"After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”" (John 3:22-36)
For a brief period of time, the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus overlapped. In this scene the disciples of both John and Jesus are baptizing people in different parts of the country but for the same reason at the same time. Baptism, for these disciples, was performed for those who repented of their sin in preparation for the coming Messiah. It was a promise made for hundreds of years and now, both John and Jesus were announcing that the time had come…repent and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Baptism was simply the action taken by the people saying, “I am not worthy, but I am ready.”
Some recognized the need to be humble, while others questioned the need to do anything different than usual. “Why would I need to wash again?” one asks. “As a Jew, I take purifying baths all the time.” And to press the issue even further, “Even if I did want to be baptized, which is better – the one performed by John’s disciples or the one performed by Jesus’s disciples?”
John the Baptist steps in and explains that this poor man has missed the point all together. The reason his traditional baths were not acceptable is because this man, like most all the Jews, had formed a ritual habit with no meaning. They performed the act but they did not know why. For if he truly understood, he would not be comparing baptisms. For it was not the baptism that mattered…it was the humility and repentance one’s heart. The water was simply and outward sign of the inward motivation of a person’s heart. IF the heart was not humble before God, the baptism had no meaning.
John then explains how his life reflected this humility. He tells both the questioning man as well as his disciples that he had come to serve a purpose. The purpose of announcing the coming of the promised Messiah. Now that Jesus was here, John recognized that he must decrease in popularity so that he would not distract from the attention given to Jesus. They were not in competition (as John’s disciples had begun to believe). Instead, John willingly steps aside so that full attention can be given to the one whom he had come to announce.
Truth be known, most people did not understand that Jesus was the Messiah. To them, he was just another man like John. But John knew this was not so. He tells his followers that Jesus is “not like us”. He is from above and the words He speaks are the words of truth. The one who believes in Jesus, believes in truth. The one who does not believe in Jesus, believes a lie. “And remember,” John might say. “Not everyone who is washed with water is really clean. Only those who are humble and believe what is true. In the same way, anyone can say they believe in Jesus, but if their heart is not humble and their life is not obedient, their words betray them and they do what has become ritual but not what they believe to be true.”
The choice is simple. We either trust in Jesus or we reject him. Jesus’s life and ministry has the single purpose of declaring the truth of who He is and his love for you so that you will chose the first.