John 3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 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—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 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. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
31 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. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Competition for baptismal candidates? No, not really. John has no interest in competition but, in fact, directs attention away from himself onto Jesus. That is his role. His final words recorded in this gospel are “He must become greater; I must become less.” With this, he can rejoice because his mission is coming to fulfilment.
Jesus, for his part, does not actually baptise anyone. It is his disciples who do the work instead (see John 4:2). There are several different kinds of baptism described in the New Testament. The baptism described here is not the Christian baptism referred to in places like Mt 28:19-20. Instead it is a call to repentance, in preparation for the coming kingdom of God– in the same category of John the Baptist’s ministry.
The coalescence of the two baptismal ministries leads us to consider John the Baptist’s joy in seeing his vocation fulfilled. John knows clearly what God has commissioned him to do and so is delighted and satisfied in that work. His wisdom saying, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven…” reveals a man content, under God, in knowing his role.
Lord, Grant that I may be similarly content to know my vocation with clarity and delight in its fulfilment.
Verses 31-36 seem to be further explanation and elaboration of John 3:9-21, as well as a summary statement of all that John’s gospel has revealed about Jesus to date. Notice how the themes of Jesus’ heavenly/divine origin, his testimony from God, and the necessity of faith in him for salvation are re-stated. Particularly, Jesus’ relationship with God as ‘father-son’ is foundational to his identity. This understanding of Jesus becomes the bedrock of a new series of ‘signs’, controversies and discourses that John is about to describe.
Also for prayer: turn the themes of John’s gospel stated in 3:31-36 back to God in praise. Give glory to Jesus for whom he really is! He must become greater and we must become less.