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JOHN THE BAPTIST: “HE MUST INCREASE, BUT I MUST DECREASE”

28 Nov

THE ROLE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IN THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND

JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS

‘THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS’

“… [T]he news of the preaching and the baptism of John had reached Jerusalem. Naturally the priests, and especially the Pharisees among them, who made such great pretensions to piety and faithfulness to God, were interested and perhaps disturbed. John himself was, of course, the son of a priest. But what was this repentance he was preaching and, above all, what was this new rite of baptism which he was administering?

‘WHO ART THOU?’

Anxious to know the answers to these questions they sent priests and Levites to question him. ‘Who art thou?’ they asked. John replied, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Art thou Elias?’ they asked. And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Art thou the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No’ (John 1:19-21). Then they asked him why he baptised, since he was neither the Christ, nor Elias, nor a prophet. John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but in the midst of you there has stood one whom you do not know. He it is who is to come after me, who has been set above me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose’ (John 1:26-27). Just before this he had said to them, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord”(John 1:23).

‘BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD’

John is a man sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. The Lord Who is to come is greater than he. That is all that John tells the Pharisees. But the next day in the midst of his followers he speaks again. He sees Jesus approaching and he points Him out to his own disciples, ‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me there comes one who has been set above me, because he was before me.’ And I did not know him. But that he may be known to Israel, for this reason I have come baptising with water. I beheld the spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it abode upon him. And I did not know him. But he who sent me to baptise with water said to me, ‘He upon whom thou wilt see the spirit descending, and abiding upon him, he it is who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’ (John 1:29-34).

JOHN PREACHES REPENTANCE, BUT IT IS JESUS WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS

John, a prophet of God, gives his testimony that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God Whose way he has been sent to prepare. John baptises with water, but Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit of God. John preaches repentance for sin, but Jesus takes away the sins of the world.

JESUS’ DISCIPLES

The following day Jesus is passing by once again, while John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples, John and Andrew. Again the Baptist says, ‘Behold the lamb of God.’ John and Andrew follow after Jesus. Jesus, seeing this, stopped and asked them, ‘What is it you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi… where dwellest thou?’ And He replied, ‘Come and see’ (John 1:35-39). In this way Jesus gained His first two disciples. Andrew went and found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messias’ (which interpreted is Christ) (John 1:41). Jesus, upon meeting Simon, changed his name to Peter. We are not told the reason for the change of name until later (see Matthew 16:17 ff.) but the action of Jesus is at least a sign of some special favour.

The following day Jesus added to the group of His followers Philip and Nathanael. Nathanael recognises Jesus as the ‘Son of God… King of Israel’ (John 1:40). Jesus rewards his faith by saying to him, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’ (John 1:51).

In these words Jesus intimates that God will be with Him in His work as He was with Jacob at Bethel, when Jacob saw a ladder reaching from heaven to earth and the angels of God ascending and descending. Moreover Jesus refers to Himself as the ‘Son of Man,’ His favourite name for Himself. He seems to be alluding to the ‘Son of Man’ of Whom the prophet Daniel spoke, prophesying that He would come on the clouds of heaven to judge the world.

THE WEDDING AT CANA

After this Jesus and His new disciples went to Cana to attend a wedding feast. Mary the mother of Jesus was also there. Here Jesus worked the first of His many miracles. During the feast the host ran out of wine for the feasting. At the request of Mary Jesus changed water into wine. By His presence at the wedding feast and by this kindly miracle of turning water into wine for the feasting, Jesus gave the seal of His approval to the ancient institution of marriage. By the miracle, as St John says, ‘he manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him’ (John 2:11).

JESUS DRIVES THE MERCHANTS AND MONEY CHANGERS FROM THE TEMPLE

After the feast Jesus went to Capharnaum with His mother and His disciples. A few days later He went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. When He entered the precincts of the Temple He found men selling oxen, sheep and doves for the sacrifices, and money changers at their tables. The business of buying and selling, of haggling over prices, of changing money, caused a great noise and confusion, making it difficult to pray with devotion. Jesus was indignant at this profanation of His Father’s house. Making a whip of cords, He drove the merchants and money changers from the Temple. ‘Take these things away,’ he said, ‘and do not make the house of my Father a house of business’ (John 2:16).

‘WHAT AUTHORITY?’

The Jews naturally wanted to know on what authority Jesus acted in this way. ‘What sign dost thou show us, seeing that thou dost those things?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews scoffed at his answer. ‘Forty-six years has this temple been in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days?’ But, as St John the Evangelist tells us, Jesus was referring to the ‘temple of his body.’ In answer to their request for a sign Jesus referred them to the sign of His resurrection from the tomb which was to come later. But, at the moment, neither the disciples of Jesus nor the Jews generally understood this.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

This action of Jesus, while at the moment it was mysterious, was highly significant. He took upon Himself an authority which His apparent position among His countrymen did not justify. He presumed to give orders about the conduct of Temple business. He referred to the Temple as His Father’s house, as if it were His more than it was that of the Jews. When asked to justify Himself, He did not appeal to the miracles which St John indicates He was already working in Jerusalem. Rather, like the prophets of old, He appealed to a mysterious sign which was yet to be accomplished.

JESUS SPEAKS ABOUT THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM HE WOULD INSTITUTE

This action of Jesus and the miracles He was working attracted attention and many believed in Him. Others were curious and would know more about Him. One of these was Nicodemus, a Pharisee. He came to Jesus secretly at night. The secrecy of his visit seems to be that already the Pharisees were hostile to Jesus. But Nicodemus, even though somewhat fearful of the Pharisees, came to inquire further enlightenment of Jesus.

In the course of their conversation Jesus tells him that ‘unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:5-6). Nicodemus did not understand these words of Jesus. Jesus was referring to the Sacrament of Baptism which He would institute. He was speaking of the spiritual, superntural life which the Spirit of God would give to men through the Sacrament of Baptism. This life of the soul is given to men only through a mystical union of men with the life-giving death of Jesus. This Jesus insinuates when he says to Nicodemus, ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting’ (John 3:14).

JOHN THE BAPTIST CONTINUES BAPTISING AT AENNON

After this Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and went to some unnamed place in Judea. There they baptised new disciples. John the Baptist and his disciples were at nearby Aennon, also baptising. The disciples of John the Baptist became alarmed at the activity of the disciples of Jesus. They complained to John, ‘Rabbi, he who was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou hast borne witness, behold he baptises and all are coming to him’ (John 3:26).

JOHN WITNESSES JESUS’ IDENTITY FOR THE LAST TIME

In reply to their complaint John gave his last witness to the identity of Jesus. ‘No one,’ he said, ‘can receive anything, unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but have been sent before him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegrOom, who stands and hears him, rejoices exceedingly at the voice of the bridegroom. This my joy, therefore, is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:27-30).

John acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the Messias, the Anointed One of God. Jesus is the bridegroom who will take humanity to himself as a bride. John the Baptist is only the friend of the bridegroom, who rejoices at the marriage of the bridegroom to the bride. John is not displeased because the disciples of Jesus are more successful than his own disciples. Jesus must increase; John must decrease. John has almost finished his work and will soon depart from the scene. He has prepared the way for the Lord. Jesus, the Lord, is just beginning His work. His work is still to be done; He must increase.

JOHN IS PUT INTO PRISON

Shortly after this, Herod the tetrarch, annoyed because John the Baptist had publicly reproved him for taking unto himself Herodias, the wife of his brother, arrested John and cast him into prison at Machaerus.

Upon hearing this Jesus Himself withdrew into Galilee.
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

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