Jesus began His ministry in a spectacular way.
For His closest disciples, He performed a miraculous sign that revealed His glory. John 2:1-12 tells us about this miraculous sign. Jesus and His disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. You will remember that Galilee was Jesus’s base of operation as well as near His hometown. Jesus’s mother was also at the wedding, indicating that this wedding was for a couple known to Jesus’s family. At this wedding, Jesus turned water into wine. John 2:11 tells us:
This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.[i]
A few days after the wedding, Jesus made His way to Jerusalem for the Passover. During the Passover celebration, Jerusalem was a very crowded, busy place.
According to the noted scholar Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem had a population of about 20,000 to 30,000 people. But at Passover, one of the three festivals that must be celebrated in Jerusalem mentioned in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16, the Holy City's population swelled by perhaps another 150,000. Imagine every room filled, with campsites popping up on every available hillside, inhabited by Jewish people who had traveled from throughout the world.[ii]
Into this crowded, bustling city, Jesus walked in and caused a huge uproar. John 2:14-15 says:
14In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.
The nation’s leaders immediately demanded of Jesus what authority He had to do such a thing. John 2:18-19 says:
18But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”
19“All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Jesus’s remarkable entry into public ministry got the attention of the nation. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, followed up with a nighttime visit to Jesus to inquire what Jesus’s message might be, because it was obvious to everyone that Jesus was a teacher sent from God (John 3:1-21).
Immediately following these events John 3:22 tells us:
22Then Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and went into the Judean countryside. Jesus spent some time with them there, baptizing people.
After the Passover, Jesus did not immediately return to Galilee. He stayed in Judea, but went outside Jerusalem to the Judean countryside. This would make it necessary for people to come to Him. It would have reduced or eliminated the disturbance of life in the city, and it would have placed them in a setting where there was plenty of water to baptize large numbers of people.
John 4:2 explains that Jesus himself did not baptize people but His disciples did. In addition, John 4:1 makes it clear that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John. He sprung instantly from being unknown to being popular and famous.
Here at the beginning of His ministry it was necessary to define His place. Was He a teacher? Was He a prophet? Perhaps, He was a great pastor and caregiver. Perhaps, He was an entertaining sideshow, a diversion. In a time of political turmoil, Judea had seen plenty of people spring to fame and then disappear or go down in flames. A famous teacher of Israel, Gamaliel, named Theudas and Judas the Galilean as examples of people who rose quickly to fame and then were killed. (Acts 5:35-37) Who was Jesus anyway?
This is an important question for us today. Who Jesus is, is important not just because of His worldwide fame. Who Jesus is, is important because of who and what He is. It is important to you and me because as John the Baptist said:
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 (John 3:36, ESV).[iii]
Who Jesus is, is a matter of life and death.
John the Baptist was a man sent by God to be a witness to who Jesus was and is. John 1:6-7 says:
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus went to John to be baptized. At that point, John gave clear testimony to the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah. In John 3:23-36, John gives clear and complete testimony to who Jesus is.
John gives a clear statement that Jesus is above all.
He is the promised Messiah of the Jews. He is God in human flesh. He is from Heaven. He is above all.
Let us now take a look at John’s testimony about Jesus.
I will summarize John’s testimony by saying Jesus is above all. John 3:31 offers this testimony and repeats it, saying twice, “He is above all.”
John 3:23-27 demonstrates that Jesus is above the Law.
Of course, it stands to reason that if Jesus is God, and God is the Law-giver, then Jesus is above the Law. We are taught that no one is above the Law. And, humanly speaking, this is true. Especially since we all answer to God. However, God answers only to God. He is Sovereign and does exactly as He pleases. It is at this point that we realize that God is self-limiting. Jesus said:
“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” (John 5:30, ESV)
As the Trinity, God is both Law-giver and Judge, and He sent His Son to fulfill the just requirements of the Law.
