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Let me again start by saying thank you for the invitation to be here this morning, but even more so, for your support of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in downtown Detroit. As a church, you, Christ Covenant, should be very encouraged that there is a brand new, particularized church. We have our own deacons, we have our own elders, right in the middle of the city of Detroit, and it’s a church that you helped to plant, so that is the idea of Presbyterianism, sort of our churches all working together, so from me as one of the pastors and from my entire congregation up in the Motor City, we extend our deep thanks to you.
I listened to a bit of the sermon last week from Dr. Nunez. What a wonderful, gifted, humble man and he also has such a very long list of accomplishments. He’s a pastor, a seminary president, on the side medical doctor treating COVID patients, and I can assure you that this week my titles are much shorter. I think the only reason that I am here is that I do know your senior pastor, Kevin DeYoung, very well.
As you heard we worked together for 13 years in East Lansing, Michigan. I came on staff doing campus ministry. Kevin began as the senior pastor and Kevin was only 26 years old as a senior pastor, so he was young, we were all very young, and yet somehow in God’s wisdom, and with lots of God’s grace and help, it all seemed to work out and was a wonderful season of ministry up in Michigan.
I’ve gotten to know Mike Miller well the past couple years. Mike, his wife Connie, have hosted me this weekend. What a wonderful, delightful, encouraging couple. Mike asked me to share some stories about your senior pastor Kevin, maybe some stories that you have not heard about Kevin DeYoung, but here’s the thing: Whatever embarrassing stories I might have about Kevin DeYoung, he has way more embarrassing stories about me, and so for the sake of my own self-preservation, I am not going to say very much. I will say this: Kevin is a wonderful pastor and he is a good friend, and he is this just very unusual combination of being a world-class thinker, so Kevin can read big books, he can write big books, he can teach very complicated ideas, complicated theology, so he is this brilliant, world-class thinker combined with the taste buds of a child. This weird combination. Very, very few people are like your pastor. I’m still amazed. I think he’s gotten even pickier since I last saw him, just Mountain Dew and Fritos and all sorts of things that are not good for you, Kevin. So we need to help him.
One quick story. We had the DeYoungs over for dinner one night. My wife worked very hard to come up with a meal that would bless Pastor Kevin. Of course, Trisha, she’s grateful and godly and calm and just sort of glows heaven when you meet her. So Trisha’s easy, but Kevin’s a little bit more complicated. So my wife worked very hard to come up with a meal to bless Pastor Kevin, and the best that she could come up with was Jell-O, which is sugar in artificial flavoring, so my wife made the Jell-O. The one mistake was that she put some fruit in the Jell-O, again not exotic fruit; we’re not talking about dragon fruit or passionfruit, nothing like that. I thought they were strawberries, Kevin told me after the first service probably not strawberries, that would have been the one fruit he would have eaten, but maybe cherries or pineapple, something very simple.
So we had a very lovely dinner with the DeYoungs. Afterwards we’re cleaning up the dishes and as we were cleaning up, we realized that Kevin picked all the fruit out of the Jell-O and only ate the sugar water, so please for the sake of my friend, stay on him, give him some vegetables, give him a vitamin. We need Kevin to be healthy.
Your church has also become somewhat of a hub for people living in the state of Michigan. Certainly the DeYoungs are now here, my very good friends Barry and Sarah Peterson are also now a part of your church, the Groelsemas, Pastor Tom is now here, a number of your interns, so one of your interns next year is Ben Preiser and his wife Alyssa, they were former students of mine at Michigan State. So all these Michigan families are migrating to Charlotte, and I feel like I just need to be honest with you, and I want to play my cards up front, and I’ve already told this to Mike Miller and Mike Miller agrees: One of the reasons I’m here is to make some partnerships with your church, perhaps with even RTS, so that you would begin to send some people to us. We don’t want to send you all of our best people; we need lots of help up in metro Detroit.
