22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.)25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They 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—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 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. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
(John 3:22-30 NIV)
The Apostle John ends his sermon and goes back to a narrative mode in today’s passage. John recalls another interaction between Jesus and John the Baptizer. While John records the name of the place, historians are not sure of its location. Aenon was likely an oasis in the desert with enough water for baptisms.
John inserts one of his parenthetical comments into the story (v. 24), helping us align these timeframes and events into the overall chronology of Jesus’ ministry. Remember that the Apostle John wrote his Gospel many years after these events took place.
John outlines the incident in verses 25 and 26. Some of John the Baptizer’s followers were abandoning him and following Jesus. John the Baptizer’s other disciples came and expressed concern to John, letting him know that these men were not loyal, and he was losing his followers to Jesus. No doubt John the Baptizer’s loyal followers had confronted these men who were abandoning John, but were not able to convince them to stay.
John the Baptizer’s followers expected John to be upset, and that John would talk to his disciples and tell them to be loyal to their master. Notice that John’s followers called him “Rabbi” in verse 26. While John the Baptizer was not a traditional “teacher”, he did act as their leader and provide many leadership functions and rabbinical duties for his followers.
While John the Baptizer was not a typical rabbi, he did respond as a teacher and answered their concerns with an engaging story, a parable.
John the Baptizer reminds his followers that he has openly stated that he is not the Messiah, but was sent ahead of Messiah to prepare the hearts of the people for Messiah. John the Baptizer uses a wedding analogy to explain his role with Jesus. John says that Jesus is the “bridegroom,” the focus of life and the situation at hand, and he (John the Baptizer) is the “best man,” an entrusted friend who is there to support and take care of whatever the bridegroom needs.
To help explain this parable in its historical significance, let’s review the role of the best man in Jesus’ day. One of the duties of the best man was to protect and guard the bride after the wedding ceremony until the bridegroom returned from the marriage feast. After the marriage ceremony, the bride would return to her bridal chambers, and the bridegroom would host the wedding feast. The best man was a trusted friend of the bridegroom who would stand guard and prevent anyone from stealing the bride or otherwise attempting to harm her. When the bridegroom returned, the best man would know his voice even in the dark, and would allow him to enter the bridal chambers. When the bridegroom entered the bridal chambers, the best man’s job was complete, and he was free to go on his way.
John the Baptizer said as best man, he had heard the bridegroom’s (Jesus’) voice, and that his role as best man was now complete (v. 29). John concludes to his followers that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease. In other words, John the Baptizer is saying that it’s all about Jesus and not about him (John).
Can we say, like John the Baptizer, that all the glory and honor and focus goes to Jesus, that He must increase, and we must decrease?
May that be our heart’s prayer today and every day.