January 20, 2002: He Must Increase and I Must Decrease

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as Your humble followers we always need to keep our eyes fixed on You, on Your forgiveness for our sins, on Your strength given to us via Your powerful Word of truth and in Your sacraments. Today remind each of us to do just that. Remind us to turn all human acclaim and accolades back to You, alone, for it is in You and not ourselves that we live, move, and have our very being. Amen
TEXT: John 3: 30: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Everyone has heroes. Children to adults wear the jerseys of their favorite sports hero with their name emblazoned on the back. Some more cerebral people take great interest in the Nobel laureates. The winners of those prizes are heroes to those in their professions. Business “up-and-comers” often latch onto a senior executive, follow their career, and seek to emulate them. The public opinion polls for politicians are used today to gauge their heroic standing. And, of course, soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, the 9-11 police and fire rescue crews, they have taken the premier place in our consciousness when it comes to heroes, haven’t they? Yes, people everywhere look for heroes.

As much as we admire other human beings, for us Christians there is only one real hero. His name is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, Who has taken away the sins of the whole world! We wear His invisible jersey of holiness which He put on us in our baptism. We often wear His holy sign, the cross, around our necks. In this age of hero worship it is vital for all of us to remember the words of St. John the Baptist’s most important sermon. In God’s own words “no one born of woman was greater than John.” John was a hero! And yet this earthly hero said of Jesus Christ:


The story of John the Baptist is an interesting one. Most of us are well aware that he was Christ’s cousin, older by six months. We know that his birth was somewhat unique in that his parents were well past child-bearing years when God gave them their little boy. We know that from conception on God had great things planned for John-announcing to the world the coming of God’s Son, being His forerunner, or in modern football terms His “blocking back” who would clear the way for Jesus’ run to the cross. John was also a powerful preacher, teacher, and baptizer into a life of repentance and faith. Indeed, John had been schooled directly by God the Holy Ghost while off alone in the wilderness. He had the best seminary education known to mankind. Many thought of him as the Messiah. But John always set them straight on that-just as the words of our text clearly reveal. Even in the face of death John didn’t back down. Even in prison he was willing to call King Herod an evil man who needed to repent. And for his truthfulness John literally lost his head. He was murdered.

We’re not told much about John’s funeral, other than some of his followers came to the prison, got his body, and lovingly buried him. But knowing what we do of his message and his life, how do you think his funeral was handled? Do you think it was one long eulogy recounting all the great things John had achieved in his life? Or do you think it was a humble affair in which Christ was honored more than John? “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

How people handle funerals-what they say and do at such stressful times-reveals their relationship with God. It shows exactly what they really stand for. In our day it has become common to eulogize the departed and to focus on all the great deeds they have done and all the people they have helped in life. Sad to say, many weak Christians have bought into this approach, too. No doubt, most of you have been to such services in which the departed received more accolades than Christ, Himself! When I do a funeral I certainly talk about our Christian brother or sister and personalize their faith. But, I never do eulogies. The reason for that is our text: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” If the dead person is a Christian, they lived their life for the glory of God. As the Bible says of believers, “In Him we live, move, and have our very being.” Therefore, Christian funerals must focus on Christ, on His sacrifice for us on the cross, on His glorious resurrection from our grave, and on His giving to us eternal life through faith. To do otherwise disrespects our glorious Savior and robs all present of true comfort. That comfort being: only Christ can help you in life and death, the dead person lying in that coffin cannot.


In our gospel lesson John practices what he preached. He’s with a couple of his disciples, specifically John and Andrew. He sees Jesus coming towards him. And he exclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'”

That phrase, “the Lamb of God” was full of meaning to any Jew of that time. It was a reminder of countless Old Testament passages which spoke of the Messiah as being God’s Lamb, the One Who would willingly die to take away all human sin. Dr. Luther once said: “Sin has two places only where it may rest: either upon yourself, so that it hangs upon your neck, or it rests upon Christ, so that you are free and may be saved; choose therefore, what it shall be.”

By the power of Christ’s eternal love every Christian makes that choice. By His grace you have chosen not to walk around with the crushing guilt over your hidden sins. You have chosen not to approach God Almighty with an attitude which says: “You owe me because I’ve really tried to help others,” or that modern refrain “I’m a pretty good person.” Instead of trying to glorify yourself and your attempts at earning God’s approval via your “good deeds”, you dear Christian have chosen to repeat Isaiah’s words: “all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.” That is, you have chosen to humbly place yourself under Christ’s cross and trust in His power, strength, and love and not your own. In other words, each believer chooses to live out John’s blessed words: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

We live in an age of hero worship. We want heroes because we imagine we can live through them thus having our inner pride and ego stroked. Well, for the Christian the only true hero is Jesus Christ. And because He lived for you, died for you, and rose from the grave for you, yes because our living Lord gives you His glory through faith, you and I can live in the glow of His glory forever! Yes, in life and in death we eulogize Christ alone. “He must increase, while I must decrease.” May God grant us the grace to make those words our everlasting motto! Amen