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Loved By Jesus

The Preeminent

Rev. Philip Miller | October 25, 2020

Selected highlights from this sermon

Do you know how it feels to be upstaged by someone? John the Baptist knew the feeling. He was the prophetic voice calling out in the wilderness. But then one day Jesus showed up. And unlike today’s society where “me” and “I” are the focus, John recognized that Jesus deserved center stage.

In this message, Pastor Miller gives us four reasons why Jesus deserves center stage—not “me” and not “I.” We are infinitely and eternally better off with Jesus as the center and focus of our lives.

Growing up I loved to play baseball. I hit my growth spurt a little bit early, and so I was one of the few players that could actually, you know, crank it out over the fence. And so I enjoyed being picked very early in the rounds. Sometimes I was picked first for the team, and I was riding pretty high, that is until my friend, Chris, who was a little younger than me, hit his growth spurt. Chris was a born athlete. As soon as he hit his growth spurt, he could out-hit, out-catch, out-run, out-perform every single person on the field, and all of a sudden Chris was the one getting picked first in the line-up.

And there I was standing there, and I had been replaced. And that was hard for me. It stung my ego. It messed me up. It raised all kinds of insecurities in my heart. Do you know how that feels? Do you know how it feels to have someone chosen over you, to be shown up by someone else, to be outclassed in an area where you had a little bit of pride and skill, to be passed over, cut down to size, upstaged? Do you know how this feels?

John the Baptizer knows how this feels. For a time and season John was the big shot. He was the guy everyone was talking about. He was the prophetic voice crying out in the wilderness, calling for repentance and baptism, and everyone paid attention to him. There were even rumors floating around, “Maybe this is the Messiah.” But then one day, John baptized Jesus, and he declared to the world, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And from that moment on, people began flocking, not to John but to Jesus. And John became yesterday’s news.

And for John that was just fine. In fact, it was the way it should be because as far as John was concerned, Jesus deserved center stage. And what we’re going to see in the passage we’re going to look at today is four reasons that Jesus deserves center stage. We’re going to be in John 3:22–36. If you’ll open your Bibles to John, chapter 3, we’ll join there in just a moment, but would you bow your heads and pray with me as we open God’s word?

Father, we pray now, as we open your Word, that you would open our hearts. Open our eyes to see you. Open all of our selves up so that we might be changed. We pray that your Holy Spirit would come and be our teacher, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.

So in John, chapter 3, we see kind of the clash, and then John’s response, and then these four reasons Jesus deserves center stage. And so let’s look at that together.

First: the clash. In verse 22 this is how it starts: “After this...” The “this” refers to the events of the preceding context. Jesus had come down to Judea for Passover in Jerusalem. He cleared the temple. He had this conversation with Nicodemus. So “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).”

So Jesus, of course, is from up north in Galilee. That’s where He hails from. It’s His home country. He has come down south to Jerusalem for the Passover, and now He goes just outside of Jerusalem into the Judean countryside, settles down there for a season, and begins here a ministry of baptism. Now John 4:2 will clarify for us that Jesus Himself is not the one performing the baptisms. It’s His disciples that are doing it, but this baptism takes place under the ministry of Jesus.

Now, here’s why this is a big deal. It’s because this is John the Baptizer’s home turf. He’s been baptizing in the Judean wilderness for quite some time now. And he’s the one who was really innovating this whole baptism thing, if you remember. It’s kind of his signature move, his signature ministry model. It’s even in his name, “John the Baptizer”. He has proprietary domain over this, and we could see where this is going.

Verse 25: “Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’” So there’s this discussion now between John’s disciples and this Jewish fellow over purification. Purification was the generic umbrella term for all sorts of ceremonial washings. Baptism would be a subset of that. We don’t know exactly what their conversation discussion is about. Apparently it’s not all that important. What it does, though, is it surfaces the reality that Jesus is nearby, just a few miles away, and He is doing the exact same ministry model that John the Baptizer is using. This would be like someone planting a church just down the street and naming it Moody Memorial Chapel. And we’d say, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That’s our thing.” Right? Yeah.

