GIVING SPACE TO SENIORITY DESPITE AN OVERFLOWING GRACE
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,
(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)
He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.” John 4:1-3 (KJV)
There are many issues here for my consideration, yet there are few matters that border on the pattern of Jesus’ discipleship, His consistence, wisdom and self-effacing attitude, which I need to note for my journey and labour.
The first thing that struck my heart is the kind of knowledge Jesus had about the situation He found Himself. I notice that Jesus did not just know that the Pharisees heard that He made and baptized more disciples than John, but He also knew how they heard it.
Why should I be carried away by what a man knows or says about me and I will not be interested in how he or she gets to know those things. Information is as correct as its source and intention!
Jesus would not have left Judea and returned to Galilee if the Pharisees had heard about His exploit differently; but the way they heard the news, made Him to withdraw from Judea!
Does it mean that it is better for me to stop what I am doing, (though such may be correct and of good intention,) if it would be misconstrued? LORD, I need Thy help here!
I guess that there is a difference between what I hear and how I hear. What I hear is about the understanding I have of a piece of information, but how I hear is about the source of the information and the manner or the heart with which such information is presented.
Few days before the event in John 4:1-3, the Bible says:
“After this conversation, Jesus went on with his disciples into the Judean countryside and relaxed with them there. He was also baptizing. At the same time, John was baptizing over at Aenon near Salim, where water was abundant. This was before John was thrown into jail. John’s disciples got into an argument with the establishment Jews over the nature of baptism. They came to John and said, “Rabbi, you know the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan? The one you authorized with your witness? Well, he’s now competing with us. He’s baptizing, too, and everyone’s going to him instead of us.”” John 3:22-26 (The Message)
This passage showed that Jesus did not come into the land of Judea to compete with John the Baptist, His master. The Bible says, Jesus relaxed with the people there. While He tarried with the people at Judea, the Word of God affected them, and many submitted as disciples and were being baptised there. The Bible further notes that there was much water in Judea, which informed the reason for which John baptised there.
Apparently, the two of them had different reasons for tarrying in Judea. Jesus tarried there because of the people but John tarried there because of the availability of water. It is interesting to note that, at a point, Jesus also had to baptise the people who became disciples under Him.
However, it is noteworthy that though there was so much water for John to baptise, there were not much people to baptise! On the side of Jesus, there were so much people and water enough to baptise them. This situation grew to the point that it started getting at the disciples of John and they said to their master, “all men came to him.” (John 3:26)
The first truth is that all men would have to come to Jesus, as all water also ‘came’ to John (John came indeed baptising with water, the Bible says). This was so because of their ‘focus’. What a man loves will surely come to him in abundance!
I am not by this insinuating that John the Baptist was wrong in his focus or that he made any mistake. No. It is clear from his response that he never claimed to be the Bridegroom. It was clear in John’s heart that he was not the owner of the people; Jesus was and still is! It is normal for the Bride to resort to her Groom. John saw himself as the friend of the Bridegroom, who must rejoice at the sound, that is, at the news about the exploits of Jesus (John 3:28-30).
Whatever I love is what will come to me, even in abundance! Whatever is the reason for me to relax in a place is what I will get at the end of the day. I cannot relax in a place to look for a sensual pleasure and ever get insight into the Word of God. If I tarry on a matter at the place of prayer, it is looking certain that I will most likely have it in abundance.
Unfortunately, some Jews, who came to argue with the disciples of John, triggered the quiet bitterness in the heart of John’s disciples against Jesus. Though the argument centered on the issue of purifying, I really do not know how it came down to the issue of Jesus baptising more people and John having water but not having people to baptise.
It is obvious that the Pharisees were not in the picture of this matter while the argument was going on between the disciples of John and the Jews. But John 4:1 shows clearly that the Pharisees either witnessed the argument and the wrong accusation the disciples of John levelled against Jesus, or possibly the cronies of the Pharisees were there.
Imagine the disciples of John speaking about Jesus:
“…‘Rabbi, you know the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan?’ The one you authorized with your witness? Well, he’s now competing with us. He’s baptizing, too, and everyone’s going to him instead of us.’” John 3:26 (The Message)
Does it mean that these disciples of John did not know the name of the Person they were talking about, such that they were perambulating? Not wanting to mention the name of Jesus seems that they had come to gossip. Why should they refer to Jesus as ‘the one’? And why should they go as far as reminding John that Jesus was once with him, when they were at the other side of Jordan? Should there be a need to re-establish the fact that Jesus was once a student or an apprentice under John? Why should they mention the fact that Jesus would have died in obscurity if not that John authorised Him with his (John’s) witness? I smell mischief! Without doubt, this presents a divided kingdom!
The Bible remarks that, whereas, the noise was all about the fact that Jesus baptised more people than John; but, in truth, Jesus Himself baptised no one. It was His disciples who baptised!
Therefore, the concern of Jesus was not about what the Pharisees heard about Him, (that He baptised more people than John), but about how they heard it. Should Jesus care a hoot about this? Should the sincerity of his heart not clear Him of any complicity?
What the Pharisees heard would have meant something else if they heard it the way John himself heard it in John 3:28-36
“John answered, It’s not possible for a person to succeed –I’m talking about eternal success- without heaven’s help. You yourselves were there when I made it public that I was not the Messiah but simply the one sent ahead of him to get things ready. The one who gets the bride is, by definition, the bridegroom. And the bridegroom’s friend, his ‘best man’- that’s me- in place at his side where he can hear every word, is genuinely happy. How could he be jealous when he knows that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a good start?