For all of the people that Detroit has lost over the past 50 years, metro Detroit is still about 4.5 million people. And for all the growth that you are experiencing here in Charlotte, I just see new buildings everywhere, Detroit is still about 2 million people more than Charlotte, and so for 4.5 million people in metro Detroit, we have four PCA churches. Two of our churches are brand new, one was brought in as a transfer from a different denomination and one of our churches is barely hanging on, so we need lots of help up in metro Detroit.
For the actual city of Detroit, and now I’m not talking about the suburbs but the actual city, which is slightly smaller than the city of Charlotte but they’re about the same size, for the actual city of Detroit, Redeemer is the only PCA church, and it’s not because the OPC is exploding or the United Reform church or anything like that. There are very few faithful churches in the city of Detroit.
So we have suburban churches that are often very light, very fluffy, and then churches in the city that often focus on health and wealth. Dearborn and Hamtramck are two cities that are within a bike ride of my home and those two cities combined is the largest population of Muslims in the United States, and so we have our work cut out for us, and we need churches like yours, churches that have people and money and resources, to help plant churches in other cities like the city of Detroit.
But the exciting thing is that the Lord is blessing us, the Lord is at work in downtown Detroit. Our church continues to grow on a consistent basis and we have actually just brought on a new church planter. He’s accepted the call and so he is going to plant our very first daughter church up in the northern suburbs, and that work is going to begin this upcoming August. But we are going to come back to church planting later in this message.
Our sermon test for this morning comes from the Gospel according to John, this is the book that we are working our way slowly through up in Motown. It has been a great blessing to us at Redeemer and I hope that it will be a blessing for you as well. This is the reading of God’s Holy Word.
From John, chapter 3, starting in verse 22: “After this Jesus and His disciples went into the Judean countryside, and He remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 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.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 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. He must increase, but I must decrease.””
This ends the reading of God’s Holy Word.
Here is the goal for this sermon: That we might understand Jesus for all that He is, that we would see the risen Christ, overall that we would see Jesus who is the purpose of all things, that we would see Jesus as the savior of our souls and the hope of the nations, and that we would long to see Jesus increase even at the expense of our very own names.
Because of you are convinced of that, if you are convinced of verse 30, which is the increase of Christ, the decrease of the self, if you are convinced of that, I’m not going to even have to convince you of evangelism and church planting, because if you are convinced of verse 30, then you will be chomping at the bit to help us plant churches.
And so that is the goal for this morning.
But let’s first set the stage for what is happening here in John chapter 3. This is very early in the ministry of Jesus and so Jesus is still relatively unknown, but even with the very little that the crowds know about Him, they are already beginning to discern that there is something utterly different about this man. So Jesus is doing baptisms in the Judean countryside, John the Baptist is not far away, and John the Baptist is, of course, knows for doing baptisms. That’s his name, John the Baptizer, John the Baptist.
So at this point you now have two options: Who are you going to follow? Are you going to follow Jesus or are you going to follow John?
And again at this point in the Gospel according to John, Jesus is relatively unknown but He has already made some striking comments about who He is.
So if you were to go back in your Bible to John chapter 2, you would see the very first miracle of Jesus where He turns water into wine. Later in the chapter Jesus proclaimed that God is His Father as He is flipping over tables in the temple. The first part of John chapter 3 is Jesus interacting with Nicodemus and He would tell Nicodemus that the Son of Man is going to be lifted up and that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.
So we are only three chapters into this Gospel account and Jesus has already made some strong claims. And John the Baptist agrees with all that Jesus has said. In fact, John’s very first declaration, going back to John 1:27, is “Behold,” look, look to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
So John the Baptist knows exactly who Jesus is. In chapter 1 and now here again in chapter 3 verse 28, John the Baptist is going to make this free confession that Jesus is the Christ and that he is not the Christ, John is not the Christ. The people back in chapter 1 actually want to make John the Christ. They’re wondering, “Are you Him?” so John needs to make it very clear that he is not.
Can you just imagine that? Just being so gifted in ministry that people are actually tempted to think that you are the Christ? But that’s what they’re asking John back in chapter 1. That’s how effective John the Baptist is in Gospel ministry. People think that he might be the Christ, that he might be the Anointed One, that he might be the Messiah. So John needs to make it very clear that he is not.
