Scripture: After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 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. 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 bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:22-36 ESV
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Observation: Yesterday’s Daily Focus begins with a well-known memory verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). From there, Jesus clarifies that his mission is not to condemn but to save. Still, those who reject him as God’s only Son have self-inflicted condemnation, for they prefer the cloak of darkness (shrouding their works of evil) over the light who has come into the world. But those who seek to live out the truth have nothing to hide and welcome revealing their works carried out for God’s glory.
Today’s devotion concludes the narrative concerning John the Baptist. John the Gospeller tells his audience that Jesus and his disciples left the Jordan and transitioned to the countryside to begin his ministry. Concurrently the Baptist relocated to Aenon (farther north in Judea, where there were numerous springs). There, he continued his ministry of repentance baptism. But when news reaches John’s disciples regarding Jesus’ growing ministry, they alert John to this supposed interloper. But John quickly squelches any notion of territorial rights and explains that all kingdom laborers depend wholly on God’s empowerment.
Then, using the imagery of the bridegroom’s best man, John adds that his ministry is diminishing for Christ’s to increase. Moreover, he rejoices over completing his preparatory role because Jesus, who descended from heaven, is Lord over all creation. Still, even though Jesus speaks the words of God, many will reject his testimony and bear the wrath of God, but those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God will receive the Holy Spirit and enjoy eternal life.
Takeaway: Of the four Gospel writers, only John mentions that Jesus conducted his early ministry simultaneously with John’s waning mission. And only John notes that Jesus called some of his disciples to follow him before the Baptist’s arrest. As with the other seeming contradictions between the Gospels, we must assume each Gospeller presents details that round out the entire picture of Jesus’ early ministry. That said, similar to yesterday’s passage, it is unclear whether the last paragraph of this section is the words of the Baptist or the Gospeller. The ESV translators have leaned toward the latter. Regardless, the text provides us with a succinct Christology:
- Jesus descended from heaven and spoke with the highest authority.
- Jesus based his teachings on divine observation—not human theory.
- Jesus solely communicated God’s words.
- The Father expresses his love for his Son by granting him complete authority to execute his mission.
- The Son is not merely the Father’s messenger but the revealed object of our faith.
Thus, only those who believe in Christ (as attested by obedience) will receive eternal life. Conversely, those who reject Jesus and his commands will encounter the wrath of God. As theologian Merrill Tenney notes, God’s “wrath” is far different than our secular understanding of the word. It is not an outburst of temper. “Rather, it is the settled displeasure of God against sin. It is the divine allergy to moral evil, the reaction of righteousness to unrighteousness. God is neither easily angered nor vindictive. But by his very nature he is unalterably committed to opposing and judging all disobedience” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John, pp.52–53).
Our takeaway? If we reject God’s Son (the ultimate act of disobedience), the Father’s inherent and immutable moral laws compel him to express wrath toward us, just as the unchanging physical laws of the universe confine us to their conformity. In contrast, we find freedom in Christ when we come under his divine law of love expressed in obedience to his commands (John 14:15, 21, 23-24). For Christ covers his Father’s wrath against us (paying the penalty for our sins that would otherwise condemn us) and, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, empowers us to live under the safeguard of his law of love as eternal beings: born of the Spirit and secured in eternal fellowship with him. Our part? Receive (v.33) and believe (v.36). Receive Jesus’ testimony and believe (trust) he is the Son of God. His love will then supernaturally flow through us and spark our obedience.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who testified about you with “grace and truth” (John 1:14) and for the Holy Spirit who testifies about your Son to us with grace and truth. And while we have received this testimony, we continue to struggle in this sin-marred world to believe, to live out his truth through obedience. So would you please help us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit to receive your love so that it might flow through us to others? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling