The Gospel Goes Up to Eleven (John 3:26-36)

The film This is Spinal Tap follows the exploits of heavy metal group Spinal Tap.  The film is shot “mockumentary” style.  That is, it’s a comedy masquerading as a documentary, much like the television series “The Office.”  In my favorite scene, the interviewer speaks with Nigel (the band’s guitarist) about their amplifiers:

Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…

Interviewer: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel : Exactly.

Interviewer: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Interviewer: I don’t know.

Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Interviewer: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Interviewer: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel: ……These go to eleven.

There was a time when John the Baptist faced a popularity contest.  Jesus’ other biographers tell us that John was originally a pastor’s kid, but later in life emerged from the wilderness smelling like Grizzly Adams and talking like Billy Graham.  His major achievements weren’t about himself.  They were about his cousin, Jesus.  But as Jesus’ popularity grew, John the Baptist’s popularity began to fade:

 John 3:26-36  26 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.”  27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  29 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.  30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Too often life becomes nothing more than a big popularity contest.  We fool ourselves into thinking ambition is the fuel for our achievement.  We live and die by our promotions and our accolades.  But John the Baptist wanted none of this.  His whole life was spent pointing toward someone else, someone far, far greater than he.  And it was of this person that John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  At Tri-State Fellowship, our own High School ministry uses this verse as the basis for their name: “Amp,” short for “Amplify.”  Our students learn that John the Baptist offers a very different message than that of the world.  In a world that thrives on self-promotion, John the Baptist offers a message of self-denial.  In a world of self-satisfaction, John the Baptist offers a message of self-sacrifice.

The things our world offers—pleasure, wealth, satisfaction—these are all the things that beg—nay, scream—for our attention and our devotion.  But amidst all the clamor and noise, the gospel is even louder.  The gospel goes up to eleven.

John the Baptist continues to address his lingering supporters:

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.  32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.  33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.  34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.  35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.  36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

John drives home that Jesus is far more significant than he could ever be.  And John—that is, John the author of this gospel—wants to include these statements for a strategic purpose.  John had been assembling his gospel in the city of Ephesus, a city where Jesus’ later followers knew only some of the basics they’d heard from John the Baptist (Acts 18:25).  John the author wanted to fulfill John the Baptist’s mission: to point people to something greater than the fragments of knowledge they possessed.

In our own world, we face many challenges.  Many things will compete for our attention.  The desire for achievement, the seduction of “celebrity.”  Other things will wound us deeply.  But the common thread in all of these things was simply this: they focus on ourselves.  On our best days, we like to think that our lives are vibrant, successful, full of life.  But John was onto something important: nothing is more damaging than self-absorption.

The world around me, the thoughts within me—these things are all ramped up to the level of a “ten.”  But the gospel goes up to eleven.

Are you listening?

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