Jesus is the Real Messiah
October 21st, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
So far, while Jesus’ ministry and actions had been intentionally discreet, there had been a very godly man on the Judean scene whose ministry was main stream. That man was John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who was prophesied to come and prepare the way for the Messiah. And while John the Baptist was clear on his role, some of his followers were still confused.
The Problem: Someone thought Jesus was trying to steal their cookies.
Due to John’s preaching and prophesying, he had quite a following. As Jesus began a more public ministry and gained in popularity, John’s loyal followers didn’t see it clearly. Instead, they saw it as Jesus impeding on John’s territory by baptizing and now “everyone” was turning to Jesus (v. 26). To use the “cookie thief” metaphor, they thought Jesus was taking away something that belonged to John the Baptist.
John the Baptist’s response is based on 3 basic principles every Christian needs to know:
1. Recognize God’s Sovereignty over your life.
Before the disciples were Jesus’ disciples, they were the disciples of John the Baptist. But case-in-point, John the Baptist was the forerunner to the Messiah – not the Messiah. John recognizes God’s sovereignty by saying, “A man can only receive what’s given to him from heaven.” (v. 27). John is saying we need to let God be God in the way he writes our stories. No matter what resource we are fighting to maintain control of… whether people, money, time, career, or something else, we need to step back and recognize the goodness of God’s control.
2. Know the joy of handing things over to Jesus.
In the word picture of the friend of the Bridegroom. “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” (v. 29). John is full of joy as he has long awaited the coming of Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and now that he is here on the scene, John’s joy is complete. As a church and a church-plant, we should understand John’s role is our role, to bring people to Jesus, handing them over and relinquishing control to Him.
3. Make Much of Jesus.
Our story is God’s story. It is not for ourselves, but for him. “He must become greater. I must become less.” (v. 30). John, the gospel writer further says in v. 32-36, “the one from above is above all; the Father loves the Son, and has placed all things in his hands; whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” God sent his one and only Son to show you what God is like and to testify His truth. Jesus was the Word who created the world, and Jesus is the Messiah who died to buy it back with his blood – it ALL belongs to him. That’s why we are to make much of Jesus.
- Who was John the Baptist and why is his depiction of Jesus significant?
- What cookie has Jesus taken from you? Did it change you?
- Has there been a time in service or ministry that you believed was good, but it was somehow taken from you? How was your faith challenged or strengthened by this?
- God’s sovereignty means: 1) God is in control, 2) God has the right to be in control. What helps you to better understand this concept: his nature, his actions, or something else?
- What joy have you experienced recognizing God’s Will over your own?
- If our story is God’s story, do we really hold any cookies? What is the role of every Christian?
A young lady was waiting for her flight in the terminal of a big airport. Since she would need to wait many hours, she decided to buy a book to pass the time. She also bought a packet of cookies. She sat down in an armchair in the VIP lounge of the airport to rest and read in peace. Beside the armchair where the packet of cookies lay, a man sat down in the next seat, opened his magazine and started reading.
When she took out the first cookie, the man took one as well. She felt really irritated but decided not to say anything. She just thought “What a jerk! If I was in the mood, I would read this guy the riot act!” She couldn’t believe he had been that rude! But to her complete surprise, it continued! For each cookie she took, the man took one too. This infuriated her, but she didn’t want to cause a scene. It went on for a while. Finally, there was only one cookie left. She thought “I wonder what this rude person is going to do now?”
Sure enough, the man took the last cookie, held it up, broke it in half and gave half to her. “This is too much,” she thought. She grabbed her book, threw it into her purse and stormed off to the place where the plane was going to board. After she got settled in her seat on the plane, she reached down to get the book out of her purse. There, to her complete surprise, the lady discovered her completely unopened packet of cookies.
How many of you know that story? I don’t know whether it actually happened or not, but it’s called “the cookie thief.” I was surprised when I looked it up to see that it is now a story, a poem and a short film! So why do I tell it to you today? For one reason: Because if you walk with Jesus long enough, I guarantee there will come a time when it feels like Jesus is trying to steal your cookies! There will be times when Jesus seems to be taking something from you that belongs to you, times when Jesus is taking control of something you’re not sure you want to give up control of.