But that is quite the compliment. The best compliment I might get after a sermon is somebody from my church will come up and say, “Hey, Pastor, your sermon was decent.” That’s that best that somebody would ever say to me. Nobody has ever asked me, “Are you the Christ?” No matter how effective your small group is during the week, I doubt anybody has said, “Are you actually Jesus?” But that is how good John the Baptist is.
So John the Baptist has this following, this influence, this giftedness, that people are asking, “Are you the One we have been waiting for?”
In 2021 Western culture, one of the great values that people, I think especially people my age and younger, is that they are seeking a following. They want influence, they want a crowd. If you could have a following, especially a following online, then you have it made. If you could have an account and people can watch what you eat on Friday night downtown, if you can take pictures of your sushi bowl or your ramen bowl, if you can post some pictures about how you dress and how you decorate your loft in the city, if you can have influence over people online, then you have it made. Our culture says more followers, more influence, more joy for you.
But not for John the Baptist. John the Baptist is a counter-cultural kind of guy. First off, he wears camel fur, he eats bugs, so he’s a little odd in the first place. But even more than just being a very unique and odd kind of fellow, what makes John so wonderfully refreshing and counter-cultural is that he does not live for a following. John has a crowd, John has influence. John has everything that a millennial would ever want in life. Yet John is willing to give it all away because he knows that the fullest life is not found in having followers, it’s not found in having influence, but real life is found in making much of Christ.
You see this in verse 26. Some of John’s disciples are coming to him, they’re saying, “Hey, John, just want to give you a heads up here, in case you haven’t noticed, your ministry is dwindling. John, your hallmark is that you’re the baptist, you’re the baptizer. That’s your claim to fame. And now people aren’t even going to you anymore to be baptized, they’re going to Jesus. Your ministry is shrinking.”
If you’re somehow under the impression that people in ministry aren’t competitive, that we aren’t aware of what God is doing in the church across the street or how the other church plant seems to be doing everything right, then you have a far too gracious view of us. We are very aware of other churches and other ministries.
And John’s disciples here are no exception. John’s disciples, they want to be part of the very cool, up and coming ministry. They don’t want to be stuck with a ministry that is dwindling. They don’t want to be with a ministry that is about to come to an end.
It’s not that the disciples of John are necessarily against Jesus, they’re just thinking, well, just leave a few followers for us. Some can go to Jesus, but make sure there’s enough of a crowd left here with John.
For that reason, John the Baptist has always been one of my heroes in the Bible, because he just seems to have this very unique, this very humble, this very refreshing understanding of what his role in life is. He has this understanding that not many of us have. John knows that his role is to make much of Christ and very little of himself. And John is so convinced of that role that he is going to see it through, even if it means every one of his followers is going to leave to go and be with Jesus.
You see more specifically his role in verse 28 through 29. The term that we would use today is that John understood himself as the best man in a wedding. The term “best man,” it’s not a phrase that they would have used in the culture of Jesus, but in essence that is what John is saying. John lives to help other people get to the wedding of Christ and the church. John’s the best man, he’s the matchmaker, he’s trying to set up people with Jesus to get married and then he is going to step away and let God do things that only God can do.
Just imagine how awkward it would be, at a wedding, you have a handsome young guy at the front of the church and the big doors in the back of the sanctuary open, this beautiful bride comes down, the couple meets at the front, they hold hands, they share their vows, they give a kiss, people are taking pictures. Imagine just how awkward it would be if the best man sort of is sneaking over towards the center and photo bombing the pictures. The spotlight should be on the couple, that’s the point of the wedding, that is the point of the day. It’s not for the bridal party, it’s not for the maid of honor, it’s not for the best man. It would be entirely inappropriate. The role of the best man is to set up the couple, get them to the front of the church, and then get out of the way, and not to be in the pictures.