They come and say, “Rabbi, He who was with you across the Jordan, Jesus, to whom you bore witness, look He’s baptizing, and all are going to Him.” So not only is Jesus encroaching on John’s domain here, and copying his ministry model, He’s gobbling up market share. “Look, John, we’ve got a real problem here. Attendance is down, giving is eroding. Your personal brand is growing tired. You’re becoming old news here, John.”

And here’s the point. Jesus’ ministry is upstaging John’s. Jesus’ ministry is upstaging John’s. And Jesus shows up and now it’s all about Him. John’s been displaced. He’s been outclassed. He’s been cut down to size. He’s been upstaged. And friends, one of the reasons, listen, one of the reasons we’re reluctant to really let Jesus into our lives deeply is because intuitively we know that when Jesus shows up, He starts taking over. We know that, don’t we? Before long our lives will be all about Him because Jesus can’t help but take center stage. Jesus always takes center stage. No matter however powerful or commanding or charismatic or gifted or popular you are, the moment Jesus walks into the center of your life, it’s not about you anymore. And here’s the problem. We secretly enjoy being in the center stage of our lives, don’t we? We think of ourselves primarily, instinctively as the main character in the plot line of our story. Everybody else is just supporting cast, you know, though we would never say that. That sounds too egotistical, but that’s how we’re wired.

Let me prove it to you. If somebody takes a group photo, you know, you’re in a photo with a whole bunch of people, maybe in your office or whatever, and you’re all getting in close. This is pre-pandemic close, okay? You’re all close in, take a picture, and they say, “Hey, is it a good picture?” Who do you look at first? (chuckles) You look at yourself. Right? And what makes it a good picture? If you look good. Right? And what makes it a bad picture? If you look bad. That’s your instinct, isn’t it?

When you’re doing these Zoom calls, I find myself doing it all the time, when we’re doing these Zoom calls, which little box do you instinctively gravitate over to and look at? Your own box! “How am I looking? Is my hair okay? Am I looking... you know, is my chin at a good angle?” Why do we do that? It’s because we instinctively put ourselves at the center stage of our lives. Why? Because we get to call the shots. We get to reap the rewards. We get to bask in the limelight. We get to be the hero. And then Jesus comes into our lives, friends, and He threatens all of that. And it’s not because Jesus is some egotist. It’s because He’s the Son of God. And when the Son of God shows up, no mere mortal can hold...can even compete.

And so most of us, friends, when Jesus comes and says, “Let me be the center of your life,” we bristle, we’re hesitant, we’re resistant. Oh, maybe we want Jesus for salvation, because that’ll help us out. But to let Him be in the center, let Him take center stage, let Him take over, let Him become the focal point of our lives? (sighs) That’s for religious nuts, man. That’s not for me. Who would do that? Well John did that. Look at his response here.

Verse 27: “John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.’” This is an amazing response. He says, “Look, everything’s from God. My ministry is from God. Jesus’ ministry is from God. My followers are from God. Jesus’ followers are from God. My influence is from God. Jesus’ influence is from God. And if God chooses for Jesus’ influence to wax and mine to wane, so be it. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” See, John realized that his life, his ministry was a temporary gift, one that God had freely given to him, and one that God could freely take away.

Verse 28: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” He says, “Listen, guys, you know my role. I’m not the Messiah. I’m a warm-up act. Jesus is the main event. I’m the lampstand. Jesus is the light. I’m a nobody. Jesus is the somebody. I’m just pointing the way to Him.”

And then he has an illustration here in verse 29: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” He says, “Look, I’m like the best man at Jesus’ wedding. I’m here to serve. I’m here to orchestrate. I’m here to support. I’m here to ensure the bridegroom and the bride have the best day of their lives. I’m here to make sure they are the focal point, and every eye is on them, that they have everything they need, and I am full of joy when the center of attention is upon Him.” Verse 30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Aren’t you struck by his humility here? John’s entire ministry, he says, is to prepare the way for another person’s success. And it’s not like John is a nobody. Jesus said in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Listen, John the Baptist was a big deal, but Jesus is an even bigger deal, and John’s greatness here is demonstrated as John humbly gives Jesus center stage. John steps aside. John steps down. John steps away so that Jesus can take the spotlight.

