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What makes a best man (or woman)

John 3:22-30 is a passage that is tucked away between Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and His visit with the women at the well in Samaria. It’s like the U.S. Grant Memorial which sits between the Washington Monument and the U.S Capitol—by  its very location it tends to be overlooked and under-valued. But as we’ll see, that’s in harmony with the great lesson taught there.

We’re told of a dispute that occurs between John’s disciples and “a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing” (3:25). John has previously mentioned six stone jars at the wedding feast in Cana “used by the Jews for ceremonial washing” (2:6). We know from episodes like the ones recorded in Mark 7:1ff and Luke 11:38ff that the Jewish leadership was enamored with such purification rituals. The baptism of John had nothing to do with that. It was from God (Matthew 21:23-27) and was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). It seems safe to assume that because it looked similar to the Jewish purification rituals but was so different, these kinds of discussions occurred frequently.

F. F. Bruce suggests that in the course of this dispute with a Jewish man and John’s disciples, the man alludes to what was happening on the other side of the Jordan—“He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him” (v. 26). This is the kind of thing that had been said in regard to John’s work (Mark 1:5). In musical terms, they are in danger of going from first chair to second chair.  They are clearly upset at the way Jesus’ numbers are tracking. What are they going to do? They will go tell John.

John’s words are like a bucket of water thrown in their face. He pointedly tells them three things. First, this is of God (v. 27). Next, this is in harmony with what I previously told you (v. 28). (It’s notable that John’s disciples seemed to have had as much trouble understanding his ultimate purpose as the disciples of Jesus did in regard to Christ’s mission). His third point is prefaced by wedding imagery—the best man setting everything up for the bride and groom. When they come together, the best man has done his job and is full of joy (v. 29). With this, John is telling them his work is done and “He must become greater; I must become less” (v. 30).

These words testify of John’s greatness. His disciples have jealousy, but he has joy. They want him to do something to reclaim his status, he wants to lose it to Jesus. There is much to learn from his example.

We live in a world that is blessed by people (both in and out of the kingdom) who selflessly serve others. But our world is also fragmented by tiny people all trying to be big by asserting their kingdoms. They’re like little ants scurrying all over the place promoting themselves and their agendas. In the end, we need one King and one kingdom that will bring us all together. That is why we are to pray to God for “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10).

It’s paradoxical but it’s true: there is no greater liberation than when we yield our will to God’s and content ourselves with whatever comes our way. There is really only one way to do this—like John, we find ultimate joy in Jesus and being used by Him. If others want titles, accolades or attention that’s their business, let us find joy in seeing Jesus exalted.

That’s what makes a best man or woman.

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