The word increase, though it can be used to describe undesirable things (as in an increase in weight, sickness, debt, etc), usually conjures up images of good things. In fact, some of the synonyms are: grow, become greater, expand and extend.
So did you ever say to yourself, “Man, I’m good!”?
Not uncommon- especially in the workplace, where so much rides on performance and reputation. We live in a performance-based world, where “increase” is certainly a welcome and desired thing; increase in reputation and status, increase in riches and in possessions, and so on. In fact, usually, when people do increase in those things— something else increases: the ego.
So you can see how easily that stuff can go to your head. But that pales in comparison to what could have happened to John the Baptist. As you know, he was the one who baptized Jesus as our Lord began His earthly ministry. In fact, here’s an endorsement, coming from none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself- who said John the Baptist was the greatest man who ever lived. “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” Matt 11:11.
Granted, Jesus said this while John was languishing in prison. But it does not take away from the fact that He had the greatest calling, being a prophet. He actually had the greatest privilege to not merely prophesy about a future Messiah, but to literally point to the Messiah who had arrived, namely the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. The greatest man, the most privileged man with the greatest ministry of anyone who had ever lived in human history- he was empowered, he was popular and he was influential.
How’s that for increase? Talk about the potential for getting a big head!
But let’s look at John’s heart.
First, why He came and who he was. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him” John 1:6-7. He was the forerunner to Jesus- sent from God. He was to bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, God’s own Son. That’s who he was and why he came.
Secondly, who he was not. Verse 8 of the passage makes it clear that he was not the light, but came to bear witness to it. Commentators have said, John was the human agent of belief, but Jesus is the object of belief. And John knew this- “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” John 1:19. The reason they asked him that question was because of the crowds he was drawing. He was like the rockstar of Judea. People were lining up to see him, to repent and be baptized!
So he told them who he was not.
“He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:20-23
Think about it, John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus Christ, the last Old Testament prophet. There hadn’t been one in 400 years before Him, the last and the greatest (according to none other than the Lord Jesus Christ).
But let’s look at his attitude. Note, we don’t find him saying: “Man, I’m good!!!”
As the forerunner to Christ, as mentioned, he had the amazing blessing of pointing Him out! He said, ‘you know the guy who I said I’m really here for? Well, there He is… the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ Prior to pointing Him out, he said, “you think I’m something, well He who comes after me, the strap of His sandal I am not worthy to untie!” John 1:27. So here was a man who knew who he was and who he was not.
He was on a mission and nothing would detract him from that; whether his own disciples or the Pharisees. This was a time he had been preparing for his whole life. He had known his job was to anticipate his replacement more than his own prophetic role.
Here’s a man who had a tremendous amount of significance, yet he knew Jesus must increase in him. “More of Jesus less of me,” John 3:30 he declared.
He knew that we actually increase as we decrease when we increase Christ in us.
The bridegroom is now here. It’s time for the best man to step aside (John 3:29). He must increase; I must decrease.
The ‘must’ in that statement is nothing less than by divine necessity. Yet, we operate our lives as if we have to be the one who increases. We have to solve all of our problems; have all the answers.
But we know different. John said it best: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
In that verse, he set the standard for all who believe.
What are you increasing in?
-Pastor Joe Garofalo