And don’t you see? John does what so many of us simply will not do. He lets his ego die. He lets his control go. He lets himself be displaced. And this, friends, is a remarkable act of courage and humility. It took great courage to step aside and be a nobody, but John knows that Jesus deserves center stage.

And now, in verses 31 to 36, John, our author, is going to give us four reasons Jesus deserves center stage. Here they are. By the way, it’s not just that Jesus deserves center stage. It’s that we are actually better off when He’s in the center stage as well. We’ll get to that, but the first thing (Okay?), the first reason is because of Jesus’ position. Jesus’ position.

In verse 31, this is what John, the evangelist, the Gospel writer writes: “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.”

So this is very, I think, very clear here. Jesus is above all because He’s from above. Right? He’s from heaven. John the Baptizer is from below. He’s from the earth. And so Jesus outranks him, has a greater position than John, because He’s from above. In other words, Jesus deserves center stage here because of His position. He’s from above. And from that position, Jesus has a better perspective. The higher up you are the greater your perspective. Right? Just like those traffic helicopters that go and hover over Chicago. Right? You know the ones I’m talking of at rush hour? They’re up there, you know, just hovering around. What are they doing? They are above. They have perspective. They can see the big picture, and so if you’re stuck in traffic, and you’re like, “I don’t know if I should get off and go a different route, or whether I should just stick it out where I am.” You can tune in to your radio. (This is old-school. I know we have GPS now, and all that kind of stuff.) But the old way was you turn on the radio and the traffic helicopter guy would tell you where to go. Right? He could give you guidance, and you’d find your way home. See, and you could roll down the window and talk to the person next to you, “Hey, what do you think we should do? Should we get off this road or not, or whatever?” but you have limited perspective and so do they. Right? But if you tune in to the perspective from above, all of a sudden you can find your way. Right?

And this is the point. Jesus sees more, friends, than you and I do. Jesus sees more. Do you realize Jesus, from His position of being above, sees way more than you and I ever could? He’s from above. He sees the big picture. He can see around all the blind corners. We’re from below. We get lost in the maze of life. We don’t have the mental maps that we need to navigate through everything that we might face. It’s why we get so jammed up in life at times. And we can ask other humans for advice, and that helps a little bit. But if only we had someone from above who saw the whole picture, who could give us truth and guidance on the way home. Listen friends, we have such a person. And the longer we insist on going our own way, the longer we get stuck in the traffic, but the sooner we yield to the guy from above, the sooner we find our way.

Friends, that’s what it means to put Jesus at the center of your life. It means to allow His perspective to outrank your instincts, to allow His perspective to outrank your instincts. Listen, “Lord, I will follow your direction. I will follow your lead. I will follow your path to life.”

And friends, John is telling us that Jesus deserves center stage by virtue of His position. He’s from above, and don’t you see, we’re better off when He’s at the center because we [He] actually know[s] the way of life. That’s the first reason.

The second reason is Jesus’ expertise, His expertise. Look at verse 32: “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.”

So friends, the picture is that Jesus is coming into the world as an expert witness, like in a court of law. He’s an expert witness. He’s bearing testimony to something that He knows deeply, personally, an eyewitness account. Jesus knows, listen, ultimate cosmic reality because He’s from above. He’s from heaven. He knows this universe in and out. He knows the way to heaven. He’s been there, and He has come. He has come to bear witness to ultimate reality, that we might learn to live in line with that reality. But the tragedy, of course, is that people won’t listen. They won’t receive His testimony here. It’s maddening. And John says, “Look, if you would just receive it, whoever does receive His testimony sets a seal to this, that God is true.”

