John 3:22-36 : Jesus the Bridegroom


A provincial prosecuting lawyer calls his first witness to the stand in a trial---a grandmotherly, elderly woman with white hair. He approaches her and asks, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?" "Why, yes” she responds, “I do know you Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie; you cheat on your wife. You manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a rising big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you." The lawyer is stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he points across the room and asks, "Mrs. Williams, do you know the defence lawyer?" "Why, yes I do too,” she replies, “I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, like you.  I used to baby sit him for his parents. And he, too, has been a real disappointment to me. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. The man can’t build a normal relationship with anyone and his law firm is one of the most dubious in the entire county. Yes, I know him." At this point, the judge raps his gavel and calls the courtroom to order. Asking both lawyers to approach the bench he whispers with menace, "If either of you asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt!"[1] Three preliminary observations.

Life is built on testimony
Life is built on the credibility of testimony. Is what we are told honest and trustworthy? In law hearsay is inadmissible. What matters is eye-witness testimony. It is worth hearing testimony, even if it is hard to hear! Life is built on testimony.

We each have a testimony

We each speak to many people every day about many issues. But what is the common denominator? What do we like to speak about? What do we say about other people? Would we say it if they were present? Imagine what it might be like if someone was giving testimony about you? What might they say? I imagine you hear some strange things about me…But remember, people who gossip to you are just as likely to gossip about you. We each have a testimony. Is our testimony true? Are we willing to hear the truth? Can we take it?

I once heard of another pastor about to leave his parish. It was his last Sunday.  After the service, one of his parishioners said how sorry she was that he was leaving. “Don’t worry,” he replied, “I am sure they’ll choose a godly new pastor who will do a great job.” “Well, I don’t know about that” she confessed, “That’s what they told us the last time.” We each have a testimony. Does it build others up or does it tear others down? Does it focus on ourselves or on Jesus? Life is built on testimony. We each have a testimony.

The Bible is the testimony of Jesus

And tonight we come to the testimony of John about Jesus. There are three parts to John’s testimony.

1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)
2. Jesus the Bridegroom is the Christ (3:27-30)
3. Jesus the Beloved is in Command (3:31-35)

1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised. [23] Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptised. [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—well, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him." (John 3:22-26)


1.1 There is Diversity in Ministry (3:22-24)

We see Jesus spending quality time with the twelve. They are getting to know each other. They were learning at the feet of the Master. This was not a classroom or structured program. To be the Lord’s disciple simply meant to be with Jesus, to follow Jesus and learn from him. They spent time with Him, and so must we if we too want to be his disciples. John the Baptist and his disciples were also spreading the message of repentance and baptizing those who wanted to change their lives. There is diversity in ministry.

1.2 There is Division over Ministry (3:25)

We don’t know specifically what the disagreement was about.
We do know there were ceremonial washings that were done on a daily basis, and some considered them superior. This was especially true of the Essenes of Qumran with whom John the Baptist probably had been associated.  It seems that as the conversation deepens, it deteriorates into a comparison between the baptisms of John and Jesus.

And the dispute probably arose because people had begun to take sides. Someone had started counting numbers and noticed that Jesus was gaining popularity. More people were coming to Him. Less people were now coming to John. Diversity in ministry had become a division over ministry because

1.3 The Devil is in the Ministry also (3:26)

John the Baptist was baptizing in one place and Jesus was baptizing in another. John’s disciples noticed that people had started going over to be baptized by Jesus. Numbers had started to decline and they became a bit nervous and told John about it. Maybe they thought they were doing something wrong.

It’s good to question our motives and methods. Its good to examine the ministry of other people and other churches to see what see can learn. But it is bad if we are focussing more on what is going on down the road rather than what God wants to do in us. Its good to ask questions and reflect upon how we can be more fruitful but not if its motivated by jealousy. Its bad when we play the numbers game out of pride or jealousy, comparing our group with another, our church with another. When we become jealous, envious, and competitive about what God is doing in someone else’s life or in someone else’s church we are taking our eyes off the unique work that God is doing in us.

