Muhammed Ali said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” He also said, “Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”
We see the opposite of that pride in John 3 from John the Baptist, and the reason John’s perspective is so different from Ali’s comes down to two things: he knows the identity of Jesus, and he knows the part Jesus plays in God’s plan.
From those realities I make these two assertions about true humility:
1) True humility results from encountering Jesus, who is true greatness.
2) True humility arises from knowing the part Jesus plays in God’s big plan.
Two applications: knowing the greatness of Jesus and the part he plays keeps us from thinking that we’re the world’s Savior, and it helps us to know what our own role is and isn’t.
From what the Baptist says in John 3:27–33, we see 15 things that he knew that kept him humble:
1. What can’t be done:
“A person cannot receive even one thing . . .” (John 3:27a)
2. Where gifts come from:
“unless it is given him from heaven” (3:27b).
3. Who he is:
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’” (3:28a)
4. What his role is:
“but I have been sent before him” (3:28b)
5. Who Jesus is:
“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom” (3:29a)
6. What his relationship to Jesus is:
“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him” (3:29b)
7. How to respond to Jesus:
“rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (3:29c)
8. What must happen:
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30)
9. Where Jesus is from:
“He who comes from above” (3:31a)
10. What place Jesus occupies:
“is above all. . . . He who comes from heaven is above all” (3:31b, e)
11. Where he, the Baptist, is from:
“He who is of the earth belongs to the earth” (3:31c)
12. How he speaks:
“and speaks in an earthly way” (3:31d)
13. How Jesus speaks:
“He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (3:32a)
14. How Jesus is rejected:
“yet no one receives his testimony” (3:32b)
15. What it means to receive the testimony of Jesus:
“Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (3:33)
Pride comes from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. By recognizing that he is not the Messiah, the Baptist has accepted the fact that he is not Israel’s king, not Israel’s champion, not Israel’s Savior. John knows who he is and who he is not. John also knows what his purpose is. His purpose is to prepare the way for Jesus. John knows his own origin. He is from earth, not heaven. John knows that he has nothing he has not received (1 Cor 4:7), and that whatever he has received has come as a gift from God (John 3:27).
One reason we are not humble is the fact that we have not experienced greatness. We have not encountered majesty, so in our ignorance and lack of experience we begin to think that we are grander and greater than we really are. We begin to overestimate our own importance. This doesn’t happen to John because he has experienced greatness, majesty, authority, incomparability in the person of Jesus. John knows that Jesus is the bridegroom (John 3:29) who comes from above, that is, heaven (3:31).
One manifestation of our pride is the assumption that we will succeed where others have failed. What keeps John from that pride? He knows that there has never been a better witness than Jesus, and “yet no one receives his testimony” (John 3:32). No one has a better perception of reality than Jesus. No one has more right to be heard than Jesus. No one could communicate more clearly than Jesus. And his testimony was not received.
What do you expect will happen to your testimony? What right do we have to think that we will have more success than Jesus had?
We cannot receive what has not been given. We are not Messiah. We are not from heaven but from earth. We are not the world’s Savior. We were created to reflect the glory of the image of the invisible God. We were made for Jesus, not the other way around. Therefore we should feel what John articulates about himself and Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
From “He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease,” preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on October 27, 2013.