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.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 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 must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:25-30 ESV)
When I read this passage, I was really struck by John the Baptist’s complete joy. And as I studied and read further, I was blessed and challenged by what I came across. From John Piper’s Sermon, “He Must Increase, I Must Decrease”:
Why the mention of the bridegroom’s voice? Why does the friend of the bridegroom—John the Baptist—rejoice greatly over the bridegroom’s voice? Perhaps only because his voice means he is here. And the friend is glad he’s here. But I suspect it’s more than that. John the Baptist described himself in John 1:23 as “the voice” crying in the wilderness. His own voice has gathered a people. But now they are all leaving and going to Jesus. Why? Because another voice is being heard. A greater voice. A stronger voice. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . The sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3–4).
The bridegroom has the bride because the bride has a voice, and the bride knows the voice of her husband. And she leaves John and goes to him. John rejoices in the voice of the bridegroom, not just because the bridegroom is here, but because the voice gathers the bride—and it gathers her precisely away from John. Which is why the next words out of his mouth in verse 30 are, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It must be so. And in this I rejoice.
The “must” of verse 30 is very important. This is God’s must. It’s the must of a divine plan. In verse 27, God gives people to Jesus, and they leave John the Baptist and go to Jesus. This is God’s doing. This is part of the “must” of verse 30.
And in verse 28, God sends John not to be the Christ but to go before and point to him. So it’s God’s plan that John gather a people and then send them away to Jesus. This is part of the divine “must” of verse 30.
Then in verse 29, John focuses on the bridegroom’s voice. This is a voice superior to his own voice. This voice raises the dead (5:25; 11:43). This voice is known by all the sheep, and they follow (10:3–4). This voice woos and wins the bride. She knows her husband and goes to him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. We know that; she would not go to another. This is God’s doing. It is part of the “must” of verse 30.
So John sums up God’s work in verse 30: “He must increase and I must decrease.” He must. This is the plan of God. The Son of God, the bridegroom, will be exalted. He will be glorified. He will increase in the eyes of man. Or as verse 21 says, it will be “clearly seen” that the new works of all his people are his work.
And contrary to all ordinary human nature, this is why John the Baptist rejoices with great joy and calls his joy finally full. Verse 29–30: “[He] rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
This is why John, the writer of this Gospel, records these words here. Nicodemus was baffled by the Christ-exalting sovereignty of God in the new birth. John saw it and loved it: “Nobody leaves me and goes to Jesus unless it is given him from heaven (verse 27). And there they go—away from me to Jesus—so this is the work of heaven. This is the glorification of the Son, the Shepherd, the Bridegroom, the sovereign voice. He increases, and I decrease. And this is the fullness of my joy.”
That is what John, the Gospel writer, wants us to see. And be.
The chief end of man is this: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Quoting Piper’s sermon again, “When Jesus becomes greater in the world and I become lesser in the world, my joy increases. And when this is the purpose and plan of Jesus himself, it is not egomania. It’s love.”
And from a follow-up post of his here: “John’s crazy joy in the loss of all his followers was rooted in the supreme preciousness of Jesus.”
May we all possess such crazy, complete joy.