Someone once said, "Envy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own!"  Jealousy is dangerous because it is so destructive.  This is where we must discipline ourselves. Just as the disciples of John the Baptist. We see that though Jesus is controversial, as his disciples today, we are ultimately all on the same team. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)

2. Jesus the Bridegroom is the Christ (3:27-30)

To this John replied, "A person can receive only what is given 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 3:27-30)


In the Times last Thursday there was an interesting article entitled, “Wimpish Christians urged to fight their way to heaven.”

“They are Britain’s meek, mild-mannered Christian men whose most outrageous role model is Sir Cliff Richard and sole point of physical contact a limp handshake with the vicar after church. But the stereotype of Britain’s God-fearing males could soon become a thing of the past after the extraordinary success of a book urging Christian men to ditch their soft image and embrace a life of adventure. Swimming among killer whales and tangling with a bull moose are just two of the practical tips offered in Wild at Heart by the American evangelist John Eldredge, who calls for men to rediscover God by modelling themselves on heroic warriors such as Henry V and Mel Gibson’s interpretation of William Wallace.

The book, whose overriding message is that “God designed men to be dangerous”, is a bestseller after just three months in Christian bookshops in Britain and Mr Eldredge’s Colorado-based company, Ransomed Heart Ministries, is considering setting up its Wild at Heart weekends at which men are taught how to “recover their masculine soul” by watching films such as Gladiator, in which Russell Crowe plays the sword-brandishing title role, and Gibson’s Braveheart. The book, which has already sold 1.5 million copies in English and has been translated into 16 languages, urges its readers to go back to basics by fighting noble battles, rescuing women and finding adventure in their lives.

It declares: “A Battle to fight. An Adventure to live. A Beauty to rescue. This is what a man longs for. This is what makes him come alive. There is something fierce, passionate and wild in the heart of every man. That is how he bears the image of God.”[2] Is Russell Crowe in Gladiator or Mel Gibson in Braveheart, the role model for the God-fearing Christian male? You can decide. What about John the Baptist? 

What connotations does the word “down” have for you? It doesn’t have many positive meanings. It’s a word reserved for cowards, losers and bear markets. It’s a word that is to be avoided or ignored. When you attach it to other words it brings them down as well, — down and out, down hearted, downfall, down-scale, down hill, down-size and downer. Of course, what’s worse for the word “down” is its opposite, “up”. 

The word “up” has many positive connotations. It’s reserved for winners, heroes and bull markets. Add the word "up" to other words and look what happens — upscale, up and coming, upwardly mobile, upper class, and upstanding. Our secular world has deluged us with the philosophy that we should aim to move up in the world. It plays into our egos and delights us to no end. Up is a word that signifies someone who is rising in fame, power or influence.  It’s assumed that the direction of greatness is always up. Up! Up! Up on the company ladder, up on the salary scale, up in the world!  

It comes as a shock therefore when we read these words of John the Baptist. "He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30).  It would seem that the greatest oxymoron would be the phrase "descending into greatness." It seems absurd, yet that is exactly what John was saying to his disciples. How do you react inside when a co-worker is promoted? How do you react inside when you hear that good fortune has come to a friend or neighbour; when it came in the form of something you have wanted or needed? When a brother or sister in church testifies to the physical blessings and answers to prayer for which they have long waited, do you rejoice with them? Can you? John’s answer to his disciples’ jealous concern (noble, perhaps, but misplaced and ungodly) was, "A person can receive only what is given from heaven.” (John 3:27)  Does that sound familiar? Think of Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s boast of authority. “You would have no authority over me, were it not given you from above”. Here are two ways to look at John’s response:

1. Anything another person receives is given to them from heaven. Dare we, having that knowledge, be so shallow, so arrogant, so utterly sinful as to resent him whom God has blessed... because of the blessing? We may as well hate the recently deceased because he got to go home to the Lord. If that sounds ridiculous, it should.

