He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:29-30)
The occasion is a question poised to John the Baptizer. The question came from John’s followers and centered on the numbers of people that were attending Jesus versus John’s ministries. John’s ministry was in decline. Jesus’ ministry was increasing. John’s disciples ask, Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him (3:26).
The similarities between the two men are interesting. They were both Jews. Their ages were similar, Jesus being six months younger than John (Luke 1:26). Both men preached repentance. The text specifically noted that both were baptizing although later in the gospel we learn that Jesus did not baptize but His disciples (4:1). Both men came for the fulfillment of Scripture. John received direct revelation from heaven. These were mighty men from human perspective.
The issue with John’s disciples was the fact that all are coming to [Jesus]. John’s initial reply is instructive. A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. Ministry is given of God. The extent, impact, and the numbers of people attending a man’s ministry are of the Lord. Afterwards John exalts Jesus’ ministry over his own (3:28). In truth, the ministry of John centered on the preparation of Israel for the Lamb of God. He concludes by telling his disciples that the ministry of Jesus must increase and his own ministry must decrease (3:30).
However discouraging that fact may have been for John, he gives us in our text a true minister’s rejoicing – so this joy of mine has been made full. John’s joy was not in the number of attendees to his ministry but “hearing him”, rejoicing exceedingly because of his “voice.” In other words, the hearing of the words of Christ Jesus in the Scriptures should be our joy and rejoicing, not the numbers that may attend our ministries. Brethren, is our joy prioritized in the hearing of Christ’s voice as it is recorded in the Scriptures?
To those who may take these words as an excuse for evangelistic neglect the Scriptures give no encouragement. The point is that the highest gift is to know and hear the revelation of God in Christ. Numbers are like the sea waves – ebbing and flowing. Our exceeding joy is to rest in the voice of our Savior. May our humility be such that what truly matters is the advancement of His Word, the hearing and illumination of His Voice, and the fulfillment of all that He has spoken.