That’s why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.
The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God. The earthborn is earthbound and speaks earth language; the heavenborn is in the league of his own. He sets out the evidence of what he saw and heard in heaven. No one wants to deal with these facts. But anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth.
The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away- a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’” (The Message)
The heart of John was pure! He understood what God commissioned him to do, and who Jesus was appeared very clear to him. There was nothing negative that John’s disciples said about Jesus that made any meaning to John the Baptist. But the Pharisees probably did not hear all what John said. All they heard was that Jesus had come to compete with John and that there was a fight between Jesus and John (His master).
When Jesus knew the way these Pharisees heard about the issue of Him baptising more people in Judea, He withdrew Himself from there, though John himself would have wanted Him to have all the people. Jesus, great is Thy simplicity! Losing the people for the sake of John?! Leaving the Father’s business uncompleted for the sake of peace?! Help me LORD, that I may know that it is not compulsory that I must be where You want me to be, when there is contention or hatred from those who suppose to be members of the same family from which I came! Teach me to know that leaving the place is not a sign of weakness or accepting ‘defeat’, but a sign that I value peace more than anything.
The wisdom/instruction I am getting here is that, anywhere I am perceived, as being in competition with the elders, especially those elders by whose authority I was brought out of obscurity, is a place I should withdraw, even if such elders do not see me as a competitor.
John testified that the Father loved Jesus extravagantly and had turned everything over to Him. Yet Jesus did not see that as a reason to send wrong signals to the outside world! It means that the presence of grace and gifts in me are not sufficient reasons to present a platform for distractors to rejoice. It is better to sacrifice the grace and gifts of God in me and make it ‘less productive’ than to showcase such grace and gifts on the platform of misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
Spirituality cannot be a cover or reason for the arrogance and foolishness that are on display today. The fact that God gave the Spirit to Jesus without measure does not mean He should not know how to measure His ‘seniors’ in the ministry!
It is possible for me to have what it takes to handle a location; but if I have my seniors there, then I should withdraw (if my being there would be misunderstood by the opposing camp as division), else the people would not hear the positive disposition of the heart of the elder and that of my heart; they would only hear the message from the heart of the fans, who pose as disciples!
The second issue I need to look at in the passage under consideration, this morning, is the quiet word ‘made’. The Bible says:
“…the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,” John 4:1 (KJV)
I remember that Jesus commissioned the early disciples to make disciples of all nations and not to have disciples. He led them by showing it, first.
I need to understand that making disciples is not the same thing as having disciples. I could infer from John 4:1 that Jesus made more disciples while John had more disciples! This assertion came because of the heart with which John’s disciples spoke against Jesus. When a so-called disciple speaks ill of those he or she considers as ‘rivals’ of his or her disciple-maker, then such a disciple is possessed, not made!
Making more disciples may not necessarily be in terms of number, as Jesus left only 120 disciples! How can 120 disciples be termed as more? But the truth is that, whereas a man can focus on having more members, another can focus on making them disciples of Christ.
I must redefine the work I am doing therefore. What is my interest; having more disciples or making more disciples? Having more participants in our meetings or making more participants become disciples of Christ?
One person may have 2,000 disciples while I may make only 20 disciples; but as far as the Bible is concerned, I make more! Making them to be like Christ would surely make them to like Christ! This, I think, John subtly referred to, when he said:
“He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:33,36 (KJV)
It is not possible to be like Christ and will not like Christ! Anyone who receives Christ’s testimony proves that God is true and only such truly believes the Son unto having eternal life.
In essence, these disciples of John did not like Christ and what He was doing because they had not been made to be like Him. That is why they played the role of fans and not disciples.
God has sent me to make disciples and not to have or possess disciples. It is not about number, it is about members of Christ. Making disciples takes more time than having them. How long does it take to sign a man on for Christ? But to make a man for and make him a part of Christ surely takes time.
I need God to help me understand that having more people attending our meetings is not a sign that we are succeeding. Having more discipleship centres all over the place is not a sign that we have a grip on what the LORD has commissioned us to do. To succeed is about making them disciples of Christ! My interest should not be to have more people but to make more men for Him.
I notice the combination of the words ‘made’ and ‘baptised’ in John 4:1 and it suggests to me that every disciple made should be baptised.
I now see that it is wrong for me to think that the issue of water baptism should be left in the hands of ‘God’. No. The Bible makes it clear that:
“(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)” John 4:2 (KJV)
It means that Jesus made disciples while His disciples baptised the disciples that He made. If it is possible for me to leave the issue of making disciples in the hand of Jesus, I must know that baptising them cannot and should not be left in His hand; it is my responsibility!
But in this case, I am sent to go and make disciples of all nations and I must take the issue of baptising the disciples along with that instruction. Once a man is made a disciple, (though he may not have become like Jesus immediately,) and such a person has received the testimony of Jesus and believes in the Son of God, then he or she should be baptised at that moment!
Therefore, either at the point of understanding the victory that we have in Christ, through the ministry of the cross, or at the completion of Part 1 of our Discipleship Class, the disciples should be taken to the river for water baptism.
It won’t be correct if I do not go the way of Christ. Those who have been baptised before but who desire a renewal or a repeat of their baptism should not be restrained; they should be allowed to have it, as the LORD provides them the understanding.
(Segun Ariyo, Ibadan. 27th May, 2015.)