2. Anything we receive is from heaven. If we feel we are not receiving anything, we must look to ourselves for fault, not the giver. He does not show favouritism; He is the same toward all. As one writer put it, the same sun that hardens clay, melts butter. The sun does not change toward either. The reaction of each to the sun’s radiance is a direct result of their inner chemistry. Besides, where do we get the idea that we deserve anything from the Lord? If He chooses to let us live a life of want, be treated unjustly, suffer torture, be despised by the world and die a cruel death, would He be wrong or unjust in doing so?

Jesus says to his followers, “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:20).  So have we any right or ground to accuse God who formed us in the womb and lends us every breath?

For John the Baptist, the success of Jesus is the culmination of his ministry. John was what we would today describe as the “best man” at the wedding, not the bridegroom. In the 1st Century the role of the “best man” was a little more involved. He was known as the “shoshben.” The shoshben had a prominent place in a Jewish wedding. He was the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom. He was instrumental in the arranging of the wedding and the inviting people to the wedding. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together and guarded the bridal chamber making sure no others came in. And once his jobs were done, he willingly and graciously fades from the picture. He had a prominent place, but he was not centre stage. John the Baptist sees himself as in this role.
So the news his disciples brought to him was not bad news. It was good news! Jesus was succeeding! Great! He is supposed to” says John, “Because He is the Bridegroom, He is the Messiah. And as a result… Jesus must be pre-eminent. John must fade. Must. It is never the part of the servant to displace the Master.

After going on a diet, a woman was really feeling good about herself—especially when she was able to fit into a pair of jeans she had outgrown long ago. "Look, look!" she shouted while running downstairs to show her husband. "I can wear my old jeans again!" Her husband looked at her for a long time, obviously struggling with knowing what to say. Finally, he said, "Honey, I love you, but those are my jeans." We look really silly wearing clothes never intended for us.  Claiming a status or grabbing a role that is higher than God intends for us. At the end of the day we are all servants of Jesus. We must never get in his way. From John we hear no tinge of jealousy, no hint of insecurity, no suggestion of bitterness.

John understood that his ministry, his moment in the spotlight, and his declining popularity, were all a part of God’s sovereign plan and purpose. This is why Jesus would say of him, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11)  John is our model. We must not lose sight of our own servant status. When we start to think of our own position and pleasure, we are going to have our priorities all mixed up. Instead, we need to have the same priorities of John the Baptist who wholeheartedly accepted God’s will, God’s plan, God’s progress, and God’s purposes.

As William Carey, the Baptist missionary to China, lay dying, he turned to a friend and said, “When I am gone, don’t talk about William Carey; talk about William Carey’s Saviour. I desire that Christ alone might be magnified.”

1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)
2. Jesus the Bridegroom is the Christ (3:27-30)

3. Jesus the Beloved is in Command (3:31-35)

"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. [32] He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no-one accepts his testimony. [33] The person who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. [34] For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. [35] The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them."  (John 3:31-36)

In these verses John moves from correction and gentle rebuke to teaching about the One his disciples have only seen as competition. True to his life’s purpose, he continues to bear testimony to the One who comes after him. Like any good teacher, John’s transition is smooth, yet consistent with the day’s lesson. They have asked a question of sincerity, though from ignorance, which he has clearly answered. But also like any teacher, there is the natural need to go deeper than the surface; all the while searching for the expressions of discovery on the faces before him, which thrill a teacher’s heart.

He has portrayed himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who gives preeminence to the bridegroom himself, and fulfills his duties as a friend and rejoices to see the bridegroom’s joy. In keeping with that sentiment, he now rejoices to elevate that “other baptizer” to His proper place in their thinking.