And that is the role of John the Baptist. His role is to pave the way for Jesus Christ. His role is to introduce people to who the real Jesus is. His role is to set the stage for the greatest wedding of all time, which is the wedding of Christ and the Church. And then once the wedding is set, John is content to get out of the way and to be forgotten.
If the ministry of Jesus explodes in popularity, and if that means that all of John’s followers will leave, all of John’s influence comes to an end, John will not be devastated by the loss of his influence, but rather he will have complete joy in that he has fulfilled his role in life.
What’s very remarkable about all of this is that he’s not just content by his shrinking ministry; in verse 27 John sees his shrinking ministry as a gift from heaven, the gift of a shrinking ministry. John is so Christ-centered, that if his ministry ends, he is going to be okay. No more likes, no more tags, no more followers on Instagram. It’s all done, it’s all over. And because John is so fixed on Christ, he actually sees this as a gift from heaven.
In my mind, and this is just for me personally, the most astonishing verses here are the final sentence of verse 29 and then verse 30: Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He, Jesus, Son of God, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He must increase, and I must decrease.
You see, John’s complete joy is connected to verse 30. The word “complete” there is in the Greek perfect tense, so all you RTS students will know this, this is a strong word, it’s a strong tense, the perfect tense refers to a completed action in the past with an ongoing present effect. There cannot be a stronger use of the word “complete.” That’s how complete it is. It happened and it’s still impacting John. The more fame that Jesus gets, the more complete John’s joy is.
And then, most shockingly, the more the name of John decreases, the more complete John’s joy is. Our joy is correlated with the increase of Christ and the decrease of the self. It’s not just that Jesus must increase; it is that we need to decrease as well.
So that is our great role in life.
Now, yes, of course, John the Baptist did play a very unique role in redemptive history. He was the one that actually prepared the way for the physical ministry of Jesus on earth. None of us have that role, I understand that. But there is still significant overlap. We must live to the increase of Christ around the world and to the decrease of ourselves. And it is that second part which is often the most difficult. Jesus increasing, I got that, we want to make much of Him. But it is the second part that is often far more difficult.
As you heard I am one of the pastors at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Detroit. The Lord has been very kind to us these past couple years. There was a time, not very long ago, when people said a church like ours in a city like Detroit just is not possible. We’re too Reformed, we’re too liturgical, we’re, some would say, maybe we are too rigid. I don’t know. But a number of people said a church like yours is impossible in Detroit. But apparently, with God’s help, it is actually possible, so we are a growing church even with just the nightmare of the year that was 2020. We grew by I think around 50 people. We have lots of babies, lots of pregnant moms, we have adults that are being baptized, neighbors that are coming to faith. We have college students coming to our church. So it’s been really a good year, ministry-wise, at Redeemer.
And then, because of COVID and us being kicked out of the spot that we were renting, we moved into this old Catholic church, so this is now our permanent church home, it’s an amazing building. It’s built in 1908. Just the stain-glassed windows are valued in the millions. It’s all handcrafted in Germany. There’s this dome ceiling, the tallest, unobstructed dome in the state of Michigan. Marble, bronze, gold… We have it all.
So we’re in this beautiful building in downtown Detroit, and we are a growing church when everybody said that it was impossible to even plant a church in Detroit. And of course, yes, we want Jesus to get glory. But if I’m being honest, there is something in me that says, well, maybe Redeemer should get some credit as well. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ, got it, but the name Redeemer of Detroit, that sounds good. A church brand name in the city.
And if I’m being even more honest with you, and this is absolutely to my shame, I think, well, maybe the pastors should even get some of the credit. Jesus getting most of the credit, but can’t I get a little bit as well? Jesus should increase, and the name of Redeemer should increase, then maybe right behind it all, the pastor.
But here’s the thing. If you were to dig through all the Presbyterian history in Detroit, which I recognize you are not going to do, but if you were to do it, you would realize that we are not even the first Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the city, that there was actually a different Redeemer. This gorgeous old stone church, she opened her doors in 1923, stained glass windows, it’s right on Grand Boulevard, which is just a few blocks away from the Motown house, all the famous Motown singers would have walked by Redeemer Presbyterian. I’m sure it was a great church, a well-known church, a great name. And that church was demolished a few years back to make room for the Cancer Center at the hospital downtown.
