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Gene’s Daily Scriptural Postings

Reflective Bible Study

Avoiding Apathy: John 3:23-36

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Year in John – Episode 7: Before John’s gospel fully shifts over onto focusing on Jesus’ public ministry, John briefly touches on something John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner in ministry, says about the Messiah who would come after him. Discover how John’s message is powerful and why it might not be very popular, even if it is ultimately true.

Read the transcript:

As we continue moving further into John’s gospel, John the author turns His attention back onto John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner in ministry. In this short event, John the Baptist says some amazing things about his ministry pointing people to Jesus, and he gives a profound summary statement regarding eternal life that is worth paying attention to.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 3, and we will be reading from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 23, John tells us in his gospel that:

23 John [the Baptist] was also baptizing in Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were going there to be baptized. 24 (This was before John was put into prison.)

25 Some of John’s followers had an argument with a Jew about religious washing. 26 So they came to John and said, “Teacher, remember the man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you spoke about so much? He is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 John answered, “A man can get only what God gives him. 28 You yourselves heard me say, ‘I am not the Christ, but I am the one sent to prepare the way for him.’ 29 The bride belongs only to the bridegroom. But the friend who helps the bridegroom stands by and listens to him. He is thrilled that he gets to hear the bridegroom’s voice. In the same way, I am really happy. 30 He must become greater, and I must become less important.

31 “The One who comes from above is greater than all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and talks about things on the earth. But the One who comes from heaven is greater than all. 32 He tells what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts what he says. 33 Whoever accepts what he says has proven that God is true. 34 The One whom God sent speaks the words of God, because God gives him the Spirit fully. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given him power over everything. 36 Those who believe in the Son have eternal life, but those who do not obey the Son will never have life. God’s anger stays on them.”

In this passage, as we read it together, a couple of ideas jumped out of these verses at me.

First, the way John the Baptist opens his reply about Jesus taking his followers is amazing. The way John the Baptist frames his ministry in relation to Jesus’ ministry is powerful. John knows that his ministry is entirely preparing people for Jesus, and when Jesus steps into the public eye, John wants people to pay more attention to Jesus than to him. In the first portion of his reply, John says: “A man can get only what God gives him. You yourselves heard me say, ‘I am not the Christ, but I am the one sent to prepare the way for him.’ … He must become greater, and I must become less important.” (verses 27-28, 30)

This is powerful in my mind because it tells me John knew His ministry and influence would shrink as Jesus’ ministry and influence grew. John understood His role as forerunner for Jesus, and he humbly accepts that his time in the spotlight would fade as Jesus becomes more famous. It is also interesting to note that we read about a brief period of time when Jesus and John the Baptist were both baptizing people, and that this happened prior to John the Baptist being thrown into jail.

Part of me wonders if God let John be thrown in jail to symbolize or simply mark the end of John’s ministry in an attempt to help push John’s followers over to Jesus. From how John describes his ministry, John is clear that he is not the Messiah, or the Christ, but that he was sent to point people to the Messiah. Even while not saying it directly in this passage, John focuses attention onto the detail that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, who God had sent into the world.

However, in the second portion of John’s response, another idea jumped off the page at me. In verse 36, John tells all his followers, “Those who believe in the Son have eternal life, but those who do not obey the Son will never have life. God’s anger stays on them.” This is a powerful statement. We discover that belief in Jesus brings eternal life, but lack of obedience forfeits eternal life.

Some might be quick to say that their preferred Bible translation does not say the word “obey”. Instead, their translation says something along the lines of: “he who does not believe the Son shall not see life”.

However, before our discussion dives into a debate about translations, the original Greek word in the first portion of this passage is different from the Greek word that is given later. The first word in our passage that is translated as “believe” has a similar but different meaning than the second word, which our passage translated as “obey”.

The first word, which is translated as “believe”, means “to be persuaded of” or “to place confidence in” which we could say is similar to trust. Trusting Jesus leads to having eternal life!

However, the second word, which our passage translated as “do not obey” has a slightly different meaning. While belief is part of its definition, it means not being persuaded, and there is a strong emphasis on the lack of belief leading to a lack of obedience. In my mind, this idea might be similar to apathy. If we are apathetic towards Jesus, and we don’t let the truth of the gospel affect our lives in visible ways, then we will never have life, much less eternal life.

Apathy towards Jesus is probably the worst thing we can do. If we say we believe Jesus, but we are apathetic towards Him, we will forfeit our salvation. Obeying Jesus does not give us eternal life, because when we obey Jesus, the focus can easily turn off of Jesus and onto how well we are obeying Him. Our salvation is not based on anything we can do or have done. We are only saved because of what Jesus accomplished for us.

When we accept Jesus’ gift and we let Him into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we begin the process of life transformation, or as some religious people describe it: “sanctification”. When we actively move towards Jesus, we are also moving away from sin and away from disobedience. It is our change in direction that prompts us to be saved because we are trusting and believing in Jesus! We are saved when our focus and the direction of our lives is towards Jesus. We lose our salvation when we are apathetic towards Jesus or we outright reject Him.

John the Baptist understood this amazing truth before Jesus had fully stepped into the public spotlight, and his declaration about Jesus, regardless of how popular or unpopular it is, forms the foundation for Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ life, and Jesus’ death on behalf of you and me!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and intentionally place your hope, faith, trust, and belief in Jesus and in what Jesus accomplished for us during His time here on earth. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we are offered a gift we do not deserve and a gift we cannot earn, and it is up to us whether we will accept this gift, even if it is unpopular, or be apathetic towards both the gift and the Gift-Giver.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and discover who Jesus is, who God is, and why this matters to us living over 2,000 years after these events happened. Through the pages of the Bible, discover God’s story and let God’s story define your story as we move forward towards eternity!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be apathetic towards where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

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