He may take it in a number of ways. He might just remove it from your control. He might diminish your influence, or he might call you to hand it over. The cookies I’m talking about can be all kinds of things in our lives, really any resource that we have had control of. Maybe it’s people, a relationship we thought belonged to us. Maybe, as parents, we want to have some say in our children’s lives. We raised them, we poured into them, and we feel like it’s not asking too much to have them live near us and for them to live a comfortable life. Then along comes Jesus and takes that cookie! He calls them away to another location, maybe into the ministry, maybe even onto a foreign mission field. On the one hand, that’s admirable. We’re kind of proud, but it still feels like Jesus is taking our cookies.
Maybe it our time our leisure time. You only have a certain amount of vacation. You’ve worked hard for it. you have ideas about how you’re going to spend it, and then along comes Jesus in the form of Doug and Kathy Starkey and says “Would you give that vacation time to me? Let’s go build a house in Mexico!” It just might feel like Jesus is messing with your cookies!
Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s your way of life. Maybe it’s a ministry that you worked really hard to start, and now it’s being handed off to someone else or someone else is getting the credit. Whatever it is as Christians, we are going to face times when Jesus seems to be taking our cookies. The question is: What are we going to do when that happens?
Today we are going to look at a passage that addresses that very issue. We are continuing today in our series called “More than just a nice guy.” Today, we come to a passage where some people, some very good people, felt like Jesus was trying to steal their cookies, not their literal cookies! This isn’t the feeding of the 5,000! Rather, they felt like Jesus is trying to steal the followers, the disciples of their leader, John the Baptist. Today we are going to look not at Jesus’ words or actions, but at the words of John the Baptist as he responds to the charge that Jesus is stealing his cookies! Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to John3:22-36. Today, as we look at this passage, we are going to do two things:
- The Problem: why they thought Jesus was trying to steal John’s cookies.
- The Principles: three Principles that John the Baptist gives that help us when we feel like Jesus is trying to take our cookies.
Let’s just read John 3:22-36. Now let me remind you that to this point in John’s gospel Jesus has kept most of what he’s doing pretty quiet. He called his first disciples quietly. He turned water into wine in a very quiet way, and he met with a prominent Rabbi named Nicodemus after hours. Aside from cleansing the temple, most of what he’s done was done on the QT! But now, Jesus’ popularity is about to explode and that is the issue that starts our story. Let’s read:
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They (John’s disciples) 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 well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 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. He must become greater; I must become less.
“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
– John 3:22-36
So we want to start today by looking at the problem, and the problem is:
The Problem: Someone thought Jesus was trying to steal their cookies
Someone thought that Jesus was trying to take something or someone that belonged to them. Let’s just walk through this first part of the story, and you’ll see what I mean. John starts our story in verse 22 where he tells us:
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized
– John 3:22
So John tells us that after Jesus’ Passover activities, after he cleansed the Temple, and after his encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus left the city of Jerusalem and went out into the countryside of Judea. Judea was the larger area surrounding Jerusalem. While Jesus was there, his disciples began to baptize, immersing people in water to signify that they are living a new life as followers of Jesus’ teachings. They are baptizing people! That’s not a problem except for one thing. The Judean countryside, the area where they are baptizing, is specifically stated elsewhere in the Gospel is to be the stomping grounds of someone else. Look at:
Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.)
– John 3:23-24
In a place called Aenon near Salim (and we’re not sure where that was at), but we’re pretty sure it’s to the North, a guy name John is also baptizing. We just need to clarify who this John is, because, like I said earlier in this series, we have way too many Johns around here: We have John Ulrich, John Maiden, John the Gospel Writer, the John in this passage and at least three of us can be in some sense called “John the Baptist,” so who is this Guy? Well, this is the real John the Baptist, the OG John the Baptist, the guy that Matthew, Mark, and Luke call “John the Baptist.” He’s been mentioned several times already in the book of John. At least two of Jesus’ original disciples started out as Disciples of John the Baptist. So this is John. I order to understand this story, we have to understand something about John. He was a Big Deal, way bigger than most of us realize.
