John tiih Baptist held a very important position relative to Christ. He was the forerunner and his particular responsibility was to prepare the way of the Lord and to make His paths straight. His ministry was one of preparation and when that work was done it was inevitable that John must decrease.
Because Christ would be increasing John was satisfied that his own work would fade away.
The Time in Prison
Faithful to his God and to his hearers John did not flinch from the condemnation of sin. He denounced it not only in general and sweeping terms but also in particular cases. One such was the case of Herod. John told him that he should not have his brother’s wife. Herod, clearly displeased, cast John into prison where he languished for many days. In fact he was never released. He died by decapitation at the whim of Salome and her daughter. What Herod did not know of course was that by closing the door on John’s ministry he simultaneously opened the door for the ministry of Christ.
I Must Decrease
While in prison, with all its privations, loss of dignity and influence, John hoard of the work of Christ. Without question He was increasing. Without question John was decreasing. To preach it was one thing-to experience it was another. John became depressed. We all know that the work of God can go on without us but when we see it grow so well without us we become depressed and potentially critical.
John may have calculated as follows: the first message, and therefore perhaps priority, of Jesus, was that He had ‘come to preach deliverance to captives’. All that had happened to John was that he had been ‘released’ from his work and cast into prison. He had the premonition that he would not come out again and therefore the promise of deliverance by Christ meant nothing to him. He felt abandoned and superfluous. He doubted if he were on the right track. Was this really the Saviour, the Messiah, or was there another plan that he was unaware of that could deal with his plight?
We do well to remember that we are not indispensable. The work can go on without us, and often it does. We may be on the sidelines, cast down by illness or debility and though we were once so busy and can’t wait to get involved again, the work, whether we accept it or not, forges on. We are dispensable, we can be done without. Such thoughts should not depress us. They only illustrate for us what God can do, and give us assurance that God’s work is safe in God’s hands. There are times when human nature wants to increase, but God’s plan for us is that we should decrease. Brethren need to learn this difficult lesson and not to hold on, when they are decreasing, to responsibilities and service that may be done, not necessarily better, but differently by others.
He Must Increase
The increase of Christ was inexorable. It could not be reversed, hailed or delayed. The Saviour took the Jews and the authorities by storm. He confronted sin, challenged sinners and took it upon Himself to clear out the evils that Ho discovered, whether in men’s hearts or in the temple itself. While John was stationary Christ was on the move.
However, the truth of the matter is that none of this touched John. Cruelly, it seems, his work was done; critically it seems, he sent two disciples to Christ with the question ‘Art rhou he that should come or do we look for another?’. John had to accept that in his limited experience, nothing was happening, every day was the same. As he got lower and lower, depressed and decreased, the work of Christ, outside John’s experience, was changing men’s lives. Not just tidying them up and helping men in their dilemmas, but dramatically changing them. The blind could sec, the deaf could hear, the dumb could speak, the dead lived. Try telling them that nothing was happening, try explaining that some had doubts about the Saviour and His work! Their world was changing, their prospect brightening, their Saviour real.
Do We look for Another?
Nevertheless John persisted with the question. The Lord dealt tenderly with the two loyal friends of John who had brought his fears to Him. ‘Go and show John again’. Not just tell, but show. Spread it out before him, spell it out to him, study it with him. And do it again. Was this perhaps not the first time that reassurance had been necessary or docs it imply ‘tell him again and again’, i.e. don’t stop reminding him? Clearly John’s eye had been taken off Christ. He wanted to find another person, he wanted to look in another direction, he wanted to walk in another, more agreeable path. How true it is that if we are unhappy with our lot we are tempted to look in another direction.
Not Offended in Him
In reality John was offended, deeply hurt and dejected. In drawing to his attention through the disciples the things that were being done, the Lord is effectively saying to John, ‘You don’t need to look for another, but you do need to have another look at Me’.
Neither is there salvation in any other-look unto Me for 1 am God and there is none else. Looking off unto Jesus is the antidote to rejection and suffering. We gaze at the One who for the joy that was set before Him, despised the cross.
Let us therefore, if we are laid aside, apparently dispensable, not involved in the mainstream work of God as others are, if our life’s work, or life’s partner, has been taken from us, not despair, nor look for another but take another look at Christ. We shall see that He is increasing and if that be so it is inevitable that we should decrease. May He help us to be happy with that situation until He comes.