Churches and names and brands and even buildings all come and go and will one day be brought to a pile of stones.
John Monteith is a Detroit name that you likely do not know. When you think of the city of Detroit, we do have a number of well-known names, Henry Ford, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Smokey, the Supremes, all those sort of names that are well-known and live on in our culture, but the name John Monteith is a name that you likely do not know. John Monteith was the first protestant missionary to make his way to French Catholic Detroit. And not only was Monteith a protestant, he was actually one of us, he was a Presbyterian. So he was a Princeton grad, for those that are interested in these sorts of things. He lived with Archibald Alexander, he would actually tutor his sons. So John Monteith is exceptionally smart, very gifted.
And when he made his way to Detroit, he was wildly effective in ministry. So a number of churches that were planted by Monteith. He would then go on to start the Detroit Public Library system, which is a wonderful collection of books. And then perhaps most impressively, he was the founder and first president of the University of Michigan. So this man was good at ministry. And yet today, in the city of Detroit, he is completely forgotten.
Travel around the city, you might see a street named after him, maybe his name on the side of a school building, an elementary school, but even then when you see the name Monteith, nobody knows who or even what a Monteith is.
Churches come and go, brands come and go, buildings come and go, pastors come and go. We all will eventually decrease to such a point that we are forgotten when we are put in a casket and we are laid in a grave. We will decrease.
John Monteith knew this. In light of his decreasing life, John Monteith lived to make much of the name of Christ, who is the one name that will last.
In light of your decreasing name in this world, make it your singular aim in life to see the increase of Christ, that is the one name that is permanent and it is the one name that is going to last for all time. All other names will come and go, but it is the name of Christ that will stand.
Now I recognize we all have lesser roles. You might be a mom or a dad or a college student or a young professional; we all have lesser roles. But we share in this one common role, which is the role of John the Baptist, to decrease in life by increasing the fame of Jesus. And if you are convinced of this role, if you are convinced that you will have the absolute most joy in life by doing what God has called you to do, which is as the Catechism reminds us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as John the Baptist would say essentially the exact same thing, to increase the name of Jesus for our own joy. If you are convinced of that, you will be committed to church planting.
Church brands come and go, pastors come and go, ministries come and go, but there is absolutely one thing that is going to last throughout all of time, and it’s the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the work of His Church around the world.
Yes, it is true the churches with little c’s might not last, likely will not last. But the work of Christ and His Church with a capital C is going to last. So give yourself, without reservation, to the one thing that is going to last, and it is not yourself.
The rest of the Gospel according to John is the story of Jesus increasing. Certainly He increases with the crowds, but even more so, the real increase is the death, the resurrection, and then His ascension. That’s when the full increase of Christ will be there for the world to see.
This is actually something I learned from Kevin back in my East Lansing days. After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, what do the apostles do? So the apostles want to make much of Jesus, they want to increase His name. What do they do in the book of Acts? They do three things. They preach the Gospel, they do discipleship, and they plant churches.
And we notice as well when we get to Acts chapter 8:4 that it’s not just the apostles that are doing this work but it’s all the Christians that are scattered throughout the city and scattered throughout the world. Acts 8:4 says they went about preaching the Word. The “preaching” there in Greek is closer to “gospeling” the Word, it’s where we get the word “evangelism.” All the believers are doing it. They’re going about sharing Christ with the end goal of making churches. Planting churches is one of the best ways to increase the name of Christ.
And I suspect that this is because we are coming off an election year, a very contentious election year, to say the least. This is just my sense, I have no report or studies to back this up, but my sense is that there are a number of Christians that are panicked over the state of our country, and for very good reasons. There are a number of things that are very concerning in the culture today. So we absolutely need to pray for Christian politicians, Christian media workers, and Christian social influencers.