He was the cousin of Jesus. Like Jesus, he was kind of a miracle baby. But more importantly than that, John was a great prophet. In fact, he was the greatest prophet who ever lived, greater than Moses, than Jonah, Isaiah. John was a prophet who was himself prophesied. I don’t know if there are any other prophets like that, but at the end of the Old Testament it says that just before the Lord appears a prophet like Elijah is going to arise and turn the hearts of Israel toward one another and toward the Lord. John was that prophet. He dressed like Elijah in a hairy tunic and a leather belt. He lived in the wilderness like Elijah, eating grasshoppers and wild honey. He ministered powerfully like Elijah. John was the prophet that was specifically chosen to be the bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. He was the forerunner to the Messiah. Do you know what Jesus said about John? He said that “Among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” That’s pretty high praise coming from Jesus. John was a great prophet.
His greatness made him wildly popular, far more popular at first than Jesus. The gospels say that everyone from Jerusalem, and Jordan, and all of Judea went into the Judean countryside to hear John preach. John was so popular and powerful that later on after King Herod had imprisoned and killed John, when Herod heard about Jesus, he thought Jesus was John, the Baptist come back to life! He was so popular that people thought he was the Messiah. You may remember in the first chapter of John’s gosp , the Pharisees came to John and asked him “Are you the Messiah,” and he says no.
John was a very, very godly, very popular prophet. So human nature being what it is, it’s not surprising what happened next. Jesus and John were kind of on each other’s home turf. Jesus was in the Judean countryside where John’s ministry had developed, and we think that John’s disciples were in the North near Galilee where Jesus was from. While John’s disciples were there conflict developed. Look at:
An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing (as a result) They (John’s followers) 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 (Jesus) well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
– John 3:25-26
Apparently while John’s disciples were in the North, they got into an argument with some Jew. We don’t know anything about who he was or what he believed, but they got into an argument with him about Jewish ceremonial washings. That argument probably led to a discussion about baptism, because baptism is a kind of ceremonial washing. That led to this Jew saying everyone, apparently everyone in Galilee, but now everyone even in the Judean countryside seemed to be turning to Jesus.
That did not sit well with John’s disciples. They didn’t like it one bit. John had served selflessly to build his ministry up, living in the desert, eating bugs, calling people to repent and turn to God. He had worked hard! John was the greatest prophet ever. He was the prophesied prophet! Not only that, John was the one who had baptized Jesus! Not the other way around! Jesus came to John to be baptized! So this seemed all wrong to those disciples of John the Baptist.
John was so great that these disciples had come to the conclusion that the people who followed John belonged to John, that Jesus should keep his hands off! So they come to John complaining about Jesus! Because it very much seemed to them that Jesus was trying to steal their cookies! It felt like he was trying to take something that belonged to John.
Let me ask you something: Have you ever had that feeling? Like you really need something or someone and you’ve worked really hard for it and all of the sudden it’s being taken from you? And it just seems wrong? Ever had that feeling with a job? With a possession? With a ministry?
Ever had that feeling about your reputation? Ever had that feeling about a person? Have you ever lost someone that is dear to you in some way, and it just seems wrong?
I’ve got to be honest I struggle with that feeling. Every time someone leaves my church, it’s not “my” church, but the church I’m ministering in. Over the years, I’ve had people leave for a number of reasons. Some are moving away. Some are going to a bigger church down the road. Some have gotten offended. I’ve had someone leave because of a bumper sticker they saw in the parking lot. Some have left to pursue great ministry opportunities.
There’s a variety of reasons that people have left over the years, and I try to see the good side I try to look for what God is doing. But I’ve got to be honest, It’s always hard a first to see it as a good thing. It always feels a little bit, especially at first, like Jesus is stealing my cookies.
Ever feel that way about something? John’s disciples felt that way. It felt like Jesus was invading their turf and stealing their cookies. So they took their complaint to John. Point 1: the problem was that someone thought Jesus was trying to steal their cookies.
I absolutely love John’s response. This isn’t one of the more popular parts of the Gospel of John. It’s not even the most popular part of John 3. But what John says here is so very true and so very important that this passage should be cross-stitched (framed) and hung on the wall of every person who serves in any capacity in any ministry. Every Christian ought to know this, because John doesn’t join in the pity party. He doesn’t blame Jesus. He doesn’t even question Jesus. He just gives us three very basic principles:
The Principles: 3 things to remember when Jesus is asking for your cookies.