John’s message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2) He was dealing with people’s failure to meet the righteous requirements of God’s Law. Therefore, when John 3:25 points out the debate with a Jew or some Jews over ceremonial washing, the text brings in the righteous requirements of the Law. How are we to satisfy the just requirements of God’s Law? Since no one met the just requirements, the Jews required ceremonial washing to cleanse one’s self from sin. However, this was symbolic and not actual since water cannot wash away sins that happen in the heart. Therefore, John taught baptism, symbolizing repentance and an appeal to God for a clear conscience. Now, there was a new person teaching yet another way. Because of this, John’s disciples went to John to sort things out. They started by pointing out that people were flocking to Jesus, the new way. John’s response is unequivocal. He makes it clear. He launches into a 30-second sermon that is unparalleled for its clear testimony to who Jesus is. His whole speech is about how Jesus is above all, which is another way of saying that Jesus is the Way. John starts out with:
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” (John 3:27, ESV)
This makes it clear: as to questions of ceremonial cleansings and being right with God and who people should go to, Jesus has the answer, given by the Law-giver Himself.
As John continues his brief but powerful sermon, he demonstrates that not only is Jesus above the Law, He is also above the prophets.
John was a prophet. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was so great that the Jews of His day asked him on more than one occasion if he was not the Messiah they had been waiting for. Therefore, in his role as prophet, John says to his disciples:
28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29The 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. (John 3:28-29, ESV)
John’s role as a prophet was to point to Jesus.
The prophets spoke for God to the people. They were not free to speak whatever they wanted, but were tasked to faithfully give the message that God gave. At times, prophets would complain bitterly to God about the message they were given to deliver. One prophet, Jonah, even tried to run away rather than deliver the message he was given.
Speaking of the ministry of the prophets, Jesus said:
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39)
This ministry of pointing to Jesus was the joy and motivation for the prophetic ministry, and it fell to John to be the man who would close out this prophetic ministry and introduce the Messiah to the world. Therefore, John uses the analogy of a best man and a bridegroom.
Key to our consideration today is John’s statement, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29, ESV).
John is signaling the end of his ministry, both the goal and the completion. As the last of the Old Testament Prophets, after a 400-year silence, John is signaling the consummation of the ministry of the prophets. And, he completes the thought by stating: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV).
Jesus is greater than the prophets, because He is their goal and purpose.
Questions about ceremonial cleansing led John to declare that Jesus was and is above the Law. Questions about his own ministry led John to declare that Jesus was and is above the Prophets. Next, John continues by declaring that Jesus is above all things.
The words of John 3:31-36 are an incredible treatise, exposing John’s deep understanding of Father/Son relationship of Jesus and the Father, Jesus’s Divine nature and the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation.
John starts in verse 31 by telling us that Jesus is from Heaven.
The prophets, including John, spoke from what God had revealed to them. However, John points out that Jesus spoke from firsthand knowledge, what He had seen and heard. The tragedy is “how few believe what he tells them” (John 3:32)
Jesus uses a parable to speak about what John is pointing out here. The story Jesus told goes like this:
“A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and moved to another country to live for several years. 10At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers attacked the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 11So the owner sent another servant, but they also insulted him, beat him up, and sent him away empty-handed. 12A third man was sent, and they wounded him and chased him away.
13“‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’ (Luke 20:9-13)
God gave the Law to tell us of His goodness, righteousness, love and justice so that we can love Him, be His friends and His people.
God gave the prophets to tell us of His goodness, righteousness, love and justice so that we can love Him, be His friends and His people.
Finally, God has given us His Son to show us His goodness, righteousness, love and justice so that we can love Him, be His friends and His people.
But still, how few accept His testimony! How few believe what He tells them!
Who is Jesus? He is the Son of the living God, and He is above all.
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. (John 3:36, ESV)
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] http://chosenpeople.com/main/holidays-and-festivals/191-passover-in-israel-past-and-present. Accessed May 5, 2017.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.