“He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:31-34)
The 1 Thing I Do
“No one receives his testimony,” John the Baptist said. Why is that?
First, let me say that I think what John is saying here is, in his day almost no one received Jesus’ testimony. It seems that John uses the phrase “no one” as a figure of speech. Because it’s true that while Jesus remained on earth, relatively few received his testimony and accepted him as Savior and Messiah. But that’s not the main point I want to write about today. The main point is the one thing I do to drown out Jesus’ testimony from my hearing. And we find insight about that one thing in a group of Jesus’ contemporaries: the Pharisees.
Concerning the woman caught in adultery, I like to say (to myself) the same thing we all like to say: “Stoning? Well that’s so first century. I’m with Jesus, I’m offended at the eagerness with which those Pharisees prosecuted that woman caught in adultery. I mean, wow: stoning.”
Maybe your like me in that you identify with Jesus, and also perhaps with the woman who was caught in her sin. Maybe my sins, or yours, don’t include adultery, but we’ve lived long enough to know we’re far from perfect. We’ve lived long enough to know we sin. Maybe not adultery in the same way as the woman, but maybe anger is our sin, or pride is our sin, or envy, or greed, or gluttony, or lust.
However I think we can miss an essential part of the story when we think this way. The woman caught in adultery was one of many instances when the Pharisees focused on the bad (or perceived to be bad) behavior of others rather than themselves.
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked.
“Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath,” they said.
“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” They questioned.
Even Jesus’ Followers
And even those following Jesus put the focus on the behavior of others when they asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” In other words: We follow you, but for those unfortunate souls who don’t, what kind of numbers are we talking–for them?
But what did Jesus say in response to that question from his followers? He tells us to concern ourselves with our own life path, not the behavior of others. “Strive to enter through the narrow door,” Jesus said. Those were his first words. And most of the rest of his response consisted of his warning about the consequences of not following those words. (Luke 13:22-30)
Why Is John Still Baptizing?
Which brings us to a seemingly unrelated question: Why is John the Baptist still baptizing anyway? We saw in an earlier post that John’s purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah, and to point people to Jesus. And for doing so, Jesus called John the greatest man who ever lived up to that point in history. (Matthew 11:11) But now, in John chapter 3, Jesus is here, I mean publicly, and the crowds are all going from John the Baptist over to Jesus, and Jesus is obviously established in his ministry, so… what’s the point exactly of John continuing to baptize? I think the point is that, John isn’t focused on the diminishing crowds, or the whispers about his fading popularity. He’s not focused on the behavior of others. John is focused on continuing to do the last thing he heard from his God: and that was to baptize. So he does. He baptizes faithfully, until he hears otherwise.
Avoiding The Trap
It’s a trap, this propensity to focus on the behavior of others. And it’s not a trap just for Pharisees. Every one of us is susceptible because we want to put our focus there too. It’s part of the human condition. But Jesus indicted that condition when he said, “…you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside…” (Matthew 23:25-26) You see, focusing my attention on the bad behavior of others is a wonderful way to make the outside of my cup look good. I can always find someone who’s behavior is worse than my own. (Usually by comparing one of their weaknesses to one of my strengths–because that’s what we humans do.) It’s a very effective way to distract myself from the mess that’s on the inside. And it’s a great way to continue to neglect what I need to do to address the state of my heart toward God.
And when we neglect the inside, we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees.
The next verses in our text say, “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:33-34) So God’s Son utters the words of God. And some of those words uttered are words that endorse the scriptures, as true. (See How Does Jesus View The Old Testament?) And because God incarnate confirms it, the only course of action that makes sense is to search the scriptures for what God wants me to do. And then, like John the Baptist, be faithful to keep doing it until I’m told otherwise. That’s where Jesus would have me focus. That’s where Jesus would have us all focus.
To put an exclamation point on it, Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and that others are not.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector… But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Do you see it? It happened again: the Pharisee was focused on the shortcomings of another. And isn’t that just what we do too?
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, Jesus said. And one of the most common ways to exalt oneself is to focus your attention on the bad behavior of others.
But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
It’s easy to find scriptures that apply to others. But there’s plenty in the Bible that applies to me, and to you. It’s Christ’s will that we give our attention to those scriptures, and live lives striving to enter through the narrow door. So avoid the trap of concerning yourself with the behavior of others.
And live your life for Jesus.
Keep your focus there.
[Image via Christian Bucad – Creative Commons]