The first principle John the Baptist gives us is this:
Recognize God’s Sovereignty over your life.
Recognize God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty is kind of a big theological word that means both that God is in control and that he has the right to be in control. God has control over the details of our lives, over the way our story is written. When it feels like he’s trying to steal our cookies, that’s the first thing we need to remember. Look at what John the Baptist says:
To this (to the news that everyone was going over to Jesus) John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’
– John 3:27-28
John is recognizing God’s sovereignty. They are saying “John, someone’s trying to steal our cookies.” The first thing John says is “A man can only receive what’s given to him from heaven.” Now when I first read that, I wondered who is John talking about? Is he talking about the growth of Jesus’ ministry that that’s from heaven or is he talking about the decrease in his ministry? The answer is he’s talking about both. God is writing John’s story, and God is writing Jesus’ story. John is saying we need to let God be God in the way he writes both stories. We need to embrace his sovereignty.
Think about John and Jesus for a minute. Jesus was given the role of Messiah, but John was so gifted as a Prophet that there were a lot of people that thought that role should belong to him. At this point, they might have said “Look! John has a much greater following. He’s the more powerful Preacher. He should be Messiah!” By the way, there were people who believed that for decades after John and Jesus has passed off the scene they thought John should have the role of Messiah.
But John is saying “That’s not my rightful role. That’s not the way God wrote my story. He didn’t give me what I would need to be Messiah.” If you think about it, Messiah is a fairly specialized role. You have to be sinless, so you can die for someone else’s sins. You’ve got to be divine, so you can die for everyone’s sins. You have to die and rise again. You have to be able to rule the Kingdom throughout eternity. There’s a little bit of preparation involved there. Can you imagine how disastrous it would have been if John had tried to seize that role? He was a great prophet, but God never equipped him to be Messiah. John embraces that. We have to embrace God’s sovereignty. We have to allow him to write our stories as he sees fit and the stories of others.
When Kelley and I were first thinking about going to the mission field, we went to a workshop at TEAM our missions agency called Explore. the point of the workshop was to see if you were suited to cross-cultural ministry. Cross-cultural ministry can be hard hard on a person, hard on a family. So they looked at everything, your spiritual maturity, your finances, your role in your church, they did some psychological testing. they looked at whether you could learn a foreign language easily. Everything. Then they would either say “Yes, we feel like God has equipped you for cross-cultural ministry” or they would say “We have real concerns from our perspective. We don’t think this is for you.”
There was one family at that workshop that more than any other family really really wanted to go to the mission field. They were dead set on it. So when TEAM said “We don’t think this is for you” and the leadership of their church agreed, it really broke their heart. They were really frustrated. It felt like someone was trying to steal their cookies. I spoke with someone from that workshop years later and said “whatever happened to the so-and-so family?” They said “Oh, it’s so sad. They changed churches, they changed agencies and they moved to a foreign country and it was a complete disaster. It hurt them. It hurt their family. It hurt the mission, and now they’re back.”
Sometimes we have to yield to God’s sovereignty, whether we understand it or not. No matter what resource we are fighting to maintain control of, whether it’s people or money or time or even our career, there are times when we need to step back and recognize the goodness of God’s control. (1) Recognize God’s Sovereignty over your life. The second principle John gives us is this:
Know the joy of handing things over to Jesus
The second thing John gives his disciples is a metaphor. It’s a word picture about the joy of handing things over to Jesus. Listen to what he says:
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.
– John 3:29
John is referring here to a particular role in ANE weddings called “Friend of the Bridegroom” or Shosh-ben in Hebrew. This guy was awesome! He was like a best man, a negotiator and a wedding coordinator all rolled into one! It was his job to plan and execute the wedding. It was an important job! It was a lot of work! It had a good deal of notoriety that went with it. The wedding day was a big, big day for the shosh-ben. The Shosh-ben was an important guy! But in order to be a good Shosh-ben, you had to keep one thing clearly in mind: This isn’t your day! This isn’t your wedding. That’s not your bride. It’s not your name on the cake Those gifts on the table are not for you! You had to know this was not about you!
