Reframing Success | John 3:22-36
Topic: Gospel Passage: John 3:22–3:36
Christopher Rich – October 21, 2018
Reframing Success |John 3:22-36
Introduction | How do we grow and what’s our goal?
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work,Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we are continuing our series REFRAMING JESUS: Portraits of Glory from John’s Gospel.In Reframing Jesus, our desire isn’t to reinvent Jesus into someone He is not or make Jesus into an image we are more comfortable with. Instead, we seek to have our portrait of Jesus reframed by John’s Gospel to see Him as accurately and glorious as possible.
How do you define success? What is a successful life? What are you aiming at? What are your goals? Are they goals for yourself? Joy, prosperity or achievement?Are they goal for others or something you lead? I want to see my kids launch or a business/org thrive.These may seem more selfless, but they can still be driven by some self-focused motives.Hey, I want to work to see others succeed so I can actually pat myself on the back for how I contributed to it. Or, I’ve tied my identity to being a good parent or being part of something that is thriving. We all have goals and need to be able to assess if we’re progressing in a positive direction or do we need to change our ideal, practices, etc.If you don’t know what you’re aiming at you’re not going to know if you hit the mark or if you’re a mile away. If you don’t know what you’re working or striving towards you don’t know if you’re moving in the right direction. This also requires us to ask if what we’re striving for is worth it. If we have a goal or desire that is less than profitable than succeeding at our goal will not lead us to more flourishing but more frustration. We also need to understand how to deal with the inevitable transitions in life when something goes from growing and getting better to actually being eclipse by something or someone else. In John 3:1-21 we will be Reframing Success to better understand how to process what we think of as failure and to be pointed toward growth.
PART I | Reframing Failure | v22-26
John 3:22-26 | 22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison). 25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 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.”
Jesus is on a mission to bring purity and power to people who need to be born from above. Jesus in bringing something new that was going to eclipse what was. With the Jewish purification, Jesus brought new (amazing) wine. With the sacrificial system of the Temple Jesus brings himself as the center of Worship to experience the peaceful presence of God, and with when a leader/teacher comes excited about new teaching Jesus brings, Jesus pivots and says NO, you don’t need new teaching, you need new birth. Here we see where Jesus had one-on-one conversations and He also had a popular public ministry where he’s calling people to repent of sin, be baptized and follow Jesus. He’s left the city and now he’s in the rural area where another high-profile ministry had gained significant traction. John the Baptist’s.These two parallel ministries are adjacent to one another and quite similar and have significant overlap. John has disciples baptizing people and Jesus has disciple baptizing people.It even seems from some outsiders that the ministries are competing with one another and it’s undeniably clear that Jesus is more “successful” than John. Internally there is insecurity among John’s disciples. The guys with John for some reason haven’t been able to switch their allegiance over to Jesus. They have even had some of their own start following Jesus back in chapter 1, yet they remain loyal to John. This discussion occurs around this idea of baptism and repentance with some of John’s disciples, possibly asking “which one of these is better? John’s or Jesus? Where should I go? How are they different?” Maybe the guy ended up decided to go over to Jesus and John’s disciples are not pleased. One less guy in John’s ministry and one more in Jesus’. They thought following John would lead to greater success and significance for them. Now they’ve said that “everyone is going to him” and they can see their influence and thus their significance slipping away. The declining success of John’s ministry (in his disciples eyes). The exaggerated statements (everyone is going to him) betray resentment and jealously in their hearts. They see what’s happening as failure or loss.
You have to ask what are they still doing with John? What were there expectations? When we first started as a church we had guys that wanted to be around because they thought they would get to lead and when that didn’t work out they bailed.In this case these guys even remember what John said about Jesus “Lamb of God who take away the sins of the world, one who ranks before me.” As they bring this to John there is a sense of them asking not only “Do you see what Jesus is doing over there? He’s doing your ‘repent and be baptized’ drill and um more people are going there than here. EVERYONE is going to him!” unasked but implied is “What are you going to do about it?!” If this keeps up our church plant will die!
What’s across your Jordan river? How do you experience jealousy? Where do you see the success or fruitfulness of others and it doesn’t drive you to celebration but concern?They see more people going to Jesus as a failure. The define failure by how much individual influence they have or see loss. That needs to be a bit recalibrated and reminded of what the purpose of the mission is. Oh they’re too fruitful! Nonsense! If the mission is people made clean and people made new, then there is never too much success! When one person is baptized as a disciple of Jesus…. That is a touchdown for ALL of us and worthy of celebration!
How are you going to handle the moment where Jesus becomes bigger in your life than even you are in your life? That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, is to have Jesus eclipse everything else you have previously placed your hope and identity in. We are all going to be eclipsed sometime we need to know when it’s success.