But what has been so striking to me this past year is there has been so much energy and enthusiasm and money that has been given to changing laws and getting the word out and how we are to vote. Again, that can be all very good, but I have not sensed nearly as much enthusiasm about evangelism and church planting. Changing laws without conversions of the heart towards Christ is like putting lipstick on a pig. The single best way to influence a culture is to plant churches. Churches in Charlotte, churches in Detroit, churches in Beijing, far away, because the church is the one institution where the name of Christ will increase and His name will last.
There’s a very well-known quote. It’s ingrained into the mind of every church planter that I’ve ever met. It’s from C. Peter Wagner. He says, “Planting churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
If you are concerned about our nation, if you are concerned that the United States is not godly, if you are concerned that we are not more Christ-centered, if so, then help us to plant more churches. They don’t have to be big mega churches. We actually have far more mega churches in the US now than we’ve ever had before and yet we have more and more people not going to church, so we don’t need lots of big churches, we just need churches that are small, efficient, committed to evangelism, committed to discipleship.
That’s all we need. We just need a movement of Christians across the country and across the world that are committed to the increase of Christ in the church. A movement of people that understand what John understood, the more that Christ increases and the more that we decrease, there’s more joy for us. More glory for Jesus, less glory for us. The more people that we can get to the wedding of Christ and the Church and then get out of the picture, it will be for our eternal joy.
The world needs Christians that understand the truest and fullest and most completed joy in life is found in making much of Jesus and little of us. The world does not need more of us, it doesn’t need more of a brand, it doesn’t need more of a personality, it does not need more of a clever church marketing strategy. It certainly does not need more churches or Christians that want to steal some of the glory, steal some of the credit. What the world needs is humble Christians, humble churches that know their great role in life, which is to increase Christ.
Because underneath this entire sermon message is the fundamental understanding that Jesus alone is enough for the world. That Jesus is enough. There is nothing in any one of us that can sustain any other person, let alone ourselves, Jesus is enough. Christ can sustain. His life, His death, His resurrection, it is all enough, the whole Christ is enough for this world.
The active obedience of the real Christ is enough for the world. By active obedience, I mean that every single second of the life of Jesus was lived in perfect obedience to God’s law. There was never a moment when Jesus was outside of the Father’s moral will. There was no temptation that was too great for Him. No inner thought led him astray. He was pure in both action and in mind. He fulfilled the law in your place. His active obedience is enough.
The passive obedience of Jesus the Christ is enough. By passive obedience, I mean that at His death He suffered silently, as He sat through a sham trial, as thorns were placed on His head, as He was mocked, as He was spit upon, as nails were placed into His hands and into His feet, He suffered silently. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus passively suffered a substitutionary death as He took credit for our sin. It was a death that not He but we deserved. The passive obedience of Jesus the Christ is enough.
The resurrection of Jesus the Christ is enough. Three days later Jesus would rise from the grave. He rose not to earn our justification but as the proof that justification was purchased in His death. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid that wage with such fullness, with such finality, with such completion, that death no longer had any claim on Him so Jesus burst from the ground as a living declaration for all to see that the debt has been paid in full. He is the receipt that the debt is paid. Death no longer stings because the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is enough.
The ascension of Jesus as the Christ is enough. The ascension is where Jesus would ascend into heaven and to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. What does a king do when the war is over? He goes home and sits down, and Jesus, who is the victorious king, who has paid the debt, no more work to be done, Jesus now sits.
The overarching, main point of the Gospel according to John is that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the only Christ, and that He is enough. He’s enough. All alone and all by Himself, Jesus is enough.
So know your role in life. Life so that Jesus who is the Christ, who is enough, live so that He might increase, live so that you might decrease and get out of the way.
One of the very best ways to make this all happen is to invest in the planting of churches around the world. The Church is the institution where the kingdom of Christ most clearly breaks through. As Calvin would say, the great task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible. And where is it the most visible? It is inside the walls of the church.
You want to see Christ increase? Then help us to plant some more churches.
Let’s pray. O Lord, may this all by Your grace be true of us, that we would live like John the Baptist, that we would live in such a way so as to make very little of ourselves and very much of Your Son who is sufficient. Be with us now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.