This language is kind of interesting. He says it’s like you’re sealing, you’re stamping something. What is that all about? Well, when you seal a document, you’re giving it your endorsement. You’re saying, “This is real. This is factual. This is true.” University graduates get their diplomas with a seal. Right? We endorse this person and their academic achievements. Whoever receives Jesus’ testimony is putting a seal on the fact that God is truthful, because Jesus is from God. Jesus speaks the words of God because Jesus is full of the Spirit of God.

See, God’s Spirit came in the Old Testament on the prophets of old, according to the measure of their ministry. But here with Jesus, God has given His Spirit without limits, unlimited! Whenever Jesus speaks, He speaks with the full knowledge, wisdom, and authority of God Himself because, friends, Jesus knows more. Jesus knows more. He has come as an expert witness, a master of the ultimate cosmic realities. His knowledge is comprehensive. His wisdom is supreme. His statements are trustworthy and true.

Friends, Jesus knows all the search results on Google. He knows every Wikipedia entry, and an infinite amount of more information. And when you and I get into analysis paralysis because there’s too much data, there’s too much to wrap our minds around, we don’t know what choice to make, we don’t know which way to go, friends, Jesus knows it all. He has mastered it all. He knows every single variable and He offers to guide us through as the expert. But the longer we go our own way, and do our own thing, and trust our own instincts, friends, the longer we have to learn things the hard way.

This is that old line from Dr. Phil. You know, he says, “And how’s that working for you?” Right? Friends, this is what it means to put Jesus at the center of your life. It’s to receive Him as an expert, to allow His wisdom and counsel to outweigh your own opinions, to trust His guidance, to receive His truth, to follow His way. Friends, Jesus deserves center stage by virtue of His expertise, but don’t you see how much better off we are when we trust Him, when we put Him at the center and His wisdom is guiding our lives, according to the grain of the universe?

The third reason here is because of Jesus’ resources. Jesus deserves center stage because of His resources. Verse 35: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” Friends, this is the language of inheritance. This universe belongs to God the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and Earth, and Jesus is the Father’s only Son who is beloved in every way. In other words, He’s still in the will. (chuckles) Okay? God hasn’t written Him out. He’s pleasing and good in every way, and He inherits the universe. God has put everything into His hands, so not only does Jesus see more and know more. Jesus has more. Jesus has more.

There are infinite, listen, resources at Jesus’s disposal. He is infinitely well-connected in this universe. He is highly resourced. He is infinitely able to execute on whatever He wants.

Whatever Jesus wants, it’s already His, friends, which is so unlike us. We are constantly coming to the end of our resources, aren’t we? We can amass everything that we could possibly amass, and it’s never enough. We can give our best effort, but we always come up short. We mean well but we fail to execute time and again. And we are always bumping up against the lid of our limitations. And John says, “Look, if you live as if you are the center of your life, you are always going to be coming to the very end of yourself. You’ll never have enough. You’ll never be enough. You’ll always fall short.”

But what if there was another way? What if you put Jesus at the center? What if you allow Jesus’ belovedness, His resourcefulness into the very center of your identity and your life? What if you knew before you got up in the morning that you were beloved? What if you knew that God was your Father and He cared for you every moment of your day? What if you knew you were perfectly safe in the love and infinite resources of your Heavenly Father? What if you knew you could rest, knowing that Jesus was enough for you in every way, because that’s exactly what Jesus offers.

Friends, Jesus deserves center stage by virtue of His resources. He’s the beloved inheritor, and He shares that inheritance with us. He gives us the right to become children of God, co-inheritors along with Christ. Don’t you see? We are better off when Jesus is at the very center, because whatever Jesus asks, the Father gives Him.

Now, the fourth reason, the last reason, is Jesus’s consequence. Jesus deserves to be at the center because of His consequence. Look at verse 36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Friends, Jesus is the most consequential person in the history of the universe. To believe in the Son is to have eternal life. To obey Him is to have life. Conversely, to not believe, to not obey is to miss out on that life. As Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

So the key to life, to abundant, eternal life is to believe, to obey in order that we might know the Son of God and His Father, our Father, who sent Him. That’s eternal life. That’s abundant life. That’s real life. And then unless we believe, obey, and know Him, the text says, “The wrath of God remains on us.”