PART II | Reframing Success | v27-30
John 3:27-30 | 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 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. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John’s answer to their jealousy is to reorient them on a few key truths of what it means to be a disciple.
John is a settled, peaceful, joyful disciple of Jesus who knows who he is and who he isn’t. He has no hint of distress in what less mature followers see as failure. We can be told what’s true, know what’s true but when we’re faced with jealousy, envy, or what could be perceived as failure we don’t always know how to process it. We need to be reminded what is true, redirected to have/hold a different disposition. John gives these disciples so much truth about who we are, who Jesus is, how we should respond because he likely loves the people following him who call him “rabbi/teacher/pastor”. John hears they’re concerns and leads them to reconsider what success actually looks, where it comes from, and how to handle transitions. #1 Success is remembering where everything comes from.What is the source of all we have?All that we’re given is from God. This means God is the one who is going to determine our role and amount of “success” or influence in whatever sphere we’re engaged with. We can and do receive from God! But we don’t need to promote ourselves or compete. All means all, all our time, talent, treasure. Every bit of gifting everything that makes us “us” in the purest and best form is not of own doing but is a gift of God. This means we can enjoy the way God has made us, be confident in how He’s equipped us, bold in how He’s called us, and be blessed in the way he has used us. Knowing everything comes from God reminds us how little comes from us and how limited we are. Failure is being upset that God hasn’t given you what you want or think you deserve.This means we cannot determine success or fruitfulness we can only focus on faithfulness.
#2 Success is remembering you’re not Jesus. We’re not Jesus. We cannot save. We don’t get the glory.
Success as a leader and disciple means knowing what you’re not.John is clear, he has told them before I’m not the guy. I am just the one who is going to precede the guy. The issue isn’t with John and his ministry but the disciples who have who have looked to John as their means of identity and final arbiter of their relationship with God. This happens when people get too excited about their favorite preachers/teacher living or dead and become more parrots of them then resting in the fact they existed to point people to Jesus. Failure is trying to constantly react to the unrealistic expectations of others when they exceed what is reasonable. John’s not there to grow a big platform but point people to a bigger God. It means you are going to fail others and not meet their expectations because you were never intended to meet them or be the one who is going to bring them life or even fix anything. The best we can ever do is never going to be enough to satisfy someone else. We were never meant to satisfy other people.
#3 Success is remembering it’s not about you.John is clear about who he is in the story, at best he’s the best man a wedding. When you’re at some else’s wedding it’s not about you!I’ve been at many a wedding when the speeches are given at the reception. The ones that are the best are the ones where you learn more about the couple and there is excitement and hope for them. The worst are the ones where the people giving the speeches make it about them… That’s when it gets awkward. We’re not trying to get people to like us we’re trying to get people united with Jesus.We get to play a part, but the part we play is more of an engaged spectator. We’re not even necessary for the process, but God brings us into it for the purpose of us experiencing more joy. My times of least Joy and most frustration is when I am thinking about me the most or think others are making too much of a situation about me. We fail when we let our lives be only about us. Because we remember it isn’t all about you we can see…
#4 Success is remembering it’s about someone else. When we remember who we are in the story there is greater freedom and joy with actively pursuing and playing the role we’ve been called to. The church is the bride of Christ, that means no church is mine or yours they’re HIS. When we’re on mission of pointing others to Jesus. We don’t get to covet the bride but be blessed to be involved in the wedding. So we have to ask, What is our greatest Joy? Our greatest joy is in others finding their greatest Joy in Jesus. So the things we get most excited about is not what we’ve accomplished, but are the things that only God can do!
Our work is done, It’s a sign of maturity when you can enjoy the success of another, even when it means you might be “losing” Oh I was terrible about this in my first year as a Lead Pastor. I was one of John’s disciples crying out to anyone who would listen “All are going to Snohomish!” I had forgotten why I jumped into ministry in the first place. I want people to see and know Jesus! I was acting like people going on the mission of Jesus for Jesus was somehow a failure because I wasn’t a part of it. It’s sick really, and I needed to repent and remember who I was in the story. In remembering our role, we also remember our trajectory.
