Skip to content

“He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease”


Pick one of today’s more “popular” preachers with a large following. Maybe it would be Joel Osteen with his average attendance of 52,000. Or maybe it would be the “Purpose Driven” preacher, Rick Warren, with his average attendance of 22,000.

Regardless of the numerically popular preacher’s name, can you imagine him telling his followers to quit coming to his church and start following another preacher? What would ever cause a popular preacher to do such a thing? Why would a preacher voluntarily surrender followers by directing them to someone else?

Why? Ask John the Baptist.

By the time Jesus began His earthly ministry, John the Baptist was already a well-established and popular preacher. Matthew reports, “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him.” (Matthew 3:5) They certainly didn’t go out to him because of his fashionable attire (camel’s hair and a leather belt) or because of his culinary choices (locusts and wild honey). They went because of his message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2) These were sinners, coming to the Jordan River to be baptized for the remission of sins.

How peculiar it is then, to learn that this popular preacher directed his disciples and followers to another preacher. In fact, John’s own disciples thought this was odd. “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (John 3:26)

John the Baptist then astonishes us as he says, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30)

What a striking picture this is of how John viewed his relationship to Jesus! John is like the best man at a wedding. The best man is not the focus of the wedding, the bride and groom are. The best man is excited that his friend is getting married.

That is the joy John had at the arrival of Jesus. John was called by God to prepare the way for the Bridegroom of the Church, Jesus Christ. John was not the Christ, the Savior of the world—Jesus was. God had sent John the Baptist to get the people ready for Jesus. Once Jesus arrived, the spotlight needed to be on Him. Jesus needed to increase, and John needed to decrease.

And really, isn’t this what the Christian faith is all about?

Jesus needs to increase, and we need to decrease. Listen to how the Apostle Paul put it: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9)

We need His righteousness by faith, rather than the soiled garments of our “best” works. We need His blood to cleanse us from all our sin. We need His Word and Sacrament to increase in our lives, so that our faith may be strengthened. In our congregations, our ministries, and our daily living, we, too, want the limelight to be on Jesus.

So of course John the Baptist would direct his followers to Jesus—John’s entire ministry was about Jesus. It was John the Baptist who pointed his followers to Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) May the Lord help us also to point people to Jesus, the Savior of the World!

Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington.