“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.” (John 3:28–29, ESV)
The more I think about John the Baptist’s statement here, the more impressive it appears. At the height of his popularity, people from all over Judea and Jerusalem were coming out to hear him preach and to be baptized by him. He must have been huge! After all who can resist a wild, crazy man out in the desert who speaks plainly and boldly, and was willing to stick it to the pompous religious people of the day, whom he helpfully calls you brood of vipers! (Matt 3.7)[Ouch. That must have hurt].
Then along came Jesus and pretty soon his popularity was waning. Not as many people came out to hear him. Even his own disciples deserted him for Jesus (John 1.37). Better to have never been popular at all than to go from headliner to also-ran [Think Billy Ray Cyrus after “Achy Breaky Heart”].
In John 3.26-30, the poor man gets his chance to let his emotions have the best of him. His disciples point out the obvious: “Look!…All are going to him. It isn’t fair. You’re older. You’ve been at this longer. You’re eating locusts, for pete’s sake, doesn’t that count for anything?”
What does John say? “I’m just the friend of the bridegroom, boys.” The friend of the bridegroom was selected by the groom to take care of all of the wedding stuff, so the groom could concentrate on his bride. He did the negotiation over the marital “contract.” He carried messages between the bride and her groom. As A. T. Robertson points out: “His office is to bring groom and bride together.” When that happens, says John, the friend of the bridegroom rejoices! The literal translation is something like “with joy, rejoices!”
John’s disciples expect him to agree with them. “Yes boys, that man is stealing all my
church members people that come out to hear me preach. There is something wrong with that picture.” Instead he says, “I’m happy, boys, and you should be too. I’m nothing but the friend of the bridegroom, and now that he is here, I am filled with joy.” Remarkable. John happily accepted being marginalized in his ministry; he rejoiced.
There is a message here for us. Are we so convinced of our ministry and so committed to our bridegroom, that we accept any assignment from him and with joy, rejoice, because we get to play a little part in Jesus’ great mission? Can we be happy being marginalized for the fame of Jesus’ name? John the Baptist could and did.