#5 Success is growing by shrinking. More of us isn’t going to lead to more joy. The trajectory of growth, success, isn’t one where we become bigger in our eyes or the eyes of others but one where we grow smaller. It’s a humility birthed out of understanding all is from God and we exist not only for ourselves but the point of our life isn’t even fully about us. Why is this hard? I don’t want to decrease…. Why?Because we believe a lie from the beginning that more joy and flourishing will happen if we increase specifically in relation to how we see ourselves compared to other and even God. We think we need more authority than God over our joy and circumstances. We think success is us “increasing”. Failure is forgetting we’re gifted by God, but we’re not God’s gift to the world. John is the best of men born of women surely the world needs more of John! But no, the world needs more like John who say less of me and more of Jesus please. HE>i
#6 Success is growing by Jesus’ growing influence. It’s not enough to just say you need to dial “you” down. That will only lead to a false humility and martyr complex. Look at me, I am so humble and unambitious. We are made to experience and reflect glory, so we won’t be satisfied with diminishing for the sake of humility and decrease alone. The glory we seek for ourselves not only has to be diminished but has to be replaced with glory being out shown by and directed to another. So failure is “I must decrease” alone.THE win is Jesus influence and allegiance growing bigger in our lives and the world. It’s a tension because there is a sense of loss or misunderstanding. I thought Jesus being bigger in my life would led me to be bigger. Sorry. Jesus being in your life means your life will now be orientated properly.
The last two aren’t optional to success, they are necessary. I MUST Decrease, He MUST Increase. This isn’t a good idea to help lead you to slightly more joy, this is essential to know what Joy truly is. To be clear, this isn’t think less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. AND thinking about Jesus more. Talk less about yourself AND talk more about Jesus. Listen to yourself less AND Listen to Jesus more. Point others to you less AND to Jesus more. This isn’t a downer or This isn’t a complete self-denial leading to self-deprecation, it’s reframing ourselves and Jesus in light of who we are respectively.The purpose of this pursuit isn’t more seriousness or somber self-evaluation (have I decreased enough? I am I increasing? Oh no! Or worse “I’ve noticed you need to decrease.” The driver of all of this is greater joy and freedom. John’s Joy is complete!
John Calvin said “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves
PART III| Reframing #1 |v31-36
31 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. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.36 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.
Jesus is above all. Jesus isn’t just greater than us, but he is greater than all. In order to have Jesus increase we have to decrease, but this isn’t just a trajectory the order has to flip. We can’t say we’re #1 and Jesus is #5 now I’m #2 but Jesus moved up to #4 so… progress. There is a total reorientation from us first to Jesus over all. Jesus is over all, because He is from heaven and is the Creator of all. Earthly preachers and teachers are great, but they aren’t Jesus. The plan from the start is that Jesus would eclipse all! I long for the day when our church is no more, because there isn’t any need for people to see or meet Jesus because the mission has been fulfilled. In Acts 19 there are twelve guys in Ephesus who have only heard of John. They’re committed. I heard about this great preacher I love what he said…. Yeah great! But do you know who he was talking about? What he cared about most? Jesus! He would be so disappointed to know there were people devoted to him at all because all he cared about is people seeing Jesus.Preach the Gospel, Die, and be Forgotten- Count Zinzendorf.
Jesus is #1 so He comes with authority and yet there are still two responses. This tension keeps coming back up, individually with Nicodemus and corporately as John is talking to his disciples. How are you going to respond to who Jesus is and what He’s said? This passage ends with a contrast between those who believe and those who refuse to obey the Son. The Gospel is a true story with profound implications and none of us can avoid the choice to either follow Jesus or remain in our sin and rebellion against God. Listen to Jesus because to listen to Jesus is to listen to God.God the Father has given all things to God the Son and empowered Him without measure (limitation) with God the Holy Spirit. God’s love for us is only in light of the Father’s love of the Son. We’re adopted in to a family that already has great love. Know your future is not to be invited to a wedding as a witness but as the bride joining the family in celebration. He returns and we rejoice at Him being seen as glorious as He is. But for now, God’s word is repent of sin and trust Jesus to avoid wrath and enjoy life with God now and forever.If not….wrath remains…. The stakes are high. Failure isn’t a redo or karma, keep your idea of success where you increase and want to see yourself overall and the failure won’t be simply frustrating. When you don’t succeed it will be fatal.
So set your seal, (certified that God is true/truthful) and your hope for success is not dependent on you but what Jesus has done in your place. Take heart.Jesus came to save failures. Jesus took your defeat, so you can experience victory. Jesus decreased so that we could increase with Him (Phil 2) He became a man (incarnation) He was obedient to a shameful death on a cross (crucifixion) so that the wrath that remains on us would be absorbed AND Jesus rose promising us new eternal life (resurrection) with Him in glory. So to believe in Jesus, to see Him increase and for you to decrease is not ultimately your loss but actually for your gain. Jesus comes in humility but returns in glory so to be clear it’s not Jesus decreasing so you can increase with him staying small, but so you have and experience more joy and glory not in your success but in Jesus in your place. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tough confess Jesus is lord.
There are only two alternatives, success or failure. Faith in Jesus or unbelief. Life forever or wrath remaining. Success is in seeing your failure and turning to Jesus’ failure in your place (Cross) for your sin. And receiving His successful victory over sin and death (resurrection) you don’t earn, but you receive when you decrease and He increases when you Trust Jesus.