Now, I know the phrase, “the wrath of God” makes some of us uncomfortable. This isn’t some sort of emotional tirade, as if God’s throwing a big fit at the head of the universe. No, this is much more like the wrath of the state against the tax evader. You know, the IRS comes. It’s not that they are particularly mad. It’s not a personal offense, but there is a settled opposition against lawbreaking, against injustice. And the point is here that the wrath of God means that God stands against us. And He stands against the venom of sin that is coursing through our veins. He stands against the self-centered living that typifies our lives. He stands against our selfishness and the harm and the hurtfulness of the way we live because, friends, this really is the core of our problem.

When we put ourselves at the center of our lives we invariably become deeply selfish human beings. We start to cave in upon ourselves. We begin to self-destruct and implode and we become incredibly small people. It’s kind of ironic, but the bigger our ego, the smaller we become, and the more havoc we start to wreak on other people. And God stands against us when we live like that. But friends, when we put Jesus at the center, when we believe that He has come from above, that He is the Son of God, He brings truth from beyond the world, that He has the key to life. And when we realize that Jesus has come to be lifted up on the cross, to die in our place and for our sake to bear all of our sin and shame, to cover us with His righteousness, to be raised to life so that we may be right with God, forgiven and cleansed and adopted and beloved in Him, when we obey His invitation to look to Him and Him alone, we can know Him personally and Jesus will come into our life. He will take center stage in our being, and then, friends, life, real life, eternal, abundant life can begin because, friends, Jesus deserves center stage by virtue of His position, of His expertise, His resources, His consequence in the universe. And don’t you see that we are better off when He’s at the center, because friends, Jesus matters more. Jesus matters more.

Do you realize there’s a gravitas to Jesus? There’s a substance. There’s a weightiness to Jesus that we simply don’t have. Just as the planets find stability in their orbit by rotating around in the system, around the object with the greatest mass, the sun, friends, our lives were meant to orbit around Jesus. And by ourselves, listen, by ourselves we simply do not have enough mass to stabilize our own orbit. That’s why the more we insist on autonomy, self-rule, and doing whatever we want, the more isolated we become because relationships require that we submit to one another, don’t they? And if I’m insisting on having my own way and having my own rule, (“I’m autonomous.” “You can’t tell me what to do.”) the more lonely and isolated I become. It’s a natural byproduct.

We also feel more anxious when we are autonomous. The more autonomous we are, the more anxious we feel because we have to carry all the weight of all of our decisions. It’s all on our shoulders for good or ill, and so we feel anxious and panicky. The more autonomous we are, the more unstable we become because we simply do not have enough mass to hold our own world into orbit, and the more coping we end up having to do to keep the charade going.

Friends, what if there was a better way? What if there was another way, the way that John is showing us here. “He must increase. I must decrease.” Friends, what if allowing Jesus to take center stage in our life is, in fact, the secret to really truly living? What if we let our egos die, and in its place found Christ’s life? What if we let control go, and in its place allowed Christ to rule instead? What if we allowed ourselves to be displaced and ended up finding ourselves in the process?

Do you realize Jesus said this in Matthew 16:25? He said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This is a great paradox at the very heart of what it means to follow Jesus, that the most alive place we can ever be is when we’re no longer at the center, when Jesus comes in. Not I, but Christ who lives in me.

Won’t you dare to be like John? Won’t you dare to let Jesus displace you, come in and be the center, take center stage in your life? Won’t you dare to turn this little statement into a prayer? He must increase but I must decrease.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we ask that you would have your way in us, that you would set up your rule and reign in our hearts, that you would take control. Father, we allow You to pry our stubborn fingers off the wheel of our lives, and say, “Drive, take over, you be at the center.”

Father, help us to realize how much life, how much grace, how much beauty, how much freedom there would be in letting go, and being decentered, and allowing you to have your rightful place not only in this universe, but in our lives as well. We yield to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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