I must decrease that he might increase. That was the way John the Baptist described his vision of his task. After a successful time of ministry, where entire communities and regions came out to hear his proclaiming the coming Christ and the fulfillment of God’s promises, his time was coming to a close.
For those who followed him, trusted him, and looked up to him, this was incomprehensible. They knew the deprivations that he had endured in life, the limitations of ease provided from the wilderness. Dressing in camel hair clothing, eating locust and wild honey, John is described as one who lived on the diet of the nomadic desert people of Arabia.
He stands in sharp contrast to Jesus, not eating bread nor drinking wine, His was an ascetic life, avoiding crowds, on the fringe of the din and roar of the cities. Jesus, instead, has a more traditional interaction with people, in villages and cities and along the roads traveling from place to place.
Their ministries did not conflict, more one building on the other. John found no occasion for jealousy, it was natural that one who lays a foundation would expect a carpenter to build upon it.
Not so with some of his disciples. Having followed him, learned from him, and had hope inspired through him, they did not desire the decline. When they heard of the success of Jesus, it sparked concern in them.
As the Apostle John describes it in his gospel, John the Baptist normalizes it, placing it in the context of the overall plan of God. Each has a task from God and finds satisfaction with that task. I must decrease that he might increase.
Influence, power, following, however we might describe it, there is no clinging to it. There is no positioning or contriving a way to hold on to what has been theirs historically. As the mantle is transferred from one set of shoulders to the next, God’s will is played out before us. There is something special about it, nothing seen very often in this life.