Where the Rubber Hits the Road

John 3:22-36

“22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24 —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.”  NRSV

In the synoptic gospels, we are led to believe that John the Baptist knew that his ministry would end as soon as Jesus’ ministry began. Luke makes this tag of ministry a family affair. Not so in John. As we learned earlier, in John’s gospel, John claims to not know Jesus. This passage suggests that John the Baptist and Jesus were engaged in parallel ministries up to this point in the story. When John the Baptist says, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him,” he is saying he was sent ahead of the Messiah, but he doesn’t say he was sent ahead of Jesus. The vagueness in John’s gospel must not be overlooked. We should not automatically read Jesus into John’s words.

Verse 31 reinforces the premise with which we began this look at the Gospel of John. John’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ divinity; he is “above all” and can’t be bothered much with the limitations of his human container. It feels as if Jesus is just sort of hovering above it all. The synoptic gospels focus much more on the human side of Jesus and the real-life struggles Jesus encounters in his humanness. John’s view certainly leaves us with some wonderful, beloved stories about Jesus, but Jesus’ real struggles with being faithful while being human is really where the rubber hits the road for all of us, IMHO.

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