"The one who comes from above is above all;” (John 3:30)
Lets consider this phrase? “He who comes from above” Not from earth. The earth came from Him. He comes from heaven. Therefore, being heavenly, He is by His own nature, above all. Above all kings, above all the majesty and beauty of the earth, above John the Baptist, above all creation, both physical and spiritual. Yet, being above all by His very nature, He came down from above. How rich is that thought?

”...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant. And being made in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2)

The first phrase of verse 32 is also one to pause at and reflect.

”He testifies to what he has seen and heard” (John 3:32).

What has He seen and heard? Well, having come down from above, it should be obvious that He has seen and heard that which is above. The world speculates...badly...about the universe around them. It was once believed that the earth was egg-shaped. Pictures from space since about 1969 have shown otherwise. Only five hundred years before that, “educated men” insisted the earth was flat. I remember watching a documentary on TV, largely comprised of highly paid and intelligent scientists, sitting around speculating about the nature of the universe and whether intelligent life exists elsewhere. We can entertain ourselves for hours, speculating about that of which we are obviously ignorant. We even have the audacity at times to speculate concerning spiritual and heavenly matters, even as non-believers. How many movies have been made by avowed unbelievers, about the end times...the anti-Christ...demon possession, etc.? But John bore testimony to the One who speaks with authority about these spiritual and heavenly things; First, because He made them, and second, because He was there and has come down. See the logic of John’s sermon here?

Because…"The one who comes from above is above all… He testifies to what he has seen and heard… “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” (John 3:30, 32, 34). Don’t ever disregard or devalue or underestimate that statement. This is the Word of God. Therefore… therefore John can make one of the most categorical and controversial statements of the entire Bible. Indeed a verse, like we saw last week in John 3:16, a verse that summarises the entire Bible in one sentence.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.”  (John 3:36)

See the connection between the words “believe” and “reject” there? To believe is to obey. Merril Tenney says, “Belief is obedience to the utterance of God; disobedience is unbelief. Belief is thus defined as commitment to authority rather than a passive opinion.” Two realities, two life conditions, two destinies, one choice. Which is it to be? Which is true for you? Do you desire to express your belief through obedience? Do you often fail? Do you find obedience difficult? You must first decrease, in your own heart, in your own eyes, in your own estimation; and He must increase, as Lord of your life, Shepherd of your soul, awaited and longed-for bridegroom. The bigger, the grander, the more precious He grows in your sight, the more fragrant and pleasurable obedience will flow from your life.
In the meantime, take courage if indeed you believe. For you have, presently, eternal life. All that the Father has given into the hands of Jesus is your inheritance in Him. All that He came to bear witness to is yours; awaiting your arrival; and as the Father gave to Him, so He gives to you...without measure.

“He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33). Believe it with all your heart, with all your soul and with all mind and with all your strength. Believe it because its true.

1. Jesus the Baptiser is Controversial (3:22-26)
2. Jesus the Bridegroom is your Christ (3:27-30)
3. Jesus the Beloved is in Command (3:31-35)

An Arab friend sent me a poem this week which I’m going to close with. I pray that you can identify with the words, for to me they sum up the message and the model of Christian discipleship we have seen tonight in John the Baptist.


When I say... "I am a Christian," I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin.. "
I'm whispering "I was lost." Now I'm found and forgiven.

When I say..."I am a Christian," I don't speak of this with pride,
I'm confessing that I stumble and need CHRIST to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian," I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak and need HIS strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian," I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed and need God to clean my mess.

When I say... "I am a Christian," I'm not claiming to be perfect,
my flaws are far too visible but, God believes I am worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian," I still feel the sting of pain,
I have my share of heartaches so I call upon His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian," I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner who received God's good grace, somehow.[3]

Lets pray.












[1] With grateful thanks for guidance and inspiration from the sermons on this passage by Clark Tanner, Michael Deutsch and Paul Decker from

[2] “Wimpish Christians urged to fight their way to heaven” Ruth Glendall, Times, 27 January 2005,,,2-1458447,00.html

[3]  With thanks to Maya Angelou