do we revitalize the message? If he had really cared about the ministry he would done what he could have done that it might increase.
In fact, he did care about the ministry. He did see it winding down. He wasn’t blind to the smaller numbers. He knew they were going somewhere else. Not as many followers as he once had. Fewer coming to him to be baptized. More and more going to the other baptizer. But no need to white board a new strategy. No need to ramp up a new ad campaign. Everything was going according to plan. He really did care about the ministry. And it must decrease.
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 answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegrooms voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
(John 3:26-30 ESV)
Plain and simple, John wasn’t much concerned with John. Though he stood apart from the crowd (cool clothes and a radical organic diet will do that), his concern was for the kingdom. He cared little about the notoriety he was receiving but wanted people to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His motivation was less about counting the fruit of his labors and more about being faithful to the call of his Lord. The numbers were going down. True. But the Bridegroom was being lifted up. And that’s what mattered. That was the measure of success. Though he decreased, if the Master increased, his joy would be over the top.
I’m going to venture to say that nobody searches for insignificance. No one’s really looking to grow into less influence. No one’s really jazzed by the thought of fading into the background. That most of us work hard in order to have something to show for it. But John’s ministry reached its full potential when his river was empty and Jesus’ river was full. When the people waiting to be baptized by him disappeared and crowd control was necessary for those waiting to be cleansed by Him whose shoes John considered himself unworthy to tie (John 1:27).
John knew he could only offer water for those who desired to repent, but that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit those who would be reborn. John identified the problem, Jesus provided the solution. The hope for people lie not in the strength of John’s ministry but in the strength of John’s message. And that message wasn’t about him, it was about his Savior. Not about “me” . . . but all about Messiah.
John took no credit for the numbers baptized. He cared little as to whether the crowds were viewed as his crowds. I don’t think he even saw it as being his ministry–for “a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”
Rather, I think he cared only about faithfully discharging the stewardship entrusted to him by the Master. Every morning he got up and went to the river, because that’s what God had called him to. He dunked people as long as people wanted to be dunked because that’s the part he been given to play in salvation’s symphony. And though his part diminished, his joy increased because the music was being heard.
He must increase, but I must decrease . . . that this joy of mine might be now complete.
John cared about the ministry. So much so that he was willing to let it die. His was a decreasing ministry.
By the grace of God. For the glory of God.