Kelley and I have done quite a few weddings. There have been times where, when we do the rehearsal, we have had to gently remind certain people, maybe the mother of the bride or grandmother, that it’s not their day! That even though they may have very strong opinions about what the day should be like, that the day belongs to the bride and the groom. It’s about them! I mean can you imagine a best man coming down the aisle in a fancier tux with longer tails than the groom and being like “Hey y’all I’m here!” and stepping in to kiss the bride. Absolutely not! That would be totally inappropriate. But sometimes that’s what we want to do with our lives. We want to make all the details of our lives, our kids, our career, our house, our church, all about us! We get very upset when God doesn’t write our story the way we want it written. But here’s the thing: It’s not just our story! We’re not the authors. In fact, we’re not even the main character! The story we’re involved in is about God and what he’s doing through his Son, Jesus. We belong to him, and we have to hand the resources of our lives over to him.
John the Baptist gets that. As a good Shosh-ben, he understands that his job is not to be the center of all things. His job is to hand the bride to the groom and get out of the way. We have to understand this as a church. We’re not here just to bring people to the Church at Perry Creek and to keep them here and get as big as we can. We’re here to bring people to Jesus, and that means handing them over relinquishing control to Jesus.
Earlier I talked about people leaving the church. Last week it happened again. I got into an argument with some people. Just kidding. We have a precious family that has been faithfully attending our church since the beginning of summer. We love them to death. They came and said “Pastor, we need to let you know, we’ve taken a job, and we’ll be moving to Winston-Salem.” My first thought was “No you’re not! That’s not God’s will. It’s the work of Satan. You can commute, because I’m pretty sure Perry Creek is on your cake!” Just kidding! That’s not what I thought. But as I drove home, I did think this: Now what am I going to do – be sad that they are leaving our church or rejoice? We had the joy of bringing that family closer to Jesus! I watched them grow! Now, Jesus is calling them elsewhere. He’s not taking my cookie! They belong to him, and we have to embrace the joyof handing them over!
We want to be a church-planting church. We want to plant other churches to bring the gospel to other communities. We’re hoping for that day when God launches a team from our church to plant a new church. We’re saving up for that day. We long for it! But when that day comes, I can just about promise you two things: First, it will be a great day for our church and for the gospel. Second, it will feel too soon! It will feel, just the slightest bit, like God is taking our cookies. So we need to (1) recognize God’s sovereignty (2) we need to embrace the joy of handing things over the Jesus. Now the last principle John gives us is this:
Make Much of Jesus
Here’s how John the Baptist closes this discussion where his disciples are accusing Jesus of taking his cookies. He sums it up beautifully:
He must become greater; I must become less.
– John 3:30
I love that verse. He must become greater. I must become less. The Old King James Version said it more concisely “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Gilbert, who is leading our worship today, has an even shorter version tattooed on his arm it says “He >I”. He’s greater than I am. Is there any simpler way to state one of the greatest truths in ministry? “He must increase.” We need to make much of Jesus.
In fact, John, the gospel writer not John the Baptist, goes on in verses 32-36 to comment and explain why he shared this story about Jesus and John the Baptist. We won’t walk through it phrase by phrase in detail, but what he says again and again is that we have to make much of Jesus. It’s all about him! John says “The one from above is above all; the one from the earth is of the earth, and testifies as one of the earth.” He’s saying “John was just a prophet. Jesus is divine. Make much of him.” He says “the One from above testifies to what he has seen and heard.” He’s saying “Jesus has firsthand knowledge of what the Father is really like. He knows him deeply, and it’s so much more wonderful than we ever thought. Make much of him.” John says “The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.” It all belongs to Jesus. Make much of him. Finally, John says this:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
– John 3:36
God sent his one and only Son to show you what God is like to testify and to be the Messiah to die for your sins. He is the only way to the Father. Make much of him. That’s the point of this passage. It’s all about Jesus. He owns everything, every person, every resource, everything in this world two times over! First, He was the Word who created the world. Second, he was the Messiah who bought it back with his blood.
It all belongs to him. He’s not trying to steal the cookies that belong to us. Rather, like the man in the story, he’s sharing the cookies that belong to him! So we recognize his sovereignty over our lives. We learn the joy of handing things over to him, and we make much of Jesus.