We Cannot Replace Jesus

John the Baptist
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
❖ Video
❖ Audio (Message)

We Cannot Replace Jesus

(John 3:22-30)

Mari Ikeda

     Today we are reading the continuation of the Gospel of John series, 3:22-30. This is actually the last time John the Baptist appears in this gospel. Appropriate for his final appearance, John’s words in this passage teach us something very important, as if they are his testament. That is today’s title, “We cannot replace Jesus.”

     We are told to love the people around us as Jesus loves us, and we can say in a way we are given the role of loving them on behalf of Jesus. But no matter how far we go, we can never be a perfect replacement for Jesus. There is a limit to how much we can love and forgive people as Jesus loves. It’s not an excuse or giving up, but rather it’s a fact that we all have to accept. It means that you should not expect from others what you should expect from Jesus.

     As always, I would like to read a little bit at a time. First, verses 22-24.

A. Our role is the same as John’s (22-24)

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 

     First of all, I would like to add some additional information about the situation described here, even though it is a little off the main content of the message. Here it is written that Jesus and John were baptizing people at different places at the same time, but this is a record that is only found in this Gospel of John. Other gospels say that Jesus began his activities only after John was imprisoned, and there is no record of Jesus baptizing people with water in the same way as John did. We don’t know which one is true, or whether they are all true but some were documented while others were not. But at least we can say that John the Baptist and Jesus were often compared among people in those days. Their teachings had many things in common, and they were both hated by those in power, while they were both loved by the people.

     The purpose of this passage is to teach that, although these two men were seen as similar to each other by the people, Jesus and John the Baptist had definite different roles. It also teaches us that we have been given the same role as John, which is different from the role of Jesus.

     John’s role was to go ahead of Jesus. It was to turn people’s hearts to God and call them to repentance. It was to become a calling voice in the wilderness, teaching that there is light and there is a way. This role of John is the role given to everyone who believes in Jesus. It is to tell each other and the world about Jesus, and call out that there is light and there is a way. But, as John made clear from the beginning about himself, we are not Jesus, we are not the Savior, and we are not God’s substitutes. We tell people there is light, but we are not the light; we tell people there is a way, but we are not the way. We tend to forget about it easily. Now let’s read verses 25-26 that follow. 

B. The mistakes we make (25-26)

25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

     It says, “An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing,” but it does not say how the argument ended. In addition, the argument was about ceremonial washing, but what John’s disciples complained to John was that more people were gathering to Jesus than to John. We do not know how the dispute over ceremonial washing led their rivalry with Jesus. I can only imagine, but John’s disciples may have been sarcastically said by their opponents during the dispute that Jesus was gaining more popularity than John. They may have been said, “You teacher is failing.” 

     In any case, the attitude of John’s disciples points to a mistake we are prone to make. Even though John himself insisted that he was not the Savior, and his disciples knew this, they still wanted their teacher John to be the best. Ultimately, they wanted John to be their savior. This is the same false expectation we have of those who have helped us. We want the people who helped us to be heroes forever, and we want them to always be the ones who understand us best. And even though we should have come to know the love of Jesus through the love of that person, at some point, we expect too much from that person and end up asking that person what we should be asking of Jesus. Or we ourselves may be expected to do that by others and try to meet them. It has painful consequences for both sides. Because none of us can accept and love someone else’s entire existence. We are all weak beings who need the assurance that God loves us. 

     Then, what kind of attitude we should take toward people, the following words of John express most simply in the Bible. Let’s read verses 27-30. 

C. The attitude we are aiming for (27-30)

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

1. “I am not the Messiah”

The attitude we should have is first and foremost, as John repeatedly said, to realize and show others that I am not the Messiah (Savior). In other words, it is to admit that we are not God and that we have no power to save people. It seems simple, but being appreciated, asked for help, and needed is such a great temptation that we tend to be conceited and arrogant. If you feel that only you can save this person, or if you feel that you know this person best, then I think you are crossing the line. All we can do is testify that there is a God who knows each of us better than anyone else, and that God is always ready to help us. We are not the Savior, but it is our job to show that the Savior is surely there for us.
However, this is not an excuse for doing nothing because there is nothing I can do for others, nor is it giving up. There are in fact many things we can do for others to show God’s love and to show that the Savior surely exists. We can think for ourselves and carry out by ourselves what kind of words Jesus would say and what kind of actions He would take for this person.We are all imperfect and we make mistakes.Yet that is the role given to us and to John to be the calling voice in the wilderness.

2. The friend who introduces the bride to the groom (Isaiah 62:5, Ephesians 5:30-32)

     Next, I would like to note John’s use of the bride and groom analogy. This is an Old Testament tradition, and there are several examples, but I would like to read one of them. Isaiah 62:5.

…as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

The Old Testament also teaches us that God loves and waits for us, just like the bridegroom who waits and rejoices for his bride. This tradition was applied to the relationship between Jesus and the church after Jesus came. Let’s read Ephesians 5:30-32. 

for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:30-32)

  In other words, what Jesus wants us to do is that we, as individuals and as a church, become one with Him as His partners and become a part of Him.
However, what John teaches here is that while we are Jesus’ brides, we must also be the bridegroom’s attendants. As English translation simply translates as “friend,” while Japanese translates as “attendant,” the word can be translated either way. It means that we have a role to play in introducing someone else to Jesus as His friend and attendant. Let’s read John’s words again.

“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.”

None of us can own anyone. Each of us belongs to Jesus. Therefore, the last words of John teach us the attitude we should aim for.

3. “He must become greater; I must become less.”

“He must become greater; I must become less.”

It is a necessary and a miracle for us weak people to help each other. However, the goal we should always aim for when helping people is that they no longer need our help. In other words, it means that even if we don’t keep telling them about God’s love, they themselves will come to believe in God’s love. It means that even if we don’t call out to them, they themselves directly seek the voice of Jesus. That’s why, “He must become greater; I must become less,” and “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits …is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.” Rather than being relied upon or being able to help others, we rejoice in being able to share with each other experiences of being helped by Jesus. And if we can praise Jesus together, we will be able to forgive each other’s weaknesses and mistakes and learn to truly love each other.

(Prayer) Dear God, thank you that You love each one of us and rejoice over us as a groom rejoices over his bride. Please use us so that we can share your love with those around us and rejoice together. We often lose sight of you in the face of difficulties. At such times, please guide us so that we can faithfully help each other as mirrors that reflect your love and as voices that deliver your voices. We cannot replace you. But please help us to be like you. Please help us to praise you together and to be able to walk through each day. Lord Jesus, I pray in your name. Amen.


Anyone who believes in Jesus has the role of preaching God’s love to people, just like John the Baptist. We can never take Jesus’ place. We are not saviors ourselves. If we misunderstand this point, we may become arrogant or others may have unreasonable expectations of us. We need each other’s presence to believe in Jesus, but our greatest joy is not so much in being able to help each other, but in sharing the experience of being helped by Jesus.

For Discussion

1. Have you ever been disappointed by someone who you thought would help you?

2. How can we love people like Jesus when we